If you've been keeping up with viral Facebook videos over the past couple days, you've probably seen this explanation of why one commentator "left the left" and became a conservative:
I'll admit that when I saw the video's title, I was excited. After all, who has a better perspective on the political world than somebody who shifted from one side of the spectrum to the other? Who better to explain the subtle and surprisingly nuanced difference in values that divide our country? So much of politics these days is name-calling and outrage -- imagine how much further we could get if we actually tried to understand what we are saying and why we're saying it, instead of just trying to prove each other wrong. Yes, I am indeed a naively optimistic doofus.
As you can imagine, that's not what this video does. Instead, host Dave Rubin runs through a list of the outrageous things he claims "progressives" want, but nothing he mentions bears any resemblance to anything I or anybody I have ever met is actually fighting for.
I'm going to continue to be an optimistic doofus and hope that some conservative Rubin fans are reading this so that I can try to explain why things aren't quite as simple as he makes them seem. By the end, you might not agree with me, but at least you'll have a better understanding as to what you're actually disagreeing with. Hopefully, you'll think of us as "a group of people with different views" instead of the idiotic fascists Rubin seems to think we are.
First, Rubin says ...
"[Progressives are] banning speakers whose opinions [they] don't agree with from college campuses. That's not progressive."
I'd agree! And again, so would everyone I've ever met! Refusing to listen to anyone you disagree with is not only "not progressive" -- it's borderline insane and completely impractical. But it's also not what "progressives" are fighting for.
Yes, sometimes a college will invite a controversial speaker to their campus, and students will petitions or protest or otherwise demand that that speaker not be allowed to come because they don't want to be around them. Other times, a college will invite a speaker, students will organize protests because they disagree, and the speaker will withdraw on their own because they don't want to be around protests. Still other times, colleges will invite a musician to play, students will complain because they don't want to see that musician and would prefer their tuition dollars were spent elsewhere, and the college administration will revoke that invitation.
If having strong opinions about music is censorship, call me Joseph McCarthy.
Those are three totally different situations, but the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit that fights against this plague of supposed anti-free-speech activism, lists all those types of incidents (and more) as "disinvitation attempts" on their website.
Let's make the difference clearer with some examples. One time, Christine Lagarde canceled her talk at Smith College because she didn't want to have to deal with protesters, and the protesters were surprised and disappointed by her decision, both because they were looking forward to having their ideas challenged and because protests are fun and they had to find a new way to spend their weekend. In another case, Berkeley canceled a Milo Yiannopolous talk after 150 (probably) non-student protesters caused $100,000 in damage to the campus a few days before the event. Both those stories are worth discussing, but simplifying them down to "College students are banning people from college campuses!" isn't just lazy; it's factually wrong. Also -- and I don't think this can be overstated -- college kids are really young. They're just learning how to ... well, everything. Keep that in mind.
So while I (and every other progressive I know) would agree that it's a bad idea to "ban anyone we disagree with from college campuses," I think it's lazy to pretend that's where the conversation ends, because we also can't say "Shut up and listen to anyone who comes here" to students. They have a right to protest, which is how they exercise their free speech. If there's a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this, I'd love to hear it.
Right after we talk about how Rubin also said ...
"[Progressives are] prohibiting any words not approved of as politically correct. That's not progressive."
Again, I agree! Banning words sounds like a terrible idea, especially to a guy who writes words down for a living. I'm already no Cormac McCarthy; the last thing I need is a freaking handicap.
Again, Rubin doesn't cite any examples of this actually happening, so I looked around and found The New York Post complaining about the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's "Just Words?" campaign, which is apparently "banning" non-PC words across campus. "Banning the word is an effort to ban the thought," the editorial board writes, "which is the real point."
Students know plenty of ways to "ban thought" already.
And yes, a word ban seems like an ill-conceived idea. Mostly because it was never actually conceived. When you go to UWM's website, or just read slightly more sober coverage of what the college did, you'll discover that the "Just Words?" campaign was actually just a few posters and an optional event where students were invited to come and discuss what words mean and whether it's polite to use them. Which is literally the opposite of censorship, right? It actually sounds more like "an uncomfortable but important conversation," or "exactly what college is for."
Of course, it's true that sometimes people seem to go too far. The quintessential example is Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn getting banned because it features the N-word, even though any student with access to their parents' Netflix account already knows that word and how to pronounce it. I'm not fond of that, but I'm willing to learn more about it, since I bet the people who instituted that ban have thought about this more than me. But that's just one example, and right now, any attempt to discuss why certain words might not be polite anymore is portrayed as the dawn of a new totalitarian madness. It's become such a knee-jerk reaction that it's hard to know when there's actually cause for alarm.
"[Progressives are] putting 'trigger warnings' on books, movies, music, anything that might offend. That's not progressive."
Wait, so now this ...
... is a leftist thing that we came up with in "the last couple years"? Weird. Anyway, the trigger warning controversy has been covered extensively on the site, but I think the best explanation of the debate comes from a professor of ethnology at Texas Tech University. He gave a trigger warning before showing images of death to Native American students whose religion made that experience more complicated. Trigger warnings used in this way are less censorship and more a polite heads-up, like the cautionary "Viewer discretion is advised" message we all ignored as kids. Nobody on the left is saying "Let's put a trigger warning on everything!" aside from maybe a couple dumbasses on Tumblr. The real conversation is a lot more complicated than that, and has far smaller stakes (according to an NPR survey on the subject, only 1.8 percent of campuses have any trigger warning policy at all.)
"This regressive ideology doesn't judge people as individuals, but as a collective."
This one's a bit confusing. He's saying that he hates how the collective regressive left doesn't see people as individuals, but as a collective. This is a "only the Sith deal in absolutes" or "I'm a millennial, I don't like labels" moment (the latter of which didn't quite happen like people think). And it's even more noticeable because it comes out of freaking nowhere, with no evidence or examples. He could've started freestyle rapping right there and it wouldn't have been more out of place, and then he could call it the "Rad Rapping Rabin Report."
I'm sure some progressives make blanket statements, but this is also true on the right, right? I mean, Dave just did it. Maybe we should always avoid blanket statements. Wait, shit. This might be trickier than I thought.
"The regressive left ranks minority groups in a pecking order to compete in a kind of oppression olympics."
For context, he says this just seconds after implying that the left considers white Christian males the "most evil of all," while portraying a white male with a cross on his chest being trampled by a mob of minorities.
Technically the white guy's still the first across the finish line, which is sorta telling.
This isn't a problem on the left; it's a problem everywhere. People think that identifying themselves as the victim ends the argument. It's a really interesting phenomenon, actually. So stop reducing it to simplistic partisan terms, you condescending hack. And I refuse to see any hypocrisy in that statement.
But look, the left has actually examined this problem. It's called "intersectionality," and it means that different factors, such as race, gender, class, sexuality, and disability, create a complex interwoven social fabric that influences who suffers and how -- which, yes, includes white Christian men.
"What about religious freedom -- the idea that no one else can tell you what you have to believe? Surely, progressives still support that basic right? Not so much. I'm a married gay man, so you might think that I appreciate the government forcing a Christian baker or photographer or florist to act against their religion in order to cater, photograph, or decorate my wedding. But you'd be wrong. A government that can force Christians to violate their conscience can force me to violate mine."
Again, oh my god, this argument is so much more interesting than he's making it sound! Check this out:
This same basic debate has been going on since the 1964 Civil Rights Act (at least), when we realized that we needed to make a law that says any business that fulfills a "public accommodation" (restaurants and hotels being obvious examples) are not allowed to discriminate based on "race, color, religion, or national origin." We had to make these laws because otherwise it was impossible for black people to travel or work in certain parts of the country. We decided 50 years ago that if your "conscience" tells you not to serve black people in your restaurant, you're just gonna have to suck it up and serve them anyway. I don't think anybody reading this disagrees with that. In this iteration, we're in the process of figuring out if that applies to gay weddings too, and exactly where to draw the line (right now, we're waiting to hear if the Supreme Court will take the case). Pretending like this is a slippery slope is irresponsible and stupid. It's a conflict between two fundamental rights: equal protection under the law and religious freedom.
We need both of those things, so can we please not reduce this decades-old struggle to accommodate the needs of our diverse population to a smug Facebook zinger? Please?
Which is also why I won't be making the easy "Let them eat cake!" joke.
"The government that can force a group of Catholic nuns literally called the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their faith and pay for abortion-inducing birth control can force anyone to do anything."
This is the first specific example he mentions, and he gets it totally wrong. Nobody was forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for abortions. In fact, they were given the option to fill out a form identifying themselves as a religious organization, which would exclude them from having to pay for contraceptive, and they refused on the grounds that even allowing someone else to pay for their employees contraceptive would violate their religious freedom.
Also? They won, in a rare unanimous Supreme Court ruling. So.
"Today's progressivism has become a faux-moral movement hurling charges of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, and a slew of other meaningless buzzwords at anyone they disagree with."
Wait, "bigotry" doesn't have a definition? I'm pretty sure all those words do have meanings, even if you disagree with how they're applied. Perhaps he meant to say that the left can be too hyperbolic, a point somewhat undermined when followed up with this:
"The battle of ideas has been replaced by a battle of feelings, and outrage has replaced honesty. Diversity reigns supreme as long as it's not that pesky 'diversity of thought.' This isn't a recipe for a free society; it's a recipe for authoritarianism."
"A battle of feelings" and "a recipe for authoritarianism" sounds, according to his standards, pretty buzzwordy. I'm going to lose the moral high ground here, but I'm starting to suspect that this Rubin cat might be a bit of a doofus.
Just in case he's reading and wondering what that "buzzword" means.
Speaking of which ...
"I'm a classical liberal, a free thinker."
"Classical liberal" is a real thing, but "free thinker" is how the stoner who lives across the hall describes his politics while he eats the marshmallows out of your Lucky Charms.
Look, you're probably going to be able to find one or two people online who are saying the kind of outrageous stuff that Rubin is talking, because the world is teeming with dummies. But the overwhelming majority of progressives actually have far more nuanced and complicated opinions that were developed very carefully over years of thought, because they're fully functioning people who care about being good people and not just winning arguments and scoring points. I hate Rubin's video because it isn't about understanding "progressives" or even proving them wrong -- it's actually encouraging you to be lazy by promising that the American left is so stupid, so hopelessly out of touch, and so obviously wrong that it's not even worth your time to listen to them. That's quite the accusation to throw at half the freaking country.
The bare minimum anyone can do in a debate is try to actually to understand what their opponent's viewpoint is. Until you do that, you're just arguing with shadows.
(Which is stupid, because the shadows can't even vote.)