Definitions And Origins
Modern western PC likely has its roots in the sentiment common among the left-leaning intellectuals of the 1970’s that there were groups in the society that were so heavily disadvantaged that in order to do right by them it was necessary to go beyond merely codifying equality into laws and regulations. The idea was to give the disadvantaged groups an extra advantage in the form of affirmative action and extra protections against actions and even words perceived as hostile or detrimental to those groups. The groups to be protected include but are not limited to women, minorities (especially persons of color), the LGBT community, people identifying as other species and potentially other minority groups this author can not think of at the moment.
Additional concepts without which the discussion of PC would be incorrect are Social Justice Warriors (SJW’s) and Identity Politics (IP). The former - as defined for the purposes of this discussion - can be loosely defined as activists fighting to impose PC norms and enforce them. The latter are politics based on group identifiers (gender, skin color, health status) that the individual has little to no control over. As one can easily imagine, in many cases - in fact, in the majority of cases - identity politics and PC can hardly be told apart.
Whole new concepts have merged - such as that of microaggressions, which is to say, aggressions almost imperceptible but yet supposedly harmful to supposed victims. Or that of cultural appropriation - that is, using something originating from the minority culture without belonging to said minority which is equated to treating said group as a commodity.
It appears that in many instances a modern adept of PC, or an SJW, would give priority to PC norms and notions over facts or science.
Positive Outcomes Of PC
It is difficult to quantify these effects though one does not have to go far to find people who praise these initiatives for establishing workspace conditions that are, at least on the surface, more civil, with less lewd talk and unwelcome comments, of sexual nature or otherwise. Studies exist where people are mostly asked about how they feel about the policies in place and their effect and they do report higher levels of psychological comfort.
Affirmative action has helped some people achieve what they may not have achieved without it. That is hardly in dispute. It has helped some people, perhaps those with relatively low confidence, feel less intimidated and feel more empowered to launch complaints in situations where they feel they have been harassed or otherwise treated unfairly.
Without a doubt, political correctness has improved some people’s situations. It must also be stated that the same can be said of just about any large-scale societal initiative or tendency.
Negative Outcomes Of PC
I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that's considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, "Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated." Hurting a student's feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble.
As incredible as the Mizzou protests story may seem, it did not result in any human fatalities. The same can almost certainly not be said of the story of Charles Cullen. Cullen, a killer nurse who while not widely known may be America’s most prolific mass murderer, was able to easily move from job to job even though patients died during his shifts at rates that were positively abnormal and raised serious concerns of the medical institution where he would work. However that same medical institution, for fear of being sued for discrimination, would not inform potential employers of these concerns when those other medical institutions would ask for a reference on Cullen. It is still not known how many people he had killed, and we may never know how many would have been saved had PC notions not infiltrated the medical workplace but we can be all but sure that a significant number of people had left this world earlier than they otherwise would have thanks not only to Cullen’s sick homicidal drive but also to the PC norms. Cullen’s example is obviously extreme but there is little reason to doubt that his story is not unique and other fatalities occurred because of workplaces afraid to report concerns with homicidal, suicidal or just reckless employees who actions, intentional or unintentional, had a great potential of bringing grievous harm to innocent victims.
Additionally, it must be noted that the prevalence of PC in the educational system not only stifles debate and drives down the quality of education but also creates a generation after generation of people used to “echo chambers”, “safe spaces” and perceiving a free society as an anomality - and a dangerous one at that. Those people are prone to push for more and more PC, and while clearly in their mind they benefit from it one would not be wrong to ask whether or not this phenomena is of a circular nature, a vicious circle of PC generating demand for more PC, much like drug addiction generates more demand for drug addiction. And while a drug addict would believe themselves being happy due to drugs, and demand more drugs for themselves, sane and sober people would likely question the wisdom of such a choice.