Sympathy for the Liberal: Spend 24 Hours Thinking Like a Woke Progressive. See How It Feels. Part I
I don’t know if it’s a real Native American maxim, but it seems to me sound policy not to judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. It’s all too easy to throw stones, judge harshly, and scorn those whose worldview you cannot imagine having even for nanoseconds. I sometimes think there are advantages to being a convert from pagan leftism. That way you’ve actually lived inside such a skin, and explored the alien landscapes of the Other’s inner life. One of the joys of my friend Eric Metaxas’s recent memoir, Fish Out of Water, consists in his analysis of how he slid to the squishy center-left, and Christ led him back to sanity.
I have no such story to tell.
A Portrait of the Columnist as a Young Crank
Oh yes, I have some anecdotes. But they’re all along the lines of this one: At age 11, my mother took me aside to have the talk every Catholic boy needs to have with his mom. She said, “Johnny, thirty years ago, the International Communist movement planted thousands of homosexual atheists in the priesthood. You need to watch out for them.” And I have been watchful, ever since. The End.
And: When I was in college, the most fashionable political group was CISPES, the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. It was committed to helping the Marxist guerrillas whom Ronald Reagan was fighting. The group was staffed by the Beautiful People on campus, and it brought in pro-Marxist speakers, likely with funding from Moscow. My response was to order t-shirts from Soldier of Fortune magazine — the only journal I subscribed to in college — that featured a mercenary and read, “I’d Rather Be Killing Communists.” Then wear them to the meetings.
And: In grad school, when I was getting my MFA in Creative Writing, the students in our program were mostly hedonistic lefties. This even though the school was in conservative Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We were especially heavy on female aspiring short story writers who considered themselves hip feminists, but somehow would still end up sleeping with their much-older male professors. One annual event was the Valentine’s Day Erotica Reading. There’d be some genuine literary passages. Someone would always read a Shakespeare love sonnet, or section from the Song of Songs. But mostly they offered breathy memoirs of students’ recent sexual activity. I’ll never forget one particularly shrill ‘womyn writer’ standing before a room full of her colleagues, recounting her bed-time activities with the teacher whom we all knew she was sleeping with. He sat there with a smirk on his face, and who could blame him?
So I showed up one year with a copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce. I got up at the mic, and adopted the blue-collar Dublin accent of Fr. Dermot Maloney, my favorite priest at the Latin Mass parish I attended every week. I read aloud, in its entirety, the novel’s infamous sermon on Hell. It depicted in savage detail how each of the five senses, and every human mental faculty, would be punished to the utmost extremity for all eternity for unrepented sin. Then I sat down, with no explanation.
And so on. Not very helpful.
Can We Try on a Foreign Mind?
Still, I think it would be helpful for me, and others like me, to make the effort at empathy. If only to help us to be a tad more persuasive, perhaps a little bit winsome, or at any rate less sarcastic. So I’ve resolved on the following spiritual exercise: To try to imagine my enemies’ worldview from the inside. Not to sit down and plow through their books — that makes me less sympathetic, not more, and goads me to hurl the volume across the room and write a scathing rebuttal.
No, I’m going to try to imagine what it would be like if I woke up one morning and realized I was Woke. What would it feel like? How would my thoughts run? What reactions would I have? How would I experience the events of a typical day? Would I read about world events and feel encouraged, instead of dismayed? Would I view our country’s politics with hope instead of foreboding? Would I speak to God differently?
It’s tempting to write this as a series of fake diary entries. I could even imagine a book, which depicted my efforts to think this way for 31 consecutive days, illustrated with funny anecdotes of how my life started falling apart. How I choked down vegan meat substitutes, sat stunned for hours watching The View, and yawned through the services of a rainbow “Community Church” in the posh, gay part of Dallas. Maybe it could culminate with me doing something really extreme, like trying to read all the way through a whole issue of The Atlantic.
Remember SNL? Don’t Be Like SNL
But it would take a genius satirist on the order of Evelyn Waugh to pull off such a stunt without the result being tiresome. I know how lame the writers on Saturday Night Live appear when they try to make fun of conservatives. They always end up putting Wall Street bankers in Confederate trucker caps, and depict them trading Hitler salutes or French-kissing AR-15s.
That’s what comes when you try to do something creative without either genuine knowledge or the slightest trace of empathy. You spew out great big shiny gobs of hackery, which your own side gobbles up like Purina Partisan Chow, but nobody thinks you’ve achieved anything.
Instead of that, I want to write, over the next few columns, something more genuine. I won’t pick on the silly details of the stuff Progressives happen to like — their answers to Bibles, guns, and bacon — and write bad sketches about them. Instead, I want to take the actual principles that seem to animate leftist thinking on three or four key topics and follow them out to their consequences. Then see what it would be like to try and consistently hold such views, even live them out.
I don’t think it will be pretty. Stay tuned.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”