America, we have an identity crisis.
Every time I read the news I feel smaller and smaller as a person and less informed than ever about what’s going on in the world. What constitutes news rarely contains facts or sources, and the labels that once helped us make sense of politics now mean less than ever. When you call yourself a liberal, do you mean a progressive or a moderate? If you say conservative, do you mean alt-right, libertarian, or something else?
We the people have had it with establishment.
Whether your brand of populism has a left-leaning or right-leaning label on it, you’re probably fed up and you have a right to be. Things don’t work as they stand right now; something’s clearly wrong. Whether you voted for Donald or continue to support this administration or not, you probably realize that we stand at a critical moment in our nation’s history. All of the cynical jokes we’ve made about dishonest lawyers and crooked politicians finally blew up in our faces, and now we’re starting to take the game of politics a bit more seriously.
With so much happening so quickly, definitions of things like “liberal” and “conservative” become more fluid as the spectrum widens to account for more and more political issues, which makes it all the more important to reexamine our labels and try not to generalize too much when critiquing the opinions of others.
Part of the issue has to do with the difference between civil and scientific discourse. Conservatives have been trying to point out that anyone expressing views in a civil manner has the right to express their views no matter how stupid, racist, sexist, classist, bigoted, or dangerous they may be. I can get down with that. This is America; you’re allowed to say whatever I want. On the other hand, I’m also allowed to civilly disagree as loudly as I want and point out how stupid, racist, sexist, classist, bigoted, and/or dangerous your views might be as well.
Liberals, in their typically misguided fashion, have been trying to point out that the standards for what constitute ‘civil’ discourse lie far below what we should consider appropriate scientific, and hopefully at least a tiny bit below appropriate political discourse. Having to argue whether or not black lives matter in 2017 in a political context, for example, is a shameful affair. This should be foundational knowledge by now, upon which we’re able to build an understanding of the ways in which we can address systemic inequity, most pressingly within the criminal justice system.
Lately we’ve dealt with our frustration by screaming “identity politics!” as loud as possible, but the silent crisis we face has to do with authenticity. As soon as someone makes a point about an issue a dozen other individuals see a dozen more implications that the original author may or may not have ever considered, and oftentimes we dismiss an argument that doesn’t jive with our current perspective because we see a missing piece of the puzzle and assume that the rest of the argument won’t have anything significant to offer.
Liberals tend to think, “I’m a decent person. I have a good sense of right and wrong. Whatever the liberals fight for must be for the moral good” (in most cases). The conservative angle goes something like, “I’m a hard-working, free individual. I work for liberties and privileges. Whatever the conservatives fight for must be for the economic good” (again, in most cases), but at this point the closest thing we have to a static definition of liberal, conservative, Republican or Democrat has to do with opposing the other side through semantic and political manipulation. We lack an honest platform for debate.
Picture the coward who says “I’m entitled to my own opinion” without the slightest bit of interest in seeing that opinion questioned and you can start to see the problem. Producing useful knowledge requires us to exchange opinions. If caveman said to cavewoman, “it sounds like cavebaby’s calling you “mama” and cavewoman shot back, “well that’s just your opinion!”, we might still be clubbing each other over the head wondering what to call each other.
When we read and process information we have to be careful to keep it in context so that we can respond to the information itself rather than any of the implications triggered during the act of processing. It also helps to strive for awareness of the implications that tend to get triggered in your brain. As someone who grew up on the left I tend to be more critical of the right, so I know I have to listen a bit more carefully to my Republican friends.
Conservatives rarely, but occasionally touch upon practical, economic truths we should absolutely pay attention to and seek out, even if we have to wade through a lot of ignorant crap to get there. Liberals rarely, but occasionally touch upon idealistic, political truths and we should wade through the mountains of misdirected moral posturing and arrogant attachment to dogmatism to get to that as well.
If you want to be a Republican, be a Republican. My parents leaned Democrat so I tend to lean Democrat, but at this point it doesn’t even mean that I prefer a larger government or any of the barest notions you can conjure pertaining to what it means to be a Democrat. At this point I’m willing to venture that the party preferred by most people has more to do with their attitude toward the politics of their parents than anything policy-based.
During my undergraduate studies I enjoyed a class taught by a man known as “The Intimidator” called “Epistemology and Praxis,” which easily became one of the most influential classes I took in pursuit of my degree in anthropology. On day one The Intimidator made his expectations clear, so when we got started on day two the class whittled down to less than ten students. Each week we read and discussed selections delving into the different questions that shape not only the practice of anthropology, but of any intellectual pursuit — who can say anything with any degree of credibility when any idea can be dismissed as “culturally relative?”
We reached the climax of the class with a reading from Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks focusing on the social aspect of knowledge. Our mutual growth depends on the relationship between our contributions to the pool of knowledge, from facebook posts to academic publications, and what we take from it, through face-to-face conversations, reading and taking in ideas through different forms of media. Though it would be great to see formal debates as opposed to this embarrassment, appreciating the power of our different contributions to politics can help us learn how to be more effective.
Wherever you stand right now, I hope you can see what I mean when I say things will likely go very far to the left once this administration leaves the White House. I don’t say this to scare conservatives; only to prepare us all. To my liberals, let’s keep our noses in the books and focus on inflating the dignity of others instead of our egos, alright?
As we continue dealing with the damage dealt by this irresponsible administration and preparing for the future we must strive for critical analysis that results in practical, policy-based proposals that will pave the road to social justice. All of us live our lives with privilege, prejudice, the good, the bad, and the despicable. Like it or not, that stuff comes hard-wired, and how we deal with it determines our character. Punch a white supremacist if you have to but until you actually see one, focus on building coalitions of understanding and together we can create the vision for a sustainable future.