A Problem with (Some) Progressives (pt. IV)

When I was in college, back in the late 90’s, “laid back” was an oft-used term. It was positive, suggested said person was easy going, and had a cool perspective on life. A laid back person would go with the flow, was up for anything, and was generally thought to be pretty cool. (The term was used and made popular (I think) in Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”).

It wasn’t a term I’d been familiar with in high school. Baptists aren’t “laid back”, and so us Grand Rapids Baptist High Mustangs did not fit the mold. So I took it as an the ultimate compliment when someone at my college called me “laid back”. I took such a tight hold of this loosely given compliment that I wore it as a badge of honor. I thought being laid back was the Ultimate Cool, and was very, very happy that I’d been dubbed the term.

I was so proud, in fact, that I began using in to describe myself, and even said to my brother one day, “Dude. I’m so laid back, I’m like the most laid back person you’ve ever met.”

The problem is: I’m not laid back at all. If anything, I care too much, have too many opinions, and am inflexible.

So by thinking of myself as laid back, I ran into problems. Laid back people do not care what time something starts. They do not care what seat of the car they ride in. They do not care who comes to the party. They do not have a strong preference on the soda brand a restaurant serves, what’s on their pizza, or which of the fast food options they go to at the rest stop. They find humor in little hiccups. I did not (or did, as the case may be).

So I was claiming to be laid-back, but acting in a different way. My actions and my belief were in conflict. (Even if I was trying to believe it myself.) There is a word we use when people claim one thing, but do (or act in) another; that word is: Hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy has a very negative connotation, and is used to say something bad about someone. But, I think it can happen with the doer of the action being completely unaware.

Hypocrisy, I think, can be both intentional and unintentional.


One literary term is audience. When teaching audience, you have two basic types: intentional and unintentional. An intentional audience is the group the performer is intending to reach with their content. In a church, this would be a pastor’s congregation; in a school, this would be the teacher’s classroom; for an owner’s manual, it would be the possessor of the thing. Then there is unintended (or unintentional) audience. This group refers to people that have stumbled upon your content, but fall outside the demographic it was meant for. This is really only a problem when you’re performing parody, using sarcasm, or some such thing and the audience doesn’t know it. Ex. The Onion. Ex. Misread Tweet. Ex. Comedians having a bit taken from a larger stand-up routine. The term came up quite often when I was teaching The Canterbury Tales. The book is a collection of stories told by pilgrims on a religious trip. They told a tale to pass the time. To make it fresh and relevant, I would play different songs and have students rank the songs on order of preference. I intentionally chose many different genres, and then gave context so students could come in contact with music they wouldn’t normally listen to. One song I always used was Ludacris’s “Cold Outside”. It comes from his album Word of Mouf, and is much more serious that its fellow tracks. It’s at the tale end of the album, was not a radio hit, but I stumbled upon it from a CD someone burned me. The song hit me hard. Haunted me. I still love it, and it taught me a lot. But I’d be willing to bet that Ludcaris didn’t write it for a 30-year old, Christian, West Michigander. Yet it hit me hard, and had a major impact.

*Tangent Concluded*

I think that, like audience, Hypocrisy can be both intended and unintended. Intended is easy to figure out, the motivations fairly clear, and not really worth dwelling on. But Unintended Hypocrisy has major effects.

To be unintentionally hypocritical happens when a person believes two opposite things to be true, but sees no juxtaposition. Unintentional hypocrisy happens when a person does not notice or realize that two strong beliefs conflict and contradict. Ex. being very pro-life and very pro-military. Ex. being a strong Christian and believing only in law and order. I intentionally used examples that go with typical Conservative Christians, conservatives, and Republicans, because quote-unquote liberals use them to point out flaws in conservative politics. Without realizing: liberals have these as well.

One of the words that generates a lot of unintentional hypocrisy is the word “Progressive”.

Progressive, as it’s used in the modern political field, means being on the forefront of social change. Being on the side of all. Liberal. Left. Use whatever term you like. Personally, I think this is good. In my view, all people are deserving of all basic rights and dignities, so to impede rights and dignities is to lessen the experience of humanity. But “progressive” and being progressive is limited in scope by the times one lives in. There was a time when being anti-slavery was “progressive”, when being pro women was progressive. We look back now and think, that was progress? There was a time when to think human beings are not property was forward thinking?

Calling yourself Progressive runs a high risk of becoming unintentionally hypocritical. And here’s how: in late June, host Bill Maher, on his show “Real Time with Bill Maher”, said the n-word. He did it casually, saying he’d be a “house n*gger” rather than work in the field. It was a response to something one of his guests had said, and when he heard the mixed audience reaction, he looked at them and said it was a joke. This “joke” is racist. As a joke it is insensitive and goes against good taste and common sense. Which means he either thinks the subject in general is funny to joke about, or he thinks he can joke about it. The only way he’d be able to joke about it is if he is so progressive that he’s able to make these types of jokes because he’s so inclusive and tolerant. Like: since I would never use this language or demean anyone based upon race, I can use this word. The way someone with a disability can make a joke about that disability without being offensive. Or the way certain types of artists can create art (read: modern art) that most people look at and are like, ‘a black dot on a huge wall, I could have done that'. In the case of the artist, they’re able to create this because they’re so far ahead of their field. But Maher was obviously wrong. He cannot say that. If somebody on Fox News had said the same thing, there would be a major media/cultural outcry to get them out of their position, lest the entire country see the entire institution as racist. But he’s progressive, some might respond, and Fox News is not. None of that matters. At the end of the day, Maher is a white guy that said the N-word on TV.

This type of thing can happen quite often with progressives or people that claim to be progressive. They label themselves on the side of the oppressed, which somehow floats them above the cultural norms that us less progressive people must follow. You hear it so often in political arguments. The progressive argues under the guise of self righteousness, and begins to name call, belittle, or harass the person they’re arguing against. They deny the humanity of the person they’re debating, because that person, in their own eyes, is not worthy of dignification.

And this is obviously a problem. (One way you see it a lot is from straight people that get a lot of identity by standing up for homosexual’s rights. They begin making jokes or comments that, because their actions make it ok, are offensive. At some point though, they look pretty insensitive themselves. Even more ignorant than those they fight against).

To think you’re progressive can be to look past the areas in your own life that could use growth. Can be to look beyond your own deficiencies. It may be that by blindly aligning yourself with the side of progress, you do not realize ways that you’re actively discriminating against someone else.

It’s like a college kid, telling everyone and his brother that he’s the most laid-back person they’ve ever met, then getting pissed off that he called shot gun but his friend is in the front seat; and then complaining about the movie you’re going to watch, and the fact that you were drinking Pepsi, not Coke, with your popcorn.

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To read pt. III of the series, click here.