A Liberal Guide to Free Speech pt 2

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It’s not my intention to infuriate Liberals, particularly since it’s a group I sympathize with most strongly.  Yet it is an imperfect group, and there are issues that need to be addressed.  In a way the Liberal movement has been a victim of its own success, particularly in its approach to dialogue.  The issue is complex because there’s a lot to be legitimately offended about. Disappointingly, without easy obvious targets the Liberal movement has fractured and largely turned on itself. Yet there are still so many battles to fight.

I think one of the reasons for this is the issue of Privilege.  Privilege is a very real, very serious issue.  Please believe me when I say I’m not questioning its existence, presence or its power over people’s lives.  Privilege absolutely needs to be confronted.  However, more times than not, confrontations over Privilege often do little more than scuttle any hope of meaningful dialogue.  To be honest, I’m not even sure if meaningful dialogue is an actual goal from the Liberal wing of modern politics. Liberals, from this centrist’s perspective, are quite happy to chat about the evil’s of the oppressor, and ecstatic to protest conservative demagoguery, but caught between the right-wing menace and the liberal echo chamber is everyone else that is being actively excluded.  I would consider this one of the primary causes for why the Liberal movement has stalled in the last few years.

Nor am I being hyperbolic.  Many many times I have heard from my liberal friends that other voices are not welcome.  They aren’t interested in “educating” people who have questions.  Men, white people, straight people Christians, etc are frequently told quite literally to shut up.  The consequence of this behavior is that if you are a member of a Privileged class, there is absolutely no way for you to have a dialogue except with other Privileged people.  This is extremely unhealthy.  I understand why minority groups feel the need to do this.  How they want a space where they feel their voices won’t be marginalized by “outsiders” and so forth, but by excluding those who wish to be a part of your struggle you have drastically and unnecessarily weakened your movement.  The outright hostility minorities hold for their friends is incredible and unfortunate.

It also goes hand in hand with considerable outrage.  The anger from the left has created a very punitive atmosphere that trickles down to personal interactions.  Innocuous comments flare up and escalate.  Internecine squabbles over terminology and nomenclature shatter productive relationships. Overzealous protective impulses alienate support networks.  And a shocking lack of humor.

The truly annoying fact is that liberal and minority groups aren’t completely wrong.  Jokes and humor have been used to degrade and shame for far too long.  How many office perverts have tried to get out of a sexual harassment suit by saying “I was only joking”?   Derogatory terms such as “retard” or “midget” obviously deserve considered condemnation.  However, if you’re spending all your time making sure everyone has the latest list of what you can and cannot say to people you will only exasperate anyone who isn’t you and you will fight with anyone who has a slightly different list.  Any dialogue is going to be shut down and liberals will run a campaign that comes frighteningly close to censorship.

Micro-aggressions are another frustrating path where no one wants to microaggress, and I fully acknowledge the cumulative damage that microaggressions can have.  But there’s no mechanism to constructively deal with them either, and that isn’t fair.  I have an example. As a white male, people ask about my ancestors all the time.  My geographic lineages, my history going back generations.  This is not an unusual conversation for me, but having this exact same conversation with someone that is part of a minority is frustratingly delicate.  I have no idea how to have this conversation with someone without callously tripping over a sensitive issue.  So… I avoid the conversation.  But, pretty soon if you avoid enough conversations your isolating yourself from minorities and you get yelled at for that too.  You can’t talk to people, and you can’t not talk to people.  There has to be away to repair and address the cumulative impact of micro-aggressions without having to magically know what is and isn’t offensive.

Finally, mansplaining.  I’m sorry feminists, but this word has to go.  If, for no other reason, that it’s just a terrible portmanteau.  More importantly, it’s one of the most needlessly effective methods for shutting down a conversation.  Let me illustrate.  A man makes a comment.  The feminist, quick to anger, tells man how his comment was offensive.  The man, genuinely confused, says, I don’t think I’m being understood, allow me to clarify my statement.  Feminist says: now your mansplaining.  There is no other comment the man can make that won’t contribute to this perceived mansplaining, so understood or not, conversation is over.  In fact, I’m well aware of the fact that this entire paragraph or the entire blog could be tried, convicted, and executed as just one more ignorant man mansplaining things.  Since the Privileged are not given that benefit of the doubt for different possible interpretations for any given statement and they are actively excluded from minority spaces, all too often conversations turn into frustrating exercises in bridge burning.

There are meaningful battles that need fighting, but the unending, hypercritical, perpetually angry, constant exclusion and intentional lack of dialogue in liberal ranks needs to end.  Liberals must be willing to incorporate new ideas, perspective, and language if they want to craft a successful agenda and their allies are crucial to that endeavor.  The constant internal bickering needs to be set aside.  It’s time to embrace imperfect allies.  Remember, embracing imperfection is something your allies must do as well.

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