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Is Not Being Politically Correct Really Being Discriminatory?

Posted on 8th November 2016

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I admit to having a lot of sympathy with the position taken by professor Jordan Peterson, as described in this BBC report.

Professor Peterson risks being charged with breaking the law on discrimination, by refusing to use gender neutral pronouns (among other things). There are so many things wrong with the the political correctness agenda in this matter:

  1. The alternative, gender neutral, pronouns that we are encouraged (or forced) to use ("ze" and "zir") are simply not English. The singular "they" is for use only when the gender of the person referred to is not known. Using "they" in the singular, when the person is known, is rather like the misuse of "chair" and "chair-person"; chair can be used to refer to the position, not the person; if the gender of the person is unknown, they can be referred to as the chair-person, but otherwise they are a chairman or chairwoman. Many people would be upset by the implication that their gender is unclear, which is what you are doing by calling someone you know a chair-person.
  2. Using a gender-specific pronoun is not inherently discriminatory, nor does it automatically encourage others to discriminate. If, when talking to you, I intend to insult you (or someone else), believe me, you will know; you do not need to read between the lines, and to analyse my use of pronouns, to work it out.
  3. The names by which people are referred to, and in some cases the pronouns used, are ultimately not the choice of the referree, but rather the choice of the referrer. Nicknames are a common example of this. I have a good friend, a German named Karl, who prefers to go by Charlie, but I always call him Karl; he understands that this is my choice, and that he doesn't get a vote in the matter. I believe that I have a right to refer to a transgender person as he or she, as it suits me; the pronoun that I use may depend on the circumstances of the moment, and also depend on whether the they are convincing as their chosen gender. There is a person of uncertain gender living near me in Munich, who sometimes dresses as a man, and sometimes as a woman; it would be rather ridiculous in this case that he/she insisted on a specific pronoun, irrespective of how he/she was dressed.
  4. Like Professor Peterson, I really don't care if some Emo feels upset by the pronouns used about them. If one chooses to live in the gender-grey-zone, and to not explain to everyone one meets exactly what one's surgically assigned or consciously chosen gender identity is, then people will themselves choose the pronouns. I fully support your right to choose, but don't get upset if people around you get confused.

Many people have enough difficulty using their native language just to express themselves clearly and unambiguously. The standards of spelling and grammar in English (German and Dutch too) in common use are abysmal (e.g. "You done good" instead of "you did well"; I get frequent emails from job agents which say "Hope your well" - you hope what about my well, and why is it any of your business where I get my water from?). I feel that expecting average people to be politically correct, when they can hardly string three words together, is too much to ask. Being politically correct is even harder when communicating with people from other countries (e.g. in South Africa, "black" means ethnically African, and "coloured" means mixed-race or ethnically Indian/Pakistani, which is totally at odds with what is politically correct in the USA).

Please, can we just forget about politically correctness?