This really is a great piece!
Very well written.
This is truly a fantastic piece. I read it feeling, “wow, maybe I’m not so alone.”
I know what my values are: they are those of secular humanism: freedom of expression, social justice, the pursuit of equality for all, democracy, the pursuit of fair justice and ethics, separation of religion and state, the pursuit and championing of science, art, knowledge, and more — basically, all liberal values I thought were championed by the Left. However, now and more and more, I am not so sure for the exact reasons you’ve mentioned, leading me to feel very alone amongst my peers.
I try to wrestle and deal with all of the above, by deciding that I have abandoned the political spectrum, and I urge others to do so as well. Instead, I say I am “issue-based.” Ask me about a particular issue — be it international politics, domestic politics, free speech, women’s reproductive rights, discrimination in society, guns and violence, poverty and homelessness, religion, etc. — and I will tell you my opinions and views. If you were to then plot these answers onto a graph of the political-spectrum, they would likely mostly cluster around the left. However, other views would not, and I more and more have started to spread out all over this so-called spectrum (or at times, seemingly cannot find a spot to plot it on), because of the very issues and problems you’ve mentioned with the current Left. In the end, it feels lonely; many times as well, I feel the social-pressure to self-censor my views, when I know I am about to express the “wrong” or controversial view, especially since I’m in the public eye (somewhat) as a comedian and actor.
I think a huge part of the problem to begin with is that people are so attached to their chosen, perceived and proclaimed spot on this so-called political spectrum. This is true for both the Left and Right, and so perhaps it is more a problem with how humans think, and their deeply-rooted need to belong and conform to a group — specifically, whichever they perceive to be the ‘correct’ or ‘cool’ group.
For example, and we’ll talk about leftists here, because that is the subject of this article, it seems it’s become an important part of someone’s identity — often throughout one’s entire life — to be a ‘leftist’. Therefore, when confronted with a particular issue of debate, their brain goes on a sort of autopilot mode, where instead of truly analyzing a particular issue or question at hand, they enter into “groupthink”: they ask themselves, “What does the Left say is the correct view on this? What do the current Left’s gurus (Chomsky, etc.) say about this?”
Even if they read articles for research — and so many people will readily discuss even the most complicated geopolitical issues, as though they were experts, having read just a few articles (or mayyybe a couple of books, ooh la la) — they often will do so from only the perspective of their groups and gurus. In effect, they have already decided the verdict on the particular issue, so they aren’t truly reading in a way that might cause them to question or doubt their adopted views.
As much as we must try to examine our own biases and search for objectivity and fairness, we must also be careful not to confuse adopting and championing the majority view of the ‘other’ or the perceived ‘downtrodden’, as meaning we have successfully shed our biases and have found objective and true justice.
Additionally, we must speak about history — and here I mean, the lack of its study. I’m truly shocked and saddened by the fact that people seem to show so little interest in really delving and researching into the full and complicated history of certain issues. This is especially true of the entire Israel-Palestine debate and current anti-Zionist movement. The declared Leftist dogma deeming Israel as an evil, white, western, colonialist, state is simply not true. I’m sorry its history doesn’t fit neatly into that model — and it often doesn’t for many other issues — but it just doesn’t. If anyone actually reads and examines the history from many sources, including contemporary sources, data collected at the time, etc. etc., they will begin to see why the current crisis isn’t as simple to solve and discuss as easily and readily as they feel it is. And yes, agreed, certainly not all anti-Zionists are antisemites, but by and large, they have mostly become so for the very reasons you’ve pointed out.
I, too, cannot understand the Left’s current silence and hypocritical stance on many of the world’s atrocities. If a non-western state, government, group or religion, is engaged systemic violence, murder, abuse and discrimination, should it not matter? Should it not matter as much? It seems this is what the Left is indeed saying.
My undergrad degree was a double-major in History and International Studies-The Middle East, and I get that not everyone should be required to do a full degree in a given subject before expressing their views; but that said, I’m shocked by how little research and examining they have done before feeling confident enough to comment and declare their opinions on topics. And once declared, it seems they will rarely change their mind, no matter how much evidence is given to the contrary.
In effect, it seems that most people aren’t, as you say, seeking the honest truth or justice in a given situation; people seem to be simply asking, “What is the correct view to have on this topic, according to the majority opinion or leadership of my chosen group?”
This is dangerous of course, because such people abandon all forms of actual free thinking, and will readily squash debate that tries to actually engage in legitimate questioning and discussion. They will then, as you mentioned, brand any dissenting opinions or even questions with terrible, socially-ostracizing insults, such as ‘racist’, ‘x-or-y-phobic’, etc. — which can have real consequences on a person’s life and career — thus shutting down debate and warding off any future debate.
As for universal values, like you say, they don’t believe in any, or even the seeking of those universal values of justice and freedom (as much as that’s even possible). Relativism is instead championed, and this is of course so dangerous, because it means we cannot truly question and fight certain abuses without being branded a sort of “cultural imperialist.”
We must absolutely pursue universal values of justice and we should not be turning a blind eye to abuses just because they are accepted by a particular society, or even the very group and people being abused. Those who are abused are often taught to accept the system of abuse. The same goes for long-held traditions and customs. Longevity does not make something true or just. For example, slavery was a longstanding tradition, and many black slaves were taught and therefore adopted the belief that their lot was ordained from god. Had we believed in cultural relativism at the time, we would have never successfully gotten rid of slavery. People would have argued (as they did) that this was their society’s right and part of their particular system of justice. The same goes for women’s rights in many non-western countries: when polled, many women today agree that it is their fault and perfectly acceptable to be physically abused by their husbands when they do something wrong.
Of course, none of the above should be news to the Left. These were supposed to be their values. I think in truth, many Leftists are hypocritically silent about certain things, because they are feeling a sort of cognitive dissonance.
They do know the practice and abuse by non-westerners is wrong, but don’t know what to do about it. It’s easier then to shove the issues aside, and not think and talk about them. They are also afraid that speaking out against such things would make them a western cultural colonialist. Moreover, they worry that such criticism could cause people to abandon some of their important causes. For example, if we take a look at the relative silence of Leftists regarding, say, the high rate of honour killings in Palestine. In this case, they would feel uneasy about both criticizing a non-western society, as well as the fear that doing so would make them anti-Palestinian and bring negative attention to the Palestinian people. The same goes for their silence regarding homophobia and the abuse of gays in Muslim countries, and the sanctioning of this very abuse by Islamic teachings and imams.
This is all particularly dangerous and has big ramifications especially for immigrant children who are raised in the west, but aren’t allowed the western freedoms, rights, education, and benefits their passports are supposed to afford them. We cannot allow such a two-tier system of justice, and I don’t think the Left even realizes it’s promoting this, but that’s precisely what is happening thanks to their championing of cultural relativism.
We must not be afraid to criticize wrongdoing from any group and we must be as outspoken and critical of abuses wherever we see them.
We must simply express the truth as we see it, no matter where it’s coming from. Therefore, we must not be afraid to express views that may be shared by, gasp, the ‘wrong side’. For example, I find so many Leftists identify themselves more accurately as ‘non-rightwing’; they see themselves more in opposition to something, rather than clearly having views for something. Therefore, they are terrified of sharing a view that, the Right might have. I’ll break this down into a simple analogy: if tomorrow, Bush & Cheney declared “We absolutely love the color yellow. It’s just so happy and sunny”, a bunch of leftists who loved yellow would be experiencing emotional turmoil. This is ridiculous, but I have seen the exact type of ‘logic’ used in debate. Someone will argue a position that might actually be true, but will be countered by a Leftist saying ‘Wow, that’s exactly what the right-wing politician X said! How can you be saying the same thing?!’
Again, though, I find it scary that so many people seem not to be searching for honest truths, but are mostly concerned with showing that they have the current, accepted ‘correct’ views — again, as dictated by their leadership and groupthink. I call it the “K-Mart package deal” — you can meet one self-proclaimed Leftist, and literally know everything they think about most issues, such as: Israel is evil and a colonialist state; the West is always wrong and responsible for the evils of the world; if you criticize Islam, you are Islamophobic; the non-western, developing world is languishing behind the developed western world due to the west’s actions, and where there are any social, cultural, and governmental problems, it is only because of the actions and legacy of western colonialism; the eastern and older societies and religions are to be romanticized and lauded for their ancient wisdom; and so on the ‘package deal’ goes regarding racism, women’s rights, the US government, etc.
Look, I even happen to agree with them on many issues, especially social ones, but each issue was individually examined, and I also continue to examine them and read evidence and research from all sides of the issue. It would therefore be okay for me to change my views on some issues, or even just sit in the muddy waters of ‘grey areas’ and work to figure out a decision, but I feel this isn’t the case for most people. Human beings are/should be more complexed individuals and not as monolithic. Of course, it is entirely possible for someone to examine each issue on its own and still come up with each of the views listed in the above ‘K-mart package deal’, but most of the time I find it’s mostly due to a herd mentality rather than individual examination.
It’s also just frankly more interesting and fun, when I meet people who can express an outlying view and engage in honest and lively discussion — and actually consider each idea and admit when a counterargument has made them reconsider their position on a given issue. The only way society can and has always truly progressed, is when we were able to freely and openly debate, question, reconsider — and mock — our ideas, systems, and beliefs.
Much of the Left seems to be unquestioningly dogmatic about their views. It’s a cause for great concern, especially considering the fact that the right-wing is pretty much doing the same thing. As you pointed out, the irony is, the Left seems to be adopting the very behaviors and views for which they have traditionally and rightfully criticized the Right.
Where does that leave the rest of us? Those of us who do believe in at least the search for universal values of freedom, freedom of expression, justice and ethics?
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Wow. Thanks for your kind, considered and thoughtful comment 🙂
Excellent piece! Love that you guys touched on many different manifestations of modern far-left thought. Quick thing: “Anti-Zionism is also both an umbrella for protecting individual anti-Zionists, and it contributes to anti-Zionism through its zealotry.”
Do you guys have a definition of free speech, though? Might be helpful, since people can’t agree what free speech means. I think FIRE has given the best definition that I personally have seen. They claim free speech is more of a mindset, an openness, than any single law or rule. This is quite different than the common view I encounter that “free speech” only relates to government censorship. Even those who subscribe to the former view disagree on many details, such as whether or not a university should tolerate neo-nazis.
Thanks for pointing out that error Baron! And that seems a really good definition. FIRE are a good group.
Shades of Orwell here, critiquing the many ways irrationality and inconsistency is justified by too many on the left. Nick Cohen picked up the baton a few years ago. The left is nothing if it is not moral, rational and fair. Free speech should never be something to be afraid of and anybody advocating censorship should not so much “check their privilege” but examine the coherence of their values. Bad ideas should be bested in open debate, never censored. Much in this article really does need to be said and repeated loudly.
You’re terribly kind.
I was just thinking about the danger of identity politics today. It was nice to read the idea fleshed out. Gave me more to think about. Here’s to hoping that the left and right wings can recover before they blame each other into the garbage.
I’m glad I found this post. I was beginning to think I was alone.
I’ve long had issue with identity politics. It came to a head when I started following the social justice blogs on tumblr. I think they rather ironically made me racist. Situations I previously would have handled without thought started to crop up whenever I interacted with people that didn’t look like me.- “Was holding that door patronising? Was it presumptuous? Do they think I have some kind of ulterior motive?” Nope. They probably thought I was just being polite, and I’ve just trained myself to expect everybody to find everything offensive.
People need to get away from that stuff. It’s dangerous and counter-productive. Real issues don’t get addressed as we’ve been seeing recently.
The biggest problem is that it’s getting worse.
I tend to get my news the Independent and New Statesman, but since the resurgence of radical femenism, fringe opinions by whoever shouts that they’re most offended seem to get to present their story as facts, as unquestionable truths. If you look at how things like Dapper Laughs, Page 3 and GamerGate were handled. Anybody who dared to question the mainstream narrative was a rape apologist and hates women. Despite the fact that a significant number of the people that were skeptical about the “women’s” argument were women, their opinions were never to be republished beyond the twitter and facebook comment threads. The irony of silencing women in order to give women a voice was explained away to me because any women with a differing opinion was just brainwashed by the patriarchy.
Another example is when someone on facebook excitedly said that their philosophy professor shut down the new atheists by calling them racists. Don’t get me wrong, new atheists are sometimes insufferable, but this annoyed me no end. Not because race is not the same as religion, and not because they were probably making valid criticism of Islamism. But because I’d always thought that criticism of theology was a major part of philosophy studies. To me, to remove deconstructing religion from philosophy is like removing multiplication from mathematics.
More on the subject of sheilding Islam. Because of all this sensitivity we have no effective propaganda to counter IS. Our own media’s refusal to ridicule has not only allowed this mystique to form around them which aids their recruitment. Beyond the odd press release or comment from the street on the news, there is nothing to seperate moderate Islam from Islamism, in the eyes of somebody who doesn’t look for it. The far-right are benefitting from the fact that the distinction is not made clear.
I’m a firm believer that the collapse of the EDL was nothing to do with anti-fascist marches. It was the footage on TV of north African muslims waving union flags, and speaking of how they were going to create secular democracies that would put europe to shame. These were the images that disolved the right wing caricature.
Now because of IS, the far right is on the rise again, and it’s up to any muslims reading this to stop it. I’ve heard harsh criticism from friends and I’ve seen savage mockery on social media. To stop any victimisation of muslims that actually is going, it’s up to you guys to mercilessly mock and harangue the Islamists until the mainstream representation of Islam is no longer that of terror and theocracy.
Again. Thanks for writing this. I was beginning to think I might be a Tory.
Great article. Great comments. Great blog. Nice to find somewhere that feels like home.
Thank you 🙂
[…] note that this post is my response comment to the superb and must-read essay ‘The Decay of the Left and The Need to Reaffirm Liberalism by Robbie Travers & Tom […]
I enjoyed the article. The scary part is I found myself agreeing with most points, and I consider myself libertarian to conservative.
Nice work on identity politics, but isn’t your pro-Zionist position an instance of identity politics itself?
No it isn’t. My sympathy for Israel is primarily value-based.
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