Friday, August 22, 2008

A Politically Correct Massacre

As a writer, I feel quite comfortable with the vagaries of language--all the little assumptions (often incorrect) that slowly grow up around the words, some ancient, some young, which we use in everyday parlance. We will probably always seek advantage in our choice of words: as economists tend to do when they label subsidies they support as 'incentives', and subsidies they don't support as 'behavior distorting'. We also often feel a need to be sensitive in how we vent steam from our mouths.

But there is also a need to examine when sensitivity gives way to senseless timidity.

Namely, there are times when genocide should be called genocide, and not 'ethnic cleansing'. I mean, is there not something sick in our apparent zest to equate historical horrors such as the Holocaust with ablution and cleanliness? The word was clearly developed by the very mass murderers we like to abhor in international headlines, so then what use is there in adopting their terminology (and thus their thought process and explanation for such acts).

Being politically a liberal progressive, I always viewed 'political correctness' with sympathy. But lately, as I look at the words picked up and promulgated by news reports and disseminated and ingested by the populace, I really have to look askance on our constant need to sanitize language.

Never mind the fact that as a writer, I also see no reason why words rich that are voluptuous in their accretion of powerful meaning should be replaced with the vapid, clean products of political testing for least amount of offensive potential. Words can and sometimes should have the vim to break bones, and we shouldn't rob them of that.

Why, for recent example, should we pretend that the Caucasus is an apparently spic-and-span place according to our depiction of cleansing there (the ethnic or racial variety) that has a noble history going back to Roman times. The ancient denizens of that land, then called Alans, Khazars, Circassians, etc, and now called Ingushetians, Chechens, Georgians, Ossetians, et al, have been trying to wipe each other from the face of the planet in between the more economically rewarding activity of raiding the Silk Road caravans. Should we assume that the planet will be a more hygienic place with this inflamed quilt of ethnicities 'wiped' clear?

It is bad enough that the Ossetian and Georgian grand ma-ma's are busy these days burying the festering remains of sons and husbands in their unfinished basements to avoid the roving bands of 'cleansers' outside. It is worse to suggest that the gathering clouds of flies and ancient recriminations are somehow clean.

Quote of the day: "If you speak of cultural melting pots to the Caucasians, they'll melt you!"

(The quote is attributable to S. Hakan Kirimli, Ph.D., professor of a class on the history of the Caucasus at Bilkent University in Ankara,Turkey; Justin, please correct me if I mangled that quote in any way.)

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