Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 24, 2016
A disappointed liberal

Since I was old enough to form a political opinion, I have been a liberal in the European sense of the word. That has never been an easy position in a political world that has mostly been about the left fighting against the right, as both sides were half liberal and half anti-liberal: The right was liberal on economics, but anti-liberal on social issues; the left was socially liberal, but anti-liberal on economics. If you wanted the state out of your wallet *and* out of your bed, you didn't have much of a team behind you.

But then around the end of the 80's something curious happened: Economic liberalism won. Well, mainly the alternative of a communist economics catastrophically lost, but the effect was the same. Suddenly we got left wing leaders who were fiscally responsible economic liberals. And then some sort of truce developed: Left wing politicians coming into power advanced social liberalism while leaving economic liberalism alone. Right wing politicians coming into power advanced economic liberalism while leaving social liberalism alone. Some countries ended up being governed by coalitions of center left and center right parties, who agreed on a common platform. Liberalism went only ever forward for decades, and a sort of great liberal consensus developed.

It is when your side wins that the flaws of your position become obvious. Liberalism isn't perfect. Economic liberalism was proven to be great at wealth creation, but relied on the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. It didn't, some boats were left behind and the rising tide gave them the impression of sinking. Globally the wealth creation did happen, and literally billions of people were saved from abject "less than $1 per day" poverty, and ambitious "Millennium Development Goals" on poverty reduction were reached early. But in the already rich countries the created wealth went only to a small elite, while a middle class majority profited very little from economic liberalism and globalisation. Even minor efforts to distribute the wealth a bit more fairly in the rich countries were decried as anti-liberal and met strong opposition.

Social liberalism developed two failure zones: Religion and nationality. The ultimate liberal position is one in which neither your religion nor your nationality matters at all any more, and we are all free to believe whatever we want and live wherever we want. But on the religion side that means that religion simply doesn't matter at all any more, which wasn't really a position that religious types could support. And even within itself liberalism failed to provide an answer to the question whether granting religious freedom to somebody whose religion had strong anti-liberal elements should be done. Political systems that were based on nation states developed issues with the free movement of labor and capital. Liberalism clashed with patriotism and nationalism, and couldn't provide answers to pressing questions like how to responsibly handle immigration. Liberalism completely failed to even acknowledge that the talk about immigration wasn't just xenophobia and racism, but a very fundamental question on what exactly the advantages of being a citizen of a nation state should be, compared to being a foreigner in that same nation state. I personally experienced a situation where I as an immigrant received preferential treatment over the locals, and I have fullest understanding for people who think that this isn't the way it should be.

On the political front the recent electoral defeats of liberalism against anti-liberal forces like Brexit and Trump are clearly mostly related to the inability of liberalism to give answers to the burning questions of the voters. It isn't as if the Brexiteers or Trump appear to have those answers, but at least they aren't denying the importance of the questions. What advantages does economic liberalism bring to the middle class voters? What should the contributions and benefits of foreigners be compared to citizens? As long as liberalism refuses to even acknowledge these questions, it doesn't stand a chance in elections.

For me as a liberal, the greatest betrayal of the liberal movement to its core values is how the movement became overly obsessed with language to the detriment of the value of freedom of speech. Today the liberal movement is one that is perceived as being more concerned with policing the thoughts and language of others than it is with freedom. People are being told that they don't have the right to be offended by a guy in a dress entering a girl's public toilet, and they don't even have the right to make a joke about that guy because *he* might be offended by that. Pretty much any sort of joke has become a target of the liberal movement. That not only makes them look like sourpusses, but is also psychologically unwise. Since language was invented, making jokes about something has been a relief valve for people to deal with situations they don't fully understand. Closing that relief valve only risks to increase the psychological pressure, until people react with harsher means than words. The obsession of the liberal movement with language becomes downright embarrassing when you have to watch the naive belief that somehow the problem of Trump becoming president can be solved by calling him a fascist. As if that would change anything.

My hope as a liberal is that the cultural hegemony of liberalism dies out in favor of free speech and true political discourse on the advantages of economic and social liberalism. Liberalism can be a force for good, but only if it is a position from which compromise can be found. The complete annihilation of religion and the nation state are not viable goals, and liberalism needs to find answers for voters who believe in religion and the nation state. On immigration the unrestricted movement of labor and internment camps are not the only alternatives, and compromise has to be found on what exactly the contributions of immigrants to their host nation should be, and what benefits they should be given in comparison to native citizens. Liberalism needs to find answers on how the wealth of nations should be distributed among its citizens. And maybe liberalism needs some more electoral defeats to get to that point.

Very eloquent piece and one that liberals in America certainly won't heed. So sad that we are the driving force behind our own demise.
This is a great post Tobold. I'm sure from reading your previous posts for a while that we generally have differing political opinions, but I agree with a lot of what you say here.

Whichever side you're on, it's clear to see that these people have done a great job of alienating people by labelling everyone a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call and put an end to this, so we can go back to having a left and right that can engage in meaningful debate, and have elections based on actual policies rather than personality.
Great piece.

What the current wave of liberalism has done is to actually dissolve the political center, and drive people to distinct left and right wing parties. "You are either with us or against us", and people are starting to drift to the extreme ends of the spectrum, because not doing so makes you hostile to both factions.

And I don't think any of those standing in the sidelines are really persuaded by the rhetoric of "you are a priviledged white cis male, shut up". Expect the right wing parties all over the world to have massive gains in the next few years, as well as the emergence of many nationalist groups.
I was always of the opinion that thought-police was a very anti-liberal attitude that somehow got integrated into the liberal consensus. Offending people isn't nice but rules should be made on common sense, not what someone considers to be nice. We moved from liberal meaning the respect for difference to Liberalism being the enforced acceptance of approved ideas.

My own opinion is that true liberalism has two core principles.
1. "My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins." (But we can be very flexible about how big that "nose" might be)
2. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" (but free speech demands a right-to-reply so I'll call you out for being a moron).

Strangely enough, you could replace the word "liberalism" in many parts of your post with "socialism" and it would have exactly the same meaning here in the US.

When immigrants come to the US through legal means and become actual citizens, the data suggests that the political party they join and support is almost always a mirrored reflection of the country they left. Russian immigrants(legal) who come to the US flock to the republican party because the democratic party's socialistic tendencies remind them too much of the "top down oligarchy" they left in their motherland. A legal immigrant from Mexico, on the other hand, comes to the US with a vastly different agenda than a Mexican who sneaks across the border or overstays their work Visa.

Meanwhile, the antipodean nature of Australian politics relegates the conservative vote to the liberal party. Go figure. Then there's the EU, where on the issue of migration, for example, 66 percent consider EU action to be insufficient and 74 percent would like to see the EU take more action. Or on the protection of external borders, 61 percent consider EU action to be insufficient and 71 percent would like to see the EU take more action. So I would ask, is immigration reform a liberal of conservative ideology in the EU? Here in the US, Trump has taken quite a beating for wanting the same thing that Europeans seem to be wanting, en masse.
I agree with most of what you're saying here, although the terminology isn't what I'd use. However, I have an issue with your concerns about freedom of speech. You seem to be complaining that when people hear something that offends them (or that they think might offend someone else), they say so. (Or maybe you're trying to tell people that they're not _really_ offended by what they claim?) In any event, it's a bit odd to hear someone arguing, in the name of freedom of speech, that people shouldn't be allowed to say that kind of thing.
You seem to be complaining that when people hear something that offends them (or that they think might offend someone else), they say so.

If it was only saying that they were offended, I would be quite okay with that. But the current reality is much worse. For example the story of the guy who got fired because he used the word "niggardly" and somebody mistook that for a racial slur. Or the various instances where liberals tried or succeeded to censor games and other content because it could possibly offend somebody. Censorship is a betrayal of the liberal position.
Wow, Tobold, that's a wonderful post. I think you said it exactly right and I quite agree with you. Not that random lurker opinion is worth much, but still, great explanation.
I would summarize the bad state of liberalism in:
- liberals used to fight for minorities to live the way they want
- now they fight to make the majority live the way minorities want
These are such rare instances of thought policing (and of course they need to be countered). But my feeling is that many of those who complain about political correctness, in the Trump vein at least, do so not because they are being censured (they're not) but because they want their jokes at the expense of others to be warmly received. When they're not, they feel resentful.
Maybe if you Europeans repealed your stupid anti-free speech hate speech laws you could start to have an open conversation about your issues. REPEAL HATE SPEECH LAWS! Free speech isn't a law, it's a basic human right. You shouldn't have to worry about a judge's interpretation of your speech and the law when you bring up the topic of immigration.

Once you do that maybe then you'll come to the realization that Western Europe is committing cultural suicide with its immigration policies. I mean that in the literal sense too. Look at the negative growth rate of the native born European populations compared to the high birth rate of, in particular, Muslim immigrants and the writing is on the wall... It wouldn't be an issue if they assimilated to Western European Liberalism, but that isn't really working out so well.
"People are being told that they don't have the right to be offended by a guy in a dress entering a girl's public toilet, and they don't even have the right to make a joke about that guy because *he* might be offended by that."

Wait... are you being sarcastic here or sincere? You aren't seriously suggesting you support the right-wing view that transgendered people shouldn't use the bathroom of their choice? Or that we should make fun of those who do?

It's not him being offended that makes doing that bad. It's because it's being an asshole.


Either you're trolling or you're not being honest about the issue. Anyone has the right to be offended by the notion that *ANY* guy could dress as a female and enter a public female restroom where children use the same facilities. The man(LGBT Chamber of Commerce President) who was behind the push for transgender bathrooms in North Carolina, is a convicted and registered sex offender. He only stepped down after his conviction/registration status was brought to light. Seriously?

Are people supposed to accept the notion that *anyone* who dresses as a woman is trans-gendered, and therefore should be allowed to use a female restroom where children might be preset..all on some "good faith" notion that they mean no harm?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to craft up some jokes, not about the man, but about the major NC newspaper who knew of his sex offender status and never mentioned it, as it pushed and promoted the trans-gendered bathroom issue. Sheesh.
You aren't seriously suggesting you support the right-wing view that transgendered people shouldn't use the bathroom of their choice?

The question wasn't whether he/she should have the right to do so. The question was whether somebody else should have the right to be offended by that. For example I personally am pro-choice, but I totally get that somebody else might be offended by a mother killing her unborn child. Liberal values are not universal values, and they are not more or less valid than conservative values. You cannot allow a system where a guy making an anti-liberal joke is getting fired, while making an anti-conservative joke is fair game.

Ya, I can agree with most of that.

However, being transgendered is not a liberal value. It's a human reality. Same goes for being gay or being a woman or being black or being disabled. These groups that are not in the majority or power need some level of (legislated?) protection.

That doesn't mean you can't make a joke about being gay anymore, or about stereotypical attitudes of women, or about whomever. But there's such a thing as context and appropriateness. No liberal has suggested that inappropriate joking be banned.

What relevance does that particular (bad) person have on transgenders using bathrooms of their choice? Some kind of fallacy at play there to be sure...
My perspective on this is from the US, so I don't know if the difference is regional or perspective.

From my perspective, liberals have largely lost the ability to "consider the other side" due to a string of issues where Republicans/conservatives were/are just clearly flat out wrong (gay rights, climate change, tax breaks for the wealthy/trick down economics, the Iraq war, gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc.). This has made liberals dismiss conservatives out of hand before any discussion, even on issues where both sides have enough merit to at least discuss the matter without name-calling.

I honestly don't see a good solution here. You can say liberals should consider the merits of all arguments, and even if 9/10 have none that 10th argument deserves consideration, which is certainly true. But it would help just as much or more if conservatives argued on reasonable merit 10/10 times.
Thanks for posting this. As a longtime leftist (from US) who has been seeing the cracks in the liberal movement here for some time, it's refreshing to see someone describing the situation as it is.
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