I'm not a fan of political correctness for one essential reason: It's a form of peer pressure. And peer pressure has produced everything from harmless fads such as Beatlemania and pet rocks to horrific realities such as segregation and the Japanese internment.
Like any other form of peer pressure, political correctness is, in its raw form, pure majority rule: a social construct for reinforcing behavior without the crucial safeguard of a constitution.
Unless, that is, we use our conscience.
Our conscience and personal ethics function as just such a safeguard - a personal constitution, if you will - in the face of peer pressure. Any peer pressure, from fan mania to institutional bigotry. That includes political correctness - which, by itself, is just as susceptible to whim and abuse as any other form of bandwagon thinking.
One of the worst things anyone can do is substitute political correctness for the bedrock principles of conscience that come from within - to rely on it as the sole means of regulating society. Political correctness without conscience is like majority rule without a constitution. In a word, it's scary.
Two core elements of conscience are kindness and respect. People who display these attributes do so because they genuinely believe it's the right thing to do. It's an authentic expression of who they are.
Political correctness, on the other hand, is imposed from without - sometimes by force. It's a concept that says, "If you don't comply with what we've decided is appropriate, we'll shame you, we'll hold you up to public ridicule, we'll punish you for what we consider your bad behavior."
Necessary, not sufficient
Authenticity, in itself, is not the ultimate virtue. People can be authentic bullies, racists, sociopaths and jackasses. Some of those people deserve to be exposed and, yes, even shamed. But if we settle for political correctness as a substitute for authentic kindness, we do ourselves a huge disservice.
Personal ethics are our best line of defense against bigotry and hatred precisely because they're authentic. If we substitute a socially enforced and punitive system of peer pressure such as political correctness, we can never be sure whether the actions of those under this system are authentic or not. Are they acting voluntarily, or simply because they're afraid of being exposed, shamed and sanctioned by the majority? And if the system changes, can they be relied upon to continue their positive behavior?
Then again, what if the behavior isn't positive at all? Peer pressure can be - and has been - used just as easily and effectively to reinforce bigotry as to fight it, and public sentiments can turn on a dime when circumstances change. Someone who acts merely from fear of punishment can just as easily choose the opposite course when such a threat is removed.
Fear of Punishment
Political correctness works (insofar as it does), because it invokes this very fear of punishment. People walk on eggshells rather than acting with the genuine grace of authentic kindness. True respect requires no fear of retribution but, on the contrary, demand the fortitude to maintain one's principles even in the face of the same sort of fear political correctness seeks to harness.
Isn't it better to act on conscience than to work in behalf of another's agenda? To motivate respect rather than capitulate to fear?
Authentic kindness should always be our goal. Political correctness is a poor and fickle substitute for the courage of our convictions.