Ah, America: a land of contrasts; a land which leaves no one indifferent.
I’ve met my fair share of Americans back in my day and my experiences with them have been overwhelmingly positive. They tend to be polite and upbeat. Like most of us, I am an avid consumer of American culture and am especially fond of their comedy and reality TV series. I do not believe that Americans are any trashier than any other nation, simply that they have less qualms about monetizing it through guilty pleasures such as The Jerry Springer Show, The Maury Show (I have actually danced with Maury) and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I even have a fondness for WWE wrestling and I love the idea of burly men (and women) acting out ridiculous scenarios and then mock-fighting.
Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I want to say something about a particular brand of Americans: progressives. You literally “trigger” me.
Just to make things clear, by many definitions, I am a progressive myself. I believe that psychedelics have the potential to cure many different types of mental illness and contribute to self-improvement. I am horrified by the prison system in the US (as well as in many other countries). I think people should be able to do whatever they want sexually as long as it is between consenting adults (but don’t expect society to celebrate your fucked up fetish). I like universal healthcare and free basic education and MUCH MUCH MORE!
Another disclaimer: I used to be a big consumer of progressive American media. I would regularly read Time magazine, The Atlantic, Salon, Slate, Jezebel… I even wanted to become more involved in the feminist movement for a time and that was mainly why I was reading these papers, but as time went by, I started to see a pattern: these publications were all written in a very condescending nasal tone and everything was “problematic” and could be dissected into power structures and passed off as some intellectual analysis when it was simply formulaic. I remember reading an article on Jezebel once about Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac and someone in the comments was bemoaning the fact that the movie was too “white” and that the only black dudes in the movie were those with whom the main character wanted to have a threesome and these were being presented as just “props” and that we didn’t really get to know them as people.
If you ask me, the black dudes were not props, but their COCKS were!!!
Another thing I want to point out regarding these publications is that they all referenced each other and the New York Times without ever really stopping to get some fresh air by discussing perspectives that were not necessarily opposing, but just different to theirs or even taking a peak at what’s being said foreign publications. So, eventually, things started to smell a little stuffy. I refer to this as “intellectual incest”. Sometimes you need to add some new perspectives to your gene-pool of ideas.
Anyway, as a university student, I come across my fair share of Americans and they have all been progressives. Of course, because I am young, speak English and am educated, they assume that I share exactly the same views as they do. That in itself is an innocent mistake that we all make. What makes me uncomfortable is that you progressives speak with such moral authority, so that when you make these assumptions and state them in rigid categories of right and wrong, it implies that any disagreement or divergent thinking will be treated as blasphemous. And if you read my About section, you’ll know that I grew up in a PC and moralising household where I had to walk on eggshells and the main reason I have this blog is so that I can express my views freely and anonymously so as to teach my nervous system that it is OK to have dissenting opinions and that normal people will not tar and feather you for it. But, in this current sociopolitical landscape, you can see why I don’t feel too “safe” expressing myself.
Now, normally, I would think that the onus is on me to toughen up, but since you guys seem to be all about safe spaces and trigger warnings, I feel like you should put your money where your mouth is. So here are a few pointers for you. If the hat fits wear it, if it doesn’t – great!
#1 Atheism ≠ Progressivism — Get this through your thick skulls
I apologise for being rude, but I have repeated this over and over again in my conversations with American progressives and they never seem to get it. Where I come from, the default setting for people is: atheist. I even attended a Catholic school and when we were asked whether we believed in God, less than a handful of students raised their hands. Our local version of progressives as well as our rednecks all think religion is stupid and we are all very vocal about it. Sure, progressives seem to be all enamored with the current Pope and open-minded about Islam, whereas the rednecks say things like “priests touch little boys’ peepees” and “damn ragheads”, but regarding the question of a god’s existence or the value of religion, they are in agreement, but that is where their agreement ends and really, atheism only pertains to the belief in God. It is not associated to any other ideology.
I understand that the US is a very religious country and those who identify as atheists usually are a minority and can be discriminated against, so they like to gather together into organisations. When most arguments against LGBT rights, abortion and evolution are based on religion, it makes sense that many atheists would see these arguments as void. Because of this, many atheists and progressives believe that they stand on the side of “science” and they probably do, especially in comparison to religious nut jobs and fringe hippies who are against vaccines, pharmaceuticals and the works. That being said, science is amoral. It’s a tool, not a doctrine. Sure, it can shed some insight on what is moral and what is immoral. For example, a society where everyone is killing each other is not conducive to good health on an individual and societal level. But science has its limitations as a moral compass. Remember: the Nazis used science, scientists invented nuclear weapons and there is a new field called neuromarketing where neuroscientists help companies sell us crap in an even more efficient manner.
But then, you guys also do this weird thing where all of a sudden what science has to say on a matter is irrelevant. Like how some of you think gender is an entirely social construct and that there is no biological basis to the differences in behaviour between sexes. This sounds a lot like some Christians who are happy to benefit from modern medicine resulting from the scientific method, but other facts that have been arrived to through the use of the scientific method are part of the “liberal agenda”, like evolution. This makes it really difficult to debate with you if you constantly are switching the goal posts from science to social constructivism. I agree science has its flaws, but not only when it gets in the way of the point you are trying to make.
And to you progressives who are hardcore social constructivists, I ask you this: if nothing is certain and everything is a social construction, then how can we know this? How is the idea that all things are social constructions more true than other phenomena? How did culture arise if there were no biological platforms to sustain it i.e. the human brain?
#2 The framework through which you view the world is not necessarily applicable in other countries, even other Western countries.
Lately, I have been hearing a lot of American concepts being used in foreign contexts, sometimes even by local yokels. But just because most countries struggle with a certain degree of racism and sexism does not mean that it presents itself in the exact same way across societies. For example, I remember on an episode of the Rubin Report, that a Swede of Iranian origin was being accused of being an “Uncle Tom”. The man was puzzled at being labelled this way since his ancestors had never been slaves to the Swedes.
Also, in certain ethnically homogeneous countries, they are now beginning to talk about how white people, especially men, are overrepresented in certain areas, but is that really surprising if your country is 80% white? I don’t think it is a sign of any discrimination taking place. Now, if it’s a country that is 15% white, this might be a different story.
Something may look similar on the surface, but be very different if you look at its causes and how it is expressed. Just look at fashion, wearing a certain article of clothing may be cool in one society or at one period of time, but not in another in spite of being exactly the same clothing. Simple enough right?
Exhibit A: Mom jeans Then and Now
I am not a philosophy student, but I am familiar with Thomas Kuhn’s idea of incommensurability between paradigms/worldviews/perspectives/frameworks. Simply put, some things cannot be translated across cultural contexts. I can translate the word “apple” into Spanish because they both have a concept of apple, but even then, the word apple in Spanish may have other connotations, like if there is a famous poem wherein the poet refers to a woman’s ample bossom as apples then apple in Spanish might mean both apple and big tits. N.B. I am just saying this as an example, I don’t think the word apple in Spanish is also used to designate big breasts, but you get my point.
Oh wait, an even better example is the swastika which does NOT mean the same thing in the West as it does in the East.
I realise that these are silly examples that most of you progressives will think are obvious, but I don’t think you have fully internalised it because you keep applying your American framework to foreign contexts and it just doesn’t fit and I would argue that it is damaging. Get to know a culture, its history and its language before acting like you are some authority on the subject. Read some stuff on the interpretive method in social anthropology by Clifford Geertz and Charles Taylor before assuming you have everything figured out.
And like not only that, but seriously, go fuck yourselves. You think you can just travel to a place and live there for 6 months and then bitch about how people are being racist and committing microaggressions. I would even say that what you are attempting to do is “progressive-splaining” (like “mansplaining”) and even kind of colonialist, like you can just come here and lecture the locals. I’m just evaluating you by your own standards.
But, let’s keep something in mind too. That something might make sense within a certain context, does not mean that if you isolate that particular thing and bring it into a new concept that it will serve the same purpose or that that purpose is moral. For example, the Sambia people in Papua New Guinea have a rite of passage for boys to become men that involves the boys fellating the older boys/men in order to drink their semen so as to become men. I can see the logic behind it. Now, I have not done extensive research on this, but I would bet that the boys do not view this as sexual abuse. Now, if a pedophile tried to justify engaging in such an act because “hey the Sambians do this and it causes no damage to the kids”, he would be wrong because when the Sambians do it, it is situated within a wider socio-cultural context. But if Sambians all of a sudden moved over to Texas and wanted to do this and we defended them by saying that it is their culture, like, no offense, but you are in Texas now. What I am saying is, let’s not engage in cultural or moral relativism, but some of you do, which odd considering many of you act like you are the authority of morality, which brings me to my next point:
#3 You don’t have the monopoly on morality
The other day, I was telling an American progressive how I no longer identify as a feminist because I find that nowadays, the way they express themselves in the media reminds me very much of people with borderline personality disorder. Now, in practice, this changes nothing. My values are the same regarding women’s rights, though I now also try to focus on men’s rights and realise there are different advantages and disadvantages to being a man or a women. So, the progressive responded that I must have come across some bad feminists. Uhm… that might be true, but then I must have come across a shitload and this particular brand of feminist seems to be the most present in the media and I am not the first to make this observation.
If we flip this scenario and say I was talking to a conservative and said that I no longer identify as a conservative anymore because I met some who beat their wives into submission and forced them to forego contraception because women were put on Earth of breed.
And the conservative responded: “Well, while men and women have different gender roles, you must have come across some really asshole conservatives because a man should be a gentleman, blalala….”
You see where I am going here? What I am saying is, there are assholes on both sides of the argument and while this progressive woman was ready to argue that bad feminists are an exception to the rule and don’t tarnish the entire ideology, they cannot seem to extend this courtesy to conservatives or really, anyone with a dissenting opinion.
And this is the part that makes me want to censor myself out of fear. I consider myself to be a good person. I like listening to people with divergent opinions which challenge my own (as long as they are well thought out, like if you were to present a scientific argument against vaccines, I would respect that more than a religious one and heck, in some instances, I think purely ethical arguments are valid). That being said, I don’t want to be shamed and reprimanded for being blasphemous against the moral authority. And as I mentioned earlier, we agree on most topics so why are you insisting on ideological purity?
#4 You’re reactionary and reactive
Look, I’ll level with you. I am aware that there is a dark side to America (as everywhere else). A lot of poverty, gun violence, conspiracy theory enthusiasts, religious nut jobs, casual racism and sexism and so on. I commend you for wanting to do something about it and I realise that if you come from a family that endorses views that go against your values, that you might be tempted to distance yourself as much as possible from that way of thinking and I cannot blame you. But if your family is on one extreme end of the spectrum and you react by going to the other extreme, you’re missing out on what all the people in the middle have to say and not only that, but you are still letting these people to whom you are reacting to define you.
Here’s a quote from The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family:
People with a poorly differentiated “self” depend so heavily on the acceptance and approval of others that either they quickly adjust what they think, say, and do to please others or they dogmatically proclaim what others should be like and pressure them to conform. Bullies depend on approval and acceptance as much as chameleons, but bullies push others to agree with them rather than their agreeing with others. Disagreement threatens a bully as much as it threatens a chameleon. An extreme rebel is a poorly differentiated person too, but he pretends to be a “self” by routinely opposing the positions of others.
And don’t get me wrong, this goes in both ways. I have seen children of hippy parents turn conservative in rebellion against their parents. Some people argue that conservatism is the new counter culture and rebel by becoming super conservative and I worry about those people too. Think of a woman who rebels against feminism who marries a very religious man who demands that she be “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” as I mentioned earlier and one of these days, that woman might be mopping the floor thinking, “Gee, I didn’t want to be like my whore of a mother and live on a commune with multiple baby daddies, but I also don’t want to be some obedient broodmare either and would like it if I could be involved in decisions involving my family even though in general I think the man should be the head of the household.”
I am not saying that anyone who doesn’t follow in their parents’ footsteps is just mindlessly rebelling by engaging in the opposite behaviour. But ask yourself this, are you rebelling to get back at your parents, or are you rebelling because you sincerely disagree.
#5 Stop virtue-signalling
That you behave in a way that is in line with your values is good; it shows that you are principled. But stop showing off. Ask yourself this: if a person does a good deed, but they didn’t humblebrag about it, was any good done? Would you still do it or think it, if you couldn’t brag about it? For more insight, watch this episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
I have a pet theory about this regarding Protestants and Catholics. In my limited experiences, I have noticed that people issued from a Catholic culture, but who are progressive are really “cool” about being good people – like it’s no big deal. But people issued from a Protestant culture have this need to like pat themselves on the back for being a good person and flaunt it.
I know it is popular these days to bash American progressives with SJW leanings and I am in no way condoning bad behaviour on the other sides either. That being said, I think that rather than recruiting people to your side through the use of arguments, you often end up bullying and shaming people. Also, by implying that dissenting arguments are automatically morally reprehensible, you are engaging in the same kind of moral panic that we saw with North American Christians in the 80ies and 90ies.
On a personal level, there are progressives in my life that I care about, but I fear that their love for me is conditional on my adherence to their views. These could just be my personality insecurities, but from the ways some people have reacted to what I thought were harmless disagreements, I am not reassured. I have had to distance myself from some of these people, but I wish it didn’t have to come to this. Don’t misunderstand me, I think all love is conditional. I mean, if my best friend killed my family, I would hate them. I also realise that people grow apart and that is A-OK. But, you can grow apart and have different values and still see that person as being a good person without scolding them, or better yet, you can stay friends and celebrate your differences and discuss with your friends to refine your thinking.
All I want to do is discuss ideas, but if every discussion turns into a debate where I end up being demonised, that really stresses me. It leaves me with only two options: to toe the party line or to avoid that person. It is further complicated by the fact that in some places, just questioning something could have consequences on your career. In addition to this, I am a woman so I am more neurotic and there is greater pressure on me to adhere to social norms within a group and not be too provocative. I like to provoke, but that has also resulted in me being a social outcast, which at this point I am used to, but, you know, I wouldn’t mind socialising every once in a while.
Also, I apologise for being rude earlier, I was just getting all worked up and felt like I had to defend myself.
*Cowering in fear*
Don’t hurt me!