I wrote about the American Right in a recent post … but it’s the Left I’m worried about in the post-election mayhem. A recent Las Indias blog titled El fin de la izquierda posmoderna hit the nail in the head as far as I’m concerned, on the state of the American Left. (Please use google translate to get a sense of what it says in the original Spanish).
The argument made by the author is that the American Left (or what passes for it: the Democratic Party) has become just another neoliberal party, and that it dresses up its Manonism and its neoliberal excesses behind the veneer of identity politics and political correctness. Yes, the Right has taken off the mask of piety, but the Left also has to take off its neoliberal mask! The author argues that the Left has to return to its roots: labor, production, good jobs, the need to build a robust middle class. Those are the universal concerns that unite most of us.
Except for a few bastions of secular progressive critique (Bill Maher and the new atheist “saints”), the Left has been deaf and blind for years about the serious issues raised by political correctness. These issues have played out most eloquently in college campuses where “safe spaces” and “triggers” have been used as excuses to impose censorship and to ban legitimate discussions. See these pieces by Newsmax and Washington Post on the issue.
Closer to home, controversies about bringing the likes of Bill Maher and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak at universities–whose presence religious, and particularly Muslim, students find “offensive”–have raised even more questions about the rise of Islamic, and sometimes Christian, fascism in our educational institutions. This is no metaphor or exaggeration. Universities should be places where people are free to raise questions, not spaces reserved for legitimizing religious tyranny and intimidation.
In a free and secular country, no religion should be above reproach and no group should be exempt from criticism. Such insinuations belong only in the context of totalitarian regimes.
By electing Trump, America has chosen to engage in a process of doing away with politically correct language–at least for four years. This was an initiative of the right, but those of us on the left can be just as politically incorrect as the most deplorable of trumpanzees: just ask Bill Maher. He has been one of the few consistent, true liberals on this issue. We do not have to be tolerant of intolerant religions and racist demagogues. I don’t owe the courtesy of tolerance to the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members would picket my funeral if I get killed in a hate crime.
Criticism of religion’s role in the public sphere (and even its inappropriate meddling in our private affairs) has oftentimes been a contentious subject. We can be sure that the next four years will bring new confrontations with religious bigots. Our society needs Epicurean moral guidance and parrhesia in public life.
Beyond that, the Left must rethink who it serves. As this Salon essay explains, we have lived under neoliberalism for decades without really questioning it or even naming it. When Hillary Clinton gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street, and no one has access to what is being discussed in those circles, the Democratic Party and the values that it once stood for have been completely compromised.
Oh, and then there’s science and facts … since we’re arguing for a new Left and for parrhesia, we must take note of the fact that the renewed rise of the religious Reich and the fact-free retelling of narratives threatens to elevate the cult of ignorance to hegemony. Let’s all become naturalist philosophers! Let’s Make America Think Again!