I’ve been undergoing a pretty significant change in the way I interpret the world and how to ‘be’ in it. As I’ve grappled with how to understand my shifting perspective, I’ve found that writing down my thoughts has helped to put them in some kind of order, so this is an attempt to continue doing that. I know some of my friends have wondered why I’ve lately been so critical of the left, my home, so I wanted to share with you what a vocal part of my particular and admittedly self-selected echo chamber is like.
For the record, this is not illustrative of all of the left or even and especially of all of my liberal friends. (That shouldn’t have to be said, but we seem to have spell out things like that these days.) In fact, I’m partially writing this because I know a lot of my liberal friends are blessedly NOT privy to this part of the left. I was talking with a friend who is also liberal and she does not see this kind of stuff regularly, like I do. In the venn diagram that is Facebook, I hope you don’t find yourself overlapping with this circle, or maybe I do, because my vantage point may shed some light on why my beliefs are changing, and on where I see things possibly headed.
I see increasing numbers of so-called liberals cheering censorship and defending violence as a response to speech. I see seemingly reasonable people wishing death on others and laughing at escalating suicide and addiction rates of the white working class. I see liberal think pieces written in opposition to expressing empathy or civility in interactions with those with whom we disagree. I see 63 million Trump voters written off as “nazis” who are okay to target with physical violence. I see concepts like equality and justice being used as a mask for resentful, murderous rage.
The most pernicious aspect of this evolution of the left, is how it seems to be changing people, and how rapidly since the election. I have been dwelling on this Nietzsche quote for almost six months now, “He who fights with monsters, should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” How easy is it for ordinary humans to commit atrocious acts? History teaches us it’s pretty damn easy when you are blinded to your own hypocrisy. When you believe you are morally superior, when you have dehumanized those you disagree with, you can justify almost anything. In a particularly vocal part of the left, justification for dehumanizing and committing violence against those on the right has already begun.
I don’t yet know what to call this part of the left. Maajid Nawaz calls them the “Regressive Left.” Others call them SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) or the Alt-Left. The ideology is post-modernist cultural marxism, and it operates as a secular religion. Most are indoctrinated in liberal elite colleges, though many are being indoctrinated online these days. It has its own dogma and jargon, meant to make you feel like a good person, and used to lecture others on their ‘sin.’ “Check your privilege”- much like “mansplaining” and “gaslighting”- all at one time useful terms- have over time lost a lot of their meaning. These days I see them most frequently being abused as weaponized ad hominem attacks on a person’s immutable identity markers….a way to avoid making an argument, while simultaneously claiming an unearned moral highground in a discussion.
I have been wondering why more people on the left are not speaking up against violence, in favor of free exchange of ideas and dialogue, in favor of compassion. But I know why. I was in the cult. Part of it is that you are a true believer, and part of it is that you are fearful of being called an apostate — in being trashed as a sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, fascist, white supremacist nazi. A friend recently wrote to me privately to say they find my latest posts “refreshing,” and that they believe in free speech, but as someone who works in entertainment, they can’t say anything that might cause them to lose their job. As someone who has gone through and is still going through a change in my underlying systems of belief, I can say this: when you finally get past fear, it is so liberating. After a lot of self-reflection, I eventually came to the opinion that if I lose friends or jobs over trying to speak and find the truth in situations, and to do so in a way that reflects my belief in compassion, then perhaps those were not friends or jobs that were healthy for my growth.
Since shedding the prison of my former ideology, I have a renewed passion for reading, a newfound interest in philosophy, psychology, history and spirituality. Instead of trying to fix others, these days I try to focus on improving myself, which I can tell you is a *much* harder though less futile endeavor. I question myself daily. I try to make a gratitude list daily. I try to meditate, although I admit I’m pretty shitty at it so far. I observe my emotional response to stimuli, then try to let it pass and practice empathy in my disagreements with others. Many times I fail, but over time it is getting easier (though I doubt it will ever be easy). I believe I finally understand that quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is not enough to speak about a belief in equality, justice, liberty, tolerance and love if by your actions you are illustrating the opposite by dehumanizing people, calling for their murder, justifying physical violence against them. Your actions speak louder than words.
What example are we each setting with how we act in the world? I am reminded here of Daryl Davis, the musician who is bringing people out of the KKK by befriending them. What an evolved character he must possess. What a mode of being to aspire to be like, to set your course towards. I believe taking on the task of honestly assessing and trying to improve my character, and speaking up for principles of equality, justice, free speech, liberty, peace and love in a WAY that supports those principles rather than increasing resentment, hatred, and murderous rage, is the way to change the world. If that makes me a moron, a naive peacenik, a privileged bigot -a heretic- in your ideology, so be it.