When I first gravitated towards progressivism during my early twenties, it wasn't entirely because I was drawn in by the raw appeal of leftist ideas. My disgust at what I saw conservatism espousing was a powerful impetus.
My political awakening came during the Bush presidency. I understand the right not only as warmongers and wiretappers, but representative of an uncompromising moral absolutism and a streak of fundamentalist Christianity that preached damnation with far more vigor than it espoused and took to heart the Beatitudes. They stood for intolerance and orthodoxy, and I was glad to throw in my lot with the crowd that professed inclusion, egalitarianism, and the primacy of reason over doctrine.
But over the last few years, I've noticed the left making noises that sound an awful lot to me like the smug self-righteousness and brimstone that set me against the right.
Here's a very small example. Earlier today I saw this on my Twitter timeline:
My first reaction: "ha ha! That's funny." I was glad to see this person poking fun at himself. It's important to have convictions, sure—but it's equally important to be able to laugh at oneself from time to time. Acknowledging your own foibles is an exercise in empathy: we are all of us absurd and inconsistent creatures, and should recognize this in ourselves. It makes us more amicable to forgiving others for their own congenital stupidities, as we would hope them to forgive us for ours. (Note: it is possible to cut someone slack for their ignorance and bring their errors to their attention. Ideally we should do both.)
Then I scrolled through his timeline and found ample cause to suspect he wasn't joking after all. The topics he tweets about, and his tone—well, they're pretty consistent.
So I have to assume he and his friends aren't being facetious in the convo following the original tweet. (I might be mistaken, but I'm willing to take that chance, and will own up to it should it happen that I'm wrong.)
Are we even going to try to imagine that this guy just bought a banana from 7-Eleven, without looking at the label, because he was hungry, because the banana was 75 cents, and because it was a healthier choice than a bag of Doritos?
Are we going to make any effort to give him the benefit of the doubt and guess that maybe he hasn't had the good fortune to go to a liberal arts college, take a few semesters of theory courses, get involved with the activist cliques, learn all about the unscrupulous corporate practices of Chiquita Brands International, and adjust his consumption habits accordingly because he understands that everything one buys is a political statement and a perturbation in the moral magnetosphere enveloping the planet?
He's a racist. He's an enemy. Period. Because he's eating a banana with a Chiquita sticker on its peel.
We won't even touch the "white" qualifier in the original tweet—though I surmise it wouldn't be necessary to specify the banana-eating malefactor's skin color unless the observer felt that it modified the act's ethical weight one way or another.
The following exchange is telling:
Of course. Let's congratulate ourselves for being among the Elect. Most people don't have the purity of spirit to care the way we care, to achieve the enlightenment we've achieved. What excellent people we are!
Look, kids. I'm all for responsible consumption habits. I'd really like to see the capitalist system defanged and dismantled before it renders the planet uninhabitable, before it bifurcates the global population into a tiny, fortified elite and several billion impoverished helots. I support the cause to the extent that I'm able.*
And it's because I support the cause that I feel I should point out things that do not help it:
• Immuring yourself and yourself and your allies behind a wall of ideological absolutism.
• Looking at everyone beyond the periphery of your bubble as a foe to be shunned rather than a potential ally to be invited in.
• Assuming the best of yourself and the worst of everyone else.
• Becoming the priggish liberal scarecrow that the champions of the status quo would love to point to in order to discredit the opposition.
• Being a sanctimonious dick. It bears repeating because I don't think I like you very much, and I'm on your side.
Please bear in mind that you're the ambassador of your politics to the rest of the world. And remember that being woke is no excuse for being a jerk.
* Frankly, if you're not growing your own food and weaving your own clothes from the wool of your own sheep on a 100% solar-powered homestead, you're in no position to call anyone else out for engaging with the capitalist mechanism. Let he who is without sin, etc.