Calling 2016 the annus horribilis has officially become mainstream. Maybe it’s the fact that the Latin expression sounds clever, or that this expression has some truth in it, as 2016 has graciously gifted the world a series of horrific events. But in the end, 2016 did its best to be the worst year in a long time.
Naturally, this is all due to the events. The anno domini (we’ve gotten carried away with this Latin thing) didn’t hold back: terrorist attacks, wars, celebrity deaths, Brexit, the victory of Donald Trump – there’s a range of things to choose from. However, there has been a shift in the status quo that is less obvious and tangible, something we have all felt, but find hard to see the importance of: the death of political correctness.
Part of the problem or the problem?
Behind the suits and freshly-pressed shirts of those who hide in luxurious power palaces, there aren’t always gentle souls, and that is something we take for granted. We have gotten used to the deteriorating quality of political rhetoric; a language that is appropriate for the worst bars in Caracas but which somehow made its way onto the benches of parliament, directed at a diverse group of opponents, regardless of whether they are political or not.
In other words, a ‘fuck off’ making its way into the political realm isn’t as surprising nor as shocking as it used to be; we take for granted the fact that political correctness lost its place in politics. Why don’t we admit that the emperor is actually naked? Why don’t we acknowledge that, after all, political correctness is just an annoying obstacle to true freedom of speech? Where we get to say what’s on our minds, without sugar-coating things and respecting norms that are, in all fairness, outdated? Why don’t we admit that, without this moral high ground, clarity and coherence would become the norm? So at the end of the day, why don’t we just admit that political correctness is the problem?
Simplicity… but at what cost?
Wait a second. Who suddenly decided that the problem was political correctness and not, for example, things that are often subject to ferocious criticism like economics or immigration policies? It would be an interesting question, given that these topics have been trending for the past 12 months. Having been the forte of some British columnists, traditionally right-winged, the abolishment of political correctness became the leitmotif of Donald Trump’s electoral campaign – leading him to fill the most important seat in U.S. politics. A campaign founded on the principle of being unique and different from traditional elitist politics, which Trump was trying to replace and in turn, obliterated the veil of political correctness. A campaign that was deemed ‘raw’ and ‘real’ by his wife Melania, who limited herself in reiterating the same script with a solemn tone, but was so comprehensible and simplistic that even a child zapping from channel to channel could understand.
Well there it is, the core of this demonic political correctness: simplicity. Apparently, the fundamental problem of political correctness is that a message does not necessarily become clearer; it is disguised behind a misty cloud of ‘fake goodness’ that eventually muddies the waters. It doesn’t make life easier for the working class who has little time and means to concentrate on the true meaning of what’s being said. It’s better to be direct and harsh, saying exactly what is on people’s minds. Norbert Hofer, populist candidate of the far-right in the Austria’s presidential election who was defeated by Van Der Bellen must have come to the same conclusion: to him, political correctness is the root of all evils.
On the other side of the continent, in France, Marine Le Pen was caught red-handed criticising the traditional conservative parties for being afraid to question the value of political correctness. In doing so, she implied that this was at the root of all problems in politics and that the Front National is, in this way, many steps ahead.
What are we talking about?
But are we really sure of what we’re talking about? Accusing someone of being too politically correct is a slippery slope. If saying that something is technically true implies a sense of doubt, then calling someone politically correct implies that they do not mean what they say. It means that this person bases the validity of their arguments on moral superiority. In other words, this person not only lies but does so consciously. That is because political correctness has become a sort of attack, used to offend the other. Proof that, even with the best intentions, it is not taken as a compliment.
So what’s the better option? Neither. Let’s opt for a third option: the act of addressing politics correctly. Unlike the complicated definition of political correctness, the latter means being sensitive, polite, respectful and empathetic. But it is also a piece of advice: “Rem tene, verba sequentur,” that if you follow, words will come on their own. And all of this without trying to escape some sort of correct and acceptable way to express yourself.
Yes, we do like Latin.