The world watches in bewilderment, the sudden outburst of rabid patriotism in India. At the Trump phenomenon in the US. At the threats to Turkey’s traditional secularism. But you know what? We’re the ones who are responsible.
Who is “we”?
“We”, refers to the traditional intellectuals, the progressives, and the “politically correct” crowd. For years, we have refused to engage the right wing. We call them racists, bigots, and stupid. We’ve told them that if they oppose gay marriage, they’re idiots who deserve to be ignored. That if they want to incorporate religion into government, they’re backward and don’t understand the principles of modern governance. If they want to impose traditional values on the population through the law, we call them conservative idiots who don’t know any better.
But dismissing someone doesn’t make them disappear. It only pisses them off. If you don’t engage with a person you disagree with, they begin to suspect your motives. They think you don’t have any logic at your end. No one enjoys being talked down to. We didn’t like it as children when our parents told us what to do without giving us reasons, and we simply won’t stand for it as adults. No matter how idiotic a person appears to be, no matter how bigoted or racist their remarks seem, you simply cannot brush them off.
When someone doesn’t agree with me, I don’t dismiss them. I stand and argue. I engage – sometimes to the incomprehension of those around me.
And this is the reason for Trump in the US. This is why India is suddenly witnessing an explosion of hate for the “leftists”, the “progressives”, the “intellectuals”, and “the media”.
Do I support gay marriage, freedom of government from religion, and personal freedom? Of course I do! But when someone doesn’t agree with me, I don’t dismiss them. I stand and argue. I engage – sometimes to the incomprehension of those around me.
As a blogger, my wife (and others) constantly ask me – “Why do you keep arguing with this person?” Well for one, I love to argue! And second, I can’t bring myself to simply ignore and dismiss a person with an opposing point of view – no matter how much at odds they are with me and no matter how repugnant I find their ideas. Refusal to engage is not a strength. You are merely sowing the seeds for that future resentment.
People try and justify brushing off others with quotes like the one from George Bernard Shaw saying “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” They think it’s noble and high minded to avoid debate with a person they consider beneath them (hence the word “pig”). But that condescending attitude might just hide a fear of exposing your own weakness. Maybe you’re not really sure of the logic behind your own opinions.
Decades of brushing off the right wing, scorning their opinions that we find repulsive, labeling them as racists and misogynists have generated a large mass of the population who feel resentful that their voice is not being heard. And the outcome is a sudden burst of unfocused rage and knee jerk opinions.
After consistently being dismissed and looked down on, a point will come when they say “Fuck you. I am PROUDLY anti-intellectual. I am PROUDLY racist. I am a PROUD bigot. What’re you going to do about it?” We see this with Trump don’t we? We see this with the right wing crowd in India as well no? I don’t blame them. In their position I might do the same as well.
The politically correct crowd bears special responsibility. One of the primary appeals of Donald Trump is that he’s viewed as a man who “says what he means. Even if it’s repulsive. Perhaps because it’s repulsive. It’s essentially a massive, massive pushback against years and years of stifling opinions, words and entire ideas in the name of being “politically correct”. To an extent, being PC is nice. It indicates sensitivity towards the feelings of others. But as soon as you use being PC as a tool to feel morally superior, you’ve lost it.
Progress occurs by taking everyone along with you. By convincing them with logic and ideas. If you can’t do that, your ideas and logic are simply not good enough – it’s that simple. Change your tactics, find better arguments. But talk with the other side. It’s not cool to simply dismiss other opinions and look down on them.
So the next time you meet someone in real life or the Internet advocating the banning of beef in India, talk to them in a non-condescending manner. If you see a person defending hooliganism against JNU protesters, ask them why and challenge them. Give them an opportunity to put forward their opinions, and let them hear yours. Don’t hang back and feel good about “not engaging with the rabble”.
The members of the rabid right are citizens too. The value of their vote is the same as yours. And in some situations (like in Turkey), they far outnumber the progressives. Ignore them at your peril.
I have no idea if Trump will win the nomination or become president (part of me wants him to win just to watch the fun!) But his success in the US is an indicator of rage – rage against the PC police and the “progressives” who have dismissed people they disagree with. The new nationalism debate in India points to the same thing.
So get off your ass and go argue with these guys. They might end up insulting you, sure (in fact it’s likely). But at least they cannot accuse you of hiding and ignoring them. They’re forced to talk about their opinions using logic – or at least they’re forced to think about what they’re saying. But without that, all they can see is you hiding behind your smug layer of condescension.