Thursday, January 12, 2017

Is the left closed-minded?

I often scoff at conservatives' whining about the "PC police" and such, since such claims are often overblown and strike me as a cover for a refusal to take responsibility for stopping racism and sexism.

But, mostly privately, I know what they're talking about. Or rather, there's some overlap between my view and theirs, where we would both agree the left has some worrying traits.

I agree that there is a closed minded humorlessness that has become so rigid on the left that it shuts down productive conversation and turns away allies. I see so much "you don't get to say that" on Twitter and to a lesser degree Facebook, perhaps because Twitter operates more as a large continuous echo chamber, and Facebook more like an archipelago of somewhat separate echo chambers.

A reasonable person to engage in dialogue, like the Yale dean who wrote the letter saying there was developmental value in transgressing norms and that she didn't think she should be dictating costume choices to students, gets treated with the sort of absolutist opposition that was once reserved for the cruelly oppressive. Lena Dunham mentions in an interview that because of her looks, she felt Odell Beckham Jr. couldn't even register her as something you'd have sex with, and gets raked over the coals because of the problematic assumptions about black make sexuality her comments bring to mind.

It's not that I always disagree with the progressive analysis--far from it. But the absolute worst is always immediately assumed, and when people chime in with a "yes and, maybe they do have a point too" they are assumed to be an enemy. The Yale dean and Lena Dunham's words and actions are problematic, I agree. But I also think they are well within the realm of reasonableness. You can have disagreements, issues, and questions, without losing sight of the large overlap between their points of view and ours.

Say a friend confided in you, sighing, that she felt worthless when she dressed up and put on makeup and sat near a handsome and fit male celebrity, whose glance seemed to deny her a shred of seductive attraction. Part of you would register how her reaction is different from yours, how much she's assuming about his experience without knowing it, how she's not attuned to the possible historical echoes of a white woman presuming a black man should see her as a potential sex object. But wouldn't much more of you figure that her experience is substantially real, and that your criticisms are only part of the story? Wouldn't you keep in mind that you weren't there, and that her take might describe what happened accurately?

Alice has pointed out, when I have expressed similar concerns, that I sort of bend over backwards to come up with counterfactuals to extend doubt to otherwise solid criticisms levied by progressives. Maybe I do. I like to think that I will bend over backwards to imagine what version of the other would seem familiar; what alien concepts would feel like if they were native to my mind; how I would see an enemy if she were a friend. Am I denying that generosity to the progressive critics I'm denouncing now?

Again, maybe I am. I'll think about it. In the meantime, I do think the problem is asymmetrical. Dunham is saying ill of Beckam Jr., but she's hardly raking him through the mud. She felt that she didn't exist to him because of her looks. That's it. It's a mild drive-by criticism, not a relentless attack.

And there are, indeed, irrationally relentless attacks being made by the left. I got into a Twitter spat recently with a progressive woman whose writing I adore, just because I cautiously defended someone's point that the Clintons operate in a world of the powerful, with a vantage point from which it's hard to realize how bad some of their actions will appear.

I think you can fully support Hillary Clinton and oppose Trump, and still acknowledge that. Not so with this writer, and it took me repeating several times that I supported HRC, had volunteered for the campaign, and had brought both my daughters to another state for 3 days to volunteer, before she stopped insulting me.

I think that's a symptom of a significant vein of impenetrable certainty and scorched earth which is a big problem in progressive thinking and culture.

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