Does it ever frustrate you? That even after losing two general elections in a row (and by massive margins), liberals still seem to hold a psychological edge over the right? That every time, we end up rushing to them, asking the ‘intolerance gang’ and ‘award wapsi gang’ and ‘tukde gang’ to speak up on this or that. As if their reaction is the only thing that matters. As if nothing means anything unless validated by a liberal.
And I am as guilty of this as anyone else. Perhaps even more guilty than the average online right-winger.
But please hear me out on this.
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Let me give you a small example. In your social media interactions, perhaps even with friends on Facebook, you must have come across this phenomenon.
Liberal posts something from <insert usual leftist website/news channel>
RW: X, Y and Z in that article are wrong. Point number 3, 4 and 7 in that article is hypocritical. This website is biased. Why won’t it talk about A, B and C?
Liberal: Shut up you idiot, don’t do whataboutism.
RW posts something from a right-wing website or news channel.
RW: Hey liberal, see this!
Liberal: LOL! Fake news. F*ck it.
Now, neither side managed to convert anyone, as arguments rarely do. But there is a crucial difference between how a right-winger treats a liberal website and a liberal treats a right-wing website.
The liberal will dismiss the right-wing website as fake and stupid, without even clicking on it.
The right-winger will actually read what the liberal posted, get angry and try to poke holes in it.
Of course, it is a good thing to be informed about opposing viewpoints before picking on them. But do you see what happened here? The left-wing website got due respect and validation from *both* sides of the aisle. By engaging with it, the right-winger helped make the left-wing website appear like a genuinely authoritative source of information, providing a viewpoint worthy of respect.
The liberal, on the other hand, treated the right-wing website with outright contempt, refusing to engage with it, dismissing it as fake by definition.
Globally, how did all the ‘authoritative’ sources of information get to be far left? Like the New York Times or BBC? Precisely because the right-wing keeps walking into this trap every single time.
Read: The BBC research on ‘fake news’ is shoddy, unethical, dishonest, and actually an example of fake news
Do you remember the contempt from liberals when Deepak Chaurasia was attacked at Shaheen Bagh a few days ago? Republic TV crew have also been attacked, heckled, manhandled. Just yesterday, the Zee News crew was attacked and dragged by anti-CAA rioters. But see the liberal reactions: each one saying that Chaurasia or Zee News or Republic are not “journalists” at all.
Why not? Because Zee News refused to accept that people at Shaheen Bagh are magically receiving “kudrati khaana” directly from heaven?
But see how liberals don’t give even an inch to their adversaries, refusing to treat them with even an iota of respect.
Rather they make the right-wing run around in circles, arguing and begging with the liberals to say a word about this or that. As if liberals have a conscience.
The good news is that we can do to them exactly what they do to us. We can frustrate them with our strategic silence on what they want to talk about. Let them be the ones begging with us to utter a word on this or that. Let’s act like we can’t hear them. Let’s talk about what we feel is important and act as if we cannot even hear their outrage, let alone respond to it. Let them foam at the mouth.
What explains this psychological edge that liberals enjoy? It’s a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy that the left has sowed in us through its decades of control over every textbook, every newspaper, every magazine and every TV channel.
Read: Dear New York Times, India has chosen Modi 2.0, deal with it
This was their backup plan. They knew they could lose elections someday, but they would retain the right to “validate” things, an abstract power that cannot be measured in real terms. And as long as they held that power, the right, even if it won elections, would feel inadequate and insecure, seeking out their approval.
I’ll give you another example. Every now and then, there’s a liberal out there who calls the right-wing uneducated, illiterate or something like that. This leads to a flood of responses, with right-wingers announcing their educational degrees and professional success.
If you think about it, that’s a huge psychological victory for the liberal. It’s not like they didn’t know there were educated and successful people on the right. But they still managed to bait the right and get under their skin. They’re enjoying this.
Remember that the Indian liberal has spent decades rubbing their noses on the ground before a political dynasty whose leading lights have rarely managed to finish college.
Indira Gandhi wasn’t a college graduate.
Rajiv Gandhi wasn’t a college graduate.
Sanjay Gandhi wasn’t a college graduate.
Sonia Gandhi isn’t a college graduate!
How could the loyalists of this dynasty manage to make other people insecure about their education? Only because the other side let them do it.
If the right had treated liberals with as much condescension as the liberals treat the right, this would never have happened.
Now, let me give you an example of something that the right did very successfully, which can serve as an instructive model. In the 2007-2014 period, at the dawn of social media in India, the right-wing became an early adopter of possibilities offered by technology. They used this very successfully to turn the establishment candidate for ‘youth icon’ into a clown prince that everyone laughed at. And his career simply never recovered. Even liberals today are shy to defend him. Whenever it comes to him, it is liberals who are inadequate, feeling insecure, playing catch up, trying to prop him somehow. The outright contempt for him worked. It became the default across the political spectrum.
Of course, social media was a new thing. The right had the first-mover advantage. The left has certainly levelled the playing field long ago. But see the power of defaults. Despite the fact that the left has just as much power on social media, they struggle to validate their leader. Every few days they dust him up and beg before the right for validation. Do you concede he has grown up now? How about now? Okay, now?
Now you can see the structural reasons why the left still has a psychological edge in everything else. They got to set all the defaults. The right is still very new in power. Like a teenager, they want to rebel against the established ways, but they also crave validation from the very generation they rebel against!
But all this can change. The right can set its own terms and absolutely refuse to give respect unless the respect is returned in equal measure. In other words, this is about growing up! Let’s make this happen.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar – A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.