Condescension and Mockery

As someone fully capable of harsh criticism with an edge of condescension or mockery, let me explain my personal view. There are rules of etiquette for such things. It’s best if you can somehow include yourself through self-deprecation and self-criticism or even, if you can pull it off with sincerity, a bit of humility. Admittedly, that can be a difficult thing to achieve, but a good balance to aspire toward.

This is why, for example, I like to criticize liberals and the liberal class. I am an unrepentant liberal, was raised in a pansy new agey liberal church, and have spent most of my life in a stereotypical small liberal college town. I’ve earned the right and maybe have an obligation to criticize liberals. I know the problems, failures, and weaknesses of liberalism through intimate personal experience and direct observation.

There is always a note of self-criticism in my criticism of my ideological tribe, liberals. And there is a familiarity and love in even my mockery. These are my people. My criticisms are barbed in a way only possible toward those one knows well, but the barb goes both ways and cuts me as well.

Another tactic is to broaden one’s scope. Be more general in your criticisms. So, if you’re an American, make a general criticism of Americans. Just make sure to clarify you’re making a generalization, something that should always be kept in mind since criticisms easily lead to generalizations. If you’re in a particular bad mood or feeling cynical, to be on the safe side you can include the entire human race in your criticisms—and that way it automatically pertains to you as well.

Sometimes there are harsh criticisms that need to be made, even though it is directed toward a group one doesn’t identify with. This is more tricky. It increases the likelihood of projection, scapegoating, and generally being an asshole spouting clueless opinions. Still, it can be done effectively, if taken with care.

Here is a good rule to go by. You should only make sweeping criticisms about categories people choose to belong to. People are free to identify with ideologies, religions, social movements, etc. What you should be more careful about is criticizing vast demographics of people based on traits they have little or no control over: gender, race, ethnicity, intelligence, place of birth, and other similar things.

This is what makes racism and misogyny so offensive. It is also what is so irritating about dismissing Sanders supporters as Bernie Bros or Trump supporters as white dudes (or worse still as white trash), The fact of the matter is that there is a large population of white men, especially those who are poor, who don’t vote at all—many who are demoralized by the system or even disenfranchised because of mass incarceration. It’s easy to forget that most of the poor, the homeless, welfare recipients, prisoners, and ex-cons are white.

Whites in general and white men in particular are not a homogeneous demographic. Among the white working class vote, the majority still supports Democrats and have done so for decades. The smugness of the liberal class might be changing that, though—not a promising direction for the Democratic Party. If as a Hillary Clinton supporter you are critical because so many lower income whites (I might add not just white men but also lower income minorities and women) have supported Sanders (or else Trump) instead of Clinton, where were your criticisms when that same demographic showed great support for Clinton the white woman over Obama the black man?

If you’re going to try to criticize others for perceived privilege, make sure you’re not doing so from a position of privilege. Besides being condescending, it is hypocritical and unhelpful and plain uncaring.

I have no problem with righteousness. Play that righteousness to the hilt and take it seriously on a moral level. Just make sure you’re being righteous for the right reasons. Be honest with yourself in being honest with others. We need more harsh criticism that is also honest criticism. If you feel genuinely condescending or whatever, express it fully. It’s only when we bring it to the light that we can see it for what it is. Express it and take responsibility for it—own it!

Even if it turns out you’re being an asshole, there is no shame in that. We are all assholes from time to time. In that case, just apologize and readjust your attitude.

Let me give some personal examples of what I’d consider inappropriate for being condescending and mocking in targeting particular groups.

As a white man, it would feel wrong to get haughty and self-righteous in relation to the experience of those I can’t begin to understand, specifically that of minorities and women. Or as an American, to think I know what it’s like to live in another society, no matter race or gender. Then again, I feel the same way about other groups I’m closer to in terms of social experience and identity.

My mother’s family came out of a poor white background, but I didn’t grow up around that social world. Even though I’m white and relatively poor, I don’t live in a poor white community and my immediate family is not of the poor white demographic. I can’t speak for or stand above in judgment toward poor whites in poor white communities. My ignorance and unfamiliarity is too great.

As another example, I did spend much of my younger life in the Deep South (the Carolinas, North and South). I was friends with and dated working class whites, including those who could be labeled as redneck or hillbilly. I still don’t think that gives me the full familiarity and understanding to put myself in a position of full judgment, much less condescension and mockery. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that, in the way I’m comfortable more directly and harshly criticizing my fellow liberals and Midwesterners.

There is a difference that matters. It is too easy and unfair to be demeaning and dismissive toward those you don’t really understand. We should always guard against that trap of closed-minded and prejudiced thinking. Condescension and mockery is often hidden in outward humor, but that can make it all the more hurtful. Our words need to be taken seriously. If we are to be critical in whatever form, we should choose our words carefully and consciously. In picking a worthy target, it’s best to err on the side of speaking truth to power, not kicking the weak while their down.

16 thoughts on “Condescension and Mockery

  1. I think youre not a liberal.

    In America a liberal is someone who accepts capitalism and competition but wants it regulated to ensure fairness opportunity and a safety net. You seem to have a basic emotional problem with competition and a yearning desire for close-nit communitarian acceptance instead of individualism

    Liberals basically like the modern world. You hate society as it exists so much you’re less scared of Trump than the status quo not getting challenged.

    Liberals think American/Western foreign policy is sometimes wrong. You’re with Noam Chomsky and Putin and think American/Western foreign policy is THE imperialistic evil in the world

    Youre not a liberal. Youre more like an old left Communist or a Counterpunch radical. Or like Chis Hedges and Joe Bageant. You’re getting close to red-green-brown alliance with bitter rejection of not perfect modernity.

    I think being liberal means a bit more hope and happiness.

    • I’m sure it’s safe to say that I’m not your kind of liberal. But going by your comment, there is no way of knowing what you think liberalism is and what you’re basing your opinion on. What I can gather from your comment is that likely your notion of liberalism is narrowly simplistic and historically uninformed.

      You’re playing the true ideology game, something that seems pointless to me at this point in my life, after years of studying such topics. If I were to play such a game, I would definitely doubt the liberal qualifications of many people who identify as or pose as liberals, specifically many Democratic partisans and politicians. I sometimes think that liberal rhetoric is more common than liberalism itself, however one wishes to define it. While at other times, I think liberalism is so common in the world today as to be like the air we breathe.

      Also, as doubt and openness are integral to liberal-mindedness, one could argue that those who never question their own liberalism are questionable in their liberalism. I can say this about my own sense of liberalism and identity as a liberal—it has changed as my experience, knowledge, and understanding has changed. Even so, something essential has remain unchanged.

      I’ve always had fond memories of the liberalism I experienced as a child and young adult, before I was aware of a category by that name. Liberalism is so much a part of who I am, I don’t know if I could shake it no matter how hard I tried. What we pick up when younger sticks with us for the rest of our lives.

      Research shows that people who grow up in multicultural communities tend to grow up to be more socially liberal, and that is definitely the case for me. As I’ve thought more about what ideology means, I’ve increasingly seen personality traits and psychological tendencies as being most central. That is the core that remains the same as all else shifts around it.

      Politically and historically speaking, there is no single liberalism as liberalism emerged from many sources in many places and took different paths as it took on different forms—eventually establishing different movements, traditions, schools of thought, political systems, and national identities.

      There is liberalism as a post-Enlightenment paradigm for our entire era, but within that broad umbrella is included even what Americans would call conservatism (it being a response to and from within the liberal worldview). Then there is the liberalism that is the foundation of American political thought and governance, the framework and guiding vision of our entire society.

      Contained in those larger liberalisms, there is much diversity. There is classical liberalism, progressive liberalism, left-liberalism, liberaltarianism, etc. Not to mention the ethnic and regional varieties of liberalism: New England Puritan liberalism, Southern Lockean liberalism, Midwestern Germanic liberalism, Mid-Atlantic Dutch lassaiz-faire liberalism, West Coast mixed liberalism, and other varieties. I might throw in the distinction between working class liberals and the so-called liberal class.

      A multitude of liberalisms. Take your pick.

      I don’t care what you want to call me. I’m not one to get hung up on labels, as if obsessively-compulsively everyone must be put into the proper box.

      Here is what I know about myself. I feel comfortable around liberals and at home in this liberal town. It’s easy for me to fall int0 the ruts of the liberal mindset, the preferences and prejudices. I’m a liberal, if for no other reason than I don’t know how to not be a liberal.

      In the end, all of that is neither here nor there, as far as this post goes. Ideological labels is not what this post is about. All that is relevant is there is little in my life that is more familiar to me than liberalism. I know it intimately, like an old friend. It just is what it is.

    • Out of curiosity, why don’t you think I’m a liberal? Do you know me? Do I know you? You apparently haven’t read much of my blog.

      I’m neither for or against capitalism, per se. It depends on what you mean by that. If you mean neoliberalism, corporatism, plutocracy and inverted totalitarianism, then I’m against it. But if you simply mean free markets, well I’d point out that even Marx was for free markets—the same being true for Chomsky’s anarchosyndicalism and the Milwaukee sewer socialists. Also, the Nordic countries with their well functioning social democracies which I regularly praise have capitalist free markets.

      It depends. What kind of freedom in what kind of markets? Whose freedom, based on what, at what cost, and toward what end?

      As for fear, I can’t say I’m particular scared. It’s the two main parties who fear-monger endlessly. I’m concerned not so much about immediate fears, as the slow decline that will be worse in the long term. I can’t say I hate our society, as like many of the founding fathers I differentiate society from government.

      With your rhetoric projecting fear and hatred onto me, you sound like a reactionary right-winger, not a liberal. If you’re for hope and happiness, why do you support fear-mongering and scapegoating?

    • I really don’t get the point of your comment.

      You act like you have me figured out when obviously you know nothing about me. You think you can tell people who is and isn’t a liberal even though you apparently know little about liberalism. You talk with authority on capitalism and free markets, another area you lack knowledge. You say something so idiotic as conflating Chomsky and Putin, that only a rightwinger would say.

      In your total state of ignorance, you want to preach to me. It’s hilarious.

      By the way, the countries with the most hope and happiness (e.g., the Nordic countries) are those countries that fit closest to my own views of how a society should function. If you think American corporatism and cronyism is the height of freedom and the greatest expression of liberalism, there are some American founders who had a very different notion of hope and happiness.

      As I like to tell people such as yourself, you need to opinionate less and read more.

  2. I think that they are trying to suppress all dissent.

    There is no other explanation. It is very much an example of managed democracy.

    • This post was written with someone specific in mind. She isn’t entirely a partisan, but she is one of these mainstream liberals who doesn’t tend to think outside the box nor to think very deeply. She is typical of the liberal class and falls into the common traps of privileged mentality. In this context, she was being a bit clueless in her superficial stance of white feminism. She represents what is wrong with liberalism in this country, easily manipulated by emotion and rhetoric.

    • What really pissed me off was her use of “white dudes” to dismiss an entire demographic, dismissing them in order to dismiss Sanders supporters and Trump supporters. This is just plain stupid, not to mention arrogant and smug.

      Many white men don’t vote at all. Among those who do vote, many vote Democrat, including working class white men. Meanwhile, there are a whole lot of minorities and women who can’t stand Hillary. I don’t know if she was really as ignorant as she was pretending to be, but there is no excuse for it.

      Worse still, it was pure bigotry. She would never accept anyone making a dismissive generalization about all white chicks or all poor blacks. Why do liberals like her think bigotry is acceptable when they do it but not when others do it?

      She was offering the perfect example of why I keep criticizing liberals. They should be listening to these criticisms, if they hope for liberalism to have a positive future.

  3. Here was a further thought I had to give context:

    A while back, there was an article that got a lot of attention. It was about the smug style of liberalism.

    I dismissed it at the time. My reasoning was that liberals were no more smug than conservatives, but I think I missed an important distinction. If we focus specifically on the liberal class of the more well off and well educated professionals, I might sense what is being referred to as smugness.

    The key element could be righteousness. Liberals in general are less comfortable with righteousness because they associate it with reactionaries, fundamentalists, fascists, authoritarians, ideologues, and demagogues. Righteousness, however, is a universal human trait and can’t be fully denied.

    Here is how I see it. The error many liberals make is that they end up repressing, instead of claiming, their own sense of righteousness. When filtered through relative privilege, maybe this is what gets expressed as the smug style.

    Liberals repressing righteousness wouldn’t make it go away. What it seems to do do is create an unawareness of how others perceive liberals, and in the process leading to unnecessary antagonism, even among potential allies. So, it’s not that liberals are less able of being condescending than others, just less open about it.

    This brings me to a thought. What would become of liberalism if it did more fully embrace righteousness by taking a strong moral stance, rather than constantly being on the defense?

    • I posted the above on Facebook. A liberal Christian who is a minister in a local church responded. He wrote:

      “I think the church can add a word here. Righteousness in the Bible means right relationships. The best example, according to Jesus, is justice. I think the basic concept is to create empowering relationships with others, which is different than charity, yet has a similar impact because it insists on a change of structure. Helpful?”

      Here is my comment that followed:

      Thanks for the added perspective. It is helpful. I think righteousness has a role to play. I wasn’t specifically thnking about it in a Biblical sense. I do like that take on it, having to do with relationships. It reminds me of the Buddhist idea of right relationship. The example of justice is particularly helpful, in terms of privilege and what that means in our relationships. I’d like to see a stronger liberalism that could be a morally righteous force in our society and the larger world. There are already some people moving in this direction. There is a good article in the Little Village about Denmark and the sense of home and community in preventing violent radicalization, rehabilitating individuals and integrating them back into society.

    • I was thinking that smugness is to righteousness as sexual repression is to sex. When people are sexually repressed, sexual urges don’t go away. They just become dysfunctional or perverse. Some people will, in response, masturbate to pornography while others will bury themselves in work or develop some addiction. It’s better to not be repressed and find a healthy outlet for sexual urges.

    • This particular leak won’t likely have any effect. It shows what she actually believes and what motivates her. But it doesn’t show anything that isn’t already widely known about her. It simply confirms the obvious. That is important in its own ways, as Clinton will deny the obvious every chance she gets. Now, the Goldman Sachs transcripts might blow her campaign out of the water. I’m hoping for something like that, just to watch her scramble and to see the rats jumping overboard.

      • I keep thinking there has to be some other major leaks on their way. I doubt we’ve seen the worst yet. It could get even more interesting right before the election.

        It seems to me that there are various games being played, not that I’m sure what those games are, as I still haven’t figured out whether or not Trump actually wants to win. It’s no longer about an election and instead has become some kind of bizarre contest of power and manipulation, a reality tv game show. If Clinton and Trump ended up nude wrestling in jello, I wouldn’t be shocked. It’s spectacle for the sake of spectacle.

        I’m not sure what is the point of any of it. It’s like someone slipped a new psychotropic drug into the US water supply. The American psyche is getting severely fucked over. We will never be the same again. All the ugly shit is floating to the surface. All this idiocy was always lurking behind the facade of American politics, but now it can’t be denied. The pretense is over.

        I feel sorry for any young American who will be voting for the first time.

  4. If Clinton wins, there is a high probability that she will be forced to leave in a Nixon-like Watergate scandal.

    Her campaign has been one scandal to another. There are no doubt many more than we know about.

    • That is probably the most interesting possibility. Maybe also the most likely possibility. Trump apparently doesn’t want to win. And Clinton can only lose if everything suddenly turns bad. So, as long as everything remains basically the same, Clinton almost inevitably will be elected. The question is, then what?

      One suspects that eventually all of the corruption she has been involved with will catch up to her. Once she is president, she will become a target like never before and she is such an easy target to take down. Her power, wealth, and cronyism won’t save her in the end. The ruling elite will turn on her in an instant.

      She is setting herself up for a bad ending and she probably knows it, but she can’t help herself. She is addicted to the game of power. She will play it out for as long as it will last. And she unlikely would give up as easily as did Nixon.

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