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The mainstream liberal agenda; prejudice within the Left

July 16, 2015

Not long ago, I said that being a vegan was like being religious in our society, insomuch as the religious face sidelining for their views. When I wrote this, I was talking in main about “normal” people, by which I mean: people who are not very left wing, nor very right wing; people who are not strongly affiliated with any religious, political or social group such as Marxism or feminism; people who are neither very rich, nor very poor; neither highly educated, nor scantly educated.

Let’s return to the question, looking this time at people who class themselves socially as “liberal” and politically, probably as left wing. I often say that some of my biggest quibbles are with people inside my own social group. I classify myself as both these things, and thus have to reconcile the views of other people in the group with my own.

Liberal people, by and large, live by the notion of judging the sin rather than the sinner, whether or not they would use these words. For example, radical Islamism is the enemy, not Muslims. However much a problematic view (as the distinction is not always clear and often exploited), it is largely consistent, to the extent that an archetypal liberal will usually accept the more liberal notions of any religion and accept freedom of religion, without necessarily agreeing with all parts of it or believing in the specific deity. These people would, of course, blush with fury at the mere implication that they might be prejudiced towards any one group of people.

Picture this: a Muslim tells their friend that they recently converted to Islam. The friend acts acceptingly, but later in conversation, the Muslim person says in passing that “some people tend to avoid Muslims.” To which their friend replies, with only trace irony, “Yeah, I tend to avoid Muslims. No offence.”

I think we can agree that would be Islamaphobic.

Well, that very exchange happened to me recently – as long as you switch out the word “Muslim” for “vegan”.

Regrettably, I didn’t raise this point at the time. If I had, I can imagine she, like others, would say “Well, it’s different.”

I might ask why it is different. I would, no doubt, receive two arguments: one, that Muslims are currently an Oppressed Group; and two, that religion is culture, is a more fundamental part of being.

To this I would point out that oppression is made by prejudice in the main society, therefore vegans, if not currently important enough to be an oppressed group right now, easily could become one in the future. I would add that self-respecting liberals should not allow this to happen.

Secondly, people disrespect veganism for its apparently religious fervour. Such people should not then decide that it is not a religion and thus not worth respecting. Religion is defined by its fervour; those who are not fervent rarely identify as religious, and no other “test” for religion will do, as they are all prejudicial – for example, a religion is never fairly defined by how long the religion has been in existence, how many followers it has, or whether or not it has a deity. This would exclude many established new, alternative or indigenous religions.

Additionally, I have already said elsewhere that a person’s choices define them as much if not more than their upbringing, and are as worthy of respect as anything imposed on us by culture.

There is another point to bear in mind, here; the person who came out with that gem is a feminist.

Yes, another feminist who doesn’t like veganism. Hi there, Firecracker, how are you doing these days?

The relevance of this, her strongest and most passionate political view, is that she would see that exchange as offensive (without necessarily needing to be personally offended by it) if the word Muslim was replaced with feminist.

This is the final stake in the heart of the argument that “it’s different”. Feminism and veganism have more in common than I have time to describe, though in the above Firecracker article, I had a jolly good stab.

The sad fact of the matter is, my friend the feminist – an intelligent, critical person – does not see the prejudices that aren’t highlighted to her by mainstream liberal sources.

Why do we accept that Islamaphobia exists, and homophobia, and transphobia, anti-feminism and a giant push-back against liberal attitudes? Because, somebody tells us these things exist, and spend their lives looking for examples. Exactly who, we don’t know, by presumably someone of import, as the ideas are them circulated ad infinitum.

The Guardian online publishes an article, which the Huffington Post picks up, which Buzzfeed picks up, which Upworthy picks up, which circulates on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and finally ends up at the top of the Google search list. If you were to go on Facebook, see the article, Google it, find the Upworthy link, the Buzzfeed link and from them locate the Huffington Post and the Guardian, you might be under the mistaken impression that a group of high profile publishing sites and hired professional journalists known for creating and sharing (among other things) liberal material have all independently reached the same conclusion, thus this conclusion is the Official View of The Left. Actually, all it takes is one journalist writing an opinion piece and a thousand aggregators using the same source, or sourcing other sources.

I don’t think we realise quite how constructed and homogenised our views are. We think of ourselves as these fighters for peace and social justice, but actually all we have done is used the internet to absorb endlessly recycled and now quite old ideas which, in our circle, are not contested. Contesting them, regardless of the context, establishes you as a member of “the other side.”

Because that “other side” still exists, we take that as a sign that we need to say the same things over and over, even to each other, rather than change, develop and challenge new ideas. A person is rarely liberal with an asterisk for long. Whatever their background and other work, being critical of liberal ideas instantly makes them either illiberal or crazy, depending on whether the argument’s most basic founding principle could be construed as conservative.

Veganism is not included in the list of mainstream liberal agenda. It is not conservative by any stretch of imagination, so it must be crazy. But, the tentative trend towards it featuring more and more in unexpected contexts means, I believe, that one day it will be included in that agenda (however much the great Upworthy has not quite cottoned on yet).

If more people could only think of prejudice broadly and conceptually, rather than a word that refers only to things we already know, we would find ourselves in a much more permissive, peaceful and friendly society. While liberals are busy pointing fingers at conservatives or people we suspect of being conservative, we should probably take a long look at ourselves, the way we really are, compared to the way we try to be.

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