Over the past few years the advice of people I hold in high regard as well as some valuable mistakes of mine have taught me it is best only to speak when you have something to say. This is not an ethos befitting the Liberal Youth Chatbox. I am currently running for the position of treasurer in the upcoming Liberal Youth by-election and while I by no means expect to end up on the federal executive I have as a result of my bid been more closely observing the chatbox than ever before. I would like to speak, because I have something to say.
There was a time in my life when I only respected the political left wing. There was another, much shorter time in my life when I only respected the political right wing. Now however I have found my self respecting integrity above all else, and the thing I admire most about the Liberal Democrats is if you were to stand up in front of a crowd of 1000 of us and explain holistically and eloquently why you think we are all wrong, we would applaud you for disagreeing with us so damn well. It’s the integrity and humility in that culture that I wholeheartedly believe is deeply British, deeply liberal and deeply lacking from so many political and activist communities I have tried to contribute to. Yet counterintuitively, social media has taken that integrity and humility and divided it into groups that shrink more and more every day as we give up, turn off our notifications and get on with everything else.
There’s a lot of talk around factions going on at the moment and the general consensus seems to be that there are two, though defining them is very difficult because they seem to define themselves in opposition to each other. Broadly speaking we have one group of men’s rights activists (or hearty liberals with a sense of humour depending on your perspective), and another group of sensitive censors (or empathetic progressives depending on your perspective) and they don’t seem to like each other very much. On top of these two a new third faction is emerging, one I may be placing myself in as I write these words, that has resigned itself to repeating the same old tired diagnoses of the chatbox’s culture until presumably there’s no one left to hear them.
Now this disagreement in itself is not a bad thing, I celebrate diversity in the Liberal Youth. The problem is the culture of dogma, be it social liberal dogma or classical liberal dogma or feminist liberal dogma, we have the opportunity to communicate in ways no one before us has and instead of community and understanding we have a curious tribalism with little to no real dialogue. I’ve studied enough theology to tell you dogma is never good; collective good only comes out of compromise from immense diversity with respect for each other’s differences and autonomy. Your own integrity is useless without respect for other people’s.
The upshot is, I’m concerned that we’ve forgotten what we’re here for. We have so much to learn from each other! Perhaps some of us need to learn to take a joke, perhaps some of us need to learn when joking isn’t appropriate. Perhaps some of us are too intransigent on our unfalsifiable feminist theory, perhaps some of us need to read The Second Sex. Perhaps we’re too comfortable to challenge ourselves and let go of our certainties, perhaps we are speaking even when we have nothing to say. What are we here for? I’m here to learn from people who are different to me and disagree with me, yet time and time again when I ask someone on the chatbox a simple question about how they have come to believe what they do I never get a response. Why?