Better Left Unsaid Examines the Left & Clears a Path for Better Things to Be Said
Toronto filmmaker Curt Jaimungal saw political polarization intensifying in both Canada and the U.S. and set out in 2018 to investigate. He knew that ideological extremes in the twentieth century had resulted in untold millions of deaths, and that some people were saying that the current specter of identity politics, with its speech suppression and demands for safe spaces, was putting us on a path to the same kind of mass murder that had happened in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China. Were they right? Or did the current political landscape merely reflect legitimate collective redress for the wrongs of Western civilization's past? Put differently, were the demands of the extreme left simply the price of progress?
Curt considered himself moderately left of center politically, but what he was seeing was something altogether foreign to the liberal values he'd always associated with the left. The first question he wanted to explore had to do with this apparent schism. What delineates the moderate left from the extreme left? When does the left go too far? An exceedingly inquisitive thinker trained in math and physics, he intended to seek answers to these questions using reason, logic, and evidence. And because of their political nature, and to avoid bias, he crowdfunded the project on Kickstarter, rather than seeking conventional sponsorships.
The result is Better Left Unsaid, a fast-paced documentary that combines interviews, news clips, and Curt's own analysis into a fascinating foray into the world of ideas, complete with snazzy digital animations to help you visualize the concepts as he "thinks out loud." And he is an exquisitely exacting thinker. I'll start with an overview of the film, and then return to his conclusion.
Down the Social Justice Left Rabbit Hole
The film is organized into four chapters. Chapters one and two cover the decade of the 2010s, when we saw a radical strain of politics emerge. Not only did social justice activists get violent, they outright endorsed violence as justified, nay, even necessary. To hear them tell it, their political opponents are so bigoted and so racist, there's no point talking with them, no reason to even allow them a hearing. Physical force is not only acceptable, it's the only thing that works.
This wasn't the left Curt grew up with. The left he knew stood for civil rights, non-violence, the scientific method, and equal treatment of all people—arguably much of what made the West the West. So what happened? He walks us through some shifts that have taken place in academia.
Redefinition of Terms. Words for which we had perfectly good, long-running, agreed-upon definitions have been summarily redefined. For example, for years racism meant the prejudicial or discriminatory treatment of people based on skin color. Today, in the lexicon of the SJL (Social Justice Left—my acronym, not Curt's), racism is being put to use as "prejudice plus power," or, in its collectivized rendition, systemic racism, "a system with disadvantage based on race."
This is no minor refinement. This brings about a wholesale overhaul of what counts as racism. To explain how, we first need to examine another shift, also brought to us by our universities.
Redefinition of Truth. Social constructivism, or the notion of socially constructed truth, is a product of radical skepticism predicated on the belief that there is no enduring, absolute truth about the world. It says that truth varies by culture, identity, or social group. Your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs are not merely influenced by your community but are axiomatically, concomitantly a product of it.
And this is where I absolutely love what Curt has done. He doesn't dismiss incoming ideas with any shallow reaction. He barely even presents arguments to the contrary. Rather, he extends to them the dignity of being taken seriously. He thoroughly examines what is being said and meticulously strings out the logic of it, analyzing its tenets all the way down to their philosophical roots. Or lack thereof, as we shall see.
Here's how that went with respect to the subject of racism. First, we see a montage of clips in which black women talk about racism. One says, "Black people can't be racist." Another says, "White people are all racist [and are] always gonna be racist. . . . I believe that white people are born into not being human . . . that's what y'all are taught to do—to be demons."
The first point Curt draws out should be obvious. By their own words, these women are expressly taking skin color into account and prejudging people on that basis. This is the very epitome of racism according to the original definition. Of course, we should make note of that, but SJL activists won't be deterred because they've moved on to their new definition. But Curt's not deterred either.
He goes on to analyze what the SJL as a whole is asserting, taking into account their own definitions and presuppositions. All the derivatives of Marxism interpret social dynamics through the lens of power differentials between people groups. This is the philosophical fount whence all identity politics flows. And so, the charge of systemic racism says that the "system" is racist because whites have power and blacks don't. This is why "black people can't be racist." Remember, to them racism means "prejudice plus power."
But recall also that to them truth is socially constructed. Do you see the problem, here? First of all, if social constructivism is true, then Marxism itself, along with all its derivatives, is a social construct. This means that systemic racism, too, is a social construct. And it gets worse. In the very act of asserting that social constructivism is true, social constructivists are presupposing the existence of absolute truth. "You can't make a truth claim denying the existence of truth," Curt says flatly. "That's a contradiction."
Exactly. The ideological basis of the SJL is, at root, incoherent. This is a big part of what delineates the extreme left from reasonable liberals who still acknowledge there's such a thing as truth.
Chapters one and two also show several examples of SJL closed-mindedness, circular reasoning, and specious manipulation of language such that SJL activists are always "right" and everyone else "wrong." The picture that emerges through it all is a brute-force imposition of ideological conformity.
"In many ways, it's difficult to understand what it is that the left, the anti-West left, is trying to achieve now, other than an extreme version of collective, authoritarian control," says Bruce Pardy, Queen's University law professor and Epoch Times columnist. "They seem to want to demand fealty to a set of ideas. And those ideas are theirs." Again, exactly. This is another trait that separates extreme leftists from their more moderate counterparts.
Twentieth Century Group-Based Politics
Chapter three takes up a third question.
Does identity politics lead to totalitarianism? What happened in the twentieth century? More specifically, why did it happen? What did people say their justifications were? Still focusing on the underlying ideas, Curt delivers a philosophical history lesson that shows how class-based determinations of guilt and innocence did, in fact, lead to mass murder. Most of us know that Communism killed a lot of people. How many know that it did so under the banner of equality and standing up for the oppressed? Better Left Unsaid supplies an urgently needed history lesson on this point. (Warning: disturbing imagery.)
Out of the Chaos, Clarity
Chapter four warns of danger ahead if the oppression narrative and group-based politics are not checked. This is certainly apropos, yet Curt ended the project disheartened. At the outset, he thought people mostly wanted the same thing, but just disagreed on how to get there. After careful listening, he reached a different conclusion. We don't all want the same thing. "We actually want different outcomes and obey different rules." What it came down to was a difference in values. Again, he's exactly right about that, but the realization left him stalled at a dilemma.
"We need myth," he said, looking straight at the camera, by which he meant myth in the sense of a transcendent narrative that forms a people's understanding about the world and their place in it. Shared values are necessary for holding a society together. Historically in the West, institutional religion has been the vehicle for maintaining shared values, but as a modern man of science, he doesn't favor a return to that (though he does give a benevolent nod to "Decentralized Religion" as an alternative). So, what to do? As he sees it, this dilemma is the unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the modern science and religion divide.
Now, if you've been reading Salvo, you know there is no real divide between science and faith and that his dilemma is perfectly resolvable. Nevertheless, although Better Left Unsaid signs off on that glitch, Curt has done us all a tremendous service by bringing to light crucial truth concerning the social justice left and identity politics. If Better Left Unsaid leads to nothing more than well-meaning moderates rejecting the dictates of the SJL in favor of conserving free speech and open debate, Curt's efforts will have been well spent, in my book.
But for Christian apologists, I see at least two additional opportunities this film provides. First, we can all learn from the way Curt genuinely pays attention to what people are saying and then teases out their reasoning. This one discipline goes a long way toward distilling truth from noise.
Second, I think his dilemma is the dilemma of anyone raised on postmodernism yet hungry for transcendent truth. The existential questions he raises veritably beg for reasoned explanations of the Christian faith. Regardless of church shortcomings, and there have been plenty, Christianity is not just a religion. It is a worldview that puts forth testable truth claims about all of reality. When rightly understood and thoughtfully explained, it can not only make sense of all things, from science and origins to sin and morality to redemption and resurrection, but it can do so using reason, logic, and evidence. Paul even gave us a test for falsifiability. If Christ has not been raised, the whole thing is dead. (He didn't quite put it that way, but see 1 Corinthians 15.)
All in all, Better Left Unsaid is a great film for parents and youth pastors to watch with their kids and for you and me to see with anyone trying to make sense of the postmodern morass we find ourselves trying to navigate. Take this opportunity to provoke better discussions about politics and religion. It may challenge them (and you), but don't let that deter you. Truth will always profit from its collision with falsehood. And so will they.Terrell Clemmons
has a BS in Computer Science and worked as a software engineer with IBM until she hopped off the career track to be a full-time mom. She lives in Indianapolis, IN, where she works as Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #57, Summer 2021 Copyright © 2021 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo57/a-grand-inquisition