What I don’t like about the left.

What I don’t like about the left. February 4, 2019

Last week I outlined what I do not like about the right. This week I will discuss what I do not like about the left. As I did last week, I am going to focus less on issues and more on overall philosophy. I think that this overall philosophy leads to stances on issues, and so I may use issues to illustrate my concerns. But it is that overall philosophy which I think creates some of the shortcomings of modern leftism.

It seems that every time I critique anything leftist, I tend to get complaints about how I am a conservative or responsible for Trump. Honestly, one of the reasons why I did the right last week was to show how such comments are a bunch of nonsense. Not being a man of the left does not make me a man of the right, and vice versa is true as well. It amazes me that some individuals have a hard time grasping that concept. We moderates and independents do exist.

Last week I pointed out that I was troubled by the tendency of conservatives to ignore the structural sources of our social problems. My problem with the left is that there is a tendency to believe that humans are perfectible. I fundamentally disagree with the notion that humans are perfectible. I believe that we can get better but also that we should learn to accept some degree of our own fallen tendencies.

While this belief can lead to some good efforts, I also think that it can create awful situations when the drive for perfectibility goes astray. For example, much of the push of social justice is the striving towards a perfect society. Look at the rhetoric of eliminating racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Who can deny that important civil rights victories have emerged from efforts to eliminate bigotry and intolerance? But can we also deny that such efforts have led to unintended negative consequences?

There are many examples of this, but the latest one to cross my desk is part of a documentary on Evergreen College. As a proponent of free speech it was disturbing, and if you have the time, I invite you to check it out. The techniques used by some of the Equity Committee to get compliance at Evergreen are not unlike the ones used by cults to acquire unquestioned support from followers. But if you are convinced that you are on your way to creating a paradise, then you cannot brook any “resistance.” All opposition must be crushed.

I have come to believe that free speech is not a value to be found in modern leftism. To allow speech that does not further the goal towards perfectibility is to risk allowing individuals to stray from the acceptable path. I believe this is why you see efforts such as hate speech rules, compulsory education and all-comers policies being used to limit the expressions of groups who are not approved by certain leftists. It seems that even the ACLU, once the biggest champion for free speech for everyone, is starting to back away from protecting free speech.

This tendency to control who is allowed to speech to the larger audience is also seen in the left’s concern about religious freedom. The general argument is that religious freedom cannot be allowed if it means discrimination. The great example of this is the all comers policy some universities are adapting. This policy would require Christian groups to open their leadership to non-Christians. What is the point of having a group with a message when all of your leaders do not have to believe this message? I mean would the university make a group of female domestic abuse survivors have to consider a MAGA hat wearing Trump supporter as a leader? Of course not and that hypothetical is all you need to see that such rules will be selectively enforced. They are intended to remove “undesirable” religious groups from the public discourse of the university.

Let me be clear, although I know I will be accused of doing this anyway, that I am not saying that all on the left oppose free speech or freedom of religion. Nor am I saying that there are not impulses on the right to dampen the free speech and religion of certain groups as well. But the tendency is stronger on the left than the right. We can see evidence for this, at least as it concerns free speech, in a recent poll of college students.

I fear that many on the left do not recognize just how dangerous it is to seek out such perfectibility. The desire for utopia allows individuals to stop seeing dissenters as wrong, but as evil. Efforts to create the perfect society can lead to justifications of atrocities. Look at the efforts towards communism in the old Soviet Union. Marx’s vision of a communist utopia sounded great. Unfortunately, we had to break a few heads, er eggs, to get there. Can the leftists today participate in such an oppression in the future? Given current efforts to get individuals fired for not having the right “woke” opinion and even discussion about sending those who oppose transgender individuals to gulags, I really do not want to find out how oppressive those on the left will get if they obtained total power.

By the way have you noticed how less we are willing to forgive each other today? If we seek a perfect society, then we must punish any who get in the way. And if you think individuals are perfectible, then you do not have to forgive them when they stray from acceptable norms. Thus it seems to me, there is a hostility towards the mistakes individuals make and an unwillingness to forgive them for those mistakes. This propensity is not limited to those on the left, but I do sense it more on the left than on the right. Furthermore there is research that, at least as it concerns religion, those who are religious are more likely to forgive. Given the way leftist ideology would support non-forgiveness, I am inclined to see our lowered willingness to forgive others as a feature of leftism.

But if you are confident that you have found the right solution and are headed towards eliminating all of the evil in society, it may make sense to control what people say or what is an allowable religious belief. I do not have such confidence that I am correct and thus I prefer a society where we can have open discussions and not unduly punish religious groups with which we disagree. I hope we can get closer to perfection even if we cannot reach it. In my view it is better to have the dialog and find solutions that can work best for everyone. I have argued such in my discussion about what to do about racism. This attitude sets me apart from the left.

I think the source of this propensity to perfectibility is the reliance of modern progressives on the humanist philosophy that emerged from the Enlightenment period of our history. That philosophy suggest that humans are perfectible. Given the proper education and socialization we can develop human beings who will help us create a utopian type of society. It is similar to the idea of Marxism whereby having the right economic system will produce a “new person” who will end oppression throughout society. Of course, Marxism is not the only source of this type of mentality among the left as other types of problems are seen as correctable with the right socialization and training of humans. But the desire to create the ideal society and to suppress elements that are in the way of obtaining that great society is similar in a myriad of progressive groups.

I do not subscribe to the notion that humans are perfectible. I agree with the Christian critique that we are all fallen. As fallen creatures, we have to be careful not to be too confident that we have defeated the forces of confirmation bias and selfishness that can lead to an arrogance that we are not wrong. A proper level of humility is necessary so that we do not repeat the mistakes made in previous efforts to create paradise here on earth. It is a humility that I do not see often enough from those on the left. As such, I am not a leftist and remain deeply suspicious of leftist ideology.

My suspicion does not mean that I do not support some of the causes emerging from the left. Indeed, being a political independent allows me to be free of the socially constructed political agendas on the left and the right. I am free to pick and choose what I think is best from either side of the political spectrum to create my own unique political perspective. Fundamentally, I think that the presence of Christians should be a critique on both political parties. I get nervous with Christians who have totally accepted ideology of the left and of the right. It is fine to think that one side is more right than the other, but ultimately I believe that Christians should be ready to critique both their political allies and their political opponents.

So despite what some have argued, I really do not see the left and the right as identical groups. They certainly have similar tendencies in certain ways, but they each have, in my view, certain problematic flaws in their overall political philosophy. Ironically, their weakness may also explain some of the good things about each group. For the left, while their desire for perfectibility can lead to some troublesome situations, it can also help us to do a better job in recognizing and dealing with certain problems, like racism. To this end it is fair for those on the left, and the right as it concerns last week’s blog, to see my work here as both a critique and an affirmation. In the end learning how to bring balance so that some of the strengths of certain political philosophies do not get out of hand, is something that can benefit all of us.

Update: Some of you have defended the all-comers policy. Well the recent University of Iowa court decision shows that these rules are not enforced in a fair manner. Traditional Christian groups were not allowed to require leaders to adhere to their religious beliefs. But a progressive religious group was allowed to force leaders to sign a statement affirming their beliefs. What business is it of college administrators to enforce theological norms. None. And the same thing is true about U.S. Senators. Someone needs to inform Senator Booker about that. Bottom line is that the left has shown that even one’s own theological beliefs are subject to institutional control. This is the degree to which some on the left go to produce what they see as paradise.

"To put it crudely, One can't talk about "Catism" and "Dogism" with people who refuse ..."

Why we are not going to ..."
"I would note that there was quite a difference, 30-40 years ago, between wearing blackface ..."

Northam must Stay?
"As someone who's seen the ridiculous and basically unsupportable statements made by both sides of ..."

Northam must Stay?
"Thanks for pointing that out. I am going to go through and correct it now. ..."

Why we are not going to ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • chemical

    As someone firmly on the left, a few rebuttals:

    My problem with the left is that there is a tendency to believe that humans are perfectible. I fundamentally disagree with the notion that humans are perfectible.

    Given the context in this post about how the left works towards civil rights, and we’ll never have a perfect society, I’m having trouble figuring out your argument here. Are you saying that a) it’s pointless to try to correct various injustices in our society because it’s impossible to build a perfect society, or perhaps b) that building a perfect society requires an iron-fisted dictator, which means “perfect society” in an inherently self-contradicting term?

    My response to either is that perfect is a useful ideal to work towards, and even if you never reach it, it’s still worth it to try. You can’t improve if you can’t change — it’s worth changing, and if things went too far you could always go back, but at least you will learn why you shouldn’t go down a particular path.

    I have come to believe that free speech is not a value to be found in modern leftism.

    Funny, I think that about the right. Free speech doesn’t mean that you get to say stuff and then not have your ideas criticized. If you decide to make a stupid blog post, expect your comments to blow up. You don’t get to say “Free speech!” to protect your feelings to protect yourself from a horde of rational-thinking people from tearing idiotic ideas to shreds. Sorry if I sound angry about this: it’s that I have never heard anyone whine about free speech and not essentially say “My ideas are stupid, but you shouldn’t criticize them because then I would feel bad!” When the government throws you in prison over a blog post, then you can complain about free speech.

    Let me be clear, although I know I will be accused of doing this anyway, that I am not saying that all on the left oppose free speech or freedom of religion.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re doing that here. I do want to show you that there is this little trick that the right does, where it takes something that’s supposed to be a shield and then use it to bludgeon their political opponents. Like, freedom of speech, where it means something different to left-wing and right-wing folks. Left freedom of speech = the government can’t throw you in prison over your speech. Right freedom of speech = you’re not allowed to criticize my speech, not restrict or ban me from any platform. Same for freedom of religion: left = You can practice any religion you choose as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s rights; right = my religion gives me permission to violate other laws with impunity.

    • georgeyancey

      1) The notion of perfectabilty has been used to justify oppressive governments (i.e. Soviet Union, China). Those who do not follow the right ideas are eliminated from the public square or worse in certain countries. I see it much more on the left than the right and used to justify the removal of rights such as free speech which leads to
      2) No where do I state that free speech means freedom from criticism. I do not even know where you get the idea that this is what I mean. But if you shout down speaker before they can even talk then no you are not for free speech. If people are fired from government jobs for sermons preached in their pulpit then no you are not for free speech. There are other examples of how the left tries to control speech and I find this attitude more on the left than he right and survey appear to substantiate my assessment.

      • chemical

        Re: point 1. While you’re correct about the USSR and China, where do you see American left-wingers doing this? Are we talking about the same rights, like I discussed with “free speech” earlier? Getting booted off of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. isn’t a violation of free speech — those communities have particular guidelines, and violating them means you can’t participate anymore. Alex Jones is a great example of this — he was booted off of every social media site imaginable for promoting baseless conspiracy theories and blind hatred, yet his rights were never violated.

        Here’s another little trick the alt-right pulls: They attempt to define “the left” by their absolute worst members. That’s why they yell about Antifa and communists all the time. Nobody on the left actually takes these 2 groups seriously. Bothsidesism isn’t going to get you very far with left-wingers. My ideas are pretty mainstream among left-wingers — you can dig deep and probably find some crazies, but they are the exception.

        Re: point 2. I recognize that you don’t think free speech means freedom of criticism. My point is demonstrating exactly how flimsy the free speech defense is. If your only defense of an idea is “Free speech!” then you’re literally saying that you’re allowed to make your argument only because technically, it’s not illegal. I agree. It’s not illegal to be really stupid. Further, the point of saying “Free speech” is to get whoever you’re arguing with to get into a conversation about free speech, like I’m doing right now, because it prevents them from going on about exactly how dumb the original idea is. I’m trying to explain the trap so you don’t fall into it.

        I’d like to address this separately:

        If people are fired from government jobs for sermons preached in their pulpit then no you are not for free speech.

        Examples? This depends on the sermon and government job in question. Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and it’s quite possible for someone to preach a sermon that demonstrates that they’re not capable of doing the government job that they have. If you preach 2+2=5 and don’t work for the government, I’d call you an idiot, but don’t really have a problem with you. If you preach 2+2=5 and work for the Congressional Budget Office, then yes, we have a problem and you should not be working there any longer. That’s the point of living in a democracy: The government is held accountable by the people. That’s a good thing, and it prevents a dictator from taking total control.

        If the left is trying to “control speech”, it does so in a way that makes right-leaning ideas seem stupid. Anyways, thanks for listening

        • Featherfoot

          Here’s another little trick the alt-right pulls: They attempt to define “the left” by their absolute worst members.

          You’re not wrong, but this is hardly unique to any one group. It’s not hard to find people on the left who equate the right with the KKK. I see Christians who consider every atheist to be another Kim Jong-un, and atheists who think Westboro Baptist is a normal church. I suppose it’s a part of out-group homogeneity fueled by tribalism. One of the best lessons to learn is that the loudest voices are almost always the least reasonable, and should usually be ignored.

          • Donalbain

            The right voted for a man who said there are good people on both sides of a fascist/antifascist divide.

        • georgeyancey

          My examples of USSR and China was just to show where perfectibility could lead. You are correct in that that is not where we are at today but I consider it naïve that if certain leftist get there way that we could not end up there. Check out my link on the gulag that trans activists want to send opponents.
          As it concerns free speech, you have a right to not listen to anyone. But if you are inhibiting their right to speak then then you are opposing free speech. Check out what happened at Evergreen. You cannot say that the idea of the math professor was found wanting because he was not allowed to articulate it. That is stopping free speech. It is stopping someone from even articulating the argument and not rejection of a bad argument. And I am not only looking at the extremists. I included a survey showing that a systematic difference in left and right support of free speech. This is an deeply ingrained problem on the left.
          Google Eric Walsh if you get a chance. He was fired from a medical job for preaching against homosexuality in his church. I thought progressives believe in church and state separation but that episode proved otherwise.
          I appreciate you trying to prevent me from falling into any traps but I am good. Thanks for the respectful discussion.

          • chemical

            But if you are inhibiting their right to speak then then you are opposing free speech.

            This is where I disagree. You have a right to speech, but you don’t have a right to use a particular platform. I’d be real careful about arguing against this, else you might find that atheists gain the “right” to preach to you about how God doesn’t exist, for an equal amount of time that the pastor gets.

            See, that’s the thing about rights: They apply equally. It was evangelicals that got the Gay-Straight Alliance clubs and Satanic Temple groups in public schools — they had to have their Good News clubs and Bible study groups there, and since the government isn’t allowed to discriminate…

            Google Eric Walsh if you get a chance. He was fired from a medical job for preaching against homosexuality in his church.

            I did. Eric Walsh was never fired — he applied for a job at the Georgia Department of Public Heath and didn’t get it because he thinks homosexuality is a disease caused by Satan. As an added bonus, he hates Catholics and Muslims, too. Personally, I think we shouldn’t be hiring doctors to public positions if they can’t identify what a disease is. That’s the 2+2=5 argument I was talking about earlier. The people of Georgia were right to reject his application.

          • georgeyancey

            We have a different definition of inhibiting speech. You do not have a right to a platform unless you are being denied the same platform others get specifically because of your ideas. That is the core of what free speech is. Once you start saying that only certain student groups can bring speakers then you are on the path towards a Pavada like existence. And do you really think what happened at Evergreen is anything other that speech suppression?
            And seriously you need to stop reading left wing sites. They think all Christians hate Catholics and Muslims. Point of fact is that if we are going to go into people’s churches and homes to fire them (and he had been hired and quit his former job so he was fired) then why do you not think that we could not have a USSR situation if the left gets total power. Only those on the left fail to see such dangers.

          • chemical

            You do not have a right to a platform unless you are being denied the same platform others get specifically because of your ideas.

            No, this should be up to whoever owns the platform. As far as college students go: They tend to have some kooky ideas. The college experience consists of trying on a bunch of ideas like you would try on shoes, and you see what fits. They will work out their beliefs and will become well-adjusted members shortly.

            And seriously you need to stop reading left wing sites. They think all Christians hate Catholics and Muslims.

            I have a right wing blog on my reading list: Susan Wright’s. It’s blatantly obvious in my comment history.

            They dug up Eric Walsh’s hate-preaching during his background check, which is what they would do for any job applicant. I read both left- and right-wing sources on this, and noticed that all the right-wing news sources left those inconvenient facts out — the hate-preaching AND the background check. Eric Walsh is an insane zealot that let his bizarre religious beliefs overrule his medical training. He knows better, and he knows he’s lying, but he goes on with his hate-preaching anyways because the morally bankrupt 7th Day Adventists cheer him on. Seems like he gained some evangelical support, too — not surprising as he hates the correct people.

            Personally, I don’t think all Christians are hateful bigots. From this conversation, I don’t even think that about you. Eric Walsh is one, though, and doesn’t deserve any government job he applies for because of it.

            Alt-right tactic #3: Feed your fanbase only what they want to hear, and never any facts that counters the narrative, and the narrative is that the left is persecuting Christians in America — an idea so stupid it’s laughable. I don’t even know they sell this to you, as you’re 70% of the American population and over-represented in all federal and state government offices.

          • georgeyancey

            This has been a good conversation but I am afraid this will be my last comment. Much to do. I thank you as you have reinforced my concerns from the left. For the record I do not see you as a kooky anti-fa or zealot. But since you have reinforced my concerns that the left does not respect those with whom they disagree and will take away rights from those who do not measure up, the fact that you are not a kook is actually kinda troubling.
            Indeed, consider the implications of investigating a man’s sermon as a reason to not hire him. Just today I read an article where Senator Booker questioned a candidate on whether he thought homosexual relationships are sinful. So now are we to have theological tests for working with the government? No we are not China but China was not China at first either.
            I notice your 2 + 2 = 5 comments. But math is not morality or ethics. Those are debatable. The fact that you are linking a provable mathematical equation to unprovable assertions of meaning has serious implications. It also fits into my concern that those on the left are so certain that they are correct that it is hard to allow for dissent. That inflexibility in allowing dissent creates the seeds of future oppression.
            And one last comment on student groups. There is an argument to be made that private schools can allow or disallow whatever group they want. Many Christian schools do this. The problems is that all-comers policies and other actions are happening on public schools. I get that leftist may not want to fund students who are part of a religion they find backwards. Likewise those in that religion may not want to fund progressive student groups. The differential treatment and, as the U of Iowa case clearly illustrated, double standard in enforcing these rules should trouble us all.
            Have a great rest of the week.

          • chemical

            Same here. Sorry if I get upset about a few things — we’re really not that bad over here on the left, so I kind of get upset about various right wing groups trying to paint us as a bunch of jackboot thugs.

            The thing is, us leftists don’t give religion a free pass when it comes to tearing down bad ideas. I understand that level of irreverence can be a bit off-putting to religious folks, but it does explain why Walsh didn’t get that job. We’re operating on the basis of nothing being sacred, but know there is a method behind this madness.

            Obviously I’m not expecting a response but as you’ve been pretty respectful to my (frankly, controversial) views, maybe I’ll lurk on your blog for a bit. *handshake*

          • DDRLSGC

            Yeah and the USA is a perfect example of what happens where right wingers suppress the rights of the other groups who are different from them both at home and aboard.

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            “Check out my link on the gulag that trans activists want to send opponents.”
            I mean, yes, we woooould like you to go to a gulag (or even better, hell, if it exists), but a more likely (and amusing fate) is leaving you alone with the other increasingly impotent grifters to whinge and moan on the internet about the evil transes until your relevancy dies out and you have to live on the basic income the evil socialists will provide you.

            Are you familiar with the concept of a LOL cow?

      • HematitePersuasion

        The notion of government has been used to justify oppressive governments. Tyranny doesn’t seek reasons, it seeks rationalizations, and it will always be able to find them.

      • Alpha 1

        Yelling “go away” at a speaker is free speech too. If you don’t support that then you’re excluding the notion that some ideas should be outside of consideration in polite society from the debate. Which, using the bizarre absolutist definition of free speech the right has adopted, is also an attack on free speech.

        But to me the tell that the modern free speech warriors aren’t entirely sincere is that they get far angrier about college students being mean than they did when the (right-wing) president of the United States called for protesting football players to be fired. They also don’t have a problem with laws forbidding boycotts of Israel, even though boycotts are a form of political expression. The modern free speech movement and the calls for “debate” and “intellectual diversity” that accompany it seem more like a way to carve out space for the far-right than a coherent defense of any principle.

  • swbarnes2

    My problem with the left is that there is a tendency to believe that humans are perfectible.

    Horesh*t. Liberals do believe that humans are improvable, and that humans are not worthless as menstrual rags. That just because society has done something horrible for centuries or millennia doesn’t mean that good people can’t cease doing that horrible thing.

    We get it. You sincerely prefer Billy Graham’s attitude of throwing up your hands and doing nothing about racial equality to exerting yourself even a little.

    • Yo Ho

      Yancey is just about the only evangelical who will have open discussions. Could you maybe not accuse him of being indifferent to lynching?

    • georgeyancey

      HaHaHa. I will bet you almost anything that I have done more to deal with racial alienation that you and 12 of your closest friends. Google my name and race relations then come tell me that all I want to do is throw up my hands. Stop making a fool of yourself.

  • HematitePersuasion

    Oh?

    The great example of this is the all comers policy some universities are adapting. This policy would require Christian groups to open their leadership to non-Christians. What is the point of having a group with a message when all of your leaders do not have to believe this message?

    Does this apply to private groups, that do not make use of University resources (space, monies)? Why should a taxpayer funded institution spend money on discriminatory groups? Is there something stopping these groups from organizing? Maybe they could look to their churches to fund them, rather than take public money meant for the benefit of all and spending on it on their own private cliques.

    • georgeyancey

      These are student organization that just want the same rights as other student organizations.

      • DDRLSGC

        Yeah I don’t like it when Bush, jr., open up the US Treasury to give money to Christian organizations..

      • Donalbain

        And they have those rights, but they come with the same obligations. Namely that they must be fully open to all members of the student population.

  • calduncan

    The left’s suppression of free speech has gone beyond the so-called “speech codes” on most college campuses. Many universities encourage students and employees to report “bias incidents,” and even provide online “bias report forms” where “incidents” can be reported anonymously. Use a search engine (notice I didn’t specify Google) and look for “university bias incident reporting.” Many colleges now have BIRTs – Bias Incident Response Teams – which often include a full-time staffer, the “BIRT coordinator.” Colleges are programming their students and staff to believe that censoring and punishing dissent is a good thing. The medieval Inquisition has reinvented itself, under the guise of suppressing “hate speech.”

    Indiana University, to name just one example, has a page listing “Examples of Bias Incidents,” which include “A person writes an offensive word on your dry erase board” and “A mother is breastfeeding her child and hears an inappropriate comment about breastfeeding in public.” Obviously the BIRTs would define what is “offensive” and “inappropriate.” This is no way for civilized, mature, and tolerant human beings to live – in fear of being reported, or eager to report others.

    • oh, please, Christians are trying to pass “don’t say gay” laws in schools around the country and want to burn or ban books from public libraries. A mother wouldn’t even be allowed to breastfeed her child on a Christian school campus. But you think not allowing conservatives to harass people is going too far.

    • DDRLSGC

      If the Koch brothers have their way in taking over the colleges and universities, they are going to impose their own social, political, and economic ideology on the students and make damn sure that the teachers and the books they purchase reflect their viewpoints so you can forget all this talk about about the supposedly left suppression of free speech.

      • calduncan

        You are talking about something that MIGHT happen. The present-day speech codes at colleges IS happening now, all over America, and those codes were imposed by liberals, not conservatives.

        • DDRLSGC

          No it is happening by the Koch brothers right now.

    • Joslyn Renfrey

      Indeed, just the other day I saw a guy stuck in an iron maiden by a ravenous horde of post-marxists for making internet comments about lesbians /s.

    • swbarnes2

      And of course you agree that leftists viciously silence people who write that women are penis homes, and successfully prevent those ideas from being written about, or even being advertised. I’m sure you can find a lot of support for that in Warren Throckmorton’s articles here on Patheos, right?