There’s something, as a dyed-in-the-wool Leftie, that I’ve never fully understood about my ideological opponents. Between them the Centre and the Right have governed New Zealand for almost its entire history, they have ample amplification via the media, they’re well funded by people who like the idea of low-taxes and state subsidies of low wages for workers. They’re the winners of life, the hard-grafters who made it all by themselves without any help from hard-left organisations like the public health or education system, or those roads they drive on every single day. They are the men (mostly, let’s be honest) who have it all.
And yet, despite all of this, there is a common insecurity which reveals itself on a regular basis. Whether it’s Mark Richardson getting aggro about a woman having a job and a child, a Christchurch tradie with a history of quite nasty abuse turning books over or that weird obsession Kate Hawkesby has with Meghan Markle, it seems any sort of material change to their perception of the world; a young woman in a position of power, a young woman in a position of power, or a young woman of colour in a position of power – unleashes an uncontrollable fear that everything that they know, the world that gave them everything (which they earned on their own, thanks) is slipping from their grasp.
This fear only increases when you highlight it. The last few weeks have seen no less than three comment pieces which utilise one of the examples above, and the mix of anger and mocking it provoked on Twitter, as an excuse to very pain-stakingly explain What Is Wrong With The Left.
As far as I can tell, the problem is that the Left is not nice enough to people, because after all – we’re supposed to be the nice ones. The Left is supposed to care (except not in the way that the Prime Minister does because people protest about it) and by taking a zero-tolerance line on sexism, racism and bigotry they’re not caring about the sexist, racist bigots out there like they’re supposed to. How, we are told, is the Left going to ever win if it’s not going to appeal to the many sexist, racists and bigots who weren’t ever going to vote for us anyway because there are plenty of other parties out there who openly traffic in all of those prejudices anyway?
This argument seems to rest on the idea that people don’t like being told their views are sexist, racist or bigoted, which is because the Left is just too damn offended all the damn time. And this, we are told, is a bigger problem than other people being the victims of sexism, racism or bigotry which is actually naturally occurring event like the Australian bushfires and is therefore responsibility of nobody. And this is where that fear comes sweeping back in, like a great big cloud of dirty smoke from a bushfire your Uncle on facebook says was definitely set by those Lefties in Extinction Rebellion.
That fear is why it’s never about the chorus of islamophobia which accompanies the book-turning campaign, the incredibly lazy stereotyping of Maori or Pacific communities or the horrendous misogynist abuse that politicians like Jacinda Ardern and Golriz Ghahrahman experience every single day – all of which comes from people implacably opposed to the Left. It can’t be about that, because to accept that the Right have some deep-rooted prejudices that deteriorate both the lives of individuals and the fabric of society itself would mean recognising not only that they have a problem, but that the Left has a bloody good point.
And what is it that underlies the insistence that the Left sort itself out, this repetition of the things the Left must do? It’s a demand for change. Or rather, a demand that the Left stop demanding change. Stop insisting a better world is possible, because it isn’t. And while you’re at it, you could be nicer, because you don’t get anywhere without being nice. Look at Mark Richardson. Or don’t. Actually, don’t.
The idea that the world is changing, has changed and will continue to change is critical to the insecurity both of Centrists, who haven’t worked out third-way politics are useless in a post-GFC climate crisis world, and the Right, who decry identity politics while simultaneously insisting sexism, racism and bigotry are unchangeable and protected identity qualities of the majority of New Zealanders. The Left, by comparison, has always recognised the necessity of accepting, welcoming and forcing change in order to make the world better.
The Left identified that the beginning of the forever wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan would be a calamitous disaster that would poison the politics of participating nations while draining them of money. Those damn Left Greenies have been banging on about climate change for nearly half a century now, and spent most of that time being dismissed as boneless tofu eaters right up until everything started to either die or catch fire.
We don’t separate out the need to handle a refugee crisis that’s only going to get worse, transition to a low-carbon economy that doesn’t see us all catch malaria in 2090 and root out and destroy prejudices that harm our society. Because they’re all part of the same thing. Make the world a better place. What’s wrong with the left? We’re not doing it fast enough.