True progressives still value rationalism, objective truth and free thought. The Regressives subtly reject all. And universal human rights.
In the days after 9/11, my Internet friend Kris emailed me a petition protesting the forthcoming attack on Afghanistan. We’d become friends via my Ohio old boyfriend by email, which is where social justice lived before social media. We were all pretty firmly liberal.
I responded, “Thanks for sending, this, Kris, but I’m sorry, I can’t sign it. I support going into Afghanistan. They attacked us.” I detailed why, comparing past American conflicts justified and not, and made it clear I held no loyalty to George Bush. In a nutshell: We were attacked by an enemy on Afghan soil, sheltered by religious fanatics who’d been warned by the previous President they were through if their leader attacked us on our own soil. I knew this didn’t bode well for the Afghan people but we had to stand up to religious terrorists.
I hoped she’d understand, I said.
She responded with a lovely email. She was disappointed I wouldn’t sign but understood why, and it was okay.
It was a wonderfully mature response, less remarkable in an era of relative political civility we didn’t know had died the previous Tuesday.
Last year, I posted my blog article on Facebook: We Accept Transgenderism. Are We Ready For Transracialism?
Ironically, it was one of the few in which I toned down my customary snark about transgenderism. I wrote with deep sincerity. I believe transgenderism can be a force for good (although it’s wobbling along the way) and that transracialism is no different, and could also be a force for better understanding our biological differences by walking, not in others’ shoes, but inside their skin.
Kris immediately labeled it ‘transphobic’. I immediately noted she didn’t know what ‘phobic’ meant since I wasn’t afraid of transfolk. She described the ‘gender blackface’ comparison as ‘hateful’. We went back and forth and I asked if she’d read the entire article. I can be a snarky bitch but I’d thought I did a good job of laying out my case for both transgenderism and transracialism, even though it hardly adhered to the hairy ass-kissing expected of Good Liberals when writing about the former.
I knew this would end with her defriending me, but I’ve long since grown used to it. America Be Crazy. I’ve had a few lifelong lefty friends go super-Trumpy and others super-woke. When that happens, I’m either too screamingly liberal for the Trumpers or too screamingly right-wing for the pronouns ‘n’ Black Lives Matter set. I seek people who prefer a more moderate political approach, whether on the left or right, and Kris had been assimilated by the WokeBorg (“Resistance is useless. Or you will be deplatformed.”).
I compared her, quite seriously, to the religious fundamentalists we (we’re both Pagans) loved to make fun of when we were younger, those dogmatic sheeple imprisoned by a mind-stunting, misogynist, arrogant, homophobic, anti-scientific holier-than-thou culty shade of Christianity.
I reminded her of her greater tolerance for a political disagreement a few decades prior. “What happened to you?” I asked. “When did you stop listening to others, and got so self-righteous, exactly like the Bible-thumpers who infest Ohio and other red states?”
She defriended me a few exchanges later. Go, Kris, in perfect love and perfect trust, as we say in Paganism. My door is always open to you.
This is what ‘woke’ has become—a mere pretension of social justice (which it once genuinely was), now a mind-stunting, misogynist, arrogant, homophobic, anti-scientific holier-than-thou culty shade of so-called progressive liberalism.
This is what happens when ideology overwhelms critical thinking, slowly assuming a mantle of purity and self-righteousness and smugly focusing only on what the other side does or believes wrong, rather than asking what your side gets wrong too. The true social justice warrior remains forever vigilant about its own Shadow.
Related: The Return of the Anti-Enlightenment (Cato Institute)
The ‘woke’ are neither progressive, nor liberal. They’re the ones we once derided as the ‘Regressive Left’, or as the right taunted them, the ‘Loony Left’.
I came to realize that I had not, in fact, given up on liberalism. It was other liberals who had.
Liberalism, the Enlightenment and the Regressive Left
Modern 20th-century liberalism adheres to rational, analytical, evidence-based principles of the late eighteenth-century European Enlightenment.
Enlightenment thinkers and philosophes—social critics—boldly challenged the dogmas of their day, embodied mostly in government and religious institutions deeply entwined with each other. It’s always dangerous to speak truth to power; it landed Voltaire in the Bastille for awhile, and he tempered his snark against the royalty after that.
Philosophes questioned God’s involvement in humanity’s everyday lives, and lauded reason as the methodology to discover truth, rather than accepting dogmatic ‘revealed wisdom’ such as Scripture. They believed ideas and claims should be tested with rational analysis. They advocated religious tolerance, free thought, and liberty to live one’s life as one chooses (with the usual legal limits, of course).
Question everything, they taught. Accept nothing at face value.
Philosophes were social heretics. Learning about them in university formed my budding liberal leanings as I embraced its anti-authoritarianism and commitment to free thought, free speech, the right to criticize, discuss and debate.
I fell in love with Voltaire. My then-boyfriend (the one who later introduced me to Kris) was a graphic artist who gave me a lovely Valentine’s Day card.
Kris and I developed a friendship over the decades, not close or personal but an easy communication between two people dreaming of a better world.
We connected on Facebook but when I began writing novels and blogging, I cut down on social media.
While I was tapping away, Kris followed the Progressive Liberal primrose path too far.
I moved a little to the right myself, but stopped closer to the center. Or did I? It’s possible I haven’t moved, that liberal extremism pulled farther, leaving us remaining progressives closer to the center.
We were close enough to wave, exchange pleasantries and chat with the folks on the other side of center, who turned out to be not all that crazy.
Just like us. Who’da thunk it?
Human rights are only for Westerners
The Regressive Left’s liberals hold views and actions in direct contrast to liberal principles, partly in the name of ‘inclusivity’ and partly out of Western guilt for various oppressions, aggressions, and moral outrages committed against other nations, people and cultures.
Points taken—we’re all familiar with the bloody history of Western culture—but some liberals lose their moral compass when they stop believing there are, or should be, certain universal human rights. Like the right to not be murdered, tortured, enslaved, sexually assaulted, beaten, or mutilated. On more positive notes, liberal principles embrace the right to enough healthy food, clean water, decent sanitation, healthcare, and basic freedoms to live one’s own life without impinging on others.
Their compassionate hearts are in the right place but it’s an idiot compassion - not doing what’s best for others out of deference to your own feelings. When feelings supplant rational analysis, it becomes possible to ignore human rights violations so as not to deal with the cognitive dissonance of thinking, Well, here we go again imposing out arrogant moral absolutes on others.
Except maybe we should impose our moral values on others, as others have done unto us. Especially if we wouldn’t tolerate in our own culture what we see in others. The U.S., for twenty years, put an end to Taliban outrages against women. Europe pressured the U.S. and Australia to abolish slavery. The British put an end to Indian suttee.
If it’s not okay to burn our own widows, it’s not okay for other cultures.
I noticed what would one day come to be the moment liberalism really split on human rights—one side hewing to the Enlightenment principle of universalism - ‘what’s good for one is good for all’ versus a sort of Orwellian ‘All people are equal, but some are more equal than others,’ view—or, the so-called ‘marginalized’ are more equal than ‘identities’ with more power.
I, who had vehemently criticized, dissected, and challenged the Christian Right for nearly two decades in the U.S., suffered an attack on my country by foreign fundamentalist fanatics who greatly resembled the Christian fanatics in my own country, corralled by the U.S. Constitution. It wasn’t a hard call to make, I thought, to hit back hard and show foreign terrorists you can’t attack us on our own soil. I recognized and sympathized with the reasons why some in the Muslim world were so mad at us, but pointed out their own stained history into modernity.
While Islamophobia and Islamo-hatred blanketed Red State America, liberals who hewed to white, Western guilt refused to condemn Islamic violence and attacked liberals who did. Far-right commentators like Ann Coulter correctly observed the Regressives were ‘Blame America Firsters.’
In retrospect, I glimpsed a sign of Kris’s Regressive Left vulnerability. She primarily blamed America, as many others did, for this error or that oppression, for Western colonialism and imperialism, ignoring or perhaps ignorant of the pretty nearly-identical guilt of the Islamic Empire in this regard. At least, I pointed out, Jesus was a peacemaker who never killed a man; the Prophet was a warlord.
An enlightened, spiritually advanced person, for sure, but still, a fallible human being who ended many others’ lives prematurely.
After 9/11, some progressivism backtracked on human rights for others, refusing to tolerate any criticism of an obviously flawed foreign religion that was 600 years behind Christianity, which had reformed and rehabilitated itself rather a lot since the Enlightenment.
The Regressive Left pretended that never happened. They commonly asserted, “Things haven’t changed at all,” or “Things are worse than they’ve ever been,” and refused to acknowledge how much genuine progress we’ve made.
Regressives rejected objective truth for flawed subjectivism.
They came to enshrine highly unreliable ‘lived experience’ as the primary ‘evidence’ for opinions and hot-takes they mistook for confirmed facts, like that ‘white supremacy is baked into everything’, or that identifying you as the opposite sex makes it so. They automatically discounted any idea originating in a brain under a white skin, and cast the Enlightenment thinkers including America’s Founding Fathers into the furnace. They ‘canceled’ and de-platformed people on social media for demanding evidence for their claims instead of uncritically accepting their tweet-drops of wisdumb.
It was the same dogmatic, authoritarian, we-know-better-than-thou arrogance of the Christian right that I grew up alongside, even if I wasn’t within it myself.
And they greatly resembled that remark.
The ‘common liberals’, I’ve found, haven’t died or joined the Pod People. The Regressive Left have always been with us, but until the rise of social media they never had the numbers or power to be anything more than our embarrassing fringie children living in the basement fantasizing that trans-flagging their Facebook profile constitutes real social justice work.
How large, exactly, is the Woke Army?
You might be surprised.
A More In Common research project studied the ‘Hidden Tribes’ of America’s political (or non-) masses and compiled a fascinating, highly readable report dividing us into seven ‘tribes’ and exploring which core principles drive each.
Turns out the extremes - the ‘Progressive Activists’ (the woke) and the ‘Devoted Conservatives’ (MAGA types) are only a fraction of American political thought. But like dogs, the littlest tribes make the most noise.
Their numbers? 8%. Combined.
The anti-liberal liberals
‘Illiberalism’, the direct opposite of liberalism, doesn’t refer to partisan labels, but instead to the principles of ‘Classical Liberalism’, which sound interestingly like a mix of both liberal and conservative thought today. According to an article on ThoughtCo, it’s “a political ideology that favors the protection of individual liberty and economic freedom by limiting government power.”
Brittanica defines modern liberalism as “political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics. Liberals typically believe that government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others, but they also recognize that government itself can pose a threat to liberty.”
Liberal extremism ends in Communism, an authoritarian ideology the left has flirted with for a very long time. The Boomers fetishized the brutal Cuban dictator Fidel Castro along with Argentina’s revolutionary Che Guevara, remembered by those who fought with him as ruthless and brutal, executing anyone he suspected of being an informer, deserter or spy. One historian described him as having a ‘remarkable detachment to violence’, noting how Che spoke of one such execution: ‘…so I ended the problem giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal [lobe].”
The authoritarian streak the woke claim to loathe in the right manifests in their demonstrated hostility to free speech or honest critique and debate, and their willingness shut down any challenge to their power, on social media, just as their Communist forebearers did with guns.
Each side of the political divide deludes itself with self-aggrandizing fantasies about how we support life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while they hate America and everything it stands for. They’re both a little right, and a lot wrong, and most of us, according to Hidden Tribes, are with neither. And we’re sick of them both.
It’s time for those of us on the Level Left and the Rational Right to stop being the Silent Majority, talk to each other, and devise how we can work together for some common causes, compromise on others, and reign in our respective extremists. It’s time for both sides to draw boundaries - the woke for whom inclusivity knows no bounds, and for MAGAs for whom there’s no limits to their ‘freedoms’ and ‘rights’ - including shooting people who annoy them.
Most of all, we need to reclaim ‘progressive’ from those who are regressive, and ‘conservative’ from those who aren’t.
We need to speak out loud and clear on social media, where both sets of crazies live. Remember: We are the 92%. We can outshout them.
We have to reclaim our political power. We have to draw the boundaries our crazies won’t. Because authoritarianism never ends well no matter who’s in charge, and I don’t want to live under either.
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