Patrick O'Donoghue discusses the reputation and preconceptions of the left.
There are many barriers in the world designed to prevent social unity and shared humanity becoming the norm. There is, however, none so irritating and inane as the stance of moral superiority that is all too commonly adopted by those on the Left - who, incidentally, are entrusted with the noble task of tearing these barriers down and replacing them with the previously mentioned progressive and compassionate values. Much too often, Leftist activist and campaign groups favour displays of intolerance, hostility, and dismissal towards those who have not yet reached the same level of political consciousness as they have or those whose political beliefs are not rigidly and comprehensively aligned with their own. This tendency represents the opposite of what the Left’s mission always should be - namely, to recruit and enfranchise any, and all, potential comrades.
People who do not, instinctively, evaluate current affairs from a Left-wing perspective should not be derided, blacklisted or eye-rolled for deviating from the enlightened path being walked by those already signed up and striving towards a fairer, more equal world. They should, instead, be dutifully persuaded of the necessity of bringing on a transition towards Socialism in our time. This sort of recruitment effort does, on the one hand, require that we endure encounters with views which we thoroughly dislike (and, maybe, even despise) but it is, on the other, an essential tactic if we are serious about winning people over to our causes. Inclusivity and empathy are the twin starting points from which this strategy can be expanded. It requires an understanding that people’s visions of what is best for society are formed through different lenses and informed by differing circumstances, none of which are, fundamentally, of any of our own initial choosing. A recognition that the vantage point of many whom we regard as our enemies - as a result of a different environment, a different upbringing – could have ended up being our own vantage point may well be the key to unlocking many of the hearts and minds that the victory of the Left is dependent upon. To immediately discard this key, along with those who do not adhere to every nuance of our political and economic arguments, is not an example of fighting the good fight. In fact, it is inimical to what we are trying to achieve. Taking the time to engage with, and appeal to, those who hold viewpoints we believe need reshaping is the only antidote to this trope of condemnation in Left-wing circles. Persuasion is the panacea.
In fairness, it is much harder to reach out than it is to remain comfortably within a political environment that does not disgruntle us. This is an axiomatic psychological principle. Yet, the question is, what is the most successful way of affecting change? The answer is to broaden the scope of discourse to encompass many people for whom our Left-wing concepts may be totally alien, and who may express views we find problematic, stupid and, in many cases, shocking. Undoubtedly, the temptation to lead a cloistered political life filled with evening seminars devoted to obscure theory from behind the barrier of ideological purity will always beckon. However, it can be replaced with a more open attitude that does not lose sight of the capacity for change that exists in all of us. As the writer and fashion stylist Ayishat Akanbi rightly says “In order for people to evolve, they have to make mistakes. In order for people to sharpen their ideas, they have to have some bad ones. You wouldn’t want to be judged by your worst moment.” This is the ethos we, on the Left, must bear in mind in our treatment of people who express views we see as an affront to our belief system.
The reputation of the Left for militancy and knee-jerk execration can be overcome. Doing this may be as simple as showing a little forgiveness. It may be as simple as choosing to start a constructive discussion, rather than shutting one down before it has even had a chance to get going. To grin and bear some disagreement is more than worth it if it compels the most unlikely of travellers to embark on a long journey of political discovery. Who knows, maybe, one day, they’ll end up venturing as far Left as you or I have on the political spectrum.
Patrick O'Donoghue has just graduated from Trinity College, Dublin with a B.A. degree in Philosophy and Sociology and will be commencing his M.A. in Journalism at DCU in October. He is the former Magazine Editor of The University Times, a football writer for The Last Word on Football, and a contributing writer to the Indiependent. His poetry can be found at The Honest Ulsterman, and he has written for The Common Sense Network and Labour Heartlands.com.
He tweets @paddyod_97