Is it time to pick a side? It’s a sentiment regularly expressed explicitly and implicitly by people on both “sides” of the Left/Right divide. Let’s take Sargon of Akkad, for example. Carl has railed against identity politics for years now. Almost every video on his channel touches on the subject. How does he square his hatred of identity politics with the following call to arms?
— Sargon of Akkad (@Sargon_of_Akkad) March 14, 2017
I’ve yet to hear a coherent argument in favour of combating identity politics with more identity politics. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is. If tribalism is the problem, does it make sense to encourage more tribalism? If you choose a side, you are necessarily in the wrong because the ultimate aim is to win. You’re not interested in representing reality or practising intellectual honesty. You are going to support your team irrespective of their actions and condemn the other team. That should be a problem for anyone who values reason.
I rarely get wound up on Twitter, but I found myself struggling not to punch a hole in my laptop in the aftermath of the Berkeley riots. Twitter was awash with partisans re-tweeting anything that supports their narrative. The image of prominent white supremacist Nathan Damigo punching a female protester was all over my feed. A reprehensible act, to be sure. But where was the outrage when Antifa maced an innocent woman two months ago? Is it possible to find both acts repellent or is violence against women morally permissible when perpetrated by your side?
I was attempting to make this point on Twitter, yet I couldn’t help but feel the platform is a major part of the problem. Everyone is trying to express their opinions on complex topics on a medium that doesn’t permit nuance. Even if you present a position over several tweets, there’s no guarantee people will see the entire thread. They might see the first tweet in which you criticise Antifa, assume you’re a Nazi and therefore think it’s acceptable to assault you. There’s no room for complexity. It simply doesn’t survive the editing process. “My side good, your side bad” is so much more convenient.
If you try to inject nuance, it doesn’t tend to compute. People are so used to issues being framed as black and white that they reject the very notion of grey. I was told that by siding with white nationalists and Nazis I’ve ceded the moral high ground. It didn’t occur to this individual that I was advocating for free speech. I’m not on a “side”. I have no control over whether a hate group leverages the issue for its own agenda. Does such a basic right cease to be important because the likes of Damigo and Mike Cernovich latch onto it? I am in effect being told that supporting free speech makes me a Nazi because these lunatics have attached themselves to the cause.
As you’ve likely sensed, I’m becoming increasingly angry as I write this post. So, I’m off to punch the nearest wall like it’s holding a copy of Mein Kampf.