I agree that it is easy for activists of any stripe — liberal, conservative, libertarian, anarchist, etc. — to lose their heads in the clouds of idealism, especially when facing difficult facts on the ground. Self-identifying liberals aren’t immune to the human tendency towards prejudice and partisanship. Humans typically follow the path of least resistance to our own world views. This is especially easy when a given activist has no first-hand experience with the subject of their activism.
But arguing that because some activists illogically isolate themselves means all activists should no longer partake in “the policing of others” (also known as correction and education), “safe spaces” (also known as offering refuge, sanctuary, and practical support), or basic interpersonal judgement is to make a prejudicial issue out of the activists.
Of course the world is dangerous, dark, dirty, and difficult. Activists who don’t acknowledge this with a willingness to “get their hands dirty” aren’t real activists; they’re bloviating cowards lionizing themselves with a “cause.”
Ms. Lamon makes a specific argument that I particularly take to task. She claims “there is […] a disturbing trend […] that involves rejecting free speech/freedom of expression […], because that speech could possibly be hurtful […].” Free speech can be hurful. Sticks, stones, and words can all hurt us. When that damage is done, the speaker should not be free from consequence because he or she shouts, “First Amendment rights!” All Americans do have the First Amendment right to speak and write like an asshole. What we don’t have the right to is for that speech to be absolutely free from challenge and consequence. Call that censorship if you like; I call that democracy.
Also, the First Amendment isn’t sacrosanct. It does — and should — have limits. As I wrote, the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from the free speech of others to disagree with you. But if that disagreement reduces to dissembling, ad hominem, slander, libel, extortion, or other damaging (potentially illegal) speech, then the First Amendment shouldn’t apply.
Finally, speaking intelligently and accurately isn’t talking down to those whom may not fully understand. Language matters. Communication matters. Mutual understanding matters. Just because not everyone utilizes terms like “patriarchy”, “white privilege”, “heteronormativity”, “problematic behaviours”, and “bourgeoisie” doesn’t mean they aren’t useful, accurate, and even comprehensible terms with a bit of patience and education.
Ms. Lamon also mentions her opinion that “[In an activist circle claiming to be building a new society], if a person makes a mistake, says and/or does something wrong, they are not even given a chance to explain their side of what happened […].” If this is generally true, then that social group needs to seriously re-analyze how they treat one another. Their actions are truly hypocritical and self-defeating.
However, in my experience, liberals are generally forgiving to a fault. They tend to leave themselves vulnerable to malicious individuals. Here’s an example: liberals never want to use the perfectly valid term “enemy” when referring to those whom have directly professed themselves as enemies; they have used the precise term. Disagreement doesn’t make you an enemy, but calling yourself an enemy intending to inflict violence upon the person you disagree with does. IMHO, one should acknowledge one’s enemies as enemies.
Some final thoughts:
It is important in any activism that individuals don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good, because perfection doesn’t exist.
It’s important that activists reserve judgement not only on their fellow travelers but also on those they disagree with.
Power gradients — and their lack of balance — will always exist because it is human nature to follow the leader. But we can socially and scientifically correct for this bias as long as we acknowledge it. The truest wisdom comes from knowing when to encourage and when to correct while never shaming or discouraging, especially among our leaders.
No, it’s not true that “being offended by a person’s speech or worldview is equal to prison time or living on the streets.” However, sometimes people — whether they’re allies, opposition, or indifferent — are offensively, demonstrably incorrect. There’s nothing intolerant, bigoted, or pretentious about pointing that out.
And there’s nothing novel, progressive, or anarchistic about complaining how even liberals can occasionally be jerks.