Monday, February 29, 2016

The oxymoron of "politically correct"

I finally figured out what bothers me about the phrase “politically correct.”
            We all know that conservatives criticize what they see as political correctness, as do some liberals who think others within their own camp “go too far”. Those on the far left tend to believe that no criticism of political correctness is valid, because it really means treating marginalized people with respect and it’s not possible to overdo that. The understanding is that anybody who rails against political correctness is really railing against the expectation to treat oppressed groups with basic decency.
            Often, that is the real complaint. Many times, people who take issue with political correctness really are objecting to the fact that their racism, misogyny, or other types of bigotry will be socially frowned upon. But as frequent as that is, it’s not always the issue. Sometimes when a person chastises another as “politically correct”, they mean that the person gets so focused on specific words that they lose sight of the message as a whole. Sometimes it means the person uses an academic vocabulary that may be inaccessible, and that they scorn others who aren’t familiar with their terminology. It can mean assuming that a person who says something misinformed has malicious intentions, and immediately responding with hostility. (I know that intentions ultimately matter less than results, but I don’t believe them to be completely irrelevant. Somebody without hateful intentions is more open to productive discussion. That being said, a person who is directly affected by their ignorance isn’t obliged to educate them or react with patience.)
            So I disagree with the idea that in every single circumstance, criticizing “political correctness” is criticizing the idea of treating marginalized people with respect. But I have a problem with the phrase “politically correct” to begin with.
            Calling something “politically correct” implies that it’s politically beneficial. It implies that it’s the dominant view held by the government; by political systems. It assumes that it’s in line with the status quo. Therefore, describing oneself as “politically incorrect” makes some people feel edgy and rebellious. It makes them think they’re fiercely independent. In reality, “politically correct” is a buzzword—or buzz phrase—just as much as any phrase I might use, and I have been frequently described as politically correct. The difference is that I and others with similar mindsets know that we’re expressing ideas that are shared by others. I’m not a special snowflake for being liberal.
            If a leftist mentality was the political foundation of our culture, then racism and sexism and homophobia and anti-trans bigotry and classism would be far less rampant. They wouldn’t be supported by numerous public policies. They wouldn’t be systemic. Unfortunately, though, those systems of oppression are the status quo—both personally and politically.
            Efforts to dismantle those things disrupt our current system. That’s why they’re as far as possible from being politically correct.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Notes from across the divide

These are all quotes from the diaries my aunt Mary kept as a young person. For those new to my friends list, I have posted about her a lot. She’s my mom’s youngest sister, who died in a car accident in 2007 after a 17-year drug addiction. I found years’ worth of her poetry and journals after she passed away.
Anyway, these things were written in journals throughout the early to mid 1980s, when Mary was in her teens and early twenties. This is how she explained herself to whoever she imagined reading her words in the future:

“Dearest, kindest world with endless opportunities,
Be nice to me and give me a little freedom, and just a few things to enjoy.”
-Summer 1980 (she was fourteen years old)

“I wake up in the morning and shake dreams out of my hair.” -July 1980

“I would gladly give away my creativity to all my friends.” -1980

“Life can be good and life can be treacherous. That’s why they say it has its ups and downs. Then again, death is more than often caused by ups and downs, so to live is to die.” -July 1980

“I love loving. It’s the ultimate in a deciding factor. It’s the difference between reality and the supernatural.”

“Touch the stars, they’re breezing by.”

“When people smile, I smile too. When they cry I cry. When I don’t see them I wonder what they are feeling and if they think of me.”

“Next time you want to understand me, look between the empty pages behind the lines.” -1981

“Words stuck in my throat are released beneath my pen.” -1981

“We are the young ones crying out.” -1984

“Take me as I am: alone and dreaming, a poet without a plan.” -April 1984

“What is written shall remain.”

“Maybe I’m not star material, but I know how to feel and be real.”

“You speak of the coming days. I speak of today and laugh a lot. Your crazy smile keeps me going.”

“This is Captain Mary aboard the cosmic ship Bethany [her hometown]. I am quite alive and enjoying this evening. I am at the head of my bed, in full control, and the music is real cool.”
-February 14, 1985

“I am the living Dead: ahead of my time and behind.”

“I’m filling in words that shouldn’t be said between bound covers.” -1989

“If I die soon, I want everyone to know my life was good. If I live longer, then everyone will know they helped make it that way.” -January 1989

And this last one was written in 2004:
“I dedicate my words to everyone I’ve ever known, dead or alive, or will ever know, dead or alive.”


Rest in peace and poetry, Mary. You’re a supernova that will never stop bursting into life.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Consistency is overrated

During election season, there are often sound bites passed around which depict a candidate saying something offensive when they were significantly younger, sometimes in their twenties or even their teens. The takeaway message is always, “Is this the kind of person you want in office?”
I understand the validity of this if the candidate still expresses the same attitudes today, and so it’s meant to show that they haven’t grown. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Almost always, it’s meant to imply that an opinion someone holds in their youth is a defining part of their permanent nature. That assumption is not only unfounded, but unfair. How many of us cringe when we recall insensitive, bigoted, or just plain ignorant things we said when we were younger? Everyone deserves a chance to be seen as a more evolved version of our former selves, as long as we actively demonstrate it and denounce the harmful things we used to espouse. In that case, changing your mind isn’t hypocrisy. It’s maturation.
If the candidate is known for flip-flopping, that’s another story. Tailoring your core values to your audience, rather than just adjusting the presentation, is dishonesty. That deserves to be called out. All the same, I think it’s rarely relevant to try to prove a point by showing a clip of someone being foolish in college.
This relates to the way that consistency is falsely assumed because it's so overvalued. You hear a lot of quotes like, “Don’t make fun of other peoples’ appearance when you’re not attractive yourself” or “Don’t use the Bible to be homophobic unless you follow all of its rules.” Why is being hateful toward the LGBT+ community somehow more acceptable if you’re religiously consistent? Why is it more excusable to harass people about their looks if you are traditionally attractive?
It’s better not to hold horrible beliefs at all, whether or not they’re consistent with other behavior or with beliefs one has held in the past. Unfortunately, the allegiance to sameness—even sameness to your self—can cause many to stubbornly cling to bad ideas.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


What kind of person can you imagine being in a parallel world? Is there an alternate life you can see yourself inhabiting—or becoming?
For me, I often imagine a universe in which I’m not on the autistic spectrum. It’s challenging to talk about this without being a downer. I also don’t want to make others on the spectrum feel like it’s a flaw or an extraneous trait to be pruned away. I think, though, that it’s important to be honest about my disability. And, honestly, there are many days I wish it wasn’t rooted into my DNA. I imagine a parallel world to move freely throughout. A place where I can drive, take off on road trips, and leave home by myself to make it further than just down the street.
I’ve had this condition since birth. As a child, it was less noticeable to me because most children have limited freedom. I also lacked the self-awareness to see it was much more pronounced back then.
Living on the spectrum can be like living as a message in a bottle. Transparent, inescapable, and easily cracked, but I can last so much longer than expected. I bob around on others’ tides to travel. My message is carefully kept, and it says something new every day.
I can fantasize about having alternate lives as an independent professional or a wanderer who travels just as far physically as she does mentally. I can live vicariously through other selves. Sometimes it feels pointless, but other times it helps. It makes a difference upon the realization that some of the things I daydream about can be done in this world, too. A bottle floated across the ocean to let me know I don’t need it. To say that sometimes the distance can be walked, too.
I don’t want to frame this topic only around myself. Who do you believe you could be in another reality, whether good or bad? Is there another version of you that could have existed if you’d changed a life decision or been born under different circumstances? And, when you find the more desired options within other universes, is there a way to carry any of them into yours?
You don’t have to tell me; just think about it. And, if you do want to share an answer but not on a comment thread, you can message me privately. Whoever you are.
Let’s talk about this.