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An open letter to my liberal friends

| Wednesday, April 14, 2021

I cannot blame you for being fed up with complicity and social sin. I too am dismayed by the poor decisions of our fellow Americans. One year into this pandemic, I have become so disheartened by those who refuse marginal sacrifices for the sake of the greater good that I am nearly disenchanted with the whole idea of autonomy. You almost have me. My frustration has me teetering on the brink of liberalism. But each time I look over the edge, I slowly inch myself back to the no man’s land of never-Trump conservatism. It is not because I do not sympathize with liberal causes. I take the climate crisis, racial healing and wealth inequality seriously, and I try to consider how my life choices impact these issues. If all it took to be a card-carrying leftist was a healthy skepticism of unfettered capitalism and disgust in the jingoistic nonsense of the Republican party, I would be sold. 

So it is not for lack of sympathy that I reject liberalism. It is more because I am allergic to the performative virtue signaling and selective public shaming that have become bastions of the left. A core aspect of liberalism is the belief that a central authority knows best — often, the federal government or the mob rule of the majority — and that this authority can internalize all externalities to create a more utopian society by forcing people to make the right choices. As much as it seems imperative to have people conform to my beliefs and make the choices I would, I have to concede we live in a free society. It is, after all, this free society which has allowed me to use my own moral faculties and reasoning to arrive at my beliefs in the first place. It takes more gall than I currently possess to strip this right from others.

What I find most troubling, though, is not even the notion that everyone should rise to the moral standards of some. It is the inconsistency and hypocrisy with which this notion is adopted. All should accept the moral standards of the few, if those standards just so happen to be yours. At best, this is tyranny of the majority. At worst, this is a loud minority imposing their beliefs on everyone else.

You decry our bystander culture, but the truth is you want me to stand by. You want me to stay silent, so long as the disagreeable decisions of others do not impact the pet causes you have espoused. You want me to tolerate abortion, to watch the unspoken endure the unspeakable, in the name of personal choice. You want me to accept (or better yet, applaud) a hookup culture which engenders the consumerist ideology you feign to loathe. You want me to nod passively as you blame globalism for climate damage and poverty, while you enjoy the fruits of a job secured through globalism, in the comfort of a house that uses more energy than a village of climate-change-denying blue collar workers. You want me to cancel everyone who gathers in groups unless it is for a protest you can get behind or a celebration of an election that went your way. You want me to spit at everyone who has crossed the line and then either pretend I didn’t or double down when you inevitably shift where the line should be. 

Decisions necessarily implicate others. Very few choices are personal ones. Everything, from how you spend your pandemic weekends, to your choice of romantic partners, to your meat consumption habits, impacts those around you. Yes, many are willfully ignorant of the harm they cause. And as a result, ice caps melt, cities burn, prisons teem and conspiracies spread like Californian wildfires. But if God Himself bestowed free will on humanity, perhaps we should be a little more cautious in our eagerness to revoke it. And if the awful state of the world convinces you otherwise, then at the very least, you should be willing to have everything you do scrutinized under the lens of others. 

Yes, government policy has a role in shaping a vision for a better future, one which perhaps inspires its citizens to stand up more boldly for what is right. Beyond that, to convert people into becoming better stewards of one another is an admirable goal. But let’s not convince ourselves this is evangelization. Public shaming has no place in our politics or culture. It’s not on me to tell others how to live their lives, even given that their lives impact millions of others in subtle but important ways. I will resist openly condemning those who say and do things I find offensive because ostracizing and berating never convinced anyone of anything. What I will not do, however, is put up with the boldfaced hypocrisy of the modern left, which demands I look the other way and mind my business until it is a cause that is socially acceptable to lambast others for. 

To my liberal friends, to my fellow consumerism-despising, criminal-justice-reform-seeking, reusable-tote-carrying, Biden-bumper-sticker-boasting friends: Please forgive me for not joining your moral crusade. Please don’t expect me to censure microaggressions, burn my Dr. Seuss collection or close my ears to half of America because listening somehow makes me complicit. Please don’t make me your next target because I don’t police those around me. You would not like the kind of cop I’d become.

Sophia Sheehy recently graduated from Notre Dame and is a former resident of Cavanaugh Hal.

BridgeND is a non-partisan political education and discussion group committed to bridging the partisan divide through honest, respectful and productive discourse. If you’re interested in joining civil conversations, BridgeND meets weekly on Mondays at 5:30 p.m. You can contact the club at [email protected] or @bridge_ND on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this column identified Sophia Sheehy as a current senior living in Cavanaugh Hall. Sheehy is actually a recent Notre Dame graduate and former resident of Cavanaugh Hall. The Observer regrets this error.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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