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Another day, another divisive lefty fight. We are better than this.

December 30, 2012

We’re so very good at tearing holes in one another, have you noticed? Whenever someone is a little bit wrong, we’re so quick to tell them and everyone else what they’ve done wrong and why they are a terrible person. I have done this too. You probably have.

Does it ever actually help?

I mean, things progress, obviously, but would they progress faster if we were better at dealing with conflict and disagreement?

I have a theory as to why we do this thing. Most formal education is to a certain extent right-wing or at least small-c conservative. For any of us to have got the knowledge of left wing politics and have learnt the history of the struggle against oppression, has required us to personally fight against internalised and external oppression. This makes us feel that all the knowledge we have gained is precious.

Because we have worked so hard for it. Because we came to know that we needed it through personal pain, through the experience of being oppressed. It hurts to be told that we’re wrong. It hurts to suspect that we may be wrong.

And because so much of what we have learned has pointed in the direction of identity politics, and because we are so aware that personal bias can influence someone’s opinion, we then find it hard to criticise someone’s views constructively without criticising them personally.

This skill, to correct the view, criticise the behaviour, but still hold the person with respect as a fellow human being trying to do their best, is something we must learn. Without it, yes, we will progress. But more slowly than we would otherwise.

It does not matter what views you hold or what you do, I respect you as a human being. I genuinely believe that, however blinkered by privilege, however misguided, however bought, Cameron and Osborne genuinely believe that they are doing the best for the country. Their views are damaging and they are very wrong, but they honestly think they’re doing the right thing. God help them if / when they finally realise the damage they’re doing.

Similarly, all the people currently fighting with each other on twitter about Caitlin Moran and Helen Lewis are good people doing their best. As are Caitlin and Helen.

As for the specific point about who can speak for whom, at the end of the day, we can only ever really speak for ourselves and those who have asked us to speak on their behalf. But if we stuck to that specifically, we would spend all our time checking what we’re saying, and never end up saying any of it. We need to work together. Those of us speaking for others need to remember that those criticising us are human. We need to be gracious when we receive constructive criticism, are told that we got something wrong and avoid silencing those who already find it hard to find their voice. And those of us who feel that someone has mis-spoken on our behalf need to remember that the person who spoke is human, and inform them of the behaviour or comments that weren’t right without resorting to web-mobs.

The first instinct of someone who is attacked is to defend. The first instinct of someone offended will be to attack the person who caused them pain. We all need to get better at resisting our first impulse to lash out in our pain. Correct the views, don’t attack the human holding them.

*sticks neck out, prepares for the fire storm, presses send*


From → Uncategorized

  1. Anonymous permalink

    I largely agree with you, and where I don’t frankly dealing with a lifetime of endless awfulness has eroded my ability to care; we all do the best we can and things are simply how they are.

    Can’t we all at least agree that Young Stalin is hot?

  2. Anonymous permalink

    Sadly, I believe you’re assuming that people are as nice as you are. Having met you, that’s a pretty big ask.

  3. fearlessknits permalink

    Cel, I agree, Young Stalin would definitely have gotten at least 2 minutes of speculative flirting pending more concrete information on that most important of factors in a potential dating partner – their bookshelf. 🙂

    Anon, thank you.

  4. fearlessknits permalink

    It’s been pointed out to me that being able to express yourself carefully, being able to attack the argument without attacking the person making it, and being able to control your anger about an issue is actually an aspect of privilege. I hadn’t considered that before. For now, I stand by what I say above, but I might need to reconsider. Thank you to everyone who’s chatted with me on this issue. I hope we can all move forward together and attack the real enemy – the bad ideas and structures we hope to end.

  5. Anonymous permalink


    I agree with your main thrust absolutely- that we ought to correct the view and not attack the person. I disagree with part of your comment above- I think you are correct that the ability to pick out an argument from the person making it and being able to control your anger about an issue are absolutely parts of educational privilege. I don’t think that makes a poor argument any less unuseful, if you like; it does mean that we need a way to argue when we are passionate, when we cannot separate the issue from ourselves, when an argument has been made personal by the simple fact that a viewpoint has been offered which is deeply offensive to us. I don’t believe that ever attempting to hurt a person makes a point well. I do know that I have only ever made inroads when I have tried to make another aware of how they have hurt me, and that may be no less brutal and is certainly damaging to the self but it’s the only way I’ve ever made a point that stuck.

  6. Alex permalink

    Fundamental problem of liberal thinking expressed here. I generally agree with you by the way, but the problem is this; However blinkered, however misguided, however contorted by social and economic factors you may be, David Cameron completely believes that you are doing what you think is best for the good of the Country. & therefore you and DC have reached a liberal impasse. A virtuous circle of hot air. Read a very interesting article in the Guardian once that made the salient point that every active liberal must be conservative i.e. must be prepared to stand up and say ‘what you are doing is wrong, and, most importantly, I am going to try and stop you’. Of course this is fascism, the belief not only that you are right but you should use that belief to try to prevent others from acting in a lawful fashion and contrary to how they would like to act. In my view, there is no such thing as liberalism and your phrase ‘correcting the view’ exemplifies this perfectly. How sure I am that DC would love to correct yours…

    • Alex, I agree, and that’s the way it works, that’s the way politics is supposed to work. We each work toward our best guess of what an improved world would look like, and while we do so, we talk and argue with others doing the same thing, but with different ideas about the what shape of the world should be.

      Of course I’m going to think that my view is correct, I wouldn’t hold it if I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that in 100 years time I will be vindicated by history. I am aware that I might be wrong, and that my political philosophy is currently incomplete, but it’s my current best guess. DC and I and the rest of politics will just have to keep on making our best case and working for improvement and somewhere in that, we’ll make progress.

      TL:DR, We don’t agree, and that’s not only okay, but vital for progress.

      • Alex permalink

        Yeah, but then whats the point. You say something. Someone politely disagrees. Governments change based on whether voters are pissed off (which is an inevitability, just give it 6 – 12 years doesn’t matter which party) rather than on policies, so democracies will always see-saw between left and right no matter what you or anyone else says. Disagreement does not fuel ‘progress’, it fuels change. The only slight caveat I would make to this is on issues of human rights when disagreement has fueled progress, but on all other issues it only fuels change, followed by change back. Disagreeing with DC is perfectly valid but irrelevant. If labour were in power attempting to spend themselves out of trouble just like the good old US ‘fiscal cliff’ of A, then there would be just as many (potentially more) people disagreeing with them. This has happened for centuries and shows no signs of stopping. It just seems like you could dedicate all your passion, enthusiasm and energy into something that actually made a difference (charity work for instance – and perhaps you do and I have missed your posts about it) and that just telling everyone what your opinion is and that you, politely, think there’s is rubbish, can only ever be self-indulgent.

      • You’re thinking in the short term, and the way you’re talking is defeatist. I know that the change I want, I am incredibly unlikely to see, but I refuse to allow my optimism to be dampened by that. As to it being self indulgent, I don’t see how striving to find the right path for a better humanity, and sacrificing my present and future leisure for the hope of a better world I know I will not see can be self indulgent. It kinda feels like hard and often thankless work, from where I’m standing. Particularly when very clever young men who should know better don’t see that we cannot operate on personal timescales – the only timescales that makes sense are beyond either of our lifetimes.

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