Mar 102016

This is a bit personal, but I needed to write it.

Recently I ran afoul of the type of leftist activist that, until that moment, I had always assumed was a ridiculous strawman constructed by racists. The kind you hear about in outrage-peddling articles about how awful “Social Justice Warriors” are. I understand that there really is a lunatic fringe on both sides, but I’d never been confronted with it before.

I mean, I’ve often been engaged by irrational, highly-emotive people. But in the past, they were always on the “other side.” The racists, the creationists, the sexists. It is easy to verbally joust with them, because I don’t care about their opinions of me. I don’t care about their friends’ opinions of me. I know they hate me, and I’m cool with that, I’m just here for the boxing match.

It was radically different when it was someone on “my” side of the issue. Because all of a sudden it felt like my place in the tribe was in jeopardy. I know that it wasn’t really in jeopardy. No one who knows me would care about some random troll’s yelling. But you can’t help feeling like… “this is how rumors get started”, ya know? And I don’t care about whatever rumors the racists may have… but when it’s my tribe, that’s actually a scary thing. It’s been two days, and I’m still processing my anxiety over this.

I’ve always been of the opinion that HOW one comes to their opinions is as important as WHAT their opinions are. But this incident really drove that home for me in an emotional way. It’s nice if someone has liberal democratic views, but I would rather someone be wrong for good reasons than be right for bad reasons, because one is self-correcting and the other is dumb luck (and can change). Epistemology is important.

I guess what it all comes down to, is that I now feel a distance between my “home” tribe of liberalism; and I feel a much greater appreciation of the growing tribe of rationalism. I still have a lot of processing to do, but this was eye-opening.

  8 Responses to “A crappy day”

  1. I currently have the opposite problem, basically. Here in Germany, people have been drifting towards nazi-hunting for many decades because of what happened in the wars, and it was always “bad nazis are so bad”. As a pansexual teenage girl working construction, who was more interested in reading and rock music than any kind of politics, I agreed with most of their causes, I just didn’t want to do anything about it because a) I thought it was useless anyways and b) I was too lazy and had better things to do. I just didn’t care, but some of my friends were very much into various kinds of left-wing political activism. I just figured “yeah right, there aren’t any nazis left, and I’m not sure you can change the way my parents think about religion and homosexuality with the way you argue” – only ever saw the hunters, never the hunted. I ran afoul of the left-wing activists a couple of times because I wanted to stay out of it, but that’s a long and complicated story that really doesn’t belong here.

    Up until two years or so, I thought right-wing extremists was something only the US had, and the ones here in Germany were made up by the type of antifascists I had so much trouble with. Then the current cisis happened… I was just as perplexed as you are. Suddenly all those bad rumors I kept hearing were coming true, and escalating. In last week’s regional elections, the new extremist party started because of the crisis suddenly got between 10 and 23% almost everywhere – and that wasn’t in the “bad parts” in Eastern Germany that people here in the West keep making fearful jokes about currently, but right close to home. Two weeks ago, the refugee shelter I work at full-time suddenly sprouted nazi symbol graffitis (which before we thought only happened in Eastern Germany, or in the big cities, not here). It’s getting scary. And judging from various news sources, most of the world is moving in the same direction – soon, we might actually need some sort of cyber world war to get it all under control again.

    • Well that sounds terrifying. :( I’ve been worrying about a civil conflict developing in the US as well. You’ve probably seen the news – we’ve got our own proto-fascist running for President now, and he’s doing very well. I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as your situation, but it’s degenerating.

  2. That sucks you have my sympathy. I haven’t had to deal with that, but I don’t really have an online presence.

    I’ll just say keep calm, and don’t let your emotional reactions scew your object level judgments too much. The optimum trade off of cheap energy to mercury in te water isn’t actually dependent on what some jerk on the internet says.

    There are many people on your side who sympathize with you. Even if I may not line up with you exactly on political stuff, you have my sympathy for having to deal with assholes.

  3. Curious. I’m actually having trouble imagining such a situation arising in my life. Maybe its because I don’t have many politically active liberal friends.

    • I did too! It was actually the facebook-friend of an acquaintance, and not anyone I know personally. In an objective sense, my emotion response was/is way out of proportion to the actual potential harms here. I’m trying to wrangle my emotions into a less-stupid place right now. Reading fiction helps!

  4. The line which struck me from this post was “I’ve always been of the opinion that HOW one comes to their opinions is as important as WHAT their opinions are.”. I feel that if someone comes to their opinions the right way then in theory with enough information everything will be good. On the other hand if someone comes to their opinions in a bad way then nothing will ever be stable with said people.
    Here is hoping that rationalism one day becomes the predominant way of thinking.

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