There are plenty of intelligent, reasonable and compassionate people in the world whose political opinions differ from mine, and who I enjoy a bit of political banter with from time to time. We can have grown-up intellectual discussions about what’s going on in the world without resorting to trolling and abusing each other. So when I say that this week’s post is about uniting against a common foe, you understand that I don’t mean you.
Our common foe: bullies.
I took a trip this week. I went on a little journey out of my social media echo chamber, to see what was being said by people on the ‘other side’. As predicted, there was a lot that I didn’t agree with. That’s fine – I was on their turf; it was to be expected. But a lot of it really wasn’t pretty.
Some of it was fairly predictable. Some of it – not so much.
Some of it was quite well written. Some of it – not so much.
I think what surprised me the most was the use of the phrase ‘liberal elite’, which has apparently become a fashionable insult. Its use puzzles me; it doesn’t really hold up as an insult, and it has been deployed rather disingenuously by far-right politicians in their (sadly successful) attempts at capturing the mood of the moment.
Which part of it is meant to be insulting? A liberal person is progressive, left-leaning, open-minded, tolerant, in favour of equality, compassionate, probably inclined to pacifism… As far as labels go, I’m happy with that. But let’s face it, one doesn’t need to identify as ‘liberal’ to be anti-violence and compassionate… Liberals aren’t the exclusive owners of these qualities, and it’s not helpful to set up liberal/conservative as a pair of binary opposites, where we use nice sounding adjectives for one and mean sounding adjectives for the other… That’s not ‘grown-up’ politics.
Is the ‘elite’ part insulting then? To describe someone as elite suggests that they are powerful, privileged, and rich. Again, not really seeing the insult. And this part makes even less sense. There are elites on both sides of the political spectrum; to present Brexit and Trump in terms of working class revolutions against ‘the elites’ is a grotesque misrepresentation of the facts. A presentation of alternative facts, if you will. (Sorry- cheap shot.) The Trumps couldn’t be more elite if they tried! And Brexit shifts power from EU elites to British elites. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
No, the problem comes from the collocation ‘liberal elite’ itself, for it is meant to conjure up images of two things: smugness and weakness. ‘Snowflake’ emphasises this weakness. And ‘libtard’ is a blend that’s meant to undermine the intellectual capital of this group, suggesting its political foolishness and (apparently) easily exploitable vulnerability.
It’s all very ‘playground’, isn’t it? This sort of behaviour is what we all saw from the domineering and obnoxious kids in school, who picked on the smart kids. They were told then, “don’t bully nerds- you might need them to hire you one day”. They have been waiting to get their own back, and now is their moment. When Gove infamously declared that “people in this country have had enough of experts”, he was signalling this shift in attitudes. They perceive this ‘liberal elite’ as condescending know-it-alls who have been scolding them for years, while crying sad little tears of stupid empathy, tying the public up in ‘red tape’ and generally being interfering busybodies. They think that this excuses targeting liberal people online and saying hurtful, hateful things to them.
According to some tweets I had the misfortune to come across this week, ‘liberal elites’ are “brainwashed morons, who need to accept that their liberal ideology is going to be eradicated”. Sorry to disappoint you, but no, it won’t be. Not while we are here to defend it. We might need to take some time to think about where we ‘went wrong’, but we aren’t going anywhere…
We won’t stop being compassionate, or tolerant. We will defend the people you attack. We won’t be led into hate, and we won’t support attacks on fundamental human rights.
We will call you out on your alternative facts. We’ll stick up for science, for research and for actual facts. We won’t let you disparage the qualifications that we worked for.
We can win arguments with words. We make excellent placards. And we are not afraid to wave them.
The more you bully, threaten and mock, the more we will keep going.
And after a while, I suspect we will start to see something that my lovely, brilliant sister calls ‘Negative Unity’. This is where people find common ground despite their many differences, by uniting against a common foe. The grown-ups of the world – the ones who can have very different political ideas and discuss them in a civilised manner without resorting to name-calling and threats – will start to see past the binary oppositions that we thought divided us. We will recognise that we all want to do what’s best and what’s right – we just have different ways of going about it.
We will unite against the bullies.
So let’s keep it civilised and polite. Let’s be emphatic, yes, but never cruel, personal or offensive. Let’s focus on the real enemies here.
Bullies are cowards. They lash out at others to hide their own shortcomings. They think of nothing but themselves. Sometimes, they hide behind pictures of eggs, and fake names. Sometimes, they are in plain sight and are even elected to office, but even then, they cannot stand up to a united opposition. So rise like lions, my friends, whether you are liberals or conservatives, elites or ordinaries; rise like lions.
Peace and love x
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.