Monday, 11 December 2017

Dangerous Moderation

Now readers, I normally don't like to comment on issues directly pertaining to the alt-right or radical left since I don't want to help disseminate their views, since this is not a zero-sum game. Here however, someone who is directly in my generation is engaging in some appalling hypocrisy so she can peddle ideas I find morally abhorrent. So briefly, I shall highlight one modern alt-right commentator I have seen over the last two years, and would like use this as an example why I don't subscribe to any of the ideologies on the extreme end of the political spectrum.

I will note that I will not link directly to any of the commentators material (I will not give them exposure that way) but will provide links to where I learned more about this issue. Starting with this Salon article on the subject.

Recently, notable alt-right commentator Lauren Southern posted a video on her Youtube account where she lamented recent attacks (or trolling) by members of her own movement against her perceived hypocrisy of preaching traditional values, and not following them herself. Of course, she asked for amnesty from her followers pleading that she was "only 22" and needed time to sort her life out, and might not be ready to get married and have kids, or even know her place in the world yet. This of course, despite many happy years of denying similar choice or amnesty to transgender persons, rape victims, and her ideological enemies. In effect, she has undertaken some special pleading to exonerate herself from the toxic attitude towards women that members of her own community regularly espouse, while seeking to continue to belittle and deride women who are her ideological enemies, despite those very same women wanting the same things she wants.

As a stunning example of lacking self-awareness, she even remarks that she's hearkening back to a time before she was alive, and even states that it may be an imagined time. Surely then, she can see that her own ideas, which she uses to attack others so constantly, aren't exactly as great as she thinks they are? Or that her defense of them is not benefiting her in the way she would desire?

Admittedly, Margaret Atwood delivered perhaps the best scathing indictment on women who act as mouthpieces for "traditional values" in her excellent novel The Handmaid's Tale, wherein the wife of the Commander, who had been a virulent supporter of the movement which brought the theocracy in Gilead to power, finds herself living out the very restrictive moralistic tenets she so adamantly preached. Suddenly she finds herself as property of her husband, without rights, and just barely above the restrictions that handmaid's themselves enjoyed. Needless to say, she is not 100% happy with this arrangement.

Now that is a fictional example, but the example of Lauren Southern ought to be instructive in how many women advocating for the ideals of the alt-right would not enjoy their wholesale implementation in reality. Now the podcast Canadaland takes the piss out of the idea quite well, and if you're interested in the video and some insightful commentary on the matter I would say you should give it a listen.

However, I should point out, that just because the alt-right does terrible and self-serving hypocritical things, doesn't mean the left doesn't do them as well.

Take for example, the very real and very terrifying events that went down at Wilfred Laurier University just a few weeks ago. The unfortunate Lindsay Shepherd case highlighted a stunning amount of intolerance (and more than a little naivety) in academic discourse at a major university. Of course, playing the controversial words of Professor Jordan Peterson may offend some, but simply using his discourse as an example of both sides of the debate regarding gender neutral should not be in and of itself a controversial action.

Unfortunately, it appeared that one or more students took issue with even the words being used in context of an academic setting. This was then reported to the university and Ms. Shepherd was dragged before a hearing where she was rather cruelly treated and abused, without context for how she offended the student(s) in question, and without real guidance on how she would be best suited to address the students concerns. The panel then lambastes her, and makes frankly, ridiculous insinuations that she is acting transphobic or intolerant.

Ms. Shepherd of course, rightly states that by presenting these ideas which exist in the real world, she is hardly causing any damage to someone who could be exposed to it in everyday life. The milquetoast retorts offered by the university that she might be "threatening" transgendered students in the classroom fall flat in the case of the objective fact they could be exposed to this outside the classroom setting. When she defended herself in that she presented the issue in a neutral manner befitting the classroom, she was greeted with the retort "well that's kind of the problem". Indeed, we are to believe that you can't be objective or neutral when presenting modern controversy, according to the university at least.

This is an unambiguous example of "political correctness gone mad" which, the university made a lackluster apology for. With the recording released, and the university coming away with egg on its face, and looking very intolerant themselves, there has been an outcry against the school's actions.

There are of course, other examples from each side of the aisle which one could cite, but I feel that these two most recent ones make my point.

In this modern world, it seems in public discourse we are often compelled to be explicitly for or against an idea. The media (and social media) will portray politics as either "you are with me, or you are against me" and the present political climate seems to reinforce that belief. Whether it is the Brexit policies in the UK, or the current smoldering political climate in the United States.

I however, like I prefaced this piece, do not believe that ideology or political discourse is an all or nothing game. This is normally why I refrain from commenting on the issues of the alt-right or the radical left. Both sides have some points that I might otherwise agree with, but the pure partisanship prevents is too much to take.

Personally, I like to think I am something of a moderate in political discourse. I agree with many ideas on the left end of the political spectrum, and many on the right. I am even willing to concede one of the far right talking points (which perhaps they portray disingenuously) that much of the far lefts efforts to throw out old traditions is a fruitless exercise in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. That does not mean though, I have any sympathy for the views expressed by the likes of Lauren Southern by and large. I would also radically oppose the actions taken by Wilfred Laurier University in their attitude towards Lindsay Shepherd.

By expressing sympathy though for any of the other side in a debate, one will often find themselves ridiculed not just by those they oppose, but those who are ostensibly on their side. As the Canadaland podcast so well put it, you are punished for not being sufficiently ideologically pure. Especially in the world of social media.

This effect of proclaiming "my way right or wrong" by both sides, tends to either turn people off political and ideological discourse completely, or make people dig in their heels as they feel under attack. This drives moderate voices out of the public view. I would argue the media tends not to help, as they enjoy presenting sensationalized narratives of ideologies battling it out. While that sometimes may be the case, I would think that most people are far more moderate in their views than they let on.

For my part, I would hope that people on both sides can realize when blatant hypocrisy is staring them right in the face. In lieu of that, perhaps when people see the worst their side of a debate has to argue, perhaps they can see the better angels of our nature and engage in frank, perhaps lively, but reasonable debate.

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