This week, to much acclaim and fanfare Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner, a victory, I naively thought, for transgender people across the globe. The internet reacted, on the whole, extremely well: she was celebrated, accepted, even loved. This, I thought, was progression - this, I thought, is someone changing sex to be not ridiculed but celebrated. 30 years ago this would've been unheard of! Surely, any other person who wishes to have a sex change will now be empowered by this global example. Surely, a person wishing to change sex would feel emboldened to make the leap, emboldened by an entire globe saying to Caitlyn: "Well done!"
Yet, apparently, this is not the case. In fact, my assumptions were shown to be false by an incredibly brilliant article on the Guardian that told me that I actually I shouldn't be pleased or happy with this because she is only being applauded because she is pretty. This article, by Meredith Talusan, is the perfect example of what is currently eroding away at the Left from the inside. There has developed a form of one-upmanship, a never ending desire to 'out-progress' one another so that we genuinely have an article on the Guardian saying that Caitlyn Jenner's public transformation is somehow bad. I'm not transgender so maybe my cissexist privilege prevents me from seeing something glaringly obvious but I fail to see how this is the case. Furthermore, surely the public sex change and acceptance of a celebrity is something that aligns perfectly with the views of the Guardian, yet here it is criticising it. What on earth is going on?
It appears that there is a very vocal minority of Leftists who like nothing more than to criticize any viewpoint that is remotely popular. For example, I think most people of sound mind were horrified, to say the least, at the cold blooded murder of the Charlie Hebdo staff on account of what is essentially a drawing. An insensitive, offensive, blasphemous image, perhaps, but does anyone ever deserve to die on account of, well, a picture? No. The killing of people for their views is Fascism at its most gloriously oppressive, and a world view that left wing people like myself are diametrically opposed to.
Why, then, was there a clamour amongst the Left to justify the actions of these deranged people? Why was it written that the Iraq War and Western intervention was to blame for this heinous crime? They explain the factors that lead to these historical events but the people to blame are the people who pulled the trigger. It's intellectual cowardice: it's fashionable to blame everything on the West and unfashionable to lay the responsibility of murder at the doors of the Islamic extremists, so whenever some sort of horrific terrorist attack happens on Western soil there begins a mad dash to find a way to blame the West. When it happens on Eastern soil, the murder of 132 schoolchildren by the Taliban for example, there is a deafening, deafening, depressing silence from the Left. These are the actions of people we oppose in every single way, but why aren't we calling them what they are? Why are we reticent to condemn them?
The Iraq War was wrong, illegal, the evisceration of the cradle of civilization, a waste of resources and most tragically of all, life - particularly Iraqi. It was misguided, it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Yet, this is one of many explanations for the creation of ISIS. The severity of the Treaty of Versailles goes some way to explain how the Nazis rose to power but it does not in any way, shape or form justify the sickening, repulsive, insidious actions of Hitler and his gang of black-hearted men. And the same applies to ISIS: the complete failure of the Iraq War goes some way to explain how ISIS formed and rose to relative power but it does not in any way, shape or form justify the sickening, repulsive, insidious actions of Baghdadi and his gang of black-hearted men. If someone is pushing a man off a high-rise because he is gay then he is to blame, not Tony Blair or George Bush much as I dislike both.
After the disheartening collapse of Labour in this year's election, the Left needs to get its house in order. The prescient sketch in Life of Brian comes to mind: rather than acting in unison the The People's Front of Judea stand vehemently opposed to the Judean People's Front, the Judean Popular People's Front, the Campaign for a Free Galilee and the Popular Front of Judea. And we see this now: I'm more feminist than you! I'm more progressive than you! I'm more oppressed than you! You're more privileged than me! Rather than concentrate our efforts on actually, you know, making the world a better place with equality of opportunity and a humane welfare state to reflect a humane, caring society, the left is too busy falling over themselves to 'call out' anyone who slightly opposes their views.
The topic of a polemical leftwing intelligentsia has been covered before by George Orwell. In his proposed preface to Animal Farm he decried the intellectual orthodoxy that pervaded amongst the Left of his time that prevented any criticism of Stalin. There was, in his words, 'an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia'. He said: 'A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.' This sounds, to me at least, extremely similar to what is happening now. I will give one example: go out now into the wild west of the internet and ask to what extent we live in a 'rape culture', to what extent it is 'endemic', and see how far you get before you are called a rape apologist.
Politics, to me and I tentatively assume Orwell, is about what you think. The beliefs you have, the way you want to see society ordered, the way you think we should treat our fellow human being. It is not how I look, it is not how fashionable I am, it is not how I want to present myself. I will happily call ISIS a foaming at the mouth bunch of deranged, evil, maniacs. I will call the Charlie Hebdo killers men with a one way ticket to hell. If you, my fellow leftwing brethren, want to say I sound like a Daily Mail reading Islamaphobe then so be it: I know I am not. If you, my fellow leftwing brethren, want to allow, justify and support someone saying '#killallwhitemen' I will oppose that view. If you want to say that's because I'm a typical white, middle class man who doesn't know anything then so be it. If something is wrong then something is wrong. Making generalizations about whole groups of people before you have met them on the basis of the actions of other members of that group is always wrong, even if it is quite fashionable, at this moment, to stick the boot into straight white men. There is a documentary in the works by the BBC, fronted by Professor Green, about why so many young men are killing themselves. I predict this will be popular and that suddenly it will become a bit less fashionable to hold this view.
The Left needs to regroup and remember what it stands for: a welfare state, a caring society, freedom of speech, freedom of thought. It needs to remember what it stands against: against oppression, against Fascism, against the suffocation of people's views on the basis of who they or where they come from. At the moment the Left is in disarray: a gaggle of people working against one another when in reality they want very similar things. A gaggle of people trying to shame people into adopting their view of the world. I dislike the Tories just as much as the next Labour voter but I don't think that all Tory voters are evil wankers and I don't think that repeatedly calling them that will lead them to vote for a party I agree with and thus, what I see as progress.
On a more positive note, the Left has been in disarray before and it has come back from the brink before. What it takes is leftwing people to work as a cohesive group, supporting one another in their quest for a more just society, not driven by profit but driven by humanity. But, most of all, what it needs is strong leadership. Where that is going to come from I do not know but someone will emerge - they always do.