I spend a lot of time on Quora dishing on conservatives, but here’s something that is absolutely endemic among my fellow liberals that absolutely gets on my last nerve.
Way, way too many liberals are more obsessed with moral purity than any Southern Baptist could ever be. Way too many of my fellow liberals are obsessed with absolute moral purity to the point where any disagreement whatsoever becomes an opportunity to summon the torches and pitchforks.
Liberals, especially in matters of social justice (however variously that may be defined), have an unfortunate habit of seeing anyone who agrees with them 98% not as an ally, but as a 2% enemy. And that 2%? Purge it with fire!!
Actual photo of a typical North American liberal whose fellow liberal has just expressed a minor difference of opinion.
It’s as if we liberals fundamentally do not accept the idea that any disagreement can ever arise from a legitimate difference of opinion, priority, or even fact. No, no way. Any disagreement, any difference however slight, can only be active, willful, malicious evil.
Liberals love the fire of righteous anger. We’re addicted to how it feels. Grabbing the torches and pitchforks and setting off on some zealous crusade makes us feel like we’re doing something. And that makes liberals incredibly easy to manipulate. We all have to virtue-signal and signpost our righteous purity, all the time. The insistence on ideological purity creates an atmosphere of fear and oppression, because at the end of the day nobody is pure enough. This fear and oppression leads to dogpiles and mob rule, because nobody wants that zealous rage directed at themselves.
Conservative authoritarianism is blind, mindless allegiance to a person, however corrupt and obviously self-serving. Liberals sneer at conservative authoritarians, but liberals tend to fall victim to an equally blind, uncritical allegiance, not to a specific person, but to group norms and presumed virtues. One Polynesian person on Tumblr complained once that the hashtag #poly made it hard for her to find other Polynesian Tumblr users because polyamorous people used it instead, and from that moment on it was torches and pitchforks for any polyamorous person who self-described as “poly” rather than “polyam” in any context anywhere, on or off Tumblr, because if you call yourself “poly” you are disrespecting disempowered communities of color.
Marshall University professor Greg Patterson ran into this for talking about filler words in different languages. “Filler words” are words that you insert as pauses in a sentence when you’re thinking. “Uh” and “um” are the most common filler words in English.
A common filler word in Chinese is 那个, pronounced “nà ge”. One group of students complained that this sounded too similar to the English N-word, and that, direct quote,
There are over 10,000 characters in the Chinese written language and to use this phrase, a clear synonym with this derogatory N-Word term, is hurtful and unacceptable to our USC Marshall community. The negligence and disregard displayed by our professor was very clear in today’s class. […] We were made to feel “less than.” […] We are burdened to fight with our existence in society, in the workplace, and in America. We should not be made to fight for our sense of peace and mental well-being at Marshall.
Professor Patterson was removed from the class.
Part of the issue is that Patterson is liberal himself, and as much as liberals love going after conservatives, we save a special and particularly fiery rage for fellow liberals who we believe have transgressed our ideology, regardless of how specious that belief might be.
Part of the issue is that Patterson did not immediately grovel. In liberal circles, it is axiomatic that any fellow liberal accused of any transgression is automatically and self-evidently guilty, always, and the only appropriate response is immediate and unconditional apology.
Any other response is always and self-evidently proof of guilt. Denial? Proof of guilt. Confusion? Proof of guilt. Anger? Proof of guilt.
And part of the issue is that nobody wants to be in the line of fire. Once the torches-and-pitchforks mob has been unleashed, everyone is a potential target. Anyone standing too close to the offender is a target. Anyone who voices any support for the offender is a target. Anyone who fails to denounce the target is a target. Anyone who doesn’t denounce the target strongly enough is a target.
If you’re a faculty member and you get a complaint like this, you damn well better remove the professor, regardless of how you feel. If you don’t, you become the next new target. “Look at this faculty dean, supporting institutions of entrenched racism at our university! We’re going to go to the administration! We’re going to go to the alumni!”
So what happens is you make a reasoned, considered, and perfectly rational decision to do as the mob says, because you come to the reasoned, considered, and perfectly rational decision that you don’t want your own life upended by the mob.
Too many liberals are addicted to the feel of this righteous virtue. It feels good. I know; I’ve been there, I’ve felt it. It’s heady. It’s intoxicating. It lets you feel powerful when you’re confronted with the hopeless pervasiveness of institutionalized injustice.
You can’t stop the structural, institutional racism that permeates the American social fabric, but goddamnit, you can do something about this professor that said something you might’ve heard as a slur! And that feels good. It feels powerful.
In a sense, we liberals sacrifice our own as an antidote to the intractability and powerlessness of the injustice around us. It’s dangerous, especially if you’re part of a disenfranchised subcommunity, to attack the institutional structures of oppression head-on. So turning on your fellows becomes a safety valve, a way to deal with the rage and despair you feel every day.