Ok, by “we” I mean me personally. How I got here. I don’t presume to speak for anybody else. BUT – from conversations I’ve had with other leftists, I do know that the journey I have made, and that I am still on, has followed a similar path to others. Perhaps you, dear reader, have travelled a similar path. In any case, this is a short tale of my Steady March to the Left.
For the majority of my life, I was not very involved with politics. What I saw then as mere political apathy, since politics in general didn’t seem to affect my life too much, I now recognize as a position of intense privilege that I benefitted from.
No, for years, politics and social activism was not on my radar. I couldn’t even be bothered with that stuff. My days were spent working towards the next paycheck, then drugs and booze and womanizing, rinse and repeat. Decades spent – no, wasted – in that cycle.
I lacked empathy towards my fellow human beings. I was interested only in one thing – what would benefit me and who I could take advantage of. Self-preservation and instant gratification, and everyone else be damned.
I can almost pinpoint the time that this changed for me. When I became a father, and all of a sudden I had someone else depending on me, I realized that I couldn’t live just for myself anymore. And slowly, I realized that I shouldn’t have been living just for myself in the first place. I became more empathetic, I started listening, I started understanding the cultural and social differences – and the privilege that I enjoyed that, until then, I didn’t even know existed.
Still, this was more of a philosophical shift in my thinking, and politics didn’t really come into that – or so I thought. It was just a general internal feeling that I could do and be better as a person, and that I wanted to be the kind of person that a boy would be proud to call “Dad”. And THAT, friends, is most definitely still a work in progress, and I often have serious doubts about how well I am doing in that area, but that’s a conversation for a different space than this. Suffice it to say, my newfound “humanitarianism” came from a place of newfound and wholly alien emotions that sprouted up upon becoming a father.
Honestly, looking back on it now, it had even less to do with being a good dad to my kid and being a better person overall for the sake of those things. It was almost selfish – I wanted other people to feel good about me for a change, and all so I could feel better about myself. It was behavior that sought validation rather than actually making the world a better place. Meanwhile, I still didn’t have any grasp on what “making a difference” really meant outside of my own little microcosm.
Then the 2016 US Election cycle happened.
Ok, ok, I know I’ll probably get some shit from leftists about this, but claiming otherwise would be a lie. And I know of a LOT of people who were brought to the left as a result of that election cycle. And, yeah, for me and many, many others, it was honestly because of Bernie Sanders.
Two years ago, I had no idea about anything other than the two dominant political parties in the US (really just two factions of the same corporate Party), and absolutely nothing about international politics or the internal politics of other countries. But I heard about this Sanders guy, and I heard some of the things he was saying, and it resonated with me. I started listening a little more, started paying attention to politics. I fell into the rabbit hole.
It was a process that took months and months, but with each passing day I moved closer to the True Left, and further away from that shiny dog turd of Liberalism that people mistakenly call the Left. I heard the word “Socialism” tossed around quite a bit, and some of the things I heard started breaking through the veil of Capitalist propaganda that blinds so many Americans to the truth of the matter. SO, I started reading, and asking questions, and listening even more.
And that’s when I discovered Marx. All of a sudden, everything started to come together for me. My previous life, before fatherhood, was one of miserable detachment from anything meaningful and worthwhile, and it was a reinforcement of my White Privilege and a demonstration of Toxic Masculinity (I still have a lot to make up for in those areas). I realized that what I justified as “living in the moment” and “living for myself” was really just me being a generally awful person.
I realized that even my period of “philosophical enlightenment” after becoming a dad was really nothing special either – just a softer and more empathetic version of my previous self that embraced Liberalism and feeling good about myself for feeling bad for marginalized people, but still doing nothing to change any of that.
More than any of that, I realized how my political and social apathy was actually harmful to marginalized communities. I began to understand how these systems of patriarchy and white supremacy are institutionalized, and why. And I started reading even more. As much as I could, given the full time job plus household and family responsibilities (sadly, my reading list always seems to grow longer rather than shorter, but I am working on it).
Today, I find myself MUCH further left than Bernie Sanders, and I despise his stances on just about everything. However, I still hold a soft spot in my heart for him, because his campaign was the starting point of my Steady March to the Left. And that is true for a lot of people that I have spoken with over the past couple of years.
The point of sharing this is not to give myself a pat on the back for finally finding some basic human decency within myself. It is rather to let others know that they were/are not alone in their journey, and that it’s ok that they didn’t/don’t really know or care much about politics before. It’s ok that they had no knowledge of anything outside of Democrat v Republican. We are ALL learning, and we ALL have a lot more to learn.
Which brings me to another issue that is problematic for the Left. Particularly on social media, I see a whole lot of Leftists shaming newcomers for not knowing enough and not reading enough theory and not being available for every march or protest or direct action. There’s a whole lot of self-aggrandizing among those who have the time and ability to immerse themselves in literature and activism, and a whole lot of looking down their noses at those who don’t have that time. That doesn’t help anyone, least of all any burgeoning revolutionary movement, and only serves to make that person feel like they are superior to a budding leftist. For those of us who made a similar journey to the one I described above, the same “You don’t know shit” and looking down their noses at us is what pushed us away from the Democratic Party in droves, only to find the same kind of superiority complex in people who believe themselves to be better than that Corporatist party.
Such a stark contrast to an ideology that is based on empathy and concern for others.
Sectarianism is a problem, but I believe it’s not an insurmountable one. Identity politics, when weaponized, can be problematic at times, but again I don’t believe that it is insurmountable.
Driving away newcomers for “not getting it” is very problematic if we want to grow and nurture a revolutionary movement. It’s a problem that is, in fact, NOT insurmountable in the face of a revolutionary movement, and quite possibly be the downfall of that movement, or at least a major contributing factor.
The “Shut the Fuck Up, Liberal” memes are funny, sure, but is that what we want to do? I agree, they could learn a lot more about the state of things and the struggles of their neighbors if they actually did shut up and listen for a while. But have you ever known a Liberal to do that?
No, we can address their problematic views and speech in other ways that don’t require belittling them. We can answer their questions, and we can ask our own to direct conversation. Frankly, it becomes evident very quickly when we are engaging a person with no willingness to learn or accept other ideas. But if we treat everyone that way by default, that’s what everyone will be to us.
If all we have is anger and disgust, we cannot build anything. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We have so much more at our disposal than snark and snide. Let’s use our tools wisely and properly.
There will be plenty of discussion about the nuances of various leftist ideologies, as there always is. There will be plenty of analysis of today’s social issues, their history, and what is to be done about them, as there always is. But for those who haven’t gotten that far yet – who are just finding Marxism and Leftist ideologies – all of that nuance can be overwhelming. We have to stop expecting newcomers to understand all of the theoretical analyses that are out there overnight, as if some magical osmosis suddenly shoves hundreds of years of Socialist development into their brains.
If someone has problematic language, or particularly bad takes, people should absolutely address it. But the approach has to be different. We can’t have the same “fuck your feelings” mentality that the Right does and expect different results than the Right gets. Help someone to understand where the problem lies in their speech or stance, and do it in a helpful manner. Tearing down newcomers is not going to help us out, and in the end just turns more people away that would otherwise be on the team. The Left got an influx of people from the remnants of the 2016 US Election dumpster fire, but largely squandered it by being abrasive and engaging in virtue signaling. If we want to build something, we have to be constructive.
So that’s the very short version of my Steady March to the Left, a march that I am still on today and will likely be for the rest of my life. It’s how I got here, and why I will continue. I almost turned away, but I was determined not to let the Superior Intellectuals Of The Left tear me down. I’m hoping that I can help others who are new to the Left, or who haven’t quite gotten here yet, in a constructive manner, and I invite all of you, dear readers, to do the same.