Will progressives learn their lessons?

Maybe Generation Z will

In recent years, some progressives have been shooting themselves in the foot, again and again, while angering and alienating everyone else. As a cool-headed centrist who thinks that we are best served by all sides working together rationally, it really pains me to see this.

The following sections come from my Daily Centrist show, where I take a fair look at both sides of politics one issue at a time. My aim in doing all this is to bring people together in this fractured political landscape.

Does divisive activism work? It never does.

I think the question we need to ask about divisive movements and identity politics is, do they REALLY work? With divisive events like the Colin Kaepernick controversy, progressives are preaching to the converted while alienating the rest of us.

As I often say, progressives are making naturally conservative people allergic to social justice. Something I often say on this show is that political orientation is somewhat inborn, and conservative people are nature’s way to keep dangerous change from happening. Therefore, if moderate progressives want to get a discussion going, they need to include conservatives, and make them comfortable in the process.

I guess if moderates want their message heard, they should draw a clear line between themselves and the more radical parts of their movement. We certainly respect, and many of us actually support, moves to get more women into STEM fields, and moves to end the glass ceiling problem, for example. There is potential common ground for broad based co-operation. But we can’t stand the whole ‘struggle against oppression’ attitude, and the bullying behaviour it sometimes leads to. As a moral libertarian, I am focused on individual-level equality, and I am essentially allergic to class or group analyses.

If the moderates could draw a clear line here in ideological terms, it would be helpful. I mean, we used to have liberal feminism and radical feminism, and many people could clearly support the former but reject the latter. Nowadays, the line seems to have become blurred, and I am concerned about that. I mean, when mainstream feminist events start featuring speakers who say that one must be a socialist to be a feminist, the line isn’t that clear anymore.

The myth of ‘progressive Millennials’

Some progressives think that they will win in the end, because Millennials are ‘overwhelmingly progressive’. This attitude is not only smug and unhelpful, it is simply not true. The Young Turks claim that 80% of young people are ‘progressive’. But where does this come from? The only statistic I have ever seen resembling that claim is that 80% of us support gay marriage. But then, supporting LGBT rights doesn’t mean that you are progressive in your nature.

I firmly believe that people’s political orientations are somewhat inborn. Therefore, you could expect every generation to have a similar proportion of people who are natural progressives, natural conservatives, or somewhere in between. No generation would be majority progressive in the TYT sense. This makes sense from a Darwinian evolution point of view, in that both radical change and absolute stagnation are both maladaptive, and the two impulses need to balance out. And if you look at history, that roughly holds true.

Millennials who are natural conservatives may support LGBT equality, but they are still skeptical of radical schemes to remake society. In fact, they may support gay marriage because they are conservative, because they want to extend marriage to more people, like former British Prime Minister David Cameron. The Left likes to claim gay marriage as a progressive victory, when in fact it was won with the support of many natural conservatives too. The gay marriage movement always made sure not to alienate people who are naturally conservative, and I believe this was the secret to their success.

Of course, the kind of ‘progressive’ movements we have in 2018 are a far cry from the inclusiveness of the gay marriage movement. It seems that, because they believe they have already won the future, they don’t care about upsetting people who are naturally conservative. If they carry on like this, they can expect to suffer more 2016-style defeats. So moderate progressives who actually want to work for their ideals of a more inclusive society have two choices: if you want to achieve something, you need to open your minds and listen to diverse voices, and make your movements inclusive, like the gay marriage movement. Or if you don’t, you can carry on with your smug, ideological ways.

Lessons from the rise of Milo Yiannopoulos

In fact, if progressives need a reminder of how many people they have alienated in recent years, they only need to revisit the rise of Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo’s star may have come and gone, but have progressives learned their lesson? I mean, even if you throw a lot of money behind something, it’s not bound to be a success. But Milo was, at least for some time, a success by any metric. It means that, what he offered connected with people in some way.

So, what did Milo have to offer? You mean, people actually supported that? A few probably did. But for many people, the value of Milo was that he represented a push back against progressives, with their increasingly outrageous demands. Without the hardline progressive wave of the late Obama era, I doubt that Milo would have been as successful.

Now, I am not saying that progressives are bad. Safe speech is certainly bad, but not all progressive ideas are bad. Putting the merits of each issue aside, what I want to illustrate is that, the capacity of acceptance of change is limited, and people feel threatened about further change soon enough. We are all, to some extent, reactionary against change, and this is an in-built mechanism to prevent dangerous change from taking place. To prevent the rise of more Stalins and Pol Pots. It’s a good thing, actually. That’s why there’s nothing wrong with being conservative, as long as one is still open to considering new ideas.

Studies have often found that conservatives are generally more prone to fear, and hence more prone to push back against change. But when change goes too far, too quickly, even people who are usually liberal become reactionary, and become part of the push back. While I disagree with Milo’s fans that he was an important part of Trump’s election, I do believe that he rode the same wave of push back as Trump, to their respective successes. The truth is, many moderate liberals became Milo fans, and many moderate liberals voted for Trump. Without these liberals neither would have gotten to where they are.

Will Generation Z save us?

I mean, every generation likes to diss the next one, right? But today, I’m going to break this bad habit, and try to look at Gen Z in a positive light. Because, let’s face it, us Millennials haven’t done a good job of healing society. It’s sad, but true.

Cameron Kasky is already a controversial figure at just 17. As a prominent gun control advocate, Kasky has come into conflict with many conservatives. And, as he admits it now, he used to handle his political opponents in quite an immature way, trying to own them, trying to make them look bad. I think Kasky’s previous behaviour is simply a reflection of the sorry state of our political scene right now. I mean, teenagers generally learn from what is in their environment, and if the top YouTube political videos are all about owning so and so, that’s what they are going to learn. It’s always the adults’ fault.

Luckily, Kasky has matured quickly, and now has a more healthy way of looking at politics. And he thinks that his generation is perhaps moving in that direction too. I don’t know if I can share Kasky’s optimism just yet. But I think he might be onto something here. Coming of age in a fractured political landscape featuring as many as 30 distinct political tribes, it would be just natural if Gen Z are truly curious to find out more about everybody around them. I mean, when we older Millennials came of age, it was just plain-old conservatives and liberals; George Bush or John Kerry. My point is, it was a simple choice, and there was not much to be curious about. We didn’t have something as interesting as the Intellectual Dark Web, for example; and we didn’t have shows like The Rubin Report. All this is perhaps making Gen Z truly wanting to take part in a meaningful political conversation.

Of course, it’s still early days to say that this is definitely going to be the future. It is up to us, all of us, to help make or break the future. And I believe we, as responsible adults, can help put an end to the stupid culture wars, and instead start reaching out for meaningful conversations. Because our future depends on it.


TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about free speech, liberty and equality. She is the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which focus on developing a moral case for freedom-based politics in the 21st century.