Recently, I went to have a beer with one of my friends from my former life as a social justice crusader. He’s one of the few left-leaning friends I have left since I was mobbed and shamed out of my lefty, social justice community for “toxic behavior” on Twitter (in a straight-up Justine Sacco-style event). He’s a great guy, and he’s still friends with my old friends, so when we meet, it’s a secretive thing.
As I was on my way, I started thinking about just how many people I had lost in my life over the last year or two. It’s got to be in the hundreds. People who have known me for 20 years or more, who said they loved me, who took care of me and let me take care of them, are all mostly gone now. For many, it’s a matter of their own social survival. Guilt by association is a h-ll of a thing.
As I was starting to tally the people I have lost touch with, another thought occurred to me: I probably have more conservative friends than liberal friends now. For a lifelong “bleeding heart” liberal, this is quite the unexpected life development. I decided to tweet something to that effect.
I tweeted: “Since I was mobbed out of my social justice community, I’ve found that conservatives are more kind, forgiving, and open-minded people than my old crew. I’ve found friendship and acceptance despite disagreement. I can’t get in trouble anymore for saying so—so I’m saying so.”
Since I was mobbed out of my social justice community, I've found that conservatives are more kind, forgiving, and open-minded people than my old crew. I've found friendship and acceptance despite disagreement. I can't get in trouble anymore for saying so—so I'm saying so.
— Barrett Wilson (@BarrettWilson6) February 1, 2019
My Twitter timeline “blew up,” as they say, and it was liked and shared more than 5,000 times.
Even when I was at my most insufferable, social justice version of myself, I had a soft spot for conservatives. My family is deeply religious, and some supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election. I was appalled by this choice (I am still no fan of Trump), but I know the hearts of my family members, and I know that they are good people who simply have different beliefs than me.
When the media and my social group continually went on about how Trump supporters were fascists and white supremacists, it made me deeply uncomfortable. They were talking about my parents, my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I know these people to be tolerant, inclusive, and generous. They do not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, or sex. They, like most conservatives these days, are LGBT-friendly. I love them. And they are worthy of love and respect.
When I got unpersoned, in a social-media driven mobbing, I was self-injurious and my life was at risk. My family was there for me, and they helped me get healthy again. Then I met some friends. Some people had seen what I had gone through and wanted to offer support and discussion.
My new friends were politically conservative, so I was hesitant at first. Old prejudices die hard. But two friends in particular kept encouraging me to tell my story. They checked on me to make sure I was okay, and encouraged me when I entertained a creative thought. I started anxiously writing notes to myself and organizing my thoughts until I finally had an essay.
That essay was published at Quillette. It went viral, and it started me on this brand new journey as a writer—fighting on the side of sanity in the culture wars. I will never forget what those two special people did for me by consistently encouraging me to tell my story until I did.
After my debut essay, I began to forge more and more friendships. These friendships were not exclusively with conservatives. I would estimate a 70/30 split between conservative/centrists and exiled liberals.
My debut essay also helped me land a new job. I work at a news outlet called The Post Millennial. It’s a center-right news website, but my colleagues are all over the political spectrum, from old-school fiscal conservatives to lefty former Bernie bros. It’s a great place to work and a testament to ideological diversity. I think that’s why it’s growing. I think that’s why I love it there so much.
I recently attended the Quillette social in Toronto. Over that weekend, I sat down, ate meals, had drinks, and ran around town with the most eclectic group of people I could have ever imagined.
Some were liberals like me, but all had been unpersoned in one way or another, whether it was a result of false allegations, “heretical” thinking, or some minor unwoke gaffe. Many were conservatives who were thrilled to be a part of this new cultural movement, where ideas could be freely exchanged. It was the most extraordinary thing.
The one thing they all had in common was that they cherished the principle of free speech. Modern conservatives and exiled liberals cherish free speech more than ever because they share the experience of being silenced in the name of social justice. (I’m not saying that social justice shaming is exclusively the purview of the left, but I think most reasonable people would agree it happens much more frequently on the left.)
This is why right-wing groups have forged unlikely alliances with deplatformed lefties—like the Heritage Foundation are sponsoring talks by feminist scholars who have been attacked by the trans lobby. Free speech must prevail.
And I suppose that’s why I have forged meaningful friendships with conservatives. The policing of language and shutting down of open inquiry has never been more popular among the modern left. Say the wrong thing or associate with the wrong person, and the left will lose you. It seems today’s conservatives are more moderate than today’s liberals. That’s quite the thought.
Even in our more intense disagreements (abortion, rights, trans rights, guns) my conservative friends have never aggressively lashed out at me, deplatformed me, unpersoned me, or tried to ruin my livelihood. They understand how important forgiveness and redemption will be if we are ever going to move on from these divisive times.
While I am not planning to abandon my liberal beliefs, I do feel that my fellow liberals could learn a lot from the way modern conservatives comport themselves. I was saying this exact thing to my lefty friend that Friday night over our second round of beers, but for some reason, he wasn’t really paying attention.