Over at the CBC News site, journalist Neil Macdonald, who considers himself a liberal and has nothing but opprobrium for the likes of Donald Trump, claims that Regressive Leftism (or “Illiberal Leftism”) is shooting itself in the foot. In his column “Advice for anxious liberals—tone down the snark,” Macdonald argues that, in Canada (and by implication, in the U.S. as well), the anti-free-speech rhetoric, hectoring, and absolute self-assurance of Leftist identity politics is turning people rightwards. I’ve gone back and forth on that, and am pretty sure that—with the exception of the excessive respect accorded to Islam by the Illiberal Left—it didn’t have much to do with electing Trump or other Republicans. But it’s still worth considering what Macdonald says, as I hate to see the Left riven by this kind of absolutist infighting. After all, we’re but twelve days away from at least four years of oppressively crazy conservatism in the U.S., and if we don’t hang together, by Heavens we’ll surely hang separately.
A few quotes from Macdonald’s piece (have a look at the two links as well):
At protests and over drinks and at dinner tables, liberals are arguing over the proper response. Some have for weeks been yelling through bullhorns that “Trump is not my president,” which is just loopy. If you’re an American, Donald Trump will be your president as of Jan. 20, and he and his elite billionaire friends will almost certainly, in the name of the common man, set about reducing the liberal china shop to a knee-high pile of crushed eggshell porcelain.
Others argue liberals must never flag, never give an inch. “We double down,” a friend defiantly declares.
Well. Certainly the rise of Trump nation, a bizarre place where anti-Semitic white supremacists comfortably cohabit with evangelical Christian conservatives and Jewish pro-Israel absolutists, is no reason for liberals to waver on values like protection of the most vulnerable among us, or helping those fleeing genocidal wars, or equality regardless of gender, sexuality or race, or curbs on the rapaciousness of unshackled capitalism.
But with all due respect to my earnest friends on the left, a bit of advice: stop being so damned irritating about it.
Particularly on campuses, the left has developed a prissy, hectoring self-righteousness, which is what happens when a bunch of people who think the same way get into the same room and congratulate one another endlessly on being right. (“Herds of independent thinkers,” as columnist and author Nat Hentoff so beautifully puts it).
Not only do they block out any opposing viewpoint, they begin to shout it down and censor it (because, you know, it’s wrong), and ultimately try to regulate it, writing rules and laws prohibiting its expression. Consult a few university speech codes — particularly those drafted by student unions — for elaboration.
To many social activists, free speech (except when it protects their speech) is just another tool of patriarchal suppression. All debate is just false equivalence.
And because any other viewpoint is patently valueless, perhaps even dangerous, they almost immediately go ad hominem, rather than engaging on the issue.
The last line is largely true, for the best weapon the Illiberal Left has is simply to call people racists, transphobes, and sexists without engaging their arguments. It’s effective because we’re all so sensitive to those slurs.
While I’m in favor of abortion on demand, and of respecting the wishes of transgender people to be called what they want (and use whatever restroom they want), there are serious discussions to be had about affirmative action, the notion of gender (feminism is being fractured that that issue), and, yes, abortion. (Consider, for instance, the flat claim that abortion is a “right”. You can’t do that without defining what you mean by the concept of “rights”.) And you simply can’t have those discussions if you begin calling your opponents names.
So while Macdonald is right to argue for ditching the ad hominems, I’m not sure how much they give succor to the right, as he claims:
But as the media repeated and amplified the story, which the media loves to do (nothing like lefty infighting to sell papers) you can bet a lot of non-urban Canadian conservatives were reading, just as they read the vicious attacks by progressives on Marie Henein, Jian Ghomeshi’s brilliant lawyer, for doing her job so well.
You can bet they’re listening closely every year at Halloween, when progressives reliably denounce as racist anyone allowing their children to dress up as a member of any other culture. Like, say, sending a little girl out dressed as Mulan.
Or when they’re denounced as Islamophobes for even discussing the question of why so many people who commit mass murder of innocents do it in the name of Allah. Or as transphobes for using the pronouns “he” or “she” without explicit permission. Or as homophobes for obeying their priest or imam. Or as some sort of uninclusive-o-phobe for uttering the phrase “Merry Christmas.”
There are millions of people out there who aren’t terribly interested in a lecture about the difference between “cisnormative” and “heteronormative,” and how both words supposedly describe something shameful.
Yes, we should stop being so damned irritating. No argument was ever won by name-calling.