Fifty now, for most of my adult life I've been an active supporter of the progressive wing of the American left. Given my university studies in Comp Lit and languages, attentiveness to cultural difference, as well as a careful respect for dialogue, have always been crucial to me. I’ve had close Muslim and Buddhist friends, atheist friends, feminist friends, gay and lesbian friends, black, Asian and Jewish friends. Needless to say, I’ve learned things from all of them.
But that was then, back in the old days. I’d like to say--back in the last century, because this new century is something quite different.
I'm thinking the American atmosphere shifted decisively around 2010; a dark spark of some sort shot through the ether wind. Actually I’m ashamed I didn’t notice it when it happened. But now I get it. Because myself, now in 2017--white, male, Catholic--my progressive friends and acquaintances have made it clear: My presence isn't welcome.
I should have realized it sooner, in 2012 say. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble. I’m a slow learner.
For the feminists around me, our 21st-century feminists, maleness itself is the root of all evil. So although I’ve long believed women and men are equal (that quaint old 20th-century notion!) it makes no difference. I’m guilty as charged. And always will be.
For our SJWs, Europe and Western cultural traditions are to be denigrated and fought at every turn. Though I recognize the West is also guilty of some of history's most systematic abuses, I study and cherish European culture, and the American culture that stems from it. But the important thing about Europe now is no longer its humanistic learning, its concepts of rights and law, its philosophy and literature--no, it’s the abstract evil called “whiteness”. Again: I’m guilty as charged.
For the New Atheists and the many secularist keeners who mimic their soundbites, progress means openly and loudly mocking people of faith because, well, religions are silly, outdated, and oppressive--especially, of course, Christianity. This crowd has been setting the tone for more and more young Americans and Brits. Well, here you find me again: Catholic, I'm guilty as charged.
I've always valued dialogue, almost to an obsessive degree, especially dialogue with people who disagree with me. Such a thing hardly exists now. If I’m around American women, and attempt to clarify or discuss some point, I’m “mansplaining”. Online, if I point out how Barack Obama’s pro-Wall Street, pro-corporate policies undermined his legacy, I’m “supporting white supremacists” (as I just learned today, from a friend of many years, a prominent black poet and professor, who informed me of this, then summarily unfriended and blocked me on Facebook). Never mind that I voted for Obama twice, as my friend well knows; never mind that I blogged for years in Obama's favor; never mind that I've heard this friend himself criticize Obama ("He's doing nothing for us, but we'll still vote for him")--no, being white, I’m racist for daring to criticize Obama’s policy record after the fact.
This friend, now ex-friend, would he unfriend black Obama critic Cornel West? I don’t know. Maybe he already has. You know: Cornel West--self-hating black man.
Dares to criticize a black president on policy? Check. Guilty as charged.
Then there’s the LGBT crowd, which has really changed in recent years. I was an ally in the late 1980s and 90s, even heading into this new century. I've always treated gays and lesbians with respect, have gay friends I openly admire, gay and lesbian writers I recognize as geniuses, but this matters nothing now. If I disagree with one point on their ever-growing list of rainbow dogmas, I’m a “bigot” who must be run out of the public arena, a hater who deserves to lose his career, if not worse.
And that's not idle talk. I know very well that if I were still living and teaching in the States rather than overseas, the zealots in this movement likely both would and could destroy my career because of my position on the excesses of the trans movement. Which fact is, at the very least, a sad commentary on what has become of our civil liberties.
Willing to acknowledge the LGBTQwerty movement has fallen into shrill demagoguery? Yup. Guilty as charged.
What all these so-called progressives now praise as “diversity” is not diversity at all. It’s a dogmatic new groupthink. It’s a creeping (and really not-so-creeping) authoritarianism. What they mean when they say this word "diversity", in this new climate, is something like: “Agree with us on everything, or you’re not diverse enough. And if you're not diverse enough, we will ruin you.”
Well, here I am. Officially Out. Guilty as charged. Bring it on, bitches.
I believe in pluralism, the deeper pluralism that recognizes possible intellectual or cultural disagreements at the most fundamental levels--but that still insists on reasoned dialogue and the right to free speech. I believe in cultural and intellectual pluralism, not this ersatz replacement concept called "diversity", a word that now virtually sickens me whenever I hear it.
Diversity, given the way our SJW left theorizes it, wins the ribbon as the most transparently hypocritical social concept now in circulation. Although the tendency to abuse language was already evident in the 1980s, the new climate is markedly worse. Again, I pick 2010 as the year critical mass was reached.
After years now of this hard-edged double standard on full display, the faith in tolerance and pluralism that many like myself have long held to is starting to appear, well, naive. Can you blame us? Civil discourse with this new identity politics "left" is impossible. Because the only game they play is identity politics, and they play it zero sum. Bizarrely, this has become their whole idea of the left. For every one article in the progressive press on economic justice or the depredations of neoliberalism, there are now nine or ten about some lame identity spat. This new left has almost zero connection to the bread-and-butter politics of the 20th century left. And besides, it's clear their identity obsessions are only making things worse for everyone, themselves included. To judge from what I've seen in recent months, they haven’t learned a thing from Donald Trump’s election: why it happened; how they are implicated in it; how they are in no small part responsible for the counter-reaction their behavior has provoked.
Who’s going to tell them what they’re bringing about?
Here’s what I’d tell them, if I had any hope they’d listen:
If it’s hardball identity politics you want, then hardball identity politics you’ll get.
Do you hear that? Do you understand?
In fact I know you, and even those of you capable of grasping my point, you won’t heed the warning; you won't desist from your demonization of those you suppose are oppressing you: whether it's white people, Christians, or daft abstractions like "heteronormativity" or "the Patriarchy", you won't desist. You'll keep up your jargon-laden rants against these largely imaginary oppressors because you've constructed a self that depends on their existence. And so this new century, perversely, may well end up delivering just the demons you've conjured. Funny how that works, isn't? I think Hegel would have something to say on it.
Myself I'm saddened to the core to see dialogue die, over and over, and to be forced to write off so many friends because they can't accept actual difference when they encounter it. And I'm saddened also to have to leave the left, but leave it I will, because it is now an utterly fake left, finally rotten to the core. Your politics has nothing to offer America but polarization and speech codes, thought police and inter-racial hate--whereas me, I'm interested in possible communities.