Resist the steamroller of illiberal liberalism


Resist the steamroller of illiberal liberalism

The most illiberal feature of liberals can be their attitude to those who do not share their views. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of people in the US and UK identify themselves as conservatives, but a glance at the daily news would have observers believe the world was in the throes of a liberal onslaught. Guaranteeing the freedom to think outside the liberal space is central to ensuring mediocrity does not replace excellence.
There is without a doubt increasing pressure to conform to a liberal outlook, but this kind of political homogeneity of our times is troubling. Aristotle said: “Man is a social animal,” a testament to the fact that humankind are suited best to living in communities. Within such groupings, differences in opinion and perspective are to be expected and indeed should be welcomed. It is no surprise, therefore, that shock election results within the past year highlight a general unease with the forced spoon-feeding of liberalism that has now come to a head.
Learning is in a state of crisis. While contemporary popular music is littered with references to drug taking, the US now has the lowest rate of reading among OECD countries. The falling reading rates in the developed world are not a mark of progress, but rather a stain on societies that value trends over principles and quantity over quality. The replacement of the written word for the screen or image would not be as culturally offensive if the alternative were not so baseless. Postmodernist art and cinema are a symptom of mediocrity, mass-produced endeavors that have consumerism at their core. The evidence of this in cinema is particularly telling, in breeding audiences ill-equipped to appreciate dramatic tension and uninterested in cultural traditions. Good story-telling is increasingly considered to be that which apes the prescribed Hollywood formulae.
Falling reading rates are encouraged by a misguided illiberal liberalism that ridicules intellectual rigor in favor of a shallow education that prefers the passive digestion of information through screens. The advent of fake news has highlighted the gullibility of audiences en masse, unable to differentiate between facts and rumors in an online landscape that has saturated the highest performing (and normally inquisitive) natural machine, the human mind. More than 40 percent of millennials rely on digital outlets for their news, and 23 percent primarily get their news from social media. This poses a serious challenge to their ability to appreciate the complexities of global events, facilitating a news culture that creates false urgency around certain issues while discarding the critical thinking and objectivity that is brought about by the more thorough reporting of events through quality journalism.
 The greatest advances in human civilization were born from inquisitive minds, encouraged to break barriers and provide solutions to what were hitherto intractable problems. There is something concerning about a society that holds intellectualism in disregard at the expense of a laissez-faire attitude to learning that provides people with just enough to go about their daily duties but without the depth to excel. Alexander Graham Bell would not have invented the telephone nor Karl Benz the motorcar had they been discouraged from excelling for fear of creating a society in which everyone was not the same.

The replacement of diversity with singularity, celebrated traditions with shallow popular culture and the rigors of classical education with short videos is an insult to human intelligence.

Zaid M. Belbagi

The assumption that a certain Californian state of mind is ripe for export and should supersede existing modes of thinking is misguided. Humankind is not obliged to subscribe to a value system that completely disregards the social traditions that make up the rich patchwork of humanity. Philosophy comes from the Greek “love of wisdom”; it is inherently a study in the glory of knowledge as opposed to the promotion of a singularly liberal dogma. Within this context philosophy is designed to study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence. Early philosophers who sought to make sense of being and the society around them share no relation with the current ramrodding of liberalism with a view to superseding different forms of thought.
Another telling example of how intolerant the steamroller of liberalism can be is religion. More than 70 percent of the world population subscribe to a major religion, but in many forums the discussion of value systems that predate the postmodernist circus of hyper-liberalism is deemed taboo and not progressive. The campaign to force religious belief into the margins is most concerning, since it reflects a misguided belief that cultural homogeneity should be an objective in itself, and that mankind will not be able to reach the pinnacle of postmodernism until it bids farewell to different forms of thinking. The demand for such singularity of thought is completely removed from the cultural melange that brought about some of the most sophisticated thinking throughout the human story. 
The replacement of diversity with singularity, celebrated traditions with shallow popular culture and the rigors of classical education with short videos is a cause for concern. Should a system that has pushed the liberal arts out of remembrance and into a mass-produced exercise in cultural force-feeding be allowed to succeed, then future generations will eventually lack the richness that made the great achievements of humanity possible. To intelligent creatures, the mediocrity of hyper-liberalism is innately offensive. Those in education and the media should actively work against the homogenization of our values. To quote Plato: “Your silence gives consent.”
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid
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