When did being a liberal mean you had to be a crank?
Published 16/05/2014 | 02:30
When I was younger ... Well, when I was younger I never thought I'd reach the decrepit age where I'd start a column with the phrase 'when I was younger.'
But, when I was younger, there were clearly defined battle lines in what would later come to be called the 'culture wars.' In other words, there were certain issues that decided whether you were a liberal or a conservative and ne'er the twain would meet.
Conservatives were, of course, pretty horrible people. They were the ones who were opposed to basic, common sense freedoms such as divorce, contraception and gay rights; they were happy to demonise young, single mothers; they were willing to criminalise abortion and censor English newspapers such as The Guardian for the sin of carrying ads for the Marie Stopes clinic.
And for any good, upstanding liberal kid, they were a clear and present threat to Ireland ever actually dragging its arse into the latter part of the 20th Century – roughly around the same time as the rest of the world was looking forward to the arrival of the 21st.
But being liberal meant just that – it meant someone who, to use one dictionary definition was: "Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry."
And that seems pretty simple and extremely noble, does it not?
After all, there were plenty of established, traditional, orthodox and authoritarian voices in this country who were quite happy to keep the status quo; from the Church to political parties to the teachers who warned us of the sins of homosexuality – although pederasty was acceptable, as long as you were in the right job.
We were a subservient, docile and cowed people who looked on dissenting voices with scorn – which is why I can remember entire classes being taken up by demented middle-aged men railing against Nell McCafferty or Gay Byrne or, particularly, Tony Gregory.
That wasn't part of the curriculum, of course. Well, not officially. But it seldom took much to persuade certain teachers to forget about their actual job and spend the next 40 minutes railing against the Lefties and the feminists and the sinister 'gay agenda', as if a bunch of testosterone-addled teenage boys were going to decide to turn gay because we were interested in what a young firebrand called David Norris had to say on The Late Late.
And if there was one thing we all knew we could count on, it was the fact that liberals were simply smarter than the old conservatives – and, of course, the music was better.
Even when I initially stumbled into this trade, you could immediately tell from looking at a letter which one was from a religious fanatic and which was from a nice, urbane, hip liberal type.
Because all the hate mail, and I mean all the hate mail came from people so wound up in their conservative, religious orthodoxy that they essentially qualified as being mentally ill – or, as the experts like to call, bat shit crazy. That was the way of the world and we were all fine with that.
I was a liberal then and I'm a liberal now in the sense that I'm all for equal rights, gay marriage, parity of esteem for women in the workplace, the legalisation of drugs and the belief that people should be allowed to enjoy their peccadilloes without being hassled by The Man.
So can anyone answer me one question – when did liberals become such intolerant assholes? When did liberals become the cranks who send hate mail and threats and dire warnings of the consequences of not obeying their edicts?
Because at some point the hate mail stopped coming from the Catholic mother of 29 who denounced tampons as occasions of sin.
Now they are far more likely to come from someone who will be attached to some spurious charity or quango or self-appointed body that exists only in the Twittersphere of their imagination, usually with that meaningless phrase 'human rights' in the title.
Having spent most of the history of this State fighting the good fight against oppression, intellectual tyranny and censorship it is baffling, and dismaying, to see how quickly and adroitly self-professed 'liberals' use those same tools against their enemies.
There are certain factors which contribute to this, of course. For starters, the Catholic mother of 29 has largely died off by now. And as such antediluvian artefacts as handwritten letters gave way to electronic communication, maybe liberals are simply better at using the internet.
But as we see journalists reported to the police for expressing a valid opinion, or calls for boycotts of anyone who deviates from the accepted line, one things is clear – liberals have become their own parents. Or, to be more precise, the liberalism that fought for progress 30 years has grown up and become, to use that dictionary definition: "established, traditional, orthodox and authoritarian."
For gay marriage but think Panti is a self-aggrandising attention-seeking phoney? Then you're a homophobe.
Think it's wrong to stone women to death or fly planes into buildings? Then you're Islamophobic. Accept that there are fundamental, biological differences between men and women? Why, you're a sexist pig who wants to keep women in chains.
Support the one country in the Middle East that actually thrives on liberal, democratic values? Then you're a Zionist neo-con. And a bigot.
Argue in defence of the idea of America?
You're a Yanky shill.
In fact, the simple truth is that modern liberalism is profoundly morally compromised and more ethically confused than the staid, dull, religious zealots they used to battle against. But most disgracefully of all, liberalism has now become so intolerant of dissent that they are worse than the people they replaced.
That's why we'd all do well to remember the words of South Park's Matt Stone: "I hate conservatives. But I really f***ing hate liberals."
Liberals are supposed to be the good guys, but at some point, they became just as authoritarian, unthinking and loathsome as the traditionalists they hate so much.
And they wonder why nobody takes them seriously ...