I entered left wing politics in 2014 after taking Sociology in high school. I saw a lot of the issues I felt were important in society but weren’t being spoken about in the mainstream represented with nuance by left wing speakers and activists. To start I saw most had the best intentions.
However I quickly began to become extreme in my views. It was a natural reaction to seeing injustice and the passion that comes from wanting to fix it; but certainly an over reaction. Attacking the individuals that were part of supposed ‘privileged’ groups, rather than systemic issues or people of power at fault in society.
I locked myself off from opposing viewpoints and kept myself in a bubble that only made my confirmation bias strengthen. When you only see a certain selection of hand picked news articles and stories about hate crimes on your feed from a selection of ideologically similar people this tends to happen. I did eventually simmer down after my inital misplaced enthusiasm but I was still staunchly left wing.
Just before 2016 I started a social justice page on Facebook as a way to amplify my voice on issues that I felt were important and needed coverage the mainstream media were not giving.
I certainly had my concerns with the dogma of left wing politics early on and how academic language was being abused but for the most part I could rationalize this and convince myself it was only a small subset of passionate activists who had taken things too far.
Fast forward to the second half of 2016 and my views began to shift. With Trump rising to worldwide attention we also saw the rise of the radical left and ‘alt right’. Figures like Richard Spencer aswell as groups like ANTIFA rose to mainstream prominence.
Not to sound cliché but I started to see both the radical left and radical right to be just as bad as each other; both highlighting the faults of both the far right and left. I found myself shifting further to the centre due to this.
As my views began to shift I could see more and more backlash from my left wing audience. When I spoke out against the violence from ANTIFA in January I faced instant opposition, but rather than contesting the argument I was presenting people were quick to attack my identity and supposed lack of moral compass.
Then when I spoke out against the Chicago kidnapping of a white disabled suspected Trump supporter I saw how the incident was downplayed and race being taken out of the equation. I saw people justify the attack and remain adamant it wasn’t a hate crime because he was a ‘privileged white guy’. I failed to see how someone who was targeted due to the color of their skin had any measure of racial privilege or power.
Again when I spoke out against physically attacking random Trump supporters after seeing what happened in Berkeley in February I was met with instant backlash and called a Nazi sympathizer. Once again I saw no measured counter arguments only attacks on my identity and moral compass. A clear pattern was beginning to emerge.
Nothing I’ve listed above should be controversial; but seeing my audience react to it as if I was preaching hate was a wake up call to me. I didn’t see logic, nor did I didn’t see measured and mature conversations. I was being attacked ferociously for standing against needless political violence.
With each post I became increasingly afraid to speak my mind, I wasn’t being directly censored but I was being socially censored. Rather than disagreeing and raising their points I was being ruthlessly attacked.
In this day and age it is no longer sufficient to state freedom of speech simply means: the government cannot lock you up for your dissenting opinion. In a time where what you say online can ruin your reputation or lose you your job because someone disagrees, you could almost say that the social repercussion against dissenting speech is just as bad as the legal repercussions.
Instead of being thrown into a literal prison by the government for dissent people are now being thrown into social prisons for their dissent. With the advent of social media individuals now have increasing power; to pretend that power has no relevance in censorship is intellectually dishonest.
Not to mention the social censorship of today by peers and communities is the legal censorship by the government of tomorrow. We can see examples of this in Canada where political correctness has lead to laws against ‘misgendering’ and ‘Islamophobia’.
Many thought I shifted my views overnight but this was five months of deep introspection. Five months of witnessing the rise of the radical left. Five months of seeing people on ‘my side’ become increasingly accepting of violence and social censorship. Any doubts I had about the left before were multiplied tenfold, eventually there was a point I could no long rationalize the glaring faults I was witnessing. Essentially I cracked.
I think its important we critically analyse the faults of both the left and right. That in our attack on regressivism we do not swing so far right we begin to embody the same traits we want to fight against. What I’m seeing online with people like Laci Green speaking out (with the backlash against her indicative of what I’m speaking about here) is a step in the right direction.
I certainly haven’t abandoned any of my principles, on the contrary if I didn’t believe in justice I wouldn’t be writing this article right now. But I’ve abandoned the dogma and the echo chamber and I’m doing a lot better without them. I’m still slightly left leaning but I would call myself a critical liberal now.
If the left should take anything from the last election is that what they are doing isn’t working, its time to try something new.
Update and self reflection: It has been just over a year since I wrote this article and I have a LOT of thoughts looking back.
I’ve realized I was always a liberal at heart but fell into the trap of thinking I could ignore the more extreme segments of the left while maintaining my stance on social justice because while I was never as radical as those on the left I genuinely thought they were correct on most issues and my support was the biggest weapon I could give them. The more that cognitive dissonance grew the harder it was to keep that internal conflict away from a public platform.
My take away from this is to initially form your politics outside of the internet: outside of the echo chambers and the hype.
Do your research! See what activism is taking place offline and check it out. Read books! Form your opinions in an environment that doesn’t involve the pressures of social media/your social circle or you may well find yourself swept away in it.
The worst mistake you could make is thinking politics begins and ends online or that every hashtag is a movement worth your consideration just because it feels right.
In conclusion it’s due to this self reflection that I realize this article is even more important than I had initially thought, because it’s not even about the left (despite all my contentions with them). I’m not the first person to have been drawn into a movement that I thought looked good on the surface but had glaring faults beneath and I won’t be the last. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
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