Smug Liberalism – I Get It

LiberalWall

I often tell self-identified liberals to look in the mirror.  I loathe hypocrisy, and therefore, I must hold myself to the same standards.  It’s easy for the well-educated, socially awkward educator to get smug.  We listen to people rant about stuff of which they clearly have a poor understanding, and intellectually, we know how to respond.  But you know how it goes.  They rant, they change subjects, they often respond rudely to a politely presented counter point, they ad hominem.  This is how many an average “smug liberal” feels.  They then box themselves off, and console themselves in the knowledge that they are intellectually the superiors of those “deplorables.”

Oh how easy it is for me to scoff at the “smug liberals” and console myself in the knowledge – “Liberals, you’re not as smart as you think” – as the title of a recent NYT oped proclaimed.  I, too, can easily fall into the mind-trap of smug.

The Echo Chamber

I find myself in an echo chamber of “deplorables” recently, but they aren’t Trump voters.  These are self-identified “liberals”.  One is a professor, one a real estate sales person, and several others.  You get the idea.  Middle class white people who probably all voted for Clinton in 2016.  I think they all know that a heretic (me) is among them.  Some of them are really nice about it.  One even had a little talk about my teaching position at the college, and just American government in general.  One has silenced me at least once on social media for expressing a dissenting opinion on his wall.  Some of them seem to take a special pleasure in taking a jab or two at Trump, or stereotyping Republicans in general, without ever asking what I think of the particular topic, and then, of course, quickly changing the topic before I respond.  So, some of them are polite, at least one of them reasonably intelligent (maybe more), but some of rather rude and narrow-minded.

Regarding the rude and narrow-minded, the positions they present are so laughably bad that I’m reminded of the Winston Churchill quote:

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

Get this!  Apparently when a white man has power over a white woman, it’s called “white privilege”, or even “white supremacy”!  Yes, that’s right!  You didn’t think white women were actually white, did you?

Also, a gay white man is not really white, because gays are a minority.  If you fall into any “marginalized group”, apparently your skin color changes, and you stop being white.

I say the above because I’m thinking of two clearly gay men who have skin at least as white as mine, who seem to enjoy denouncing white privilege.  One of them takes special pleasure simultaneously in deriding his “red neck” relatives who live in trailers.  They have light colored skin, they’re heterosexual, so I guess they need to check their privilege, right?  Their trailer dwelling, scrapping to survive privilege.

Do I belong here?

I could go on, but I’m not writing this to mock these people.  But rather to understand development of smug.  As I sit among them, I can’t help it.  I feel really, really smug, while simultaneously befuddled.

The last time I felt anywhere close to this way was about mid-Obama era.  When my wife and I were dating, a Sat. late morning, we were at an Arby’s for a late breakfast, early lunch.  For context, know that I had not yet had coffee, and I’m one of those people whom you really don’t want to talk to before I’ve had coffee.  So she recognized a colleague, and this colleague was with her father.  Her father got under my skin very quickly.  He started questioning/interrogating me about everything from my religious beliefs to politics.  I’ll spare you the religious part in this post.  But know that I was not with it without my coffee, and it was Sat, and I was really not in the mood.  But that just made him more aggressive.  What finally did it was when Obama came up.*  He said, “I know I’m not supposed to hate people, but I just can’t help when I see that man in the White House.”  “Why’s that?” I asked.  “We’ve never had such an unconstitutional President before!”  So I thought I’d switch on my caffeine deprived brain as much as I could, and engage him.  “What about Obama is so unconstitutional?”  “We’ve never had a Muslim President before!”  I’d had enough.  My face I imagine turned crimson, and I just stormed off.  I waited by the door for my wife as she said her goodbyes to her friend.  The layers of stupidity in that last statement!

I was smug and befuddled then, and I’m smug and befuddled now.  I imagine the very people who make me smug today, would have felt very smug towards that man so many years ago.  I probably would have felt find among these same people at that time, and happily joined them in ridiculing the average Republican voter.  But today, in 2018, I don’t seem to belong, and a few of them seem to want to make me feel out of place.

So How Do I Respond?

I’m inspired by a wonderful man, Daryl Davis.  If you haven’t heard of him, he’s an incredibly brave and compassionate black man who went right among the KKK!  He wanted to understand how they can hate someone they’ve never met, simply by the color of their skin.  But he didn’t go among them to judge them, nor did he go with hatred in his heart towards them.  It seems that even as they hated his skin color, he had compassion for them.  It’s hard to have compassion for people who hate you, but somehow, he had it!  Over time, he got through to them, and without ever asking them, they chose to leave the Klan, one by one.  It’s amazing what love can do!

But I’m only human.  I’m not super human like Daryl Davis.  Like my frenemies of the echo chamber, I too, need my comfort zone.  My comfort zone will never be an echo chamber.  I’m a social scientist, not just as an educator, but at heart.  I may be socially awkward, but I love to study socialization.  As Sheldon Cooper once said of social experimentation, “It’s one of the few forms of social interaction I don’t find repellant.”

The Study

Here’s what I know so far.  Some of them are very kind, and very willingness to recognize that well intended human beings can disagree with each other on major issues.  Some of them would rather not listen to a differing point of view, and are quick to categorize others with tribal labels, and all of the assumed positions on different issues associated with those labels.  What I don’t know is if they view the other (me) as less than human, or as “evil”, or maybe they engage a kind of cognitive dissonance where the other can be wicked on politics, and in other ways a good person.  I also wonder if, in time, they are willing to consider that maybe a person who voted for Trump isn’t as terrible as they think, and might have some views on some issues that might surprise them, or if they will instead default to partisan labels and the “us or them” mentality.

As a social scientist, I shouldn’t expect a set of results.  “Science” that assumes the result, and seeks that result is tainted.  I’m not even sure of my methodology yet.  I may be as an anthropologist, just among them, observing.  I may try some things, ask some questions, maybe even have the audacity to express dissenting opinions, and see how they react.  Maybe all of the above at different times.

And so, it begins.  #operationmilos

 

Note(s):

* For those of you who don’t know, I was an Obama supporter, though I have my disagreements with him on some issues, as I am with Trump now

 

Further reading on “Smug Liberalism”:

The smug style in American liberalism is kind of a neo-classic, written two years ago as Trump was on the rise.  Many, many more articles have followed echoing these sentiments.

The Myth of the smug liberal as a counter-argument to the above.  It’s anecdotal, but gives an interesting perspective of a liberal who knows all about scrapping by and resents being called “smug” and out of touch with the “common man”.

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Lily White Liberals At Yale And Beyond

LilyWhiteYaleStudent

At Yale, a black student falling asleep in the common room is apparently cause for alarm.  Some might be shocked that such a thing would happen at a “progressive” Ivy League institution, especially Yale!  But this incident is just another example of the kind of white-liberal hypocrisy I’ve seen among the academic elites, and I’m sure they can be found among the privileged whites everywhere.

As reported by GMA and many other outlets, Lolade Siyonbola, a black female Yale student, fell asleep in a common room of her dorm while working on a paper.  Having been a grad student at LSE myself, I can tell you this is not unusual at all.  I can remember around term paper time at UNF also seeing a student passed out on a bench, or a couch on campus.

Lily White Liberalism

It’s nothing new.  Looking briefly into history, I get that term “Lily White” from the old Republicans.  They were happy to be the party of Lincoln; the party that “freed the slaves.”  But that didn’t mean they had to mix with “the negro”.  The Lily White Republicans were those who wanted to keep blacks at the bottom of the Republican Party establishment.  The old liberal Republicans loved to stand in judgement of the white south, for all the backwards and bluntly racist ways of our ancestors.  But they always kept blacks at arm’s length, and had no problem engaging in more subtle forms of discrimination than was practiced in the Jim Crow south.

The Lily White Liberal of today is more likely to be a Democrat.  They speak progressivism and denounce the “racism” of the anti-PCers, especially in the south, with one side of their split tongues.  They’ll denounce “white privilege” while they themselves are far more privileged than most of the whites they condemn.  In their position of power and prestige, they have the privilege of being able to decide what is “racist”, what is “offensive”, etc.  From the highest echelons of academia, they can even invent new sexual orientations and gender identities.

But while they speak of diversity, they won’t touch the average black American with a 10 foot pole.  These people have thin skin.  Is it any surprise that the same delicate little white snowflakes who can’t handle a little dissenting opinions, likewise can’t stand to be around people who look so different from them?  The snowflake who called the police on sleeping Lolade Siyonbola; she actually called 9-1-1!

Salt-of-the-Earth Americans Have Racial Tensions Too

I can’t speak for the whole country, but here in the South, we’ve come a long way since Jim Crow.  The best way to describe race relations today is that we are over racism on the surface, but so much of it is still deeply embedded in our habits.  The tensions are there.  The average white person in the south wants peace and integration with our black neighbors.  We see each other at work, at restaurants, ball games, sometimes even at church.  We get along well on the surface.  But beneath it all, it’s our black brothers and sisters who live in fear that being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong cop, might just be their death.  Beyond that, there’s just the everyday prejudices people have.

Let’s keep it real.  It’s too easy for the average black male to be perceived as a “thug”.  Sure, they can dress really nice one day and make people more comfortable.  But it’s harder for them to relax in public outside of historically segregated areas.  I don’t say this as a “that’s how it should be”.  I think it’s terrible!  But we don’t change things by not acknowledging them in the first place.

Lily Whites Thrive On This

Yale is already denouncing the aforementioned incident with Lolade Siyonbola, and will likely follow with yet more political correctness, more condescension, and more non-solutions.  Meanwhile, in the far more moderate, far less politically charged University of North Florida; life goes on.  Nobody thinks anything of the black girl who nodded off in the computer room cramming for exams or whatever.  Nobody thinks anything of the red neck with the little Confederate Battle Flag sticker on his back pack.  But Lily Whites won’t stand for that.

The very same kinds of people who called the police on Lolade Siyonbola will be the first to denounce that little Confederate Battle Flag sticker.  They’ll denounce it faster than the young black law student who plans to work for the NAACP!  In fact, they’ll make sure that young black law student is within ear shot when they denounce it, but they’ll politely decline said black law student’s invitation to have lunch together later.

These are whites in the tradition of Andrew Turnbull, the British planter who settled in Florida, but was appalled at African slavery.  He wasn’t appalled because of any compassion for the Africans.  No.  He was appalled at how whites and blacks mixes so much where slavery was practiced.  He was appalled at the mixed race children who were produced under such a system.  So, he decided to bring indentured servants to Florida (St Augustine area) from the Mediterranean.  He didn’t care for them either, but abhorred their olive skin tones far less than the black skin tones of African slaves.  Turnbull made a raw deal with people largely from Menorca*, but treated them worse than slaves.  Many of them died under the appalling labor conditions, and those that survived had to demand and force Turnbull to live up to his end of the agreement when their indentured servitude was up.

Andrew Turnbull was the original Lily White Liberal, and now they are many, and they thrive on racial tension as much today as they did in colonial times.

 

Note(s):

*If you ever make it to St. Augustine, I hope you’ll get to experience some of the culinary influence of the Menorcans.  There are still many residents today of strong Menorcan heritage, and they’ve really enriched the local cuisine.  Mmmm, Menorcan stew…