Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Political Labels and Identity

I like to stir things up. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has known me for any length of time. Sometimes I make a statement about myself or my beliefs, and watch the reactions. It's not that I like to be the center of attention or spend copious amounts of time navel-gazing, or even that I enjoy agitating people I care about. It's none of those things. I find the reactions of others tell me a lot about themselves, and in the process, gives me greater insights into what I believe and why. It's a constant process of self-realization and refinement. When done properly, it can even deepen friendships.

Social media streamlines this process. On Facebook, one of the profile questions one can answer concerns political beliefs. I have put everything here from "liberal" (but not in the political party sort of way) to "left-wing, granola-crunching, tree-hugger" (my personal favourite). Yesterday, I changed it to "slightly left of centre" and posted a status update to reflect that.

And then, the comments came flying in.

"That's the understatement of the year."

"Your idea of of center may be a bit out of calibration."

"I'm with ----, except a bit may be just a tad to little. Perhaps a tad right of left extremist might be more the description I would use."

Now, my pat answers are as follows:

1) The year has just begun.

2) The centre of what?

3) I am hardly an extremist.

Facetiousness aside, I really started to wonder if a proportion of my friends honestly view me as an extremist. Moi? I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, or sleep around. I dress modestly. I practise a faith that many of my activist friends consider to be right-wing and patriarchal and have family ideas that can sometimes seem old-fashioned in today's world.

And in some ways, I think this might be the problem. People are not comfortable with what they cannot label and put in a box. I hardly fit the stereotype of a left-wing activist. At first glance, I am a professional, straight-laced, laid back woman. Talk to me for a while, and you will learn about my involvement in the local peace community, my thoughts on the failings of capitalism, the reasons why I am for democracy but why it is not working in our society, and my feelings about labour unions (both positive and negative.

I suppose that can all seem very radical to someone who espouses different views that are either in the centre or to the right of said middle. This begs the question: what is the centre, and who defines it? Our society has progressively shifted to the right over the past few decades. I've had the labels "socialist" and "commie" hurled at me simply for criticizing capitalism (as if any economic system is perfect), or or suggesting the government needs to do more to fight homelessness and poverty.

Our differences should not be cause for hostility. When conversations, whether online or in person, dissolve into ad hominum attacks, I turn off, tune out, and drop away. Rather, we should discuss our differences and in doing so, learn about each other and grow as friends. This is one of the ways in which we build a better society. I have friends of all political and religious stripes. We're friends because we like each other, not because we agree on everything. Let's quit focusing on how we are different, and concentrate on what we have in common.


Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

If it helps, I put you as extreme left of centre; a category you share with Ed Stelmach, George W. Bush, and Stephen Harper.

Alain Saffel said...

It's good that you stand up for what you believe, no matter what the label is that people put on you.

Unfortunately Canadian politics is going the way of US politics, which is the politics of hate. This idea that we need to utterly destroy our political opponents is dangerous, destructive and undermining our civil society.

Frankly, it makes us no better than the terrorists we're fighting.

Labelling is usually the first shot with people like this.