Winston Churchill once said, “If you are young and not liberal, you have no heart. If you are old and not conservative, you have no intellect.”
Many people who started out as young liberals, have gradually turned conservative as they grew older, sometimes on an issue-by-issue bases being liberal on some matters and conservative on others, sometimes wholesale. Sometimes, when your lot improves with age, your position on taxation of the rich may change. Sometimes, as you gain disposable income and understand the difficulties of business, you begin to have second thoughts on whether all information should be free of charge. Sometimes, you get jaded and start to feel that idealism is unrealistic.
But it is not only because you age that you find yourself disagreeing with your former ideals. Liberalism is by nature a moving target. Democracy was once a very radical concept. Once democracy was established, it became a principle to conserve. Once we attained women’s suffrage, we moved on to gender equality. Once we won civil rights, we moved on to race sensitivity. Once we had gay rights, we moved on to gay marriage. People who agreed with civil rights may chafe at political correctness. People who supported gay rights may scoff at gay marriage.
Sometimes, liberal leaders can get confused. Feminism is essentially a fight against sexism and an effort to seek equality for women, but it has frequently veered into infighting among its leaders over who is the true feminist; by definition, a fight over orthodoxy. Liberalism can be self-contradictory that way. Orthodox liberalism is conservatism. Liberalism is the process of cutting a foot path through the jungle. Once you rest on your laurels, you are no longer active in the process.
Liberalism relies on a world in need of progress. Luckily there is no shortage of injustices in the world. However, like the man who searches for his lost keys only near the lamp post because the light is better there, liberals do not always go to areas in need of correction but find fault with things that are easiest to change. Nobody jumped to the gay marriage issue in the 1960s, although gay people were just as unable to marry then as they were a few years ago. Meanwhile, why do women have to wear bras?
On top of this basic structure, modern liberalism force sells compassion through victimhood in a passive aggressive manner. The template was created in the time of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, who used non-violent demonstrations to emphasize the violent injustice being delivered to peaceful protesters. These people were fighting real injustice and trying to bridge disagreements and resolve differences. But due to the ebb and flow of political tides, the template is currently applied to low hanging fruit. There are still real injustices in the world, but too many people are classifying themselves as victims just so that they can apply the template “I am hurt, therefore you must amend your ways”.
There is an old story about a surgeon called in for surgery which found renewed life on the internet. In the story, the surgeon rushes to operate on an injured boy. The boy’s father is furious that the surgeon took so long to arrive. He insults the surgeon over his lack of devotion to his job. The surgeon talks with a smile to the father and asks him to calm down, but he does not, and continue to harangue him as he enters the OR. The doctor eventually emerges from surgery, tells the father that the boy survived and rushes out, leaving the rest of the explanation to the nurse. The father is furious. Why is he so arrogant? Why can’t he stay to tell me the details himself? How can such a heartless man call himself a doctor? The nurse informs the father that the doctor’s son died the day before. He was at his own son’s burial when he was called into surgery. He rushed back to finish the burial.
In this fairy tale, the father gets the message and decides not to judge someone without knowing what they are going through. But in real life, the liberal victimhood tactic rarely takes into account the other side of the story.
Last year, I joined a closed group on Facebook of aspiring writers. I looked through the profile of the posters there and noticed that the majority of the active members were women, with many smiling pictures, often posing with husbands, boyfriends or family. With no ulterior motives or hidden agendas, I posted “I have to say there are a lot of very attractive women in this group”. Some people seemed offended and told me that the comment was inappropriate. I am a middle aged Japanese man living in Japan and I had never before been told that complimenting women on their looks (from a distance of about five thousand miles, give or take) was in any way offensive.
So in order to gain more perspective I started a new thread asking specifically why this was inappropriate, and within a few days I was banned from the group. This was the first time I came in contact with concepts like “trigger warning” and “safe space”. I eventually understood that complimenting an unspecified group of women in a forum about creative writing was out of place and inappropriate. But that education came with an immediate reaction of insults, accusations and judgmental pronouncements that labeled me something akin to a sex offender.
What if I had been a Muslim immigrant? A refugee from Syria who was stepping on Western soil for the first time? The people who found my compliment offensive appeared to be politically liberal. The thread I started, asking opinions on the compliment, counted over fifty thousand words within seven hours, mostly composed of vitriol. Some people said that I was a creepy potential rapist, among other things (which evidently must have been considered less offensive than saying that women were attractive, since I was the one who was banned from the group). Was this the kind of welcome a person from a different culture could expect for not understanding what a “safe space” was?
Sadly, there actually are people in the world who need trigger warnings to protect them from unwanted compliments. But it is the people who purport to be speaking on their behalf who deliver the most hysteric responses. At best, this is retaliation with rudeness to someone who had no intention of being rude, at worst, it could be perceived as a cyber lynch mob.
Ironically, it is the same liberal people who are in favor of accepting Muslim refugees from troubled areas of the Middle East, where rape victims are sent to prison and good people, both men and women, are raised to believe that this is moral justice. What kind of a mine field will these refugees be walking through when they are faced with a culture of victimhood?
And here lies the central contradiction of modern liberalism. “When I say it hurts, you have no right to say that it doesn’t” is a dogma that only works within limited parameters. It is not universal and is inherently elitist, if not entirely racist. And let’s face it: First world elitism is just a different face of bigotry. Anyone who cannot handle the oyster-forks of political correctness is deemed a lesser being, a barbarian who does not belong in the tea party.
Unlike conservatism, liberalism is not driven by people who are motivated by something logical, like money. It is driven by people who are willing to pay the price for speaking the truth and doing the right thing for the sheer satisfaction of being the few who will dare to challenge the status quo. Holier-than-thou elitism is the lifeblood of liberalism. And when taken too far, the inherent elitism of liberalism becomes its own tripwire. That is the dark side of the liberal movement.
We old timers often ask, what has liberalism turned into? It was so nice back in the day. But then again, this contradiction had always existed. The founding fathers were land-owning gentry, women’s rights were first pioneered by society matrons, and racism was first opposed by the maharajahs. People who wanted to alleviate the sufferings of the poor were often very rich. In spite of the contradictions, these progressive mavericks made significant headway for a while, until the contradictions surfaced and it all turned Animal Farm. Progressive movements have a habit of turning into something unsavory every now and then. It must be written in the stars that, in every other generation, the hippie Jedi produces a self-centered Sith.
And now, when the third world refugees meet first world political correctness, the refugee experience will likely produce a very new literary expression. It is not the Muslims versus the Donald Trumps that we should be focusing on. That conflict may cause trouble but not literature. From the point of view of writers and readers, refugee literature is the thing to look out for.