Most of us have been taught from the time that we were little that there are certain words that we should *not* use to label other people. Words such as retard, nigger, and faggot have all been drummed into our consciousness as being highly offensive, which they of course are.
However, the idea behind political correctness has gradually become something more akin to censorship, in which terms - like those just mentioned - cannot be used in almost any context. I distrust censors, so I thought I'd do a little analysis of political correctness and the possible consequences of going too far with the concept.
Let's start with the term "gay". Many individuals readily self identify as being gay, but the use of the term "that's so gay" to mean "that's so stupid" is considered politically incorrect. So the term gay is both a label people self identify themselves as and yet can be a highly offensive term at the same time. "Gay" is also not the only example of a term that is - or has been - considered politically incorrect, but yet still used as as a self label, for instance queer. So the question is, why do we consider certain terms offensive when many people are perfectly happy to use them to describe their identity?
And then there are terms that can be viewed as borderline. For instance, the term homosexual, which many people might not readily consider to be insulting, but is viewed as such by a fair number of gays and lesbians. I used the term homosexual quite often in a paper on the biological causes of being gay, blissfully unaware that I was using a word that sounds much like a diagnosis and thus a stark reminder of the days when same sex attraction was wrongfully labeled by modern psychiatrists as a mental illness.
As a little side-note, I find it odd given the fact that homosexual is politically incorrect, that we still use terms like heterosexual or homophobia. After all, the former seems a little hypocritical and without homosexual individuals, the latter term would simply seem to mean "fear of sameness".
But a larger issue remains. Political correctness does not do anything to address the root causes of prejudice and bigotry nor does it do anything to fix the problems of inequality that minority groups still face. Instead, what political correctness does do is take on the role of a censor, much like certain bigots wish to censor lifestyles and ethnicities that they are prejudiced against.
Those of you who have read 1984 by George Orwell will recall that the government was in the habit of completely erasing words altogether from the language. One reason being that a rebellion that cannot be discussed cannot take place. Likewise, a lifestyle or culture that cannot be talked about, cannot be lived openly or easily celebrated. We can pretty up our language all we want, remove all the terms that we find distasteful, but all this will accomplish is to give us a language of limited possibilities.
Furthermore, bigoted groups are perfectly capable of switching to politically correct terminology, thereby allowing them to disguise their hateful messages under a veneer of seemingly polite discourse. Thus political correctness can, ironically enough, help hide bigotry in plain site. Censoring our language is not the answer to stopping prejudice. Instead, the best solutions are education and the ability to discuss issues completely and honestly, neither of which are possible with an emasculated language. At the end of the day, a domesticated member of the Suidae family with applied oral gloss is still just a pig with lipstick.