This blog is, in many ways, devoted to answering the question of whether Millennials will survive the Left. In short, will liberalism’s penchant for big government and disdain for liberty inexorably put us on a path to losing our unique American identity.
But in an unexpected twist some left-leaning publications have been forced to ask the inverse of that question. The New York Times over the weekend ran a story by author Lionel Shriver entitled “Will the Left Survive Millennials,” in which she was forced to defend the notion that fiction writers should be allowed to write fiction.
The saga began when Shriver gave a talk at the Brisbane Writers Festival, arguing that authors “should not let concerns about ‘cultural appropriation’ constrain our creation of characters from different backgrounds than our own” because without that ability “there is no fiction, but only memoir.”
“Taken to their logical conclusion, ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all,” Shriver declared. “Meanwhile, the kind of fiction we are ‘allowed’ to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that we’d indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with.”
The speech met with almost instantaneous backlash. One attendee whose response was published in The Guardian, told of how she was forced to get up, turn to her mother and say, “I cannot legitimize this…”, before leaving the talk.
“It was a poisoned package wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension,” the attendee wrote. “The stench of privilege hung heavy in the air, and I was reminded of my ‘place’ in the world.”
She would go on to argue that author’s ability to profit by writing of other people’s experiences is not just appropriation, but the latest example of colonialism “where everything was taken from a people, the world over.” She goes on to label Shriver’s attitude as one of “I want this, and therefore I shall take it,” and “Your experience is simply a tool for me to use, because you are less human than me. You are less human…”
Unsurprisingly, Schriver was shocked, not just as a writer, but as a self-professed liberal.
“As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts – by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy,” Schriver responded in the New York Times. “There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy.”
This type of back-and-forth is more than just a dispute between two authors. It’s more than just a philosophical discussion of privilege and appropriation. It’s an attack on a fundamental freedom that could have serious political implications. As Ross Douthat writes for the New York Times:
First, within the liberal tent, they have dramatically raised expectations for just how far left our politics can move, while insulating many liberals from the harsh realities of political disagreement in a sprawling, 300-plus million person republic. Among millennials, especially, there’s a growing constituency for whom right-wing ideas are so alien or triggering, left-wing orthodoxy so pervasive and unquestioned, that supporting a candidate like Hillary Clinton looks like a needless form of compromise. …
At the same time, outside the liberal tent, the feeling of being suffocated by the left’s cultural dominance is turning voting Republican into an act of cultural rebellion — which may be one reason the Obama years, so good for liberalism in the culture, have seen sharp G.O.P. gains at every level of the country’s government.
But as Shriver’s screed makes clear – it’s not just those outside the liberal tent that are beginning to feel suffocated by the left’s tendency towards cultural sanitization. It’s also increasingly difficult to see how young adults, who reject conformity and fight for the ability to customize their lives, will stay wedded to the ever-more militant brand of social censorship.
The day is coming when the left’s cultural orthodoxy pushes voters towards cool-by-comparison conservatism. We embrace freedom, we relish debate, and we thrive on the controlled chaos that comes from letting individuals do what they want. That’s political punk rock compared to the stuffy elitism emanating from the left’s ivory towers. And unless liberals evolve, they won’t survive.