If someone were to ask you to think of either extreme of the political spectrum, odds are you would immediately picture a swastika at one end, and a hammer and sickle at the other. Regardless of your views of the left-right paradigm, or whether you subscribe to horseshoe theory or not, we (rightfully) tend to perceive fascism and communism as the standard ideologies of the extreme.
As such, many of us would also feel rather uneasy seeing those two symbols. Upon seeing a swastika, we are immediately reminded of the evils of the Nazi regime, and are accordingly repulsed. To publicly display the logo is even a crime in many European countries. We understand how abhorrent the ideology is, and treat it accordingly with disrespect and disgust.
But how do we react to the hammer and sickle? I don’t have to write an article explaining the millions of deaths that occurred at the hands of communist regimes; like the holocaust, the gulags of the Soviet Union and killing fields of Cambodia are known by many.
Scrolling through Twitter recently, I came across a person questioning why so many are opposed to “political correctness.” The tweet conflated the dreaded PC with being polite and having respect and compassion, and expressed confusion as to why so many people were opposed to the concept.
Strangely enough, I absolutely agreed. That is to say, I agreed with the principle behind the tweet; of course we shouldn’t be opposed to good manners.
Why, then, are so many of us afraid of political correctness? Ultimately, it isn’t good manners and mutual respect that people are defensive against, but rather the necessity to do so.
Consent is paramount. Anything we do that involves another person, be it sex, work, or just holding a conversation, requires that all parties involved give their consent. Any rational person who cares about personal choice would agree with me here.
Yet our perspectives of consent are becoming warped. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a new debate over how to ensure consent is both explicit and mutual has arisen. This alone isn’t a problem; of course we should be working to ensure this.
But the issue is becoming increasingly trivialised, and our view of consent as being willful interaction between two or more persons is beginning to morph into mollycoddled nannying, with adults being treated like children who don’t know how to make their own decisions.
Misconceptions of the Open Society
Is it necessary to be intolerant of the intolerant? Perhaps so; if we wish to preserve our liberal-democratic way of life, it makes sense to ensure those who would establish tyranny never achieve power. This is the theory put forward by philosopher Karl Popper in his ‘Paradox of Tolerance’ model. He argued that:
“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”
Popper was correct in his argument; we should be intolerant of the hateful and the violent, and I would argue many of us already are. But what does it actually mean to be ‘correctly’ intolerant in this sense? How do we limit our intolerance to those who truly deserve it, without restricting the freedom of the individual to choose?
Emotional. Tribal. Irrational. These are just three adjectives which could be applied to the political discourse of the 21st century. Both in the United States and Europe, discussions have reverted from constructive criticism and mutual understanding to name-calling, de-platforming, and retreats into echo chambers. None of this is particularly useful for a pluralistic society.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Back in the days of Ancient Rome and Greece, the founding fathers of the stoic school of philosophy taught the importance of clear-mindedness and rationalism in the development both of the self and of society. Here a three of these lessons which now, more than ever, need to be relearned.
In two-party democracies such as ours in the UK, true representation can become a tricky thing to achieve. Voters are often left to choose whomever they perceive to be the lesser of two evils, and third-parties can seldom achieve any real power in Westminster (the exception of course being the Liberal Democrat’s short-lived stint between 2010 and 2015). Indeed, democracy in Britain has long been criticised for its inability to provide real representation to its citizens.
It’s not uncommon that certain ideals will have a political bias attached to them. The immigration debate, for instance, has long taken a left-vs-right structure, as has the gun debate. You can usually make an educated guess at someone’s political leanings based on the positions they take on certain issues.
But today, many seem to think this applies to one of the most fundamental pillars of democratic society; the right to free speech. Not only has the freedom to express oneself somehow become a controversial issue, but some people now see taking a pro-freedom stance on speech as evidence that one is somehow a right-winger.
This perception is both false and problematic. Why, then, has free speech suddenly become a facet of the right?