Monday, June 10, 2019

I am illiberal?

You know how it goes when you are in your teens and tweens. You just love the idea of labeling yourself - atheist, cynic, what have you. More often than not, it is a label that is the in-thing for the day, for what is the point in troubling to label yourself only to be a rank outsider for all your peers? And, in my time, liberal was the thing to be and, so, I counted myself a liberal.

Generally, once you label yourself, you tend to stick to the damn thing like Fevikwik, because it is normally too much trouble to change labels. The fact, though, is that I never ever felt the NEED to change it, for I liked liberalism and would have been a closet liberal if it had not been the in-thing of the day. (Yeah, right, I never did have the guts to wear an unpopular opinion on my sleeve, so?)

To my utter and complete surprise, I am now discovering that I really am no liberal nor can ever be one. A few run-ins on social media and I find that I had been duping myself all along thinking that I was a liberal when I was no such thing after all.

I mean, there was this Sabarimala issue and I venture an opinion saying that I really did not see where 'Right to Worship' was such a huge thing there. I probably lack imagination but the way I saw it was this. You are a person who believes that your benefits - spiritual, material or whatever - derive from worshiping ONE specific deity out of all the multifarious deities which have temples in this land (It is not like this country is stingy with its deities, nothing like the only ONE which other religions have to make do with. You even have some who admit devotion only by women.) AND that there are certain specific benefits conferred by the deity when you worship THAT deity in THAT specific temple and not in the other ones where you are not prohibited from entering. So, you have belief in that deity's powers to confer benefits on you but NOT in its powers or intent to punish you for breaking a prohibition which is supposedly put in place by the wishes of that deity. An atheist would believe in neither and, thus, dare to enter but an atheist really does not want to worship so no right to worship is involved, is there? But someone devout and, yet, believes in the benefits and not the negative consequences? How many such people can there really be, whose right to worship is affected? And, so, I said that the brouhaha about it probably cost far more in the antipathy it generated about feminism, even among women, compared to the benefits that it could give.

You know what, the very people who scream 'ad hominem' (attacking the person instead of attacking only his ideas), when it is practiced on them, started calling me male chauvinist and bhakt and what have you. I mean, even when you say I am 'mansplaining' what you actually mean is that I am the sort who mansplains, which is a personal attack and not an explanation of WHY what I am saying is mansplaining. (Not that I may not be mansplaining but, if I am, I really do NOT know where I am wrong nor was I enlightened by the responses I got.) If I had only been vituperative or dismissive, if I had offered no argument of my own, I can understand the reaction but not when I had some reason to offer. THEN I expect my reasons to be demolished, not my character.

And then there was the time I took the stance in favor of capital punishment. For me, it was more a discussion of the pros and cons and, in my opinion, the pros outweighed the cons, which may only mean that the importance I give to the pros may be more than what others did. And, then, I was called a 'bloodbayer' and such, to my total consternation. (Well, as it turned out, comes Nirbhaya case, a lot of those who did not favor capital punishment turned 'bloodbayers' too, which just goes to show that the weights we assign to the pros and cons of any social idea CAN change with circumstances.)

There was this other time when, again, I offered a contra-view to what was being postulated by someone. That person, apparently, periodically checks for whether India is still a democracy and kindly made me privy to the fact that the last he checked it still was. And that it conferred a Freedom of Expression which I had no right to interfere with. Strangely, though, when they offer a contra opinion on MY posts, and I even just argue against it, AGAIN it is THEIR freedom of expression that is under threat. After long exposure to Social Media, I have had to conclude that EVERYONE ELSE has freedom of expression except me.

Quite possibly true that. I have gone dizzy tracking the terms of liberalism, which keep sprouting every other day, and I tick all the wrong boxes. There is cis (I thought I had left it behind in college, where cis-isomers and trans-isomers were one of my banes in Organic Chemistry. Never realized that they would use 'cis' to indicate those who are not transsexuals), there is 'het' (heterosexual, I think), then there is male, and there is Savarna - and I tick ALL those boxes, the wrong ones. So, yes, I probably am disqualified by my birth from being a liberal and probably also from being allowed freedom of expression.

So, now, I need to be silent and watch for what the general consensus is about any issue and carefully nod assent to them. OR just remain silent. With all those strikes against me, thanks to my birth, my membership in a liberal club is perpetually at risk. A slight misjudgment and I will be a Savarna privilegist or a male chauvinist or a cishet or whatever, ad hominem or no ad hominem.

Par for the course for someone who totally misunderstood liberalism and probably really does not belong in that club. From where I came, liberalism was not a dogma with laid out acceptable beliefs to be followed. It was the idea that one should be open to ALL opinions on ANY sociological phenomenon, assess them on their merits, without regard to or taking recourse to ANY dogma. It is that OPENNESS which formed the basis of liberal THINKING. Liberal IDEAS are a shade different, they are a consensus of what is right (which, again, can be debatable. For example, which side would you take - sanctity of life or the right of a woman over her body, when discussing abortion rights?) If they are not to become just another dogma, then the openness to question them MUST continue to exist.

THAT, unfortunately, has been my downfall, this mistaken idea of what liberalism is all about. For, you see, the way I think of liberalism is impossible to practice. Most ideas and opinions of people are a consequence of ingrained conscious or unconscious biases, and most people are seduced by the idea that they deserve the privileges that society confers on them by birth. So, it means that it is necessary to change the way people THINK and not merely to enforce IDEAS.

To propagate liberal thinking and, thereafter, liberal ideas is a hard grind, patiently explaining their errors to the well-meaning, whose unconscious biases will cause them to make many missteps, and slowly grinding away at the systems that confer unearned privileges depending on birth. If, at the first sight of a misstep or even a different opinion from the well-meaning, you call them a right-wing fanatic, you may as well try to teach a child mathematics by calling it a brainless idiot every time it makes a mistake. All you will cause is, at best, a silent resentment.

The worst, of course, is what is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Just like the child would come to believe that it lacks brains, these people would BECOME what you call them - right-wing fanatics.


  1. What I realized in the weeks leading up to the grand tamasha the elections and the days of shock following the results, is that social media accounts give a strange dimension to people whom you have interacted with in real life. People whom you felt were sane and level-headed make blatant claims and accusations. Anger and rage directed at whom really one will never know. Of late, it is better to remain silent and only open one's mouth or share a thought if one's opinion is asked is the way to go forward. Right wing aa, left wing aa, wingless aa nu one confusion :) As the sage of Arunachala would remark --- 'Silence is the only truth'. Not sure if he remarked thus - just my statement :)

    1. Silence, golden or not, is the safest option. 😛

  2. Haha agree with you completely. I was a liberal but after seeing posts by self-proclaimed liberals, I don’t want to call myself a liberal anymore.

    1. Somehow intolerance of opposing opinions seems to have crept into liberalism

  3. Not sure if my comment got posted or not

    1. Comment moderation is on, so comments don't appear unless approved