(Image courtesy of Paula Wright)
Straddling the current liberal divide is a precarious pastime. The decision to add one’s voice to almost any debate can be ruinous to both personal and professional relationships. Issues that should be as contentious as discussing one’s favourite colour must now be approached with all the tact of a presidential candidate.
It is no longer possible to just be wrong on any given issue. Expressing a contrary view or uttering the wrong pronoun is neither met with civil disagreement nor polite admonishment. For those on the far left, transgressions of this sort supersede everything else about the guilty party’s identity.
Consider the case of transgender porn star Bailey Jay, who expressed the reasonable opinion that certain reactionary voices within the Trans community have made transgender people appear unstable. Not content to disagree and offer her reasons for doing so, LGBTQ activist Zinnia Jones responded by dismissing Bailey Jay as “a complete asshole,” seemingly oblivious to the irony of her reaction (note added below).
The fallout from Mick Nugent’s defence of Richard Dawkins in 2014 is another prominent example of just how maddeningly difficult it is to productively engage with one’s ideological opponents. The long-suffering Nugent wasn’t merely admonished for any perceived wrongheadedness. According to PZ Myers, he was “defending and providing a haven for harassers, misogynists, and rapists.” Naturally, Myers was every bit as forthcoming with supporting evidence as he was with a retraction.
I could go on and on with example after example of this bizarre need to demonise one’s opponents, but what would be the point? Purveyors of this style of discourse have insulated themselves from criticism with reference to a catalogue of exculpatory buzzwords and phrases.
- “You’re not disagreeing civilly. You’re tone trolling.”
- “You’re not lamenting needlessly adversarial and counter-productive arguments. You’re concern trolling.”
- “You’re not offering an opinion. You’re mansplaining.”
- “You don’t really value evidence. You’re just victim blaming.”
- “You’re not dancing/singing/dressing up. You’re appropriating [insert culture].” (Perhaps said while sporting a bindi, lip-syncing to “Fuck tha Police” and boasting a tribal tattoo)
Is this style of discourse working for anyone? Beyond deepening already-profound rifts and alienating would-be allies, what does it achieve? Somewhat embarrassingly, my ex-girlfriend and I were actually forced to avoid certain conversation topics because I would inevitably be on the receiving end of a tirade within uttering a single contrary syllable. Being forced to negotiate an ever-expanding minefield of social interaction is certainly not how I define progress.
I take no pleasure in making this observation, but the notion that conservatives have a monopoly on anti-intellectualism is painfully outdated. There is similar contempt for any evidence that is at odds with far-left narratives. Evolutionary psychology, a vast and diverse field, is often dismissed based on ideological biases. Indeed, simply requesting evidence for certain claims is to betray far-right fanaticism in the eyes of professional umbrage-takers such as Amanda Marcotte.
Is this what liberalism has become? Respect for evidence ends where one’s worldview begins? Listen and believe one gender? Do not essentialise, unless you’re referring to straight white males? Innocent until proven guilty, unless it’s a sex crime and the victim is female? Protest the “damsel in distress” media trope, all the while infantilising women at every possible opportunity? Complain about scantily clad cartoon women on a scientist’s shirt, yet defend the patriarchal horror of conservative Islam in the name of multiculturalism?
The moral, social, political and epistemological confusion of the far left is now indistinguishable from a vast Sokalian hoax. At the risk of ignoring the Scottishness of these outrage-junkies, I cannot bring myself to call them liberals. If these people are liberals, then I have somehow become a centrist who doesn’t hold a single conservative political view. I am ordinarily ambivalent towards labels, but I’m just not ready to cede this particular label to left-wing authoritarians.
Zinnia Jones has brought to my attention some followup posts in which she provides reasons for her views on Bailey Jay. You can find those posts here and here. I have also edited out a line that was, on reflection, needlessly insulting and a touch hypocritical given the point I was making.