Friday, September 26, 2014

Reclaiming social liberalism from the jerks

Freddie deBoer at the Daily Dish has written the most important short essay on the thorny transformation of social liberalism of this year, from the perspective of someone in the trenches.

It's hard not to share the entire thing, but here's the two paragraphs that stab the heart of the matter

I guess what it all comes down to, for me, is that social liberalism was once an alternative that enabled people to pursue whatever types of consensual personal behavior they wanted, and thus was a movement that increased individual freedom and happiness. It was the antidote to Jerry Fallwell telling you that you were going to hell, to Nancy Reagan saying “just say no,” to your conservative parents telling you not to be gay, to Pat Robertson saying don’t have sex, to Tipper Gore telling you that you couldn’t listen to the music you like, to don’t have sex, don’t do drugs, don’t wear those clothes, don’t walk that way, don’t have fun, don’t be yourself. So of course that movement won. It was a positive, joyful, human, freeing alternative to an exhausted, ugly, narrow vision of how human beings should behave.

DeBoer is still a proud supporter of social justice causes and beliefs, but sees the actions of the modern activists as alienating and puritanical.

Suppose you’re a young college student inclined towards liberal or left-wing ideas. And suppose, like a lot of such college students, you enjoy Stephen Colbert and find him a political inspiration. Now imagine that, during the #CancelColbert fiasco, you defended Colbert on Twitter. If your defense was noticed by the people who police that forum, the consequences were likely to be brutal. People would not have said “here, let me talk you through this.” It wouldn’t have been a matter of friendly and inviting disagreement. Instead, as we all saw, it would have been immediate and unequivocal attack. That’s how the loudest voices on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook act. The culture is one of attack, rather than of education. And the claims, typically, are existential: not “this thing you said is problematic from the standpoint of race,” but rather “you’re a racist.” Not “I think there’s some gender issues going here that you should think about,” but “you’re a misogynist.” Always. I know that there are kinder voices out there in socially liberal circles on social media, but unfortunately, when these cyclical storms get going, those voices are constantly drowned out.

Exactly. There is no complexity or room for growth with modern social justice warriors. One is either completely on their side and uses every pre-approved term and label, or they are a racist, misogynist, homophobe etc.

The anecdote to these simplistic black and white thinking was well-articulated by Jay Smooth, a young modern activist himself, who said it's important to make the distinction between saying someone is a racist, or something particular that they said was racist.

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