| by Wyatt Harding |
As our culture wars rage on, a vast array of socio-political ideologies are emerging as traditional boundaries of thought are becoming increasingly fractured. An entire new pantheon of spokespersons and talking heads representing these movements has taken to the Internet to discuss, debate, and spread ideas of their world-views. To many, myself included, the widespread availability of content representing diverse opinions and views is a breath of fresh air to the typical political binary we’re all accustomed to operating in. However, straw-manning, misrepresentations, and a general muddying of the waters come as a natural consequences to this change in landscape.
Many of us who come from the Left have become disillusioned with the mainstream Left’s increasingly illiberal, totalitarian tendencies and adherence to dogmatic social movements. It is for these people I’m writing this. Those of us who hold on to the more libertarian, or as we would insist “truly liberal” social views that used to characterize the American Left-winger are often colloquially smacked with the label of “anti-SJW.” I don’t view this as a negative term, but it becomes a bit disturbing when considering the other groups that are known for bearing the “anti-SJW” badge: most notably the Alt-Right and right-wing conspiracy theorists.
Despite the mainstream’s insistence that we are all Right-wingers in disguise, the liberal anti-SJW (I’m continuing to use this term for the sake of convenience; I don’t think it is the most accurate descriptor) is still decidedly on the Left — standing up for liberal principles and criticizing the, frankly, ridiculous tenets that have become so central to modern liberalism. In contrast, the Alt-Right anti-SJW group almost always use their criticisms of lowest hanging fruits as part of a larger attempt to discredit the Left as a whole, often laden with New-World-Order-style conspiracy jargon.
At the risk of sounding like the ideologues I detest, I think it’s vitally important to avoid getting into cahoots with conservative internet pundits just because of a small sliver of shared criticism of the Left. I’ve witnessed many friends give up on liberalism out of frustration, just to slowly become seduced by fringe groups that take advantage of their complaints about the Left. But what else should we expect considering the fact that many can’t tell the difference between your Maajid Nawazs’ and your Paul Joseph Watsons’.
Just over a year ago, I almost thought of my self as a conservative out of the same sense of confusion. But to do so would have been to admit defeat — which is a shared goal of Leftists who aim to eradicate non-conformity as well as those on the other side of the aisle.
One way I try to best represent my views and avoid getting lumped in with ideologies I share little in common with is to avoid adopting political language. In December, Race Hochdorf wrote a wonderful column for Areo, mapping out how the current incarnation of “Social Justice” uses language to cultivate a cult-like in-group environment, all while keeping adherents’ minds closed to outside ideas. Groups from across the spectrum employ such linguistic techniques. Many times, we adopt this jargon subconsciously. We don’t always realize the origins of these terms as they creep into the vocabulary of our commentary.
One such term is “Cultural Marxism.” Now, I understand what people who use this phrase are referring to — it was even used in the aforementioned piece, “Social Justice: How Cults Use Language To Enslave Adherents.” However, it’s often held that its origins are in the conspiracy theories of the fringe-Right who engage in a constant hand-wringing over the idea that covert communist agents are trying to overturn society from the inside out. It’s a good example of how political language can seep into our discourse and serve to discredit us.
Onlookers may hear such verbiage and immediately shrug off an argument (I must note that I understand how Race Hochdorf used the term in his piece and I am in no way arguing against his point — the term has definitely shifted from its original connotations). Although claims of “Alt-Right indoctrination” are certainly overblown, it would be naïve to outright deny that nationalist and traditionalist groups exploit the conflicts and weaknesses within liberalism to seduce the fed-up among us.
Then, there’re many people who truly aren’t Alt-Righters who use Pepe memes, Breitbart citations, and decry everyone as a “cuck” as a sort of symbolic in-joke on their “anti-PC” crusade. Those who are liberal detractors desperate to make a point are doing themselves a real disservice by peppering their points with the imagery of the far-Right. To naïve onlookers, this just confirms their fears that anyone who whines about political correctness is really just a bigot-in-disguise.
Within the past couple of months, this same concern and discussion has been raised all over social media, not by these naïve bystanders, but by people who spend their time engaged in these discussions. Reddit posts with titles like “I’m really afraid that the anti-SJW crowd might become full of far-Right extremists” and “Anti-SJW Alt-Right taking over the Mid Left due to common enemy?” have been cropping up with more and more frequency, with many people struggling to explain and describe this phenomenon. The two most common conclusions seem to be: the mainstream Left caricatures all dissent as being motivated by hate and that many folks are hopping on board with Alt-Right types to fight a common enemy.
I believe there’s undoubtedly truth to both of these options and I certainly think we can be proactive in alleviating some of the confusion and blurred lines. Sometimes people on the other side of the aisle share this same confusion as well and believe that any liberal bashing comes from a place of hyper-nationalism. Anyone who follows any secularists of former Muslim or middle-eastern background on social media for long enough will notice the unusual fury that arises from a large mass of followers anytime Christianity is criticized or the idea of superior “Western values” is challenged.
In late 2016, Lalo Dagach, a popular social and political commentator, proved this point by spending a month giving Islam a break and solely criticizing Christianity. Many of his followers were outraged. They had seemingly been following him under the impression that he was an anti-Muslim Right-winger who was there just to confirm their own biases. Of course it is natural for people to follow others on social media without full-heartedly agreeing with their positions, but the scope and the surprisingly shocked response that this incident created did an excellent job of illustrating the peculiar brand of confusion and muddied boundaries that are so prevalent.
I would never want to suggest that we don’t break political borders, nor do I encourage moralistic word-policing or self-censorship, and I caution against interpreting my message in that way. On the contrary, we should always strive to find common ground, to understand and to civilly debate and analyze our differences. There absolutely are valid conservative points, and in principle, adopting their language shouldn’t be a problem, but in practice, issues arise. For better or for worse our society demands we distance ourselves from movements we share merely shallow commonalities with — insisting that “if it walks and talks like a duck. It is a duck.” It certainly wouldn’t hurt to show the world that not everyone who disagrees with the new Left is the right-wing hate-monger they’re made out to be. The best way to do that is to avoid the temptation of jumping into bed with and cosigning the ideologues that truly have harmful views just because we have a shared enemy in the oft-despised worldview of the “social justice warrior”.
Let’s not allow ourselves to get pushed and pulled out of the Left, instead let’s stay firmly dedicated to liberal ideals and always be equipped to criticize bad ideology no matter from where it rears its head.
Wyatt Harding is interested in criticisms of art, social trends, and our culture. He enjoys storytelling in all its forms and is a consumer of all types of media which he uses as the lens through which he criticizes socio-political phenomenon. You can contact him here.
Header Photo: Ming Jun Tan