Thankless Task of Being a Liberal

As a liberal, I feel bad for liberals. It’s tough thing to be. There is so much going against you.

There is the long dark history of liberalism that left-wingers like to throw at you. Ya know, the whole Whiggish history of Manifest Destiny and the rest of the endless hypocrisy, from noble slaveholders espousing elegant pleas for liberty to the comfortable middle class explaining meritocracy to the poor. We liberals are known for failing our own ideals, not that left-wingers are any better nor right-wingers for that matter. But everyone likes to blame liberals in this age of supposed liberalism, whatever liberalism is supposed to mean, something even liberals have a hard time trying to understand.

Worse still, liberals are delicate hothouse flowers. We flourish under perfect conditions, blooming ever so beautifully and yet on such a rare occasion. We liberals hold great ideals and offer forth inspiring visions. We are dreamers of what others claim impossible. But our imaginations wilt under less than perfect conditions. Standing strong against adversity isn’t one of the strengths of the liberal constitution.

The medicine of our own hope turns to poison. We are supremely effective at self-sabotage, fully capable of switching from idealism to cynicism, willing to compromise with any evil for the “greater good.” We liberals know how to make the best of a bad situation, no matter how bad it gets. We just want everyone to get along.

We liberals can’t handle fear or even the slightest stress. When we experience cognitive overload or cognitive impairment, even mere imbibing of alcohol, our brains shift into conservative mode. Research has shown numerous examples of this. In order for liberalism to function, it requires perfect conditions and immense cognitive capacity.

I understand why so many liberals turn to snarkiness. It’s a defensive maneuver, an attempt to hold at bay all that brings the liberal down. But snarkiness ends up being as self-defeating as the rest.

What else is the liberal to do? If the liberal takes their own ideals seriously, so many others will mock them or dismiss them as being unrealistic. Liberals begin doing the same, arguing that the only way to defend liberalism is to give into the criticisms against liberalism. Maybe liberalism really is weak and pathetic, the liberal starts to wonder. Maybe we have to play the same corrupt game, if we want to win.

This is how the liberal dream slowly fades away. Liberals forget what was so great about the dream in the first place. Were we ever so naive to believe in it? With experience, we learn of the hollow rhetoric of politicians. Yet every once in a while the old inspiration hits us and for that moment we believe something else might be possible.

Yet even then, it’s challenging for us liberals to say what liberalism is or could be about. If we no longer had any excuses for failure, what would we do? If we fought hard for our principles and won that fight, what would the world look like? If the liberal vision were unleashed, what could be accomplished?

What is liberalism? And what would happen if we liberals took it seriously? If liberals don’t fight for liberalism, who will? Then again, if most liberals fought hard and fought to win, would they still be liberals? What if, instead, liberalism isn’t what it appears to be?

Why are there so few liberals at the bloody frontlines of the battle for justice and freedom, so few liberals in ghettos, prisons and refugee camps? Why does liberalism usually only attract those living comfortable lives? Why is it so often that the first thing liberals are willing to sacrifice is their own liberalism?

These are the questions liberals should ask. Few will. This is the shame of being a liberal.

5 thoughts on “Thankless Task of Being a Liberal

  1. This is the kind of post I expect few, if any, will comment on.

    I’m a jilted lover of liberalism. And I can’t help myself but to go on being enamored with the liberal dream. It’s such a beautiful dream, like the American Dream, even if it requires one to be asleep to believe in it. I want to believe. I want liberals to prove their detractors wrong. I want lots of things. Still, it doesn’t change the way the world is.

    For other liberals who might read this, what do they think of such aching hope for liberalism, for the despair that follows endless self-sabotage and compromise, hypocrisy after hypocrisy. Only a liberal like me could be so harsh in my judgment of liberalism. Yet it maybe takes a non-liberal to understand that harshness. I did notice that so far only one person has hit the ‘like’ on this post and I know that person is a left-winger.

  2. This is my experience of being a liberal as well. It isn’t easy, and it’s tough to watch your ‘tribe’ disappear on you when a few people die in a subway blast in some white neighborhood somewhere. It can be very discouraging. It’s not just the hypocrisy and the changeable, conservative natures of liberals, so prone to run to a false sense of certainty at the slightest provocation; it’s also an inability to recognize realistic, simple adjustments to an idea, to accommodate practicality, to take effective steps together like getting money out of politics and having an effect on the prison industrial complex. There are so many things we could do if we didn’t stop at flicking lighters at concerts and trying to look clever or correct. .

    • Nice to see ya! Thanks for the response. You do understand where I’m coming from.

      It’s not just about failed idealism. It’s also the simple stuff, what appears to be common sense and practical in fighting for a liberal society. If we don’t get money out of politics, liberalism doesn’t have a half of a chance of accomplishing jack squat.

      Yet so many liberals act lackadaisical about it, as if we’ll get around to it at some later time when it’s more convenient. But there is no later time for reform can be endlessly deferred, that is until a breaking point is hit.

      I ultimately don’t see a clear distinction between the idealistic and the practical. The criticisms of idealism seem too often deluded and impractical. There is a misunderstanding about idealism, real or perceived. To my mind, advocating small changes is the most practical way of avoiding catastrophic massive changes. There is nothing inherently ‘idealistic’ about demanding reform in hope of avoiding revolution or else simply social breakdown.

      The self-proclaimed practical folk make these small changes nearly impossible. It’s always too little too late. Justice deferred is justice denied. The disadvantaged and underprivileged who are negatively impacted might not be as patient about oppression as the comfortable liberal class.

      It’s not right-wingers who destroy liberalism. Liberals are fully capable of self-sabotage without any need of help. Liberals do have a lot to offer, if they would only fight for what they claim to believe. If the lower classes including many conservatives saw liberals fighting for actual justice, you’d see a populist movement form to support liberal values. This requires courage, though, and the liberal mindset isn’t known for its courage. Curiosity, yes. Courage, no.

      Liberals imagine great dreams. But it requires other people to make that dream a reality. That is why liberals need a strong left-wing to keep them honest and keep them focused on what matters. For that reason, it saddens me when I see liberals expend so much energy in defending against a strong left-wing forming, as if they fear being held accountable.

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