Why you should never protest outside someone’s home

What all of this points to is a reduction of politics from an issue of public life to a matter of personal feeling and even personal loathing. From a rational argument over what policies a community should adopt to an emotionalist abhorrence for the individuals who promote particular policies. This violent shrinking of the meaning of politics has been gathering pace for some time. It looks like the logical and unsettling conclusion to the idea that ‘the personal is political’. As the American Philosophical Association said in relation to home protests over lockdown policies, ‘The tendency to personalise the political reflects our growing inability to distinguish between public and private’. And ‘when the distinction between policy and personality is effaced, life becomes more polarised and less civil’. Indeed. If you are protesting against a policy, you will challenge the policy itself. Sometimes with a flourish of invective, of course, but your outlook and your language will be political. In contrast, if you’re protesting against an individual – because you consider him or her to be fundamentalist, evil, a threat to your emotional safety – then your approach is more likely to be fuelled by animus than civic opposition, by fear or hate rather than cogent dissent. Witness the hyperbolic fury that has been visited on everyone from gender-critical feminists to right-wing critics of mass immigration as politics has increasingly moved from the realm of civic conflict into the sphere of emotional antagonism.

Part of the problem here is the woke era’s relentless elevation of identity as the prime concern of political life. The more people centre their own identity in everything, including their political beliefs, the more they will come to see policy setbacks or just plain old disagreement as intensely personal, as a threat to their very being. This is why people talk about feeling ‘unsafe’ or ‘erased’ when they encounter disagreeable views. Having made their politics personal, and their personal lifestyle political, they inevitably experience words as wounds and political debate as assault. Some of the response to the Roe v Wade leak has had this feel to it. So what ought to have been an act of political pressure on American officialdom to keep abortion legal instead becomes an outpouring of grief for one’s own weakened sense of safety in society, and an outpouring of hatred for the evil individuals who made you feel like this.

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