There’s no shortage of political labels in the world. Communist, environmentalist, nationalist, anarchist, feminist – yes, it’s easy to get lost in the cluster of “-ists”. Worse, each “-ist” is subdivided by a myriad of modifiers. Intersectional feminist, revolutionary feminist, queer feminist. There seems to be almost as many movements and ideologies as there are people (not quite, though, or we’d be defeating the purpose of a movement).
I used to think of politics as a battlefield where these thousands of ideologies would duke it out. Nationalists would challenge internationalists, libertarians would exchange blows with socialists, and pacifists would shout insults from the sidelines. Finally, the best ideology, the supreme “-ist”, would emerge victorious and go on to save the world. Today I think differently. I don’t divide people meticulously into thousands of ideologies, but into two large camps: those who subscribe to an ideology for the right reasons, and those who do so for the wrong reasons. I don’t think the actual movements matter nearly as much as people’s motives for joining them.
I hope the right reasons will one day triumph over the wrong reasons. That’s the far more important battle. That’s what would really save the world. But what, then, are the right and wrong reasons to subscribe to an ideology? Well, here are some examples of how I see it:
Do you wish to help society evolve to accommodate people of all kinds?
Or are you afraid of being left behind by progress?
Do you value traditions and the preservation of your beautiful culture?
Or are you scared of change and unwilling to listen to those who think we need it?
Do you believe that racism, sexism, and other forms of injustice manifest themselves in the tiniest things, and that we’re obligated to point them out when we see them?
Or do you complain because it makes you feel morally superior?
Do you believe that political correctness is hampering free speech and rational thought?
Or do you get a kick out of being offensive just for the sake of it?
Do you fight for women’s rights in a world that has neglected them for millennia?
Or do you like the word because it’s trendy?
Men’s rights activists,
Do you think men’s issues aren’t receiving their due sympathy and attention?
Or do you want to stick it to the feminists who you hate with a passion?
Do you have faith that your belief system is spreading enlightenment and peace?
Or do you say that to avoid punishment from above?
Do you think humanity would benefit from abandoning spiritualism and faith in favor of science and reason?
Or do you have a proclivity to poke fun at people for believing in a big man in the sky?
Do you want to save our wondrous planet and ensure humanity’s survival?
Or do you like to condemn humanity to escape your self-loathing?
Do you believe that society thrives when it revolves around assigning economic value to all forms of productivity?
Or do you feel contempt for those who aren’t able to produce?
Do you believe that people would be happier if society was reformed and class differences erased?
Or do you have an adolescent urge to rebel against the establishment?
The Thinking SJW,
Do I believe I can improve the political landscape by being friendly towards everyone and listening to all sides?
Or am I afraid of confrontation and conflict?
The reasons colored red are, unsurprisingly, the ones I consider wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s not ok to have them; they’re very human. But they shouldn’t be the ones running the show. Your primary reason for being an environmentalist should be your love for the planet, not the opportunity to trash talk your species. Your primary reason for being critical of political correctness (“Anti-SJW”, as I called it) should be your concern for liberty, not an itch to provoke. As for me, I’m most definitely afraid of confrontation, but that’s not the driving force behind my diplomatic voice. My faith in friendliness is. Such is my vision, at least.
Apologies, by the way, for the overabundance of examples above. I understand that they might confuse my point rather than refine it. Is there perhaps a way to boil down my postulation to a general formula? A surefire way to tell right reasons from wrong reasons, for any ideology?
This is the best I can do: A right reason should fill you with harmony. It should provide a sense of purpose. It should channel your sympathy for all humankind. That’s the point of any ideology or movement worth following, after all: to improve the human condition. If you feel all these things at the core of your ideology, you’ve chosen it for the right reason. A wrong reason, however, will stress you out. It will provide fickle satisfaction, but no purpose, no harmony. It’s small, it’s petty. Go back up to my illustrated examples and pick the one ideology that you agree with the most. I think you’ll find that the green sentence speaks to your truest self in a relaxing manner, while the red sentence riles up your reptile brain.
In simpler terms, I suppose you could say that the right reasons are those based on love for humanity, and the wrong reasons are those based on animalistic fear.
Whatever political label, color or lateral direction you advocate, I urge you to contemplate your reasons. “Why do I believe what I believe? Do I believe it chiefly for good reasons? Or did I join an ideology because it offers quick fixes of false comfort?” If you find that the latter is true, don’t feel bad. Once again, the wrong reasons are very human. But do try to figure out where your true purpose and true sympathies lie. See it as an adventure of self-discovery. It might be painful, it might be frightening, and you might end up switching sides completely. But you’ll be happier, more relaxed, and more prone to do good.
Better yet, if everyone engaged in this kind of contemplation, I think we’d realize that we’ve misunderstood the very concept of ideologies. They’re not supposed to be weapons of battle, but pieces of the societal puzzle. They complement and build on each other. They compensate for each other’s weaknesses and allow each other’s strengths to bloom. I see a future where progressives are there to challenge paradigms and keep cultures evolving, while conservatives are there to keep that process comfortably slow and gentle. I see a future where capitalists motivate us to work hard and expect a fair reward, while communists mitigate uneven wealth distribution. I see a future where feminists fight to shatter the patriarchal ball and chain around everyone’s ankle, while MRAs help men find their way in a post-patriarchal world. In my future, all movements are needed. And the plethora of little subdivisions only add more nuance to the mix.
Obviously, some movements would still dislike each other. Capitalists and communists wouldn’t magically cease debating and become best buds; their visions of society are practically disjoint. But try as they might, neither will ever manage to erase the other from existence. Neither will ever win the whole world over. Thus, in my future, their debates would become less about winning, and more about frustratedly, but earnestly, searching for the best combination of conflicting interests. Yes, imagine a future where building society is like baking a cake. “Let’s add a tablespoon of left-wing philosophy there, five right-wing policies there, top it off with some libertarianism, and then sprinkle nationalist arguments on it all.”
This smoothly running societal machine could become our reality, if we dispensed with the fear on which we’ve mistakenly built our political identities. If we could instead choose our ideologies through love, and have faith that everyone else did the same, we’d dare to let all ideologies coexist. Because no ideology is perfect, but no ideology is altogether bad, either. They need each other.
What about the evil ideologies, though? Nazism, Jihadism, those ideologies that are irreconcilable with a democratic society? Allowing them into my future of inclusivity would be like adding spoonfuls of cyanide to the cake. How could I say that all movements are needed if some movements are by nature opposed to cooperation? Karl Popper would throw a fit if he heard me. Worse, isn’t it rather privileged of me as a straight, white man to invite all sides to the discussion, when some sides actively persecute minorities? Well, this is my youthful optimism speaking, but in my future, evil ideologies would barely exist. Why? Because evil thrives on false comfort. Unless you’re a sadist, evil can’t offer the harmonious sense of purpose that good can. It can’t have a right reason. And in a future like I described, where everyone cultivates their right reasons and curbs their wrong reasons, the only followers of evil would be a negligible number of true psychopaths. Everyone else would leave intolerance behind, bored with it, and join the beautiful mess that is democracy. We’d have no racists, no sexists, no religious zealots, no transphobes. Those problems would still persist in structural form, of course, but in my future, we’d be able to beat them. A society where everyone listens to each other is exactly the kind of society that can eradicate structural inequality.
Note that I don’t believe this vision will become reality in the near future. It would require everyone in the world to plunge into the depths of their political identities and emerge with a mature conclusion. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. But perhaps we can do our best to slowly approximate my vision. Ensure that we have good reasons for what we believe, and dare to believe that our opponents have good reasons too. Argue a little less, listen a little more. Drop our weapons and start baking cakes. And then watch with delight as society slowly grows into a beautiful monument to compromise. That doesn’t sound like a good thing – in fact, I think I may have stolen the term from a disgruntled Rick rant – but remember: Compromise isn’t the tragic necessity that we make it out to be. It’s one of our species’ most impressive abilities.