How We are Losing our Freedom of Thought and SpeechShare
The orthodoxy of political correctness is conditioning us not to think.
You may have read George Orwell’s classic book, “1984," which focused on the way people can be misled and persuaded by a language where a political force with an agenda subtly alters definitions, censors words and creates new terms. The word “freedom,” for example, was redefined to mean “free from something,” such as grass free from weeds or a dog free from fleas. All this was intended to alienate people from independent thought and self reliance thereby clearing the way for government to control them. That was fiction.
What is not fiction is the way the present day language police have established an elaborate protocol of what is called a beneficent censorship. Politically correct school boards, bias and sensitivity committees now review, abridge, and censor texts which in their opinion are contain potentially offensive words, topics, and imagery. The members of sensitivity and bias committees are people with backgrounds in counseling, diversity training, guidance, bilingual education, and so forth.
Diane Ravitch's book The Language Police laid bare "an elaborate, well-established protocol of beneficent censorship, quietly endorsed and broadly implemented by textbook publishers, testing agencies, professional associations, states, and the federal government" that steadily and stealthily reduces schoolbooks to packages of pabulum. The arbiters of political correctness on the left have joined with the fundamentalist guardians of morality on the right to foster a censorship apparatus that serves the political and social agendas of both, scorns the interests of students, and ensures that students will not be exposed to anything that might bother anyone, anywhere, for any reason.
This censorship is a formal, pervasive system of censorship that warps the content of schoolbooks, state-sponsored tests, and other educational products until they have little connection with the real world. It explains, in part, the disturbing spectacle that we see in many parts of the United States: While the cost of public education rises higher and higher, the quality of that education continues to go lower and lower.
These committees flag many seemingly innocuous passages as potentially offensive or biased: an essay on peanuts because some children are allergic to peanuts; a biography of the designer of the Mount Rushmore monument because the site is considered sacred by some Native Americans; a legend about dolphins because it reflects a regional bias against children who don't live near the sea; an inspirational story about a blind mountain climber because it suggests that a blind person might find it harder to climb a mountain than a sighted one. The examples go on. Even Aesop's fable, "The Fox and the Crow", was flagged as sexist because a male fox flatters a female crow; to gain approval, the gender of the animals had to be changed. The review committee also gave the Board a list of topics to be avoided. These included abortion, evolution, expensive consumer goods, magic, personal appearance, politics, religion, unemployment, unsafe situations, weapons and violence -- among others.
Ravitch’s research discovered that most tests and textbooks used in American public schools were governed by sensitivity and bias guidelines, many of them more detailed and absurd than those she had encountered with the National Assessment Governing Board. One publisher sent her 10 pages of single-spaced specifications with an example of the kind of material that was acceptable. If you followed the publisher’s guidelines and the example, your story would be about a Hispanic boy who would be the hero in the story. There would be black twins, one boy, one girl; an overweight Oriental boy; an American Indian girl and a physically handicapped Caucasian girl, who was born with a congenital malformation and only had three fingers on one hand. The story would also have a senior citizen who jogged and played tennis everyday.
Following are a typical publisher’s instructions about what they cannot publish:
• Women cannot be depicted as care givers or doing household chores.
• Men cannot be lawyers or doctors or plumbers. They must be nurturing helpmates.
• Old people cannot be feeble or dependent; they must jog or repair the roof.
• A story that is set in the mountains discriminates against students from flatlands.
• Children cannot be shown as disobedient or in conflict with adults.
• Cake cannot appear in a story because it is not nutritious.
• The word “jungle” must not be used. Use “rainforest” instead.
• The expression “soul food” must never be used.
• “Able bodied” must not be used. Use “person who is not disabled.”
• “Abnormal” is banned because it is demeaning to people with disablilities.
• Replace “Adam and Eve” with “Eve and Adam.”
• “Birth defect” is banned. Replace with “people with congenital disabilities.”
• “Cripple” is banned. Replaced with “person with a mobility impairment.”
• “Fraternity” is banned as sexist. Replace with “community.”
• “Hut” is banned. Replace with “small houses.”
• “Illegal alien” is banned. Replace with “undocumented resident.”
• “Lame” is banned. Replace with “walks with a cane.”
• “Man, mankind, men” are banned. Replace with “humanity, people, personalities.”
• “Manhunt” is banned. Replace with “hunt for a person.”
• “Masterpiece” is banned. Replace with “work of art.”
• “Master plan” is banned. Replace with “comprehensive plan.”
• “Minority” is banned. Replace with “historically underrepresented group.”
• “Needy” is banned. Replace with “individual in need.”
• “Senior citizen” is banned as demeaning to older people.
• Do not portray poverty.
• Do not show women cooking.
• Do not show a cow’s udder (sexual innuendo).
• Do not show churches, bars, liquor stores, adult theaters in drawings or photos.
• Do not show a rainbow. (Gay agenda)
• No holidays or holiday decorations.
By mandating that students only be exposed to material that conforms to the presumed experience of the sensitivity and bias committees the books engage in the very stereotyping they take pains to avoid. E.g., there is something morally evil about having a photograph of a church in a textbook; using the word “man,” in practically any context, is offensive; good people do not go to church or celebrate religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Passover; and the words “Master plan” is somehow racist.
Politically correct censorship is dulling our minds by emphasizing what to exclude from our cognitive thinking processes and discussions. Notice how politically correct expressions are expressions of “what is not.” It is not a hut. It is a small house. He is not an old man. He is an older person. Children are can never be disobedient. Men are not lawyers, doctors, or plumbers. There are no mountains. Cake does not exist. There are no jungles. There are no widows, or house wives or senile old people. And so on and on.
This is thinking in deficit. Notice how careful and hesitant our speech has become. We are extraordinarily careful to make sure the words we use cannot possibly be construed to offend anyone. Consequently, we are constantly thinking of what not to say, what words cannot be used, and what expressions should be avoided. We spend our time thinking of what we cannot say instead of thinking about what we should say. It has become safer and easier to talk about what things are not or not to talk at all.
Our whole climate of thought is being changed by the orthodoxy of political correctness. It has narrowed the range of thought. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed only by words approved by the politically correct overseers, with meanings rigidly defined and all subsidiary meanings and ambiguities rubbed out and forgotten. Every year we will have fewer and fewer words and our range of consciousness will get a little smaller. Or as George Orwell defined it “Orthodoxy ultimately means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.