Thursday, April 6, 2017

On the Left

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it                                                                                               Evelyn Beatrice Hall
I lied earlier, in “Everything Wrong with College”. There’s another bad thing about the higher education system in America that I failed to mention: it is the rapidly metastasizing home of the regressive left.

It's frustrating, because I don’t know where the left went wrong. Hopefully I’ll find it along the way.

I’m a “capital L” Liberal, and if pushed will readily slide towards “small s” socialism. I think that people have an obligation to society, and that society has an obligation to its people. It’s a fundamentally beneficial relationship, whereby people engage in work and enterprise that does not actively damage society (predatory economic activity, selling poison, etc.) and in return, society ensures a base level of comfort for all its people (food, housing, medical care, education, etc.). Marx is heavy-handed, but “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is basically the ideal.

There are implicit underlying assumptions: all human beings deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and have the right to swing their fists around as long as they don’t hit anyone else’s face. And yes, I am aware that this is a point of some contention.

So let’s restate it, as this is intro Tzedaka-level stuff; as long as there is basic economic justice, the vast majority of laws should essentially function under a “live and let live” system (aka the golden rule). The idea that economic justice is inextricable from social justice is not new:

"But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It's more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. And it's much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It's much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality."             Martin Luther King, Jr.

And this is where the left lost their way, I think. Somewhere along the way we stopped caring about the “War on Poverty” as much as we started caring about micro-aggressions, pronouns, who gets to go in what bathrooms, and a dozen other things that are essentially irrelevant to ensuring we live in a just society.

I covered the following pretty well in my first college post, but one of the basic problems and/or features of college is in enforcing and maintaining class boundaries — both economic and social. I’ve been to a number of (private) colleges in my life, and while I am sure there are ones that do not fit this mold, they seemed to be universally comprised of a diverse tapestry of rich people. Which is, I can only assume, how you get nonsense like this. And this. And this. And this. I could go on, there are many, many more examples.

It’s all pretty exhausting, because we’re, at least nominally, all on the same side. I don’t like “injustice” any more than they do. I’ve talked about the futility of protests before in “Trump: Still Bad”, but I want to be very, very clear. The end does not justify the means. You cannot fight illiberal behavior by engaging in it yourself. Like Ok, I get it,  you don’t want someone “racist” to come speak on your campus. But who exactly is being benefited by a disruptive protest? Free speech is an important right, the “right to not be offended” is not a right at all.

When you shout down alternative views, you’re saying that you can’t beat them in an argument. You make them the heroic underdogs, and yourselves the puritanical establishment. Censorship is not a sustainable goal in a world overseen by Google; ideas, even offensive ones, must be addressed with more subtlety. Clearly, yelling about them hasn’t made a whit of difference to the current political climate.

And, honestly, I can understand why someone like Curtis Yarvin would call the pseudo-puritanism of modern college campuses “the cathedral”. I’d provide a more detailed picture of his beliefs, but I’m not really interested in reading 100,000 words of Moldbug, so you’ll have to excuse me (this is not an out of place hyperbole — doing any more than scratching the surface requires an enormous amount of reading).  

This isn’t a sin from only one side, but it’s especially out of place from the left. Stop telling people what to do. Stop telling people what to think. Stop telling people they can’t say something. Stop pretending that having the moral high ground means you can do things like this. I don’t understand why this is such a difficult concept, and I don’t understand why people keep enabling terrible behavior. Free speech is more important than being offended, even if they’re wrong, even if they’re mean, even if they’re trying to offend you. You don’t get to choose when to apply your moral principles, and if you want something like free speech, free assembly, freedom from harassment, then act like it. (Re: “On Tribalism”)

Now can we please go back to fighting for things that matter?


  1. Unfortunately the Golden Rule has a new definition, "Them that has the GOLD gets to make the Rules".

  2. "It's frustrating, because I don’t know where the left went wrong."

    Narcissism, my droog!