So I'm as liberal as a the next white lower-middle-class male living in Oklahoma. Actually, I'm probably a lot more liberal than many. My demographic tends to lean quite conservative. I'm not going to list my bona-fides, but it is reasonable to assume that on any given issue I lean more left than any of my neighbors or extended family. In Seattle I might not be considered particularly liberal, but in Oklahoma I'm looked upon as a pinko Commie.
Like so many young men who grow up to become liberal, I went through a libertarian phase, complete with a fascination with (groan) Ayn Rand. Fortunately, I grew out of that relatively quickly. It was my budding interest in science and empiricism that really sealed the deal on Rand's faith-based philosophy. For example, her particular form of essentialism and teleology about humanity is really difficult to reconcile effectively with evolution. Proponents make the attempt, but they come across as ad hoc or special pleading. From outside, the obvious criticism seems to be the apparent heartlessness of the system, but from inside that is explained away as treating people with dignity. I can see the problems with that now, but at the time I was steeped in the apologies.
All of that is to say that I've grown over time. That doesn't make me special. A lot of people have made the same or similar transitions. The majority of the American electorate is doing it on gay marriage right now.
Many times, in the heat of the conversation, I forget that I didn't make this transition overnight. I forget that I have potential allies that aren't where I am at on a given issue, and ridiculing them for it is counter-productive and dehumanizing. I'm guilty of this mostly on Facebook, but I see it happen all of the time on blogs as well.
I was reminded of this when Russell Blackford linked to this article on his twitter account. It is wonderful, humbling, and should be required reading for anyone who is going to participate in the online community.