I have been on Facebook for over ten years now, and my interactions have brought me to a couple points of emphasis in political discussions.
1. Properly defined, as opposed to how it’s commonly misunderstood, liberalism is the fearless pursuit of the truth premised on universal (as opposed to identity-based) human rights. Fear of the truth is reactionary, not liberal. Can you be both a political conservative and a liberal according to this definition? Of course. Some of my friends prefer to qualify “liberal” in this sense with “classical.” Fair enough, I’m increasingly isolated on the field defending “liberalism” this way, but I’m not ready to capitulate.
2. Censorship aids evil, and it does so by indulging stupidity, which I define as self-satisfied ignorance. Stupidity serves evil as a useful tool; it does not serve good as a useful tool. Gandalf the White wasn’t afraid of knowledge; he lamented cruelty and Sauron’s power to counterfeit the truth for evil ends. Censorship disarms intelligent and good people. Logical arguments pierce the veils of both outrage and blandishment. I know this is challenging. Much of what defends itself with the shield of “art” is exploitative and facile. But censorship prevents committed artists from facing up to dishonesty, and therefore being able fulfill their charge.
Very hard facts confront us daily, and the reality of evil is one, but as a philosophical essentialist, I conclude along with more spiritually minded people that Goodness is not ultimately relative and that the mere continuation of our existence — always in legitimate doubt — defies nihilism, and we should celebrate life and freedom and patiently defend them against the confused.
And here’s my well-worn formula for avoiding confusion in political discussion: a liberal appreciates and observes modes of discourse. Politics and art and the search for understanding through logic are separate modes. The political mode is a necessary evil, but don’t deceive yourself:
The political mode is the enemy of the truth.
Chew on that. If your professors have made you think otherwise, they have been trying to indoctrinate you. To pursue the truth, you must lay politics aside and proceed humbly and fearlessly. And expect a lot of failure. Politics is about the negotiation of power; it can be pursued in good faith but it must choose to elevate some facts and downplay others and to draw conclusions from insufficient evidence. (Art is the pursuit of human emotional truth. The objective mode is the search for logical truth. The political mode, as I’ve just observed, is the negotiation of power. The same object of discussion can be approached in different modes. I wish I had clarified this for myself in my teens!)
Reactionaries on the left and right indulge the same literalism and despair. They do not trust God. (And if you cannot engage the idea of God even figuratively, you suffer a big handicap.) “The truth will set you free” is a liberal sentiment. The person who says, “We must never talk about that because it’s inconvenient,” either spiritually or politically inconvenient, lives in a Lovecraftian universe in which God is absent, or at best an impotent flame in the drafty dark, and where “it was not meant that we should voyage far.”
As we enter a new decade, I entreat myself and my friends to have hope, and to voyage far.