Dear Tom,

That story is fascinating and I think extremely useful.   Thanks.  My main 
concern is that it has become not what you describe but a kind of 
shorthand for liberal thought and never for conservative thought, however 
automatic.  There are people on both ends who really think for themselves 
and people on both ends who simply mouth cliches.  And what is politically 
incorrect--in any real sense--depends totally on which group has most 
power at the time.   I'm really interested in and appreciative of that source.

Date sent:      	Fri, 11 Jan 2002 12:45:41 EST
Send reply to:  	[log in to unmask]
From:           	[log in to unmask]
To:             	<[log in to unmask]>
Subject:        	Re: T.S. Eliot's pacifism(politically correct)

In a message dated Fri, 11 Jan 2002 10:29:55 AM Eastern Standard Time,
"Jose Pereira" <[log in to unmask]> writes:

> Dear Nancy,
> I do completely agree with you. "Political correctness" is an absolutely
> senseless stereotype, and as all stereotypes is primarily designed to
> fit the mediocre and thus prevent them from any further thinking, unless
> in the *politically correct* way:))))
> Jose

Through overuse (and misuse), the term has lost its clarity.  I believe
that, initially, it was useful shorthand for a common phenomenon, which is
likely why it became overused.

The key is in understanding the term's assumption that "correct" means
something quite different than "right"; the former implying conformity
with the acceptable opinions in a given circle.  There are circles where
expressing non-conforming views is socially dangerous.  The phrase fits
those situations.

I first heard the term at a dinner for the Columbia University newspaper
(and its alumni) in the mid-to-late '80's.  Someone stood in a Q-and-A
session with a noted journalist (I think it was Diane Sawyer, but I'm not
sure), and said, "At the risk of being politically incorrect, let me quote
H.L. Mencken . . .."

At that time and place, the phrase seemed fresh and insightful not only to
me, but evidently to most of the crowd, as it drew a great laugh and was
the "talk of the after-party."

Everyone knew what the speaker meant, and could have explained it in a 
sentences, but he'd managed to say it in a singe phrase.  Although most of
that particular audience was on the receiving edge of the implict
accusation, no one seemed offended. (Some doubtless were, but kept their

In short, it was received as a clever short-hand reference with a
recognized meaning.  (Which, of course, undercuts the speaker's 
about the group: but his actual proposition, after drawing upon Mencken,
was rather tame and not especially Menckenian.)

If the clarity of meaning the group perceived that night has faded, it is
largely because the use of such a phrase regarding larger and more diverse
audiences -- such as the entire U.S., for example -- cannot have the same
focus as its use before that particular audience, or other particular
audiences, where assumptions of what is "acceptable" are commonly
recognized (even where, as in my case at the Columbia function, they are
not shared by all.)

Anyhoo, enough said on this.  In a desperate bid for relevance, I'll note
that Eliot's famous description of him self as "a classicist in
literature, a royalist in politics and an Anglo-Catholic in religion" was
a consciously anti-PC exercise before its time.  In other words, Eliot
knew that his views could have been expressed in a manner better suited to
his time (and in particular the intellectual circles with which he was
best acquainted), I believe, but chose to express them provocatively.

Tom K