Sunday, October 23, 2016

The dangerous power of PC

So a while ago - maybe two months - I was involved in a discussion around the term white privilege. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned the potential role epigenetics and genetic memory might play in some of the issues we see between races, particularly relating to violent interactions.

I was immediately told to "tread carefully".

Well, my anxiety kicked in then, as it tends to do whenever I am afraid I might have hurt someones feelings, and I started rambling and trying to be clever and witty with my response (and as usual was probably neither). Then I got labeled as ignorant and immature, which more or less confirmed my anxieties, and that is pretty much where the conversation ended.

But of course, as is always the case for me. I continued to play the event over and over in my mind, torturing myself with every word. How could I have worded it differently?

This afternoon I was going through another round of that for an hour as me and puppy went for a long walk (an aside, that was also an interesting adventure. Rogue has never been fond of cars, I thought I would try taking her in the car with the windows rolled down, to someplace new and fun - see if that wold help. For her the walk was great fun, the car, pure torture both ways)

But today I had a moment of clarity as I was torturing myself. Political Correctness has the potential to be very dangerous to intellectual progress.

A brief anecdote: A few years ago, I was at a training conference for a week. While there, a group of attendees, including myself became acquainted, and at one point several in this group started making plans to go for drinks one evening. The roughest, toughest looking of the group (Keeping in mind this was a technology training, not a biker rally) quickly declined, saying he doesn't drink.

Later I asked him if he was Mormon. He informed me he was not even particularly religious - agnostic. As a youth he had observed and learned of members of his heritage who had experienced considerable unpleasantness related to alcoholism. He concluded that there must be a genetic predisposition to  alcoholism in has ancestry, so he made the choice, as a pre-teen, to never use alcohol. "Why take the chance?" he said. He observed a potential genetic pitfall and made the choice to avoid any circumstance which might trigger alcoholism.

Now, in this previous conversation, I wasn't talking about genetics - inherited traits. I was referring to epigenetics - trait variations caused by environmental factors (one proposed theory is that violence in many inner city areas may be due to mild lead poisoning, due to old lead pipes in old plumbing), and genetic memory - a newer theory that some memories are subtly transferred genetically - think of the behaviors we call instinct as an example of this). But now I am including genetics generally in this thought.

I understand that in the past there were people who proclaimed the notion that some races were genetically inferior and others were genetically superior. I am aware of eugenics and some of the horrible atrocities which sprang from it (mentioned them in a prior post, in fact).

But, when you avoid ideas or theories, or general science, based on the fact that previous misuse might lead to uncomfortable feelings, you may very well prevent people from obtaining valuable knowledge which may improve - even save lives.

Let me throw a what-if. out. Talking of blacks and police violence as a specific example. I have read of several studies showing police of any race are more likely to use force and/or shoot a black person. I have also read an analysis concluding that Black police officers are more likely to use force. Now it is fairly obvious why someone would wish to avoid talking about this. Some would choose to imply that black people are more violent (genetically inferior/savages/...). Others would fear someone might think they are implying this.

But what if, for some genetic (less likely), epigenetic or genetic memory reason, Black Americans are genetically more aggressive? To be clear aggressiveness is NOT a negative trait. Aggressiveness is a key trait for success in any extroverted fields of endeavor. Acting, performing, sports, business, sales, politics,... Aggressiveness - reaching for the stars significantly aids in success. Yes, there can be negative consequences  depending on when, where and how aggressiveness is applied. That is true of almost every good thing.

Now, what if, knowing this is a common trait, people (especially law enforcement in this case) are trained with specific techniques allowing for the avoidance of triggers - just like my acquaintance avoiding alcohol? What if?

But, we don't know 'what if'. We are afraid of offending someone, or of giving some idiot ammunition to support his racist rhetoric. In essence we choose to remain ignorant and suffer the resulting consequences because of the stupid, or because of a fear of being labeled as not PC, or ignorant, or immature.

Our company brought in some personality expert to do a personality interaction training. Based on our answers two a battery of questions, a color wheel was filled out which to a certain degree identified our personality - how we would likely behave in certain conditions. Many people have kept their result on their desk. One of the HR guys commented to me how much he likes that. When he goes to talk to someone, he can glance at their color wheel and tailor his conversation to them. His specific example was that one pattern favors small talk, so he initiates conversations with them by asking about family, friends, etc... (that is his pattern by the way).  Another pattern hates small talk, and prefers quick concise information, so for them he get right down to business. The result for him are his interactions are almost always perceived positively.

Political Correctness - Word policing, thought policing can be very detrimental to this.Fear of words, of ideas, because they have a checkered past, or because they are vaguely related to some bad event... very.... counterproductive.

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of a personality expert who comes into a workspace, helps individuals diagnose themselves, and sets up a system that could help different personalities interact better.That's thinking! I wish we could do this training for everyone at every level of society! Church, work, politics, facebook preferences...