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Is PC Culture compromising freedom of speech?

My tutor once said the far right will use what they refer to as the “evil wrath of PC culture” or “PC to the extreme” to justify their overtly offensive statements in the media. He continued to explain that the problem is not actually PC culture but individuals who abuse their power and show no respect and nothing but ignorance towards the experiences and struggles of various groups of people which make up the social fabric of society as we know it today.

It is important that the government and legislation are vigilant in addressing and punishing discrimination in the public domain. The most vulnerable members of our society should be protected by not only an innate sense of justice within all of us but the ability to discern the possibility that our words have the potential to further perpetuate the cycle of inequality.

With that said, if you’re somewhat mildly perceptive of what’s going on in the media, you would probably recognize that almost anything can be construed as offensive or ‘politically incorrect’. You might call me out on the hyperbole, but my own experience as a millennial university student has taught me that we really do have to be careful with how we express our opinions – otherwise you’ll cop it from the PC warriors. It certainly feels like the definition of PC has evolved and people are increasingly policed for what they say in the public domain. To add more confusion, the right may have constructed this illusion to allow a way for discriminative, degrading and even hate speech to exist in the public sphere. Hmm, see what I did there?

PC culture room
via Unsplash

This food for thought begs some questions: is ‘PC culture’ really a thing? Does it really exist? And why has it become the buzz word in the media?

Firstly let’s break it down; Political correctness is defined as the “avoidances of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against”.

While this might seem like a clear cut definition, it’s been proven time and time again in the media that the lines between what is ‘politically correct’ and what is ‘politically incorrect’ can blur. Notions of free speech and social, moral and personal responsibility can also make this issue extremely divisive and contentious. Furthermore, our words have more power than we realise and in some cases, it makes total sense for people to call one another out for being ‘politically incorrect’.

Regardless of whether it’s been misrepresented, redefined or simply used in the wrong context, it’s important that discrimination at all levels is called out and dismantled. Academia tends to encourage free and independent expression (“intellectual freedom”). However, this comes with the responsibility to remain critical. This sort of free speech can come with the cost of degrading a group of people in society who are already struggling for equal rights, regardless of your intention.

Some people see ‘PC culture’ as the end of our freedom of speech. FYI, the Australian constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression. However, freedom of political communication is implied in the constitution. So you can express your opinion or view but only so far because Australia has legislation such as the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. Case law is also used when conflicts of interest arise.

PC child
via Unsplash

On the other hand, some cases can be pretty extreme. It makes you wonder whether we really have become an overly sensitive bunch of people. When was it that we all woke up and decided everything was offensive? I’m not saying we should disregard human rights altogether, but it feels like having an opinion about almost anything is risky these days. Or is this really what an open-minded society looks like?

In some ways, it feels like I’m biting my tongue more and more. I’d like to think that I can voice my own opinion freely around people who may possess markedly different views. This isn’t always going to go down well and you might be asked to think about whether your opinion is ‘pc’ or not, or to ‘check your privilege’. This might be fair enough, given “something that may be sensible for you, given your asserted privilege, may not be sensible for others, and the ensuing misunderstanding can lead to insufficient consideration of others and erroneous evaluations”. This is why education is important, as is the critical analysis of one’s own and others’ views.

But what about those who always ask people to check their privilege – have they checked theirs? This article is filled with rhetorical questions because the issue of freedom of speech and political correctness feels like a minefield.

It seems the waters are murky in the Israel Folau case. His Instagram post warning homosexuals, atheists and adulterers among others that “hell awaits you” sparked public outrage and drama in media headlines. Regardless of whether this post was PC or not, Folau, a former Wallabies rugby star, wants to fight his dismissal under the Fair Work Act (section 772); he only has to show that his religion was merely among the reasons for his dismissal as he claims the post was an expression of his faith.

This poses a conflict of interest with Folau’s employer’s contractual right to impose standards of behaviour which require players to treat everyone equally and with dignity. There are some serious questions here such as how much we can compromise the protection of groups of people from discrimination for religious expression. Regardless of what is forecasted, I don’t think hate speech should ever be condoned. It’s predicted that the case could set an important precedent for employment law and religious freedom.


PC freesom
via Unsplash

It’s particularly dangerous to censor and shut down all opinions/comments because whether they’re ‘pc’ or not they should be presented in order for the public to be critical of them and challenge the structures which perpetuate and support cycles of marginalization. We are as unique as our DNA; we are all going to see things differently and we are all going to have an opinion. I would like to think my views and opinions are authentic and representative of my own experiences and attitudes of society but the truth is we are all a product of our environment to an extent and putting in rigorous effort to think about why we have a particular opinion about something should be encouraged.