Seeing the “Left” as a Social Group

For the most part, many Leftists — including myself — spend a lot of time self-monitoring, and thinking about, how we come off to other Leftists; we don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about how we come off to most normal people.

I use “normal” advisedly. Leftists are, let’s face it, a social group. Like most social groups: we are a small minority, we share a general set of values, and we judge/shame other (sometimes competing) social groups for having different values. In this way, much like any social group, Leftists become an insular bubble — that’s why we think so much about how we come off to other Leftists.

And so since we are a social group, much like any social group with the qualities of a social group not part of the hegemony, when we talk with most normal people, we generally get three different responses.

(1) People are agreeable with us, saying stuff like, “I’m so glad you’re standing up for your beliefs” and other stuff that gets us annoyed because they’re not connecting.
(2) People completely don’t register with what we’re saying/don’t care.
(3) People — sometimes because we want them to — feel judged and shamed by our values, and they shut down, as people often do when they feel judged/shamed, killing any chance of connection.

Then we report back to our social group the reactions we get for being consistent to our values, which is beneficial to us, because that affirms/entrenches ourselves and group’s values. (I mean this. How many FB posts do we see/write about “It’s not enough to be anti-racist among us, you gotta call people out when at work too and here’s a list of 12 things you can do to be less racist” or “I totally called out that racist today!” [without reporting if the racist moved their ideology] or “White people get so defensive, someone told me All Lives Matter, what an idiot” or whatever, etc.)

This is all great stuff. I empathize with it. I share these values.

But again, Leftist values are not the values most people share. And importantly: Leftist values, unlike any other social group’s values, only become actual when the movement grows and becomes more able to change the world.

And our values don’t become actual, and we don’t change the world, when we judge/shame.

Judging and shaming is good to affirm/entrench ourselves and our values. Judging and shaming can even be a large component to self-care — many Leftists, including myself, come to being Leftist in part because of an overwhelming sense of alienation, and so judging and shaming can help us feel like part of a social group, something bigger than ourselves and make us feel OK.

But for us, our movement grows, and we become more able to change the world, by connecting with people. Unfortunately, that means being a lot more neutral in conversation, and instead of telling people what’s right, it means we have to ask open-ended questions about people’s experiences and values.

Deeply listening to others’ experiences and values (and with time, learning the right questions to ask and in what order), we’re not going to move/change everyone — definitely not, it’s hard, and will in fact make us feel bad, maybe at times even more alienated — but ironically, it’s the only way to move people. A quick check? When we’re having conversations, we have to be listening a lot more than talking.

And as I was saying at the beginning of this post (ramble, ramble…), we should be thinking way more about how we come off to other people, despite our alienation and need for self-care.

As Leftists, we’re weird contradictions. We’re the result of the complexities of a social group not only built upon alienation but whose liberation lies in destroying its own alienation and so ultimately itself.

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