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Good Intentions Gone Bad

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Jaymes Gleeson takes a closer look at political correctness, plus size models & medals for everyone

We are living through the slow motion detonation of unintended consequences. The shocking racism, misogyny, sexual harassment and “fat shaming” of previous generations was in dire need of redress, but the cure of political correctness has spawned unimaginable problems that are metastasizing at an alarming rate.

Political Correctness is widely misunderstood. It suggests that grammatical choices made in language influence both the speaker’s and the listener’s ideas and actions. At its inception, it was a long overdue correction to a social discourse whose default mode was racist, misogynistic, and generally skewered towards further harming those traditionally at the wrong end of the club. This noble intention has transmogrified into a movement that, it might be argued, has overshot the runway, crashed, and is now incinerating us.

Political correctness was meant to make the world better for those who might otherwise have been unfairly marginalized. To an extent, this has clearly been the case. So where did it all go wrong, and what have been the unintended knock on effects currently tearing holes in the fabric of society?

The central notion was prioritising the protection of hitherto vulnerable people. Whether minorities, women, children or any historically marginalised group, it was the PC filter that was to be the cloak of protection. So what went wrong?

Such protection has become a deep seated and all pervasive mollycoddling, taken to such lengths by otherwise well-meaning individuals, that the most minor of indiscretions have led to public humiliation, career loss, and even jail time in specific cases, but more generally, set up ‘no go zones’ for certain topics, leading to a quiet epidemic of self-censorship, a consequent watering down of necessary intellectual debate, and a dumbing-down of society.

adorable child in girlish dress inflating balloon at home
Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

Children need protection, but do they have to be wrapped so tight in cotton wool (e.g.medals for participation) that their formative experiences leave them so ill prepared for the far less forgiving outside world that suicide becomes the only acceptable alternative? The suicide rate for people aged 10 to 24 increased by 56% between 2007 to 2017, according to new data from the CDC. For children aged 10 to 14, the suicide rate tripled between 2007 to 2017 after years of decline.

Overt racist language has no place in the modern world, but to assert that intention has no relevance to someone accused of using a racist slur is an eggregious example of this overcorrection. Netflix ex-CEO Jonathan Friedland was fired for saying “ the word “retarded” was as ​unacceptable​ as the word “n****r””. His intention was to ​stamp out t​ hese words on Netflix. This is the polar opposite of a racial slur. Yet he was still fired as though he used it with malice and ill-will.

crop kid weighing on scale
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

The use of “fat-shaming” slurs and terminology has for too long been widely accepted, and its redress is to be applauded. Yet, to now have a “healthy at any weight” movement is not only absurd, but represents a public health danger. A concomitant of this movement is the appearance of the “plus size model”. To have a morbidly obese woman on the cover of Cosmipolitan magazine is an exemplar for doing the wrong thing for the right reason. No one wants to marginalise obese individuals, but by saying there’s nothing wrong with them is to fly in the face of the last 100 years of health research.

This isn’t about whether larger people should model clothes. It is by glorifying such actions that society is placing on a higher pedestal the superficiality of public acceptance over that which is infinitely more important: individual health, and by extension, life itself.

Hayley Hasselhoff
Hayley Hasselhoff is often described as a plus size model

The concept of the ‘Plus size model’ is a tributary flowing from the PC movement. As is the dangerous concept “healthy at any weight’. Together they pose a clear and present danger to public health.

Surely it’s prudent to see the folly of adding self-delusion to the psychological and physiological problems of the overweight person. If you’ve got 10kg or more to lose, you’re inflamed; and an inflamed person is an unhealthy person. It does such a person a terrible disservice to ignore the obvious, and worse, to declare it laudatory under the flimsy pretext of social inclusivity.

Is there any hope this will change?

The movement towards a more inclusive discourse can be seen in Hegalian terms, which implies a self-correction in due course.

The German philosopher Hegal, via terminology used by Emmanual Kant, introduced the world to what he termed the ‘dialectical method’.

Put simply, it contains three dialectical stages of development: a ​thesis​, giving rise to its reaction; an ​antithesis​, which contradicts or negates the thesis; and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis​. In more simplistic terms, one can consider it thus: problem → reaction → solution.

This formula, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, presupposes a problem with the thesis (in this case, a damaging social discourse: derogatory language about vulnerable people) thus requiring an antithesis (a more inclusive discourse: the PC movement). For Hegel, the overreaction, the antithesis, is an essential phase in the journey towards the completion: the synthesis (a perfectly balanced social discourse).

graceful positive asian teacher and little ballerina stretching together
Photo by Budgeron Bach on Pexels.com

One can take solace from Hegel on this point, but, in the meantime, we as a society are trapped in Hegel’s ​antithesis, ​the overreaction phase. For synthesis​ to occur, we all need to find balance and nuance. And for a world so polarised, this will take some doing.

The Carousel would like to thank J. A Gleeson for this article. He is a Personal Trainer at Tribe Social Fitness, Sutherland Shire, Sydney. 

Written by Jaymes Gleeson

Over 25 years experience as an athlete, athletics coach, consultant, personal trainer, educator and independent researcher.

Athletics Scholarship to study in the United States in 1991.
- San Francisco State University (Psychology, Nutrition, Athletics)
- American Collage of Sports Medicine (Personal Training)

Throughout 90s worked as athletics coach and personal trainer in US.
Early 2000s worked in Snow Sports throughout Japan.
Returned to Australia in 2008 to continue wellness research and personal training in high end health clubs in Sydney.

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