The Whine of Voracious Liberals
Does the extremism of some progressives spell danger to delicious evolution? Well, yes
I hear it nearly every week in response to nearly any column that has anything to do with me daring to say I appreciate or admire or moderately wish to commend some sort of progressive movement or corporation or product, one that appears to be creating some sort of good in the world, moving things forward or upending the status quo or infuriating the religious right and making you think/shop/screw anew.
I get the e-mails. And there is, by and large, a general outpouring of agreement, understanding, clarity. There are also lots of healthy disagreement, discussion, valid points of contention. There is the requisite tiny hunk of phlegmy, grunting hate mail from the turgid and the monosyllabic and the neoconservative. Well and good and lovely.
But then there's this other hunk, a surprisingly large and very whiny group of responders who invariably say something like this: It does not matter that Company X has made impressive strides in environmental awareness or product design or gay rights or whatever the hell you're talking about. It does not matter that maybe you're a little bit right and this is a slightly revolutionary thing you mention.
It is still not enough. Company X has Serious Flaws. Product Y still kills trees in Bangladesh. CEO Z hates kittens and wears fur mittens and once said something mean about transsexual midgets. Therefore, you are completely wrong and I cannot believe you support this company/idea and this must mean you're a capitalist idiot Audi-driving hypocrite and I'm never reading your column again. Unless I do. So there.
Specific example? Sure. I recently wrote a big pile of words in tentative but still enthusiastic praise of the Whole Foods juggernaut, a fascinating and innovative mega-grocer led by an equally fascinating, contradictory jerk/genius of a chief executive, John Mackey, half cutthroat libertarian mega-capitalist and half spiritual yoga-loving employee-supporting industry-upending revolutionary.
Here's where it got ugly: While most readers generally agreed (or thoughtfully disagreed) with my assessment that the positive changes Whole Foods is forcing upon the otherwise rather toxic American grocery universe far outweighed the scattershot negatives, a significant chunk were, if not furious, at least sneering and bitter and dissatisfied, wailing to me that, oh my God, didn't I know John Mackey is, for example, anti-union? (Well, yes, I did.)
Well then, didn't I know he used questionable business tactics to buy out Wild Oats? Didn't I know Whole Foods has shoved some mom 'n' pop grocers out of business and didn't I know some small organic farmers don't like their buying power and didn't I know that not everything they offer is totally organic and by the way haven't I noticed their stores are staffed by way too many grungy sullen tattooed hipsters and aren't tattoos and nose rings totally ugly and gross? Uh, sure.
And finally, didn't I know that this one time Reader X got some horrible customer service and Reader Y once encountered snooty patrons and Reader Z can't believe I like them given that they sell bananas imported all the way from Guatemala and therefore Whole Foods is detestable and hateful and blah and blah and blah?
It was like reading a stack of letters from your nasty, drunk hippie grandparents. It was like having a potential lover suddenly slap you for no reason and then tell you their laundry list of impossible needs and STD precautions and all the reasons you can never touch them again, despite how you never really wanted to in the first place.
And here's why: Such letters are all too similar in tone and attitude to the stance of the fundamentalist Christian right, the bitter and perpetually unsatisfied throngs for whom no behavioral law is strict enough and no relationship is unhappy enough and no repressed homosexual desire is self-hating enough.
Let's compare. Because I also recently wrote a piece in celebration of the glorious downfall of the Godmongers in America, the end (at least for now) of the radical Christian right's influence over a wary and dogma-stomped society.
I cheered the collapse of the insufferable "family values" fundamentalist groups that, until recently, controlled much of Congress and yanked Bush's puppet strings and have done so much damage to women and gays and science and love and sex and hope, lo, these past seven years. (Check that: 2,000 years. But that's another column.)
The reason for their glorious collapse? Insatiable zealotry. The fact that, no matter how far to the right BushCo shoved this nation, for this hardcore base of fear-drunk evangelicals, it was never enough. They want nothing short of the complete destruction of gay culture, abortion rights, the end of the separation of church and state. They want, in short, absolute sexual, ideological, and moral lockdown.
To which I responded: Yay! Because ultimately, this sort of rabid zealotry spells certain defeat. Such moronic groups have the seeds of their own destruction built right into their impossible worldviews. Brutal absolutism is their one fatal flaw. So long as it exists (and it always has existed), progress and evolution will always win.
It's an obvious parallel, to see an uber-progressive left that, while encompassing an entirely different ethos (extreme openness and egalitarianism versus extreme clampdown and religious ignorance), still resonates with the same kind of impossible standards of behavior. It's like demanding that the whole world instantly turn into one big PETA rally. There is just no way. I mean, thank God.
Whole Foods is but one example. I've heard the same outcry when I praise, say, Apple product design (which, I admit, is nearly always). It happens when I suggest CFLs are a small but terrific environmental advancement (but don't I know they contain trace amounts of mercury and disposing of them might possibly be a problem in 10 years maybe!?)
And it happens, perhaps most disturbingly, when I write of fitful political progress. It happens across the liberal political blogs, where otherwise well-informed, intelligent commentators will screech that they were once, say, a Barack Obama supporter, but then they heard him say one single thing that sounded "too political" or that wasn't in exact accord with their pet issue of (nukes/war/gays/health care/porn/medical marijuana), and hence they got all pissed and disgusted and now they hate hate hate Obama and are voting for Dennis Kucinich. I mean, please.
On the one hand, I get it. We want to hold progressive companies/people to a higher standard, especially if they want to market themselves as these high-concept change-the-world do-gooders. We, as conscious, informed, progressive consumers have every goddamn right to keep their feet to the liberal fire, and what's more, this zeal has often resulted in a given company/person responding positively. (Ref: Apple's impressive green initiative, Whole Foods working more closely with local farms, et al.)
But ultimately, this sort of excessive, all-or-nothing liberal zealotry will only result in the same dangerous fracturing as always befalls the extreme right. Yes, it seems fairly obvious, but it bears repeating, over and over again, especially as Dems gain more political traction and we head into what will hopefully be a far more enlightened, juicy, and balanced era, where gays marry and wars end and dolphins dance and trees sing and President Jobs gives everyone an organic iPhone.
What, too extreme? Sorry.
Thoughts for the author? E-mail him. Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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