The Psychology of Progressive Hostility

The Psychology of Progressive Hostility, by Matthew Blackwell.

When I disagree with a conservative friend or colleague on some political issue, I have no fear of speaking my mind. I talk, they listen, they respond, I talk some more, and at the end of it we get along just as we always have. But I’ve discovered that when a progressive friend says something with which I disagree or that I know to be incorrect, I’m hesitant to point it out. This hesitancy is a consequence of the different treatment one tends to receive from those on the Right and Left when expressing a difference of opinion. I am not, as it turns out, the only one who has noticed this. …

“That’s a stupid fucking question,” answered a Socialist Alliance activist when I asked sincerely where they were getting what sounded like inflated poverty statistics. “If you don’t believe in gay marriage or gun control, unfriend me,” demand multiple Facebook statuses from those I know. “That’s gross and racist!” spluttered a red-faced Ben Affleck when the atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris criticized Islamic doctrines on Bill Maher’s Real Time. …

What we expect now from the new left:

Outbursts of emotional hostility from progressive activists — now described as Social Justice Warriors or SJWs — have come to be known as getting ‘triggered.’ This term originally applied to sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but activists have adopted it to describe the anxiety and discomfort they experience when they are exposed to views with which they disagree. …

This sort of my-way-or-the-highway mentality is now spreading well beyond the urban university and into even remote communities. … Censorship is now the instrument of choice, and a reactionary authoritarianism increasingly defines what the liberal Muslim activist Maajid Nawaz has termed the ‘Regressive Left.’

Today, with the media near monolithic in the promotion (or at least, non-challenge) of PC fantasies, it is possible to live without ever encountering contrary ideas:

So how and why have these activists become so intolerant and horrible to deal with? Part of this hostility can be explained by a wilful ignorance and incuriosity about ideas with which they disagree. … This is a tremendous problem for progressive students entering higher education, where remarkably homogenous viewpoints are taught and heterogeneous ideas are shunned. …

A whole raft of brilliant philosophers and Nobel Prize-winning economists lean to the right. The problem is that these people tend to go into business or enter academic fields like engineering, economics, and mathematics. They have therefore surrendered the humanities and what philosopher Roger Scruton has called the ‘fake fields’ of gender and ethnic studies to their political opponents on the Left, who relish their role as the unchallenged shapers of student minds. …

According to these academics and others like them, not only should people be punished for not conforming to the new politically correct consensus, but conservative opinions opposing punishment for non-conformity should also be punished. …

It is a problem when a student goes through university where each and every course is taught by a left-leaning professor. … We ought to worry about the progressive student who arrives with progressive ideas, and is then showered in class with more of the same and reinforces them in their own time. Such students live in a much smaller cultural universe than the cosmopolitan intellectual world through which the conservative will be made to travel. …

In his remarkable book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Haidt recalls a telling experiment. Asked to think the way a liberal thinks, conservatives answered moral questions just as the liberal would answer them, but liberal students were unable to do the reverse. Rather, they seemed to put moral ideas into the mouths of conservatives that they don’t hold. To put it bluntly, Haidt and his colleagues found that progressives don’t understand conservatives the way conservatives understand progressives. …

This is why conservatives don’t tend to express the same emotional hostility as the Left; a deeper grasp of the world’s complexity has the effect of encouraging intellectual humility.

The conservative hears the progressive’s latest demands and says, “I can see how you might come to that conclusion, but I think you’ve overlooked the following…” In contrast, the progressive hears the conservative and thinks, “I have no idea why you would believe that. You’re probably a racist.”