A programmer from New Zealand named Byron Clark has come up with a perfect way to show what people really mean when they talk about political correctness. He set up his browser to automatically change all mentions of the term "political correctness" to "treating people with respect," and this was the result:
I set up my web browser to automatically change "political correctness" to "treating people with respect" pic.twitter.com/yvNnqUWpNm— Byron Clark (@byronclarknz) August 4, 2015
My position on "political correctness" is pretty well established: As I've written before, I don't think it's a real thing in and of itself. Sure, it certainly sounds like a real problem. Indeed, if you listen to critics of political correctness, it's a scourge that threatens our basic liberties and the foundations of American society. But as Clark's simple experiment shows, that's not what's really going on when people complain about PC culture.
The truth is that accusations of "political correctness" are a sort of catchall charge that's used against people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than someone else is willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them.
That's why the results of Clark's browser extension are so striking. When you replace "political correctness" with what it really is — a cold dismissal of people's requests to be treated with respect — it not only makes the response seem wrong, it makes it seem comically overblown.
For instance, take Donald Trump's comments from the first GOP debate. When debate moderator Megyn Kelly asked him about his derogatory and disrespectful comments toward women, Trump answered, "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either."
That sounds silly enough as it is. But here it is after going through a Clark-style transformation:
"I think the big problem this country has is treating people with respect. I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for treating people with respect. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either."
The meaning hasn't really changed, but it has been made clearer: Trump was asked about his disrespectful treatment of women, and his response was that the very idea of treating women respectfully was a problem for the country as a whole. That's nonsense. Kudos to Clark for showing us why.