I was out for a walk last Thursday when Elon Musk tweeted a political cartoon I made in August 2021. It received hundreds of thousands of retweets and more than 1.5 million likes. The stick figure in the middle depicts me, a center-left liberal in 2008, and how the earth had moved under my feet in 2012 and 2021.
In the beginning, I stand happy next to “my liberal”, who is a little to my left. In 2012, he sprints to the left, pulls out the left end of the political spectrum, and pulls the political “center” closer to me. In 2021, my fellow liberals are a “vigilant ‘progressive'” so far to the left that I am now right in the middle, even though I have not moved.
When my cartoon went viral, it resonated with many people – and caused dissonance in the left-wing media. Washington Post’s Greg Sargent called it a “silly chart” that has been “brutally refuted.” His colleague Philip Bump described it as “simply wrong” and an “obvious exaggeration.” Mr. Bump even provided a series of actual silly charts showing “the average ideological score (using a metric called DW-NOMINATE)” and “evaluations of ideology as measured in the Biennial General Social Survey (GSS).”
Revealing a cartoon with a diagram is like answering a love poem with a syllogism. Politics and culture, like most of human reality, cannot be reduced to data and abstractions without losing much of their essence. And self-proclaimed progressives, who love to talk about the importance of “lived experience”, are terribly contemptuous of their critics.
I created the comic to help sort out my feelings of increasing political alienation from the left. I am a lifelong Democrat. I turned 18 in 2003 and have never voted for a Republican. But over the last decade, and especially the last five years, I have seen my party distance itself from the values and principles I hold dear.
People on the left once saw freedom of speech as sacred and champion of speaking truth to power. Now they are demeaning openness as a danger to democracy and minorities. The desire to judge individuals by the content of their character rather than by their skin color has given way to identity politics and “equality” initiatives that prioritize group interests over individual rights. Women’s rights, previously understood as related to their oppression on the basis of sex, are now seen by the left through the lens of gender identity, which prioritises men who declare themselves as women. Today’s progressives can not even tell you what a woman is. The right wing may be inconsistent in its support for freedom of expression, individual rights and women’s rights, but the left wing is consistent in its opposition to all three.
It is important to keep these shifts in mind when assessing the “accuracy” of my cartoon, because the most common criticism is that it portrays the right wing as having remained stationary since 2008. A similar drawing showing specific topics such as abortion, climate change or immigration can tell a different story. But in terms of the important cultural values I have in mind – freedom of speech, individual rights and women’s rights – my comic is in line with the lived experiences of many liberals and centrists.
It is also based on my own. I am an evolutionary biologist, and from 2008 to 2020, I worked to become a university professor. But while working as a postdoc at Penn State in 2018, I found that I was ostracized by scientific colleagues and people who I thought were my close friends because I was not willing to advance scientifically inaccurate claims about biology to avoid offend those who identify as transgender.
Suddenly, simple truths, supported by both science and common sense – such as “man and woman are real biological categories defined by reproductive anatomy” – became taboo. For my great sin of stating ordinary biological facts and advocates of civil discourse, I endured relentless smearing like “transphobic,” “far right,” yes, a “white supremacy.” Similar experiences have played out for millions across the United States and abroad.
I hope many on the left will resist the urge to reject or reject my comic and instead use it as an opportunity to understand why so many people feel it describes their experience. Something has happened over the last decade to make many liberals feel politically homeless, and a lack of curiosity about why is a recipe for not only political failure but also social strife. It contributes to our growing inability to lead meaningful, compassionate discussions on topics of great importance.
I am pleased to note that among many of the top voices on social media, my cartoon has created a huge amount of discussion. People have created and shared their own versions, which are both entertaining and educational. I urge everyone to take the time to draw their own comics as a reminder that political parties are not static entities and that it is best to rely on lasting principles instead of a stuttering red-vs.-blue mindset .
Individuals are also changing, and this is more often a healthy sign of growth and maturity than a sign of radicalization. As long as we remain curious and open to civil discourse, our differences will become our strength.
Mr. Wright, an evolutionary biologist, is the founding editor of Reality’s Last Stand.
Copyright © 2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8