Weaponized Sensitivity

The political left has adopted censorship and conformity that used to be the exclusive identity of the political right

Some liberals have adopted the term progressive, leading to infighting regarding what the differences and different versions of the two might be, should be, have to be. Not really all that important in practical day-to-day life, but symbolic and symptomatic of a much larger and increasingly divisive shifting within our culture that has created a supreme irony. Put simply, the political left has adopted censorship and conformity that used to be the exclusive identity of the political right.

To be clear, historians recognize that the citizens of this society have, over many decades, shifted between the two extremes — a political pendulum, if you will, moving back and forth (rightward, leftward, rightward…). This is not unusual. When trends in either direction feel like they have advanced too far, a correction in the form of increased societal resistance by some creates movement in the opposite direction. There are certainly signs that the cultural shifts leftward over the last decade or so are creating a feeling of things going too far in some ways, even among those who are typically comfortable with these changes.

Specifically, the danger of being singled out for using the wrong word, or failing to support the most recent liberal orthodoxy (political correctness) regarding sexual orientation, economic class, race or ethnicity, disability and so on, has become both inhibiting and a threat to free speech. In trying to create acceptance of diversity and tolerance, those on the left — many of whom are young, sheltered millennials — have actually created growing animosity toward these expectations as a result of this weaponized sensitivity. Identity politics is creating a more isolated society despite the increasing diversity.

The lexicon of microaggressions, safe spaces, triggers and who is entitled to express what opinions has resulted in a growing disagreement over basic civil rights. Those who are moderate tend to question the premise of those on the left that free speech is fine, but not for those who who don’t embrace politically correct everything. But free speech only exists when everyone has the same access to it. If many have to contend with constant self-monitoring to avoid inadvertently giving offense, every topic of controversy and those who are from different backgrounds might simply be avoided. How does this serve the goal of increased tolerance?

And the bar continues to be raised. Cultural appropriation is another potential offense, and occurs when elements of a minority culture are used by members of the cultural majority, thus “wrongfully” oppressing the minority culture while usurping its group identity and intellectual property rights. The problem is, the degree and manner of this in terms of artistic creativity are grey and open to both interpretation and nuance. If cultural appropriation is a rigid framework, than assimilation can be stifled and even prevented. Art has always been about borrowing and fair use.

If we seriously acknowledge the original meaning of liberal — being open to new ideas, then the rigidity of current political left social idealism regarding tolerance and diversity really is censorship of ideas. speech and creativity. Perhaps the issue isn’t diversity at all but rather an inability to cope with concepts, perspectives and points of view that do not completely align with the emotional fragility of those who have been sheltered, coddled and protected from these. After all, censorship is typically associated with right of center politics and diversity of thought with left of center. How to explain the adoption of it by some on the left other than hostility to nonconforming thinking.

A consequences of insufficient information combined with excessive idealism is a lack of knowledge about political realities. Idealism without enlightenment and awareness, but with extremism, is doomed to inevitable failure — be it liberal left or conservative right. When I wrote about the alt-right recently, I noted how the conventions of civilized discourse have been abandoned by its participants and supporters, and how this was largely pushback against political correctness. Their angry narrative has been confirmed and mirrored by the Republican presidential candidate with his own hyperbolic, uncivilized, bombastic rhetoric. The growing cultural conflict is far left political correctness versus far right white nationalism.

I’ve spent considerable effort writing about this election because it represents a significant divide across numerous levels of our society. One reason the polling values have been closer than expected is an angry segment of voters, of significant numbers, who view political correctness as proof that their country is being taken from them economically and socially. To me it’s proof that moderation remains our best hope for governance, economic fairness and…yes…diversity in a pluralistic society.