My dad always told me that religion and politics should never be discussed in polite conversation. It’s advice that has stood me in good stead, and if you met me socially you wouldn’t necessarily know my views on either. That was until Facebook came along.
When I met my girlfriend, a Labour-voting, Left-wing feminist, she was horrified to discover (after some impressive Facebook stalking) that I had committed the triple sin of being a Brexiteer, voting Conservative and entertaining the idea that Donald Trump might not actually be the second coming of Adolf Hitler. Over time and after many ‘interesting’ debates, she came to understand my conservative point of view and now, on occasion, she even agrees with me (gasp!)
With my girlfriend convinced I wasn’t about to start goose-stepping to the polling station at the next election, the bigger challenge became her Leftie friends. She had already expressed concern about this proverbial clash of civilisations, asking gently if it was really necessary for me to share all those Right-wing (meaning anything right of Marx) articles on Facebook.
For a long time it wasn’t an issue, as her friends remained strangers online, but subsequent meetings and a need to ‘tag’ me in photographs made our digital date with destiny inevitable. Sure enough, at the next party I attended after the collective ‘friending’ session, I was confronted by two of her group who asked me to explain why I followed such deplorable characters as Theresa May, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. What was I, some kind of Right-wing lunatic? I calmly explained that I just liked to stay informed and hear a variety of opinions, but it was obvious that my character was in question and the onus was on me to explain myself.
Now, I don’t want to blow this incident out of proportion, but it wasn’t as if I was being challenged on things I had actually written; rather it was an offence for me simply to follow certain people and share certain articles. The content of these articles didn’t seem to matter, with people just eager to jump on some perceived offence, reacting like one of Pavlov’s dogs to a key word that had been triggered by the social justice part of their brain – ‘Muslim’, ‘Black’, ‘immigrant’, ‘Brexit’, ‘Trump’. In truth, the real offence was caused by the simple fact that they were hearing a point of view that differed from their own.
This will no doubt leave me open to accusations of partisanship, but from my experience this aggressive kind of thought-policing is predominantly a feature of the Left. Which is no wonder, as we live in a time when the culture as a whole is predominantly of the Left. And this incident didn’t occur in a vacuum. Whether it’s colleagues assuming I voted Remain and Labour (because to do otherwise would be unthinkable) or a teacher friend telling me he was genuinely concerned how his job might be affected if he expressed his conservative opinions online, this owning of the culture has created a Left that feels emboldened and entitled to judge, admonish and intimidate its political opponents.