why the left needs to rethink its quest for ideological perfection
Consider this your trigger warning. There isn’t going to be a lot of science or technology analysis in this post, in fact there really won’t be any, and none of this is going to be all that nice or sensitive. But all of it is going to be very necessary real talk and tough love. If you need to something that will help get you through this post, I suggest imagining a Simon Cowell, or a Gordon Ramsey with a light Russian accent telling you this. And if you have trouble taking unfiltered criticism, and are going skim this, looking for a way to play priveledge poker to dismiss the entire concept of this post, you really need to pay attention to it most of all because you’re using your urge to get everyone to check their priveledge as a defense mechanism right now, and competing for woke points instead of winning over your critics, so none of your -isms and -ists are going to help you at this juncture.
Once again, economic troubles in a changing world have been coopted by a bunch of opportunistic bigots who promise that jobs and money will rain on those who follow their cry to subjugate anyone different from them. We can lament it all we want, and in the fallout, hundreds of racist incidents lit up the internet as the hoods finally came off. In its wake, some people tried to look at the closest analog to what’s happening, the aftermath of Brexit, and tried to adopt a small gesture to let people now unsure about their lives and looking over through shoulder for would-be attackers know not everyone is out to get them. That gesture is wearing a safety pin. And this is where we’d adopt a token of solidarity and move on to more long term steps, but if the left excels in anything nowadays, it’s identifying its shortfalls, imperfections, and failures, and wallowing in them, letting perfect slash good’s throat with a rusty razor behind an abandoned woodshed on a moonless night.
No sooner did people start thinking about using this symbol than bloggers in lefty outlets started shaming them for the very idea of thinking it may help, and how weaksauce it is for a would-be majority ally to start wearing safety pins now instead of being there to help the minority groups from day one. If anyone tasked me to come up with a better way to alienate supporters than encouraging them to help starting with a small token of solidarity and right after they do, blasting them for being a less than perfect ally who can’t even speak the wake lingo and thus truly understand the plight of a minority, as if cribbed right out of Frederik DeBoer’s We Are All Already Decided guide for how to deflate allies, I’d come up empty. Or as Anoosh Jorjorian put it better and more bluntly than I could…
For some white people, putting on a safety pin may be the first step toward allyship that they have ever taken. By putting it on, they make themselves a target for Trump supporters IRL and online to call them whiny liberal losers. Then liberals/progressives/leftists turn around and tell them they are embarrassing themselves by wearing a safety pin? Yeah, that’s how we lose.
Just think about it it. You have millions of people in the majority aghast at the very notion that you might think they voted for someone endorsed by racist hate groups, and they rush to come up with something to show you and the world that they didn’t. Forget the ally thing for a minute. Yes, the pins aren’t a panacea by any stretch, and sure there are people who delude themselves into thinking it will send bigots scattering like roaches from a bright light. Yes, they are just “virtue signaling” but that virtue is positive, and it comes from wanting to do something, anything to help in a public, obvious way. That’s more than they wanted to, or even knew they should have been doing a week ago. And speaking of virtue signaling, what kind of virtue are you signaling with yet another longform lamentation on how it sucks to be a target and no one is there to help you after you just turned an attempt of many to do just that into a terrible, oppressive thing?
How do liberals who can turn a simple, easy to make faux pas into a 3,000 word confessional on how they have such a long road to fight the oppressor inside them get anything done in the morning? This maniacal focus on the perfect allyship, academic understanding of every group’s issues, and ideal vocabulary that better not use a word that may be interpreted as something phobic or oppressive misses something that even someone who deals with a computer more than he deals with people and, admittedly, has some limits on his ability to interact with others, understands: that people are all very, very imperfect, and that it’s not a deal breaker. You don’t need the perfect ally, the perfect social education system, or the perfect vocabulary. You just need an edge that helps you in the long term, a building block on which you can construct a foundation to combat the bigots who are after you.
This is how your ideas could be so popular and your most flawed candidate can win the popular vote, and yet, still lose. Politics is literally a popularity contest, and you can only win leadership positions by reaching out to allies sympathetic to your cause. You cannot keep trying to reach out to those who want to help your cause but barely even know where to start, then spend a lot of time and energy tearing them down for not knowing your orthodoxy by heart. Why? Because when you actually need them, like you do now, they won’t want to help because they tried and you berated them for one reason or another, then wallowed in your “sudden” isolation while taking offense at everything that doesn’t meet your standards with an almost paradoxical tone deafness. When people are trying to help you, let them, don’t condescend to them about how they’re not doing enough or are doing it wrong.
Every time you tell a would-be advocate for you something along the lines of “it’s not my job to teach you about this” in regards to particularly painful or aggravating issues, stop and think. Who’s going to give that education? All those systems you say exist to oppress you or tear you down? All the bigots who try to sound respectable when vilifying you, posing as objective founts of knowledge? This person will know where to go, what to read, and how to find answers to additional questions? You say it’s not your job to educate an ally on your concerns, so you’re going to outsource this to those you say are stacking the deck against you? Really? That’s your plan? To rant and rave on how hollow virtue signaling is while using your marginalization as an excuse to occupy a bully pulpit? Who exactly is that helping, other than your ego in some who’s the wokest contest that apparently awards big prizes?
When someone calls out an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist after me with a tweet or a Facebook post, I could kvetch about how just one interaction on social media isn’t going to silence all the people convinced I’m working for the Illuminati to oppress them, or try to drown me in invective that being a Jew isn’t even a real thing. My people are really, really good at kvetching so it would be easy for me. Or I could get over myself and thank the person for intervening because guess what? She actually stepped up and did more than she probably did yesterday. Her degree of knowledge about Russian Jewish history and awareness of what words may have been used as slurs towards them, are nowhere as important as the fact the she stepped up and did the right thing as a good person just to be a good person. Isn’t that enough to start building bridges and win over more friends to your cause?
Even something as seemingly inconsequential as safety pins or social media profile pic filters to show solidarity can have a big effect. Racists and bigots today are opportunists who know society at large finds them repellent. This is why they adopt coded language and write pseudohistoric treatises meant to sound like academic investigations. They want to do their nastiest work sight unseen and with no opposition in sight. Having to look around to see lots of anti-bigot symbolism worn by those around them, even if they tried posing as allies themselves to get away with something nasty, sends a not so subtle reminder that they’ll have a lot of pushback, and a lot of eyes might be watching them should they act on their worst impulses. Hopeful novices in the world of social activism doing the best they could with what little they had to work with successfully toppled tyrants. Holier-than-thou nihilists have a far worse track record, but right now, they’re the most prominent voices on the left, convinced that they’re doing their movement a favor…