Please … don’t call me ‘progressive’
I have long felt a sickening in my stomach about the increasing use of the word ‘progressive’ to denote a person ‘of the left’ in political ideology. Whilst it is a term with its own unique history that can be clearly differentiated from the now seemingly abandoned term ‘liberal’, they appear to have been used interchangeably in discourse in recent years, with ‘progressive’ gaining far greater currency (though not without contest). Liberal has certainly become a much maligned term, especially by those to the right of the political spectrum who frequently pair it with other such useful descriptors as touchy-feely, lousy do-gooder, namby pamby, pinko, birkenstock wearing (a new term for me, hence the link), kumbaya-singing, elitist, bleeding heart … you get the picture. Further, those to the left of left (!) have also been less than complimentary about the ‘liberal’ as is so beautifully captured in the lyrics of iconic but tortured folk singer Phil Ochs ditty “love me, love me, love … I’m a Liberal“! So seemingly there is a good argument to be made for a change in terminology. But progressive? Please! For me, its an insulting term – incendiary you might say (since that appears to the the word of the moment these days) , and here’s why.
Pictures such as the one above of the supposed ‘evolution of man’ haunt my childhood, and graphically attest to the racialized nature of the very concept of evolution and progress. Note that as evolution is depicted here, the skin colour and facial features of evolving ‘man’ become inevitably Western European. And there’s the rub. As an indigenous woman for whom ‘progress’ has been continuously invoked to justify the theft of native land and decimation of indigenous culture and peoples worldwide, the labeling of myself as ‘progressive’ is an anathema! Further, underlying the notion of progress is a commonly accepted belief that we are, as human beings, inevitably moving forward ergo progressing! Becoming more civilised, more efficient, more enlightened, well – just more really. And yet even a cursory glance at the world as we find it might indicate otherwise. Globally rampant capitalism/consumerism and ‘inevitable’ progress bring us ever closer to the edge of apocalypse, to say nothing of the planet we crawl upon and the creatures we share it with. Many if not all of the actions that have brought us here are rationalized in the name of “Progress” – paving over the earth, conquering space, exhausting the oceans, imprisoning the mentally ill, the disenfranchised – really I could go on and on. Progress? Bah humbug!
To my way of thinking the truly progressive would acknowledge that problematic history of the term and come up with another less divisive label. Until then, I prefer to think of myself as outrageously radical – not an unproblematic term in itself, but ultimately preferable.