Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Review of Political Correctness, Example the Flag

At one time, the term ‘political correctness’ covered behaviors. The issues behind the behaviors had been settled for a long time. For instance, American women don’t properly curtsy to the Queen of England. We’re not her subjects; we’re citizens of another nation. Political correctness meant civilians cover their hearts to the flag but soldiers salute. These behaviors were generally spelled out by Emily Post and the Boy Scout Manual.

This is not trivial. This is agreement.

But that agreement changed. I agree with conservatives that politically correct behavior changed during the 1960’s, and became bipolar. Much was made of the scandalous behavior of huge groups of people. (Everyone was affected by new technology, including illegal drugs, the Green Revolution, and the Pill.) The flag issue was no longer saluting v. heart-covering. Some people weren’t going to respect the flag at all.
And some people put a match to the symbol of our unity and mutual sacrifice, which seemed to be more fragile every minute.

So the flag became a symbol that received overt disrespect but also was trivialized, by both sides. It was neon-ized, oversized, undersized, used as bedcoverings, costume jewelry, curtains, and cloaks for dastardly deeds.

The reaction to flag-burning was flag-waving. In 1968, flag-bearing bumper stickers said: America: Love it or Leave it. For a schoolgirl learning that people came to America to be free of oppressive government, this was a little scary. You could choose to:

1. burn a flag and respect no civilized behavior, or
2. toe a mighty thin line, which included questioning no irony at all, for fear of ostracism.

That year, Robert Kennedy and Dr. King were assassinated. It was a year of unmitigated public hatred. But all years have public hatred in them. In 1968, that hatred was acted out on an unexpected scale.

What I learned that year: parents can be afraid. Later, I learned that pre-existing conditions meet new ones. Everybody has to deal, ready or not. And we’re rarely ready. The pre-existing condition seems normal. The new conditions aren’t fully evident, or their side-effects aren’t.

We are still struggling with this, but the term political correctness is used inaccurately in public discourse. It’s applied, with contempt, to one side of the debate. Yet neither side has given up the moral ground. Both have a view of politically correct language, issues, and behavior.

Emily Post and the Boy Scout Manual, however, will still tell you where we do agree. One has expanded to meet circumstance. One has just waited for us to pick it back up, maybe two sexes instead of one. And with that thought, I think that conservatives, liberals, and former schoolgirls should be comforted. We have a basis for agreement after all.

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