As a longtime libertarian and an avowed egalitarian socialist, I've struggled with the concept of "political correctness" for as long as I've had a political awareness. I went through a neoliberal democrat phase in the 90's where what many denounced as PC simply looked like good manners to me. Don't get me wrong; some of it was just that: the attempts of well-meaning people to navigate a culture permeated with deep-seated privilege and oppressive features. And yet, just as much polite talk is not exceedingly honest, I always had a nagging suspicion that politically correct habits were something more than mere social graces.
So this essay has been a long time coming for me, as I try to figure out where I fit in on the Left. My heart is in the struggle for an egalitarian, enlightened, peaceful world. But I don't consider leftism a religion, and the impulse of many to treat it as such -- to codify and regulate the behavior of people according to its tenets -- too often looks like a movement going through the motions instead of genuinely challenging the human condition. Indeed, my argument is that political correctness, far from being an expression of genuine compassion and anti-bigotry, has transformed into a cosmetic substitute for authentic radicalism legitimating authority and privilege while hampering our efforts to change our condition. The goal of this essay is to start a conversation within the Left about our means, not our ends.