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Liberals! Do Better!

Dear Fluffy Left-Wing Liberals,

We are of the same clan.  We are inclined to believe evidence which suggests that rehabilitation trumps retaliation, that investment in public services offers stability and equality, that the individual right to choose is the basis of a strong, tolerant society in which equality reigns, and that multiculturalism is a gift to all peoples, bringing us together, not pulling us apart.  Oh yes – and that identity is a constructed choice and kicking off about it is really none of our damn business, especially where that identity revolves around having a uterus and what we want to damn well do with it.

We are, in short, a well-meaning bunch, who sincerely strive to create a progressive future of fair opportunity and evidence-based debate, albeit while sitting on our backsides talking about shit while drinking lattes, sigh.

Which makes it so sad that a lot of the time, we’re really crappy.

It’s not just that we’re really bad at expressing ourselves with the same charismatic forcefulness as shouty angry people who have no problem lying on camera, or engaging people in the awesome complexity of ideas as a good and exciting thing…

… we’re also down with fundamentally undermining ourselves by dehumanising people.

We call people stupid.  Dumb.  Fascist.  Evil.  Ignorant.  We fundamentally miss that the point of being a fluffy liberal is to afford respect to everyone, even if they happen to disagree with us, because we value the integrity of individual thought and identity.

Guys, I get it.  Sometimes you just can’t engage, and sometimes you really do need to push back against offensive crap. Because being liberal isn’t being a push-over.  It’s standing up for ideas, and fighting to spread them.  I am, for example, hugely grateful to the sharp-witted comedians who rip apart especially stupid things – such as current British politics, or American politics or… well, most politics… while making us laugh.

But you know what the best comedians do?  They rip apart an idea and sure, if they tear down the person who endorses it en route, I’ll laugh.  I’ll howl with laughter while also feeling a little sad inside that this is where the world is now.  And when people turn round and accuse said comedians of being smug left-wingers singing to their choir then yes, they are.  Absolutely.  And they are often finding big truths in complicated ideas as they do so, and it’s great to laugh and find something fun in a hugely changing world.

Comedy doesn’t have to be cruel. It isn’t laughing at a politician for being fat, or having ridiculous hair.  It’s laughing at vanity, folly and bombast.  Comedy should never de-humanise, and isn’t funny when it does.  It should be willing to to engage on a human level, to look ideological opponents in the eye and say ‘I fundamentally disagree with everything you believe but hey, thanks for engaging as a person, that’s really groovy of you.’

Whereas us lot?  Us fluffy liberals with our goddamn vegan salads served on a bed of yogi’s tears?  Too often we find ourselves lashing out in a self-important smug way that just makes debate harder.

“You’re an ignorant idiot who’ll never understand.”

“Clearly, you have never read X, otherwise you’d know how stupid you sound.”

“Oh look.  Another myopic misogynist.”  Etc..

Not helping, guys.

You are undermining the very cause you claim to defend.  Because you cannot stand for the right of people, all people, to be valid and respected unto themselves, if you dismiss whole swathes of the population for having a different view.

People aren’t stupid.  Don’t get me wrong – society has done a great number on making us value a great range of qualities, very few of which involve questioning our universes or ourselves.  But that’s not the same as dumb.  Every idea comes from somewhere, and a lot of the time it comes from fear.

Fear of the ‘other’.  ‘Other’ people with different skin colour, different sexuality or dress.  ‘Others’ who value something different, and who through that difference challenge the rightness, the certainty and therefore the value of who you are. Because we all perform amazing mental acrobatics to get a sense of who we are, and if you challenge the assumptions on which that is based, the beliefs that form the heart of an intellectual framework, you’re not just challenging an idea.  You’re challenging the very validity of someone’s identity.

It’s a short leap from telling someone that they’re wrong, to telling them that they’re worthless.  These are different things, and we kick them together too often, including in schools.

Are you surprised that they don’t listen?

That people just kick back in shouty, shouty rage, and nothing gets better?

And guys!  Please stop calling people ignorant!  Because yes, a huge swathe of the population is, including you and me.  I know piss about a vast range of topics, but that’s not a moral sin.  I have studied the things I have studied, and through it believe the things I believe, and if I do not know a thing it is simply because I have not learned it yet.

Sure, ‘ignorant’ is often a shorthand for ‘you been given structures for thinking about your world which I disagree with and which may lead you to questionable conclusions’ but guys, you’re still basically telling someone that everything they think and believe is invalid – and therefore so are they.  You are stating that your mode of thought is superior.  You are superior.

Yes, fake news.  It feels ‘ignorant’ when people cite facebook as a source for anything other than someone getting married on a Tuesday.  But what is actually to be questioned here is the framework that leads people to feel these are valid structures to base a worldview on.  This isn’t ignorance.  This is an intellectual methodology, and dude, that’s just how you think about shit, and how you think about shit is identity.

And yes, I know, Donald Trump!  Trump makes it very hard to hold to anything other than shouting and banging heads against walls, because my God, it’s horrible, and it feels like dumb is crushing the world.  But this is still a thing which came from a place, and before you dismiss Trump voters as misogynist pillocks, maybe stop to ask how we came here, and what people want, believe and need, whole and true.

People, whole and true.  Annoying, shouty, rude people who frequently do harm to others by their actions – and yes, when people do harm they cross a boundary that pushes my fluffiness to its very limit.  People who you do just sorta wanna clobber, shout at and shake by the shoulders, and who sometimes you can’t argue with and just need to ignore, perhaps while demolishing their world view as a tool for expressing something better.  But still people.

But you know what?  They’re not actually your biggest problem.

You are your biggest problem.

Because if you want to walk around feeling good about just how liberal and awesome you are, then please, please, please, do better.

Please tear down really bad ideas, and offer frameworks for thinking about the world that are better.  Please, please promote the cause.

And when you do so, please remember that the cause is people.  At the end of everything, that’s all it is.  People, doing better.

Let’s do better.