Fetishizing the Liberal Underdog

If, at a concert or performance, one person interrupts the speaker, rushes the stage with protest signs, or deliberately pushes their voice on a large group of people, they are quickly shut down to audience approval. It would be weird to attend a comedy performance, for example, expecting everyone to interrupt the comedian every time something they passionately disagreed with came up as subject matter.

Oddly though, all three of those tactics are met with mass liberal approval when exercised against Daniel Tosh, Karl Rove, and by Occupy Wall Street. On the internet, they’re a favorite of social justice activists, a title which could not be more grandiose given the kind of person it describes. Everywhere, they’re embarrassing, even if you’re a liberal.

Conservatives, as a rule, are boring. The crazy “Heil Hitler” tea party lady is extremely unusual, since conservatives tend to favor already-existing social structures. In general, “weird” is frowned upon by conservatives. If conservatives lean weird, they’re likely to be the libertarian variety.

Liberals like weird. They encourage extreme deviations from the norm as an exercise in their tolerance. The most abnormal thing of all, though, is the underdog — one lone person shouting against a crowd of sheep, sheeple, lemmings, drones, androids, robots, or whatever noun you want to use to mean “unthinking masses.”

The wet dream narrative goes something like this: a person, preferably bigoted and ignorant and representative of the status quo, is making some transparently stupid speech to a large number of people who believe what he is saying unconditionally. A liberal, the lone voice of reason in the crowd, shouts out a number of polite-yet-unthinkably-confrontational talking points. The idiotic speaker has no answer, and the crowd puts on their “the really smart kid has a point” face. Minds are changed. Liberals win.

Or, it can go like this: the ruthless corporatist oppressor is giving a speech to his Stormtroopers, brainwashing everyone from freedom of thought. The lone liberal rebel rushes the crowd, says something revolutionary, and everyone starts thinking for themselves. The liberal is hauled off by the guards and, like Socrates, is totally right in the end. Everyone comes to their own decision that the oppressor should be deposed and liberals win.

In both cases it’s pants-on-head stupid, but I’ve met a lot of people who actually see themselves as that kind of person.

This fetishization of the liberal underdog is a lot like what happens when someone gets bullied a lot and overcompensates for the bullying by being hyper-confrontational every time even a minor confrontation occurs, because it’s reminiscent of the bullying.

Liberal activists advance this mentality, constantly, that their message is being “silenced.” To some degree this is true, but not nearly to the extent they believe it is. Sure, if no one in the world is saying what you’re saying, it’s totally okay to go down in flames by rushing a speech that will ultimately discredit you and your message. But in most cases, someone has said what you’re saying and probably in a far more intelligent way.

And if you believe this, you will be looking for “silencing” at every opportunity.

“they’re meaner than we are, tougher, and more disciplined… you gotta get down in the mud with the elephants.” – Tom Duffy in Ides of March

The idea that liberals are for one reason or another not confrontational enough, not assertive enough, too willing to compromise, and unwilling to get in the mud is pervasive. George Lakoff writes extensively about this in his books, claiming that a “strict father model” is what guides republican thought. In essence, republicans are willing to fight more because they’ve been taught to avoid being wusses.

As a result, the liberals on the more activist end of the spectrum think it’s their duty to stand up and fight to the death every time the threat of being “silenced” happens. In any other situation, Daniel Tosh’s response to the rape joke heckler would have been on a YouTube video, titled “Daniel Tosh pwns heckler!!” or something to this effect. On the gendersphere? “Daniel Tosh silences feminist in the audience.” Give me a break.

Compounding with this right-in-the-end, fighting-silence mentality is the idea of progress, integral to liberal thought to such an extent that “progressive” is synonymous with “really liberal.”

“The first generation of feminists fought for the right to vote and were right in the end. Hippies fought for the end of the Vietnam war and were right in the end. Liberal race activists fought for civil rights and were right in the end.”

If you only view what you consider to be your indisputable victories on a timeline, it’s easy to believe that enacting everything you believe is synonymous with progress. The only thing stopping you from progressing, then, are people disagreeing with you. Those people are Against Progress.

While few, I’m sure, in progressive circles would state their ideas this explicitly, that’s what is frequently implied.

Enter the social justice activist, perhaps the most self-righteous kind of underdog liberal and inarguably the most annoying.

Take the following beliefs:

  • You are being silenced.
  • You do not stand up enough and fight.
  • Your beliefs represent progress.

and plant them all in the mind of one person. If you legitimately believe these things and have high belief impact, you will feel guilty if you don’t shout at someone on stage while they are being a tool of the patriarchy, or a corporatist drone, or a neocon warmonger.

The person who believes these things is incentivized to continually one-up everyone else by being more confrontational, more loud, and more obnoxious. “Sure, you may support progress, but I support progress this much more. Here is a video of me yelling during a John McCain rally, hauled off by the thought police while they attempt to silence our message.”

Fetishizing the underdog has limited utility. It’s good when the underdog is listened to, but if you’re interrupting an entire crowd of people and calling that “being silenced” just because you read 1984, you need to shut up. The sooner we can recognize that these beliefs are what is causing extremely stupid political dialogue, the sooner we can correct them. Because while I’m not sure what exactly constitutes “progress”, I know that this mentality isn’t it.

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