The PC brigade

by John Jackson © 2009

What is political correctness?

Well, it seems to be a general mode of thought or action that addresses discrimination or inequalities regarding others. Race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc., are areas where political correctness is used to weed out discrimination and language use that is seen to be offensive.

e.g. words such as 'nigger' or 'faggot' are deemed unacceptable with political correctness because their usage is intended to cause offence.

I think most people would agree that PC used in this way is a good thing.

Political Correctness gone mad

Of course, as with many things, it's possible to go too far. We often hear stories (although many are probably media exaggerations) of things such as the word "black" being banned for fear of causing offence to black people. e.g. would you like your coffee white or without milk?

The fault here is that the word "black" is not actually offensive (black people are proud to be black) and is not used to cause offence.

This sort of thing ends up having the opposite effect to that intended - probably because well-intentioned people don't know where to draw a line between doing good and going too far. This is not helped by the fact that the 'line' is arbitrarily drawn, of course.

And the question-begging epithet "gone mad" is meant to portray excessiveness rather than an error of judgement and it's this facet of the term 'political correctness gone mad' that is designed to make political correctness per se look ridiculous.

The PC Brigade as a pejorative term

In arguments, it's quite common to see people referred to as members of the PC brigade or the PC brigade referred to when someone is constructing an argument.

The problem here is that the PC Brigade doesn't exist!

All people are doing when using it in arguments is using it metaphorically for the 'PC gone mad' example given above. I suggest that it's used mainly in two ways:

  • As an Ad Hominem attack

    An Ad Hominem argument is when someone responds to someone in an argument but they attack the person, not their argument. Referring to someone as a member of the PC brigade is simply an attempt to insult or belittle the person as being a 'goody goody' type. Of course, the character of the person (whether the insinuation is true or not) has no bearing on their argument.

  • As a Strawman Argument

    A strawman argument is where a caricature (a false representation) of a person's argument is created to make it easier to refute it. An example would be the defence minister saying "we need to cut the armed forces by 5,000 personnel" and the shadow defence minister responding "why would you want to leave the country defenceless?" - of course he never said 'defenceless' but creating that image makes it easier to oppose the argument.

    I see the use of the PC Brigade as being used in a similar manner. Although based on the Ad Hominem, the use of the term PC Brigade is meant to assign a false position to an opponent (building the straw man) so that instead of responding to the actual position of a person making a counter-argument, the counter-argument is dismissed or shot down easier by representing it as 'PC gone mad'.

The downside to this type of thinking is that the genuine and beneficial use of political correctness is lost.

The PC Brigade and do-gooders are terms that are often used interchangeably in arguments and the same points stand for both terms: those who are using such terms to bolster their position or attack their opponent are simply engaging in fallacious arguments. They're an indication of someone who doesn't know how to debate properly.