Race. Gender. Language. Religion. Politics.
Those are the subjects most worth talking about if you are looking to discuss something substantive and intellectual. They are the basis for our civics, our identities, and even our passions. Hot-button topics are supposed to be uncomfortable, the rising tensions emblematic of the magnitude these subjects carry.
A strange phenomenon has been happening over the past decade or so that has stifled great debates, great conversation. I did not truly understand the magnitude of the problem until I began receiving messages from people on Facebook after getting into debates with strangers about one of those hot-button topics. The messages are almost always identical; 'Hey James, just wanted to let you know that I agree with a lot of the points you made today. But I can't jump in because I don't want to get fired from my job.'
They sometimes don't want their families to give them a hard time, or they are afraid they will lose friends over their opinions. This is the aftermath of a recently polarized society where you must wave a flag for one side or the other, and by doing so you are required to parrot certain viewpoints or they will pull your card, no questions asked.
I know about this first hand. Most of my friends lean left on nearly everything. And that's fine, but many of them have opinions that are not in line with hard left ideology, and they are far too afraid to talk about those positions in public. Things like gender politics, for example. I would estimate that at least 80% of my female friends over the age of 30 refuse to call themselves feminists.
They feel infantilized by modern feminists, embarrassed that they are being told to constantly place themselves in the role of a victim. And just as an aside, I am fully aware that my last sentence has enraged many people reading this, and that is precisely the problem.
I don't know one person who doesn't believe in equality among the sexes. Not even one. But, for example, if you believe that there is more to the wage gap than basic misogyny, hardline progressives would rather try to reprogram you or place you into a box than politely discuss the issue like adults.
They feel that by denying the notion that there might be other reasons why women do not get paid as much as men you are denying something as ironclad as the colour of the sky, or where babies come from. This is not an exaggeration, it is the exact climate we are living in within our own discourse, and the lack of intellectual curiosity is dampening our ability to have real, robust discussions on issues vital to a modern society.
Deeply embedded in this ultra-progressive ideology is a profound hypocrisy, a sort of convenience lever that is pulled whenever the movement is being threatened. Hillary Clinton's candidacy is the easiest, most recent example. Many of her supporters were identity politics stalwarts who championed ideas like #believeallwomen, a slogan that supports the notion that every woman who accuses a man of assault or rape should be believed, no questions asked.
Obviously this idea is wrought with potential pitfalls, but activists who support the notion are unapologetically rigid in their stance. However, if you had rightfully reminded them that Bill Clinton had been accused of rape by more than one woman, your reminder was deflected as they pivoted to a lecture about how Hillary's husband was not running for office, or how Hillary was the victim of her own husband's philandering.
Consistently, almost pathologically, these activists would completely ignore the actual alleged victims of Bill Clinton, betraying their own philosophy of believing all women as they worked to get the first woman elected as president. And let's not even bother pondering what they would have said if Todd Palin was an accused rapist.
You will find the same rigidness inside every hardline movement, a kind of stubbornness that probably prevents certain causes from gaining wider appeal from rationalists and moderates alike. Like hardline conservatives and their cult-like faith in free market capitalism, there is no room for negotiation.
Both sides engage like this, by the way. It's a type of echo chamber activism born out of polarization that defines the other side as the enemy while branding their own side as unerring. There is never any compromising, never any debate to water down the dogma. Facts that undermine the radical positions of either side are off-limits, viewed through a lens tinted with the notion that the ends always justify the means, especially when those ends are all about justice.
So if both sides do it, why am I mostly focusing on the progressive side? Well, it's because up until a few years ago, I considered myself a true progressive. I am on the left side of every issue I can think of...except for one: political correctness. I know, even that term carries with it a meaning that causes both sides to roll their eyes. The left believe the right uses the term to scoff at basic politeness and civility, and the right believes the term is the label the left uses to police people's thoughts and words.
Both sides have it wrong, in my view. Political correctness is a required practice for certain things like not using the N word, or not engaging in threatening speech. It becomes problematic when comedians are being sued for jokes, or when college campuses force the cafeteria to change their menus due to alleged cultural appropriation.
We are coddling the new generation of progressives, enabling them and propping up ideas that are not sustainable in the real world. Things like trigger warnings and safe spaces might seem like examples of sensitivity and understanding, but often these ideas are associated with listening to different political views or hearing keywords that remind people of a bad memory.
Not to say that hearing certain speech isn't sometimes annoying or even upsetting, but an entire generation is being taught that coddling a hypersensitive reaction to certain speech is not just a new way of dealing with problems, but also the only ethical or moral way.
This righteous indignation is self-defeating, however, as it works to alienate people who do not subscribe to the rigid ideology of radical progressives, leaving rational progressives unwilling to join the fight.
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