Rory Sutherland writes in this week’s magazine that the Mozilla/Brendan Eich affair has finally put him off his dream of moving to the United States, quoting Andrew Sullivan that ‘The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society.’
The issue of gay marriage has changed politics in the English-speaking world in a way that perhaps people didn’t expect – breaking the liberal-Left’s final link with the ideal of John Locke that permitting something did not mean approving of it. This notion has been coming under pressure for some years, especially with discrimination laws, but SSM has snapped it. (Brendan O’Neill has written about this extensively for Spiked and Telegraph blogs.)
But this has been more pronounced in the United States, a country where Locke’s ideas were far more influential and were indeed the inspiration for the country’s Declaration of Independence.
It’s well known in Britain that elements of the American Right are pretty wacky, including large numbers who don’t believe in evolution and a substantial minority who hold onto the bizarre conspiracy theory that Barack Obama’s pregnant mother got onto a jet to have her son in Kenya. And we’ve all seen Alex Jones with his own interesting version of reality, battling those Giant Paedophile Armies.
Yet it’s very little observed just how extreme and wacky America’s Left is.
At the peak of the Obama changeling story polls suggested that up to half of Republican voters believed this bizarre story, something the British media had a good chortle at, yet exactly the same percentage of Democrats believed that the US government was responsible for 9/11.
While crimes committed by a small number of anti-abortion activists get enshrined in European memory banks, the violence and intimidation often committed against pro-life or anti-same-sex marriage campaigners is simply ignored. (The Right even gets blamed for stuff it’s not responsible for – the anniversary of JFK’s assassination last year inspired a number of articles about how the ‘hate’ of the Southern states was to blame, while ignoring the fact that he was actually killed by a Communist.)
Brits like a good laugh at small town America with its narrow-minded attitudes, yet America’s Democrat enclaves are equally secluded; Jonathan Haidt famously found just three Republicans among 1,000 members of a university audience, concluding that the atmosphere had become so intimidating that others were scared of coming forward. Any environment in which one political bent dominates without opposition will necessarily become more extreme, and the huge disparities on America’s campuses between open Democrats and Republicans (reflected in campaign donations) has led to an atmosphere of political intolerance, as Steven Pinker and others have observed.
America’s academia, in particular its social science and humanities departments, is of course the birthplace of the ideology we now call political correctness, that is the idea that dissenting views should be forced out of public discourse and the language delegitimised by being branded as hate.
So one of the characteristics of the American Left is the rapidly evolving nature of its vocabulary, and the invention of new terms of abuse and thought-crime, all designed to change the way we think. Even established, august institutions are also quick to label any opponents, however respected, as extremists or haters. However this mind-set is not just enforced from above but helped by a keen volunteer auxiliary thought police eager to weed out badthinkers and heretics; there are also de facto show trials and re-education classes.
America’s identity politics has always been pretty off the wall, but with micro-aggressions and privilege-checking it’s reached a new level of insanity – and yet because socialism in America has traditionally been weak we ignore the country’s very powerful, and by British standards extreme, radical Left.
America is a very divided country, with growing disparities in wealth and politics, but it is clearly one troubled by extremes on both sides. It’s just that one side is too far gone to realise.