Monday, December 08, 2008

Follow-Up: Bad Behavior, Embarrassing Pictures, and Job Security in Internet Age

Having vented previously on people's foolish behavior on the internet, I now must take a contrary stance. Why? Because, while the new reality of the world is that individuals can get fired for bad or embarrassing behavior they exhibit on the internet, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's good or right.

That Obama speech writer was tacky, but did his behavior rise to the level of a punishable offense? Did a hockey player deserve to be suspended from his job because of some sexist, crass remark about a former girlfriend? It depends on who you talk to.

When people talk about "political correctness," this is what they mean. There are just Some Things That Must Not Be Said. It is a manner of thinking and speaking that restrains anything that might be perceived as insulting to particular individuals or groups. Now am I endorsing full-out rudeness, crudity, or impolite behavior? No. However, I know that no one is capable of perfectly well-behaved, appropriate speech, partially because the rules keep changing, and partially just because people are people, and slips of the tongue are likely to happen. In short, we need to lighten up.

The end result of PC-speak is, as George Orwell notes in his description of Newspeak in 1984, to restrict the range of political speech and (by derivation) thought. If you can't say certain things--laughing at or judging particular behaviors--it becomes impossible to offer up alternative views. So today businesses will fire someone because of individual, personal crassness. What will be next? What happens when it's your turn to make a slip that shows up on the internet?

How do we fix this? I have no frickin' clue.

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