Look at any internet story, particularly from a news-source such as the National Post or CTV, and read the comments under the story. Now if the story is concerned with some vaguely progressive issue, such as the environment or the NDP or Trade Unionism, the comments are truly shocking. Many of the comments are downright abusive, they belittle any people involved in progressive work in ways that suggest that they don't just disagree with their political outlook but that demonstrate that they are consumed by hostility for these people. This, in itself is rather bizarre because most of the people that are working hard for a progressive cause do so out of a basic commitment to the cause and gain very little at a personal level from their work. While a handful of high profile individuals like, say, David Suzuki or Jack Layton, gain notoriety and a certain degree of prosperity from what they do, most environmentalists or union activists toil in anonymity and get almost nothing from their mostly voluntary work. Even if you think they are wrong about their various causes, their failure to acquire personal gain from their activism suggests that at the most one could consider them misguided. But many right-winger (particularly these ones I have been writing about who constantly leave comments on these news-stories) are so hostile that it is difficult to read the comments.
I suppose to a degree this has always been the case. If you look back at the debates in the British public sphere surrounding the issues of Slavery in the colonies or Catholic emancipation, you find a similar hostility. And yet the people who fought for these causes stood to gain very little from these struggles at a personal level. But conservatives went crazy in support of slavery and fought tooth and nail against catholic emancipation and smeared and attacked their political opponents with vehemence that bordered on psychotic. I find it absolutely amazing that people who are basically fighting for good have historically been treated so badly.
The real question to me is always - where does this hostility come from? But after thinking about it for many years I have come to the rather obvious conclusion that there are many reasons that people are hostile to activists who are working to improve the lives of people in general. Some people are just so steeped in ignorance about both the historical as well as the contemporary issues, and they are aware, at some level, of their own ignorance. This awareness generates a powerful hostility to those who they perceive to be better informed. Sometimes they think that activists are luckier, more prosperous and better educated them themselves and this makes them angry and they take their anger out on anyone who fits into this perceived group. I believe that some people realize that they are not themselves very nice or compassionate people and it really bothers them that others actively pursue a better way of life for people in general.
In retrospect, of course, this kind of attitude appears rather silly. Most British Tories actively supported slavery in the colonies and were vehement in their attacks on the anti-slavery activists, calling them 'ignorant,' 'misguided,' and even 'anti-Christian.' It wasn't until Earl Gray ended a long period of Tory rule that Slavery throughout the Empire was ended. But few people talk about the historical efforts of left-wing activists because we take most of their work for granted. Few Conservatives today want to be openly hostile to anti-slavery activists or the suffragettes, or even the trade-union activists to whom you owe the five day work-week. Today Conservatives like to forget that it was their side that consistently opposed almost every democratic right we take for granted. And they continue to oppose anything worthwhile in this way by being openly hostile to those who would struggle for justice, peace, and better environment. Go ahead, right-wing commentators, attack the trade-union movement, they have become an easy target in recent years. But without them you would still be chained to machines with no rights, no work-place safety regulations, and no way to fight back. Go ahead and attack the environmental activists, but without them your entire race will die out. Go ahead and attack justice reformers, but without them you would have no legal rights whatsoever and you would be at the behest of arbitrary state power.