It’s Not about Being PC: On Barrett Wilson’s Social Justice Defection

It’s Not about Being PC: On Barrett Wilson’s Social Justice Defection March 7, 2019

After My Social Justice Friends Dropped Me For Not Being PC Enough, Conservatives Took Me In,” Barrett Wilson wrote for the Federalist last week. Wilson writes that after spending years as a “social justice warrior” calling out racism and sexism online, liberals turned on him. He “upset the wrong person,” he says, and was then “publicly shamed, mobbed, and reduced to a symbol of male privilege.” While he says he still holds most of the same liberal beliefs he always has, Wilson writes that he has found acceptance among conservatives—and that the Left should emulate them.

The central theme of Wilson’s writing is pretty standard fare for a publication like the Federalist—liberal “social justice warriors” are bad people who spend their lives shaming other people online for not being “politically correct,” while conservatives are reasonable, accepting people who support free speech. Wilson never says what he did that got him “unpersoned” (his words), and “Barrett Wilson” is a pseudonym, so it is impossible to check.

Wilson writes the following about his past life:

In my previous life, I was a self-righteous social justice crusader. I would use my mid-sized Twitter and Facebook platforms to signal my wokeness on topics such as LGBT rights, rape culture, and racial injustice. … How did I become that person? It happened because it was exhilarating. Every time I would call someone racist or sexist, I would get a rush. That rush would then be reaffirmed and sustained by the stars, hearts, and thumbs-up that constitute the nickels and dimes of social media validation.

If that’s what Wilson was about—scoring points and signaling wokeness—he was doing it wrong. He is extrapolating his behavior onto everyone else in the Left, though, and this ain’t it. Just because his motivations were whack doesn’t mean everyone on the Left has the same motivations he had. The Left also isn’t a monolith. It really, really isn’t.

Wilson writes that he has Trump voting relatives whom he knows are good people, and who are not in any way racist, sexist, or anti-LGBT. Hearing Trump supporters called fascists upset him. Here’s the thing—if you’re willing to vote for someone who brags about how he’s so rich he can grab women “by the pussy,” you’re either sexist or willing to tolerate sexism; if you’re willing to vote for someone who portrays Mexicans as rapists and responds to Black Lives Matter by calling for an escalation of police brutality, you’re either racist or willing to tolerate racism. This matters. 

Even the title of Wilson’s piece—After My Social Justice Friends Dropped Me For Not Being PC Enough, Conservatives Took Me In—raises questions for me. It’s not about being PC. There are reasons that saying certain things will get you censured on the Left; there are reasons you can’t make a racist or sexist statement without getting pushback. There are some things that it is not okay to say. This isn’t about being PC. It’s about being a decent human being.

While social media is far from perfect and twitter can be a terrible, terrible thing, I have questions about Wilson’s account. Wilson writes that after being “mobbed” he was told that he had been “creating a toxic environment for years at [his] workplace” and “making the space around [him] unsafe through microaggressions and macroaggressions alike.” He says this without a hint of self reflection. Rather than doing the hard work of considering whether he might have actually been doing these things, he took a job blogging against liberals on rightwing platforms.

I’m reminded of Louis C.K., a comedian engulfed in scandal after came out that he had been masturbating in front of women who asked him for help with their comedy careers. In his apology, C.K. said that while he never masturbated in front of a woman without asking first, he now understood that this didn’t make it okay, because of the power dynamics at play. “The power I had over these women is that they admired me,” he wrote. Um, what? That’s not what C.K.’s victims said. They said that in that moment, what they were thinking about was that he had the power to make or break their careers. Many leading C.K.’s apology got the distinct feeling he wasn’t actually listening.

While some were willing to give C.K. the benefit of the doubt and accept his apology as evidence that he had listened and learned something, others weren’t so sanguine. There were many who did not accept his apology, and plenty of others who felt that his actions disqualified him from continuing a career in comedy—at least without a long break first. C.K. didn’t feel the love, so this past fall he returned to comedy sounding like Milo Yiannopoulos.

(Wilson, unsurprisingly, is a staunch defender of C.K.)

This feels a bit like a theme—a white man on the Left gets called on something he said or did, responds to criticism badly, and then puts the Left on full blast and portrays himself as a victim rather than listening and facing the harm he caused. I don’t know what happened to Wilson. I do know that people who tell stories like his often leave a lot of things out, including their own failure to listen to attempts to explain to them why their words or actions caused harm.

The Right talks a lot about free speech, but at its heart is a demand: “listen to me talk.” On the Left, the standard is different: “listen to them talk.” Them being minorities, gays, and women. This is a reasonable demand, since what is actually being asked is: listen to minorities talking about their experiences with police brutality; listen to gay people talking about what their lives do and do not look like; listen to women talking about wage inequality, the high cost of childcare, street harassment, and their experiences with their male peers in college.

There are important conversations to be had about the way we construct the boundaries of group belonging. Wilson’s take—that the Left mobs and shames people at the drop of a hat while the Right is accepting of difference—does not fit at all with my own experience. See, I made the opposite journey to Wilson’s. I started on the Right, but was then rejected for changing some of my views—giving up first young earth creationism, and then opposition to legal abortion. The conservative evangelical Republican community in which I grew up was not accepting of difference. Not at all.

I very much doubt Wilson would find the Right so accepting if he weren’t constantly lobbing attacks on the Left. It’s no wonder they like him—for all his insistence that he still holds the same liberal beliefs he always did (what these are he never states), essentially everything he has written since is chock full of attacks on the progressives. And he’s surprised conservatives have accepted him? He shouldn’t be. He sounds just like one of them.

Do you have any idea how many gay people disowned by conservative relatives there are for every one Barrett Wilson? A heck of a lot. Yes, every group has boundaries. But I think we need to be honest about the fact that while every group has boundaries, not all boundaries are equal—and that some boundaries are necessary.

Wilson doesn’t like the boundaries created by the Left? Fine. But he should at least be honest about the fact that his new home has boundaries too.

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