Just Merveilleux

Life at № 42

Umberto Eco on Political Correctness (Translated and Revisited)

gervais

Eco died a few days ago. He’s best known as the author of The Name of the Rose, but he was also an exceptional social commentator and philosopher. Among his pearls was an essay he wrote on political correctness many years ago. I translated it (badly) into english (also many years ago), and here it is again:

Pistola dell’ostrega 

Repertorio di offese gentili (Repertoire of the Polite Offence)

“Political Correctness is a true and proper movement. It was born in American universities of liberal and radical inspiration, therefore a movement of the Left, with the aim of acknowledging multiculturalism and reducing some of the ingrained linguistic vices that established lines of discrimination confronting various minorities. The movement began by saying “blacks” and later “African Americans” instead of “ni—r”. Then, “gay” instead of the thousands of other notorious options reserved for disparaging homosexuals.

Naturally, this campaign for the purification of language has produced a genuine fundamentalism, which has led to the notable case in which some feminists have proposed to no longer say “history” since it begins with the pronoun “his”, as they thought this meant that history was “his”. Instead they propose we say “herstory” – her (hi)story – obviously ignoring the Greco-Latin etymology which has no gender implications.

However, the tendency has also assumed neo-conservative, or frankly, reactionary aspects. If you decide to no longer call people in wheelchairs handicapped or even disabled, but “differently-abled” and then you do not construct access ramps in public places, it is evident that you have hypocritically removed the word but not the problem. And the same is true if you substitute saying “indefinitely unoccupied” for fired or “in a program of transition to change careers” for unemployed. Who knows why a banker isn’t ashamed of his title and doesn’t insist on being called an operator in the field of savings. If it’s not working, changing the name won’t fix it.

On these and an infinity of other problems, Edoardo Crisafulli amuses his readers in his book “The Politically Correct and Linguistic Liberty”, which strips naked all of these contradictions. He takes on both sides, pro and con, and is always very entertaining. Reading it, however, I came to reflect on the curious case of our country (Italy). While Political Correctness exploded elsewhere, in our case it was diffused and instead we are always developing more and more Political Incorrectness. If, at one time, one would read a newspaper and a politician would say: “As a politics of convergence is emerging, one would prefer an asymptotic choice that eliminated single points of intersection”; today he prefers to say: “Dialogue? To Hell with that dirty son of a bitch!”

It is true that at one time in old Communist circles they used to label the adversary  “horseflies” and in speaking during meetings, they might have chosen to use a lexicon more insulting than that of a sailor, but that was in a time when there were no limits to what one could say – it was accepted as an affectation – as was once the case in the gentlemen’s clubs of venerated memory – where the gentlemen were not verbally inhibited. Today, instead, the technique of an insult is televised, a sign of unconscious faith in the valor of democracy.

It probably began with Bossi(Umberto Bossi of the right-wing Northern League)), in which his manly hardness obviously alludes to the softness of other people, and the appellation of “Berluskaz (Berlusconi + Cazzo)” was unmistakable but the thing spread widely. Stefano Bartezzaghi, writing under the name Venerdi di Repubblica, cites the play of insults today in circulation, but in good fun, all things considered.

Therefore, I too must contribute to the sweetness of Politically Incorrect Italian, and as I have consulted a series of dictionaries and dialects, permit me to suggest some polite and good-natured expressions with which to insult your enemy, graceful words:  pistola dell’ostrega, papaciugo, imbolsito, crapapelata, piffero, marocchino, pivellone, ciulandario, morlacco, badalucco, pischimpirola …”

Personally, I think this is a discussion society must have with some urgency. Instead of using the tried and tested methods of listening, analyzing, considering intent and possible outcomes- we’re descending into a world of automatic categorizations. In America, for example, it seems that any reference to race/ethnicity is racism. Especially if it comes from someone in an opposing ideological group. In the words of Prof. Agre of UCLA:

“… A more complicated example is the word “racist”. Conservative rhetors have tried to take this word away as well by constantly coming up with new ways to stick the word onto liberals and their policies. For example they have referred to affirmative action as “racist”. This is false; it is an attempt to destroy language. Racism is the notion that one race is intrinsically better than another. Affirmative action is arguably discriminatory, as a means of partially offsetting discrimination in other places and times, but it is not racist. Many conservative rhetors have even stuck the word “racist” on people just because they oppose racism. The notion seems to be that these people addressed themselves to the topic of race, and the word “racist” is sort of an adjective relating somehow to race. In any event this too is an attack on language.”

This misuse of politically incorrect has other consequences, some quite vile. Because people seem to be relying on automatic categorizations, it’s possible for certain individuals to say things that are genuinely racist, misogynistic, homophobic or generally xenophobic but word it carefully enough so it falls under the category of politically incorrect. Trump supporters seem to believe that saying banning 1.6 billion Muslims from a country is politically incorrect. It isn’t, it’s bigotry. Politically incorrect was when Joan Rivers used to make holocaust jokes. There’s a difference.

 

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21 comments on “Umberto Eco on Political Correctness (Translated and Revisited)

  1. acflory
    February 22, 2016

    What a great article. Sadly I don’t think anyone’s listening. Even sadder still, you can’t instil kindness or courtesy in anyone by telling them what not to say. And so the hypocrisy continues.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      February 22, 2016

      I love how he lambasts something with humour 😀 It makes it so much more fun!

      Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        February 22, 2016

        Yeah, it does. Oh and apologies…that was one hell of a good translation. Meant to say that before. Anyway, I’m off to bed. Night night!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Merveilleux
        February 22, 2016

        You’re too kind, but I never reject a compliment 😀

        Like

      • acflory
        February 22, 2016

        Hah! 😀

        Like

  2. inspiredbythedivine1
    February 22, 2016

    Wonderful post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. makagutu
    February 22, 2016

    Since I am unlikely to take language lessons, I think your translation is good. It makes sense. PC makes conversation sometimes difficult.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. clubschadenfreude
    February 22, 2016

    very good article. In my work, I have run across people who are horrified that my agency has offered a survey where they are asked to identify their race. It’s a knee jerk reaction of “political correctness” because they haven’t thought about why the question is asked. It isn’t to determine if race has anything to do with how well they perform their jobs, it is to see how many people of different races/ethnicities/ancestry are in the field.

    It’s not all about them and their taking “offense”.

    Just heard a story on NPR about how a study on how race shouldn’t be used in medical research. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/05/465616472/is-it-time-to-stop-using-race-in-medical-research

    They want to use the term “ancestry” instead, and the words mean the same thing in this context, where your ancestors came from. My ancestors came from northern Europe(Caucasian) and their descendants have a genetic glitch that causes emphysema even if you’ve never smoked a day in your life. Very few folks who had ancestry/race from within 20 degrees of the equator will have this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      February 23, 2016

      We’re reaching what can only be called “levels of paranoia.”

      Like

      • clubschadenfreude
        February 24, 2016

        exactly that. with the delusions of grandeur that go with the diagnosis.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Merveilleux
        February 24, 2016

        Interesting you’d say that because there is definitely a facet of almost adolescent narcissism that is attached to this. As if every outer/independant action were actually a reaction to the self.

        Like

      • clubschadenfreude
        February 24, 2016

        Having spent far too much time in being a wannabe psych major, I do definitely see every aspect of paranoia in the idiocy of many who whine that they shouldn’t have to deal with reality e.g. they are too special and should not have to deal with anything that injures their delusions.

        I used to get this irritated only by right-wing (and whinge) idiots. sigh….

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Merveilleux
        February 24, 2016

        That’s what upset me the most regarding all this. Atheist, progressive people are now going to fight against the values of the enlightenment? It’s depressing.

        Like

  5. roughseasinthemed
    February 22, 2016

    I think I’ll pass on this one. Or … write a blog post?

    Like

  6. Hariod Brawn
    February 22, 2016

    After you mentioned this essay earlier abroad, I went looking for it online and found nothing other than references to Turning Back the Clock and selective quotes. So, thankyou Mr. M.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mr. Merveilleux
      February 22, 2016

      I have the Italian original in case you’d like me to post it. It was originally published in L’Espresso- and I don’t quite understand why it seems to have disappeared from the internet all together?!?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hariod Brawn
        February 22, 2016

        Very sweet of you, although I can buy Turning Back the Clock in English (I don’t speak Italian), for £3 (hardback!), so shall do that. I suppose the apparent absence of the text online other than in Google Books (not copy-able) is down to copyright issues. Stand by for the writ Mr. M.! 😉

        Like

      • Mr. Merveilleux
        February 22, 2016

        But even the original on L’Espresso disappeared. One presumes that as they published it they could have kept it online?

        Like

      • Hariod Brawn
        February 22, 2016

        I don’t really know, but the issuing of publishing rights can be both regionally and temporally restricted as I understand it.

        Like

  7. dpmonahan
    February 23, 2016

    Shorter Eco:
    How to win an argument in three steps.
    1) Become professor of semiotics.
    2) Rig the terms of debate so you are always right and good, and the people you find distasteful (poor white folk) are always wrong and evil.
    3) Huge Profits!

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2016 by in activism and tagged , , , , , .
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