Knowing Left from Right

I’m feeling outraged and depressed (because politics), plus it’s up to -2 outside (from -10 this morning), so I’m feeling very lazy about writing a post. (And I’m going to have to go out into the chill and shovel the light snowfall off my sidewalk and driveway. Brr!)

Therefore I’m offering up a lightly edited political piece I’ve had sitting in my folder of potential posts… since 2012. Which makes it both outdated and yet oddly still relevant. It’s a short piece, originally intended to be a Brain Bubble, but I’m just going to throw it out there as a regular post.

It’s a rumination on the differences between Left and Right in politics.

I can’t help but open with an old (old) “Little Johnny” joke: The teacher asked Little Johnny to use the word “politics” in a sentence, and Little Johnny replies: “Our parrot swallowed a watch, and now Polly ticks!”

I never could resist a pun.

Anyway, for whatever it’s worth, this [with some edits]:

§ §

Knowing Left from Right

One last political Brain Bubble, and then I’m going to go back to ignoring politics again…

Liberal, Left, Democrat. Conservative, Right, Republican. These are ideas used to describe the two dominant political sides of American politics. Is there any objective criteria with which to measure and judge the two sides, or is it strictly a matter of opinion? Are both views coherent given certain assumptions about how civilized life should be?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention that I think the two sides — as they exist now in American politics — both suck, but that the Left sucks a bit less. I want nothing to do with either side (and have renounced my membership in the Ds), but I want far less to do with the Republicans. (I plan to vote Libertarian this fall.)

[Actually, I voted for Obama again despite, at the time, some misgivings about his political effectiveness. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe how much I miss that guy. Or even that era of mild misgivings about how well government was doing. It does seem a lifetime ago now.]

To talk about this at all requires defining exactly what is meant by “Left” (or “Liberal”) and “Right” (or “Conservative”):

To me, the biggest defining feature of the Left is the idea that government is a solution to many problems, and that a larger government can serve the people and define the republic. On the other side, the Right famously sees the government as the problem and wants the smallest government possible. The Right, they say, is big on the rights of the individual.

[And yet that seems one of the biggest lies. They’re pretty big on the rights of rich white male individuals, but the rest of us, not so much.]

The second key defining feature to my eyes is the idea of public spending.

The Left is seen (often rightly) as spendthrift (which, oddly, means the opposite of what you’d think), whereas the Right is seen as financially more conservative (and that’s a key source of the name). I’m a fan of being fiscal conservative, but I want bridges that don’t fall down and excellent highways and universal high-speed internet.

I also want a strong education system. (I really, really want a strong education system. If only we had one.)

The Left, under the rubric “Liberal” is often called “Progressive” (and it’s funny how the Right can make that sound like an insult). The Right, as “Conservatives” are apparently against progress (and interestingly, accusing someone of being “conservative” in many contexts implies they aren’t with it).

It does seem, at least sometimes, that the Right longs for the “old fashioned” America. (Well, in some ways, who doesn’t long for a simpler time. The thing is, it wasn’t so simple for everyone.)

Presumably that means the days when children didn’t pass through metal detectors in school and you could leave your door unlocked safely. But for others, that means a time of ignorance and severe gender and racial inequality. It can seem like the “good old days” were simpler and safer, but were they really? You don’t have to dig too deep to find the problems of “man’s inhumanity to man” in any era.

But in all fairness, it is probably the case that a society can be more stable [and likely static] when roles are more tightly constrained. And it is possibly also true that families with at least one stay-at-home parent are better for the kids. Traditional conservative values aren’t directly wrong about that, but they ignore other realities.

I once heard Bill O’Reilly [remember him?] say that the Left was the more humane side, and I think that’s a true point. The Right has a laissez-faire approach [supposedly] based on individual rights and the “sink or swim” principle (in fact, laissez-faire means “leave it alone”).

The Left has a stronger social responsibility and obligations point of view.

Which point of view is better depends on your point of view. Do civilized societies have an obligation towards the weak and disadvantaged? That’s something not commonly found in the animal kingdom.

Does advanced intelligence and society imply obligations to your fellow beings? Does success imply obligation to the society that provided the platform for that success? Or is it every being for themselves?

[A note I’ve had for a long time looking for a post: “Both the discussion of morality and the idea of it are utterly foreign to the animal kingdom. Humans choose a path. We talk about morality. A lot. Based on a metaphysical belief that what we do matters in some greater context. A basic principle: One helps if one can. A bottom line: Humans can think about morality, so we are obligated to do so.”]

[[Yes, I do know that some animals evidence behaviors we might interpret as altruistic. But I very much doubt it’s due to any moral analysis, let alone discussion about morality.]]

Consider a simple case of industrial food preparation.

The Left “Big Government” view is that regulation is a necessity to insure the safety of consumers. The Right “Small Government” view is that the marketplace will have the same effect as regulation. The idea being that companies that occasionally poison their customers will fail and vanish.

I see two problems with that: Firstly, that the bad company will eventually fail is scant comfort to those poisoned. Secondly, perhaps more importantly, what prevents a company that’s been “run out” of one market from setting up the same ill practice in another? In a country with 300 million people, there’s a lot of market space.

Surely the Wall Street and Banking issues of the past few years have shown us we can’t trust business to ever have the interests of their customers at heart?

Religious Conservatives sometimes oppose the idea of Evolution, and it’s always struck me as odd that they tend to be Republicans: a party that prefers the evolutionary principle. Meanwhile, Progressive Liberals oppose that principle by strongly supporting the weak. (No one ever said politics makes much sense.)

Another odd contradiction: I mentioned above that when roles are more constrained, society is probably more stable. The Progressive viewpoint favors role-breaking individual expression, but the Conservative viewpoint favors restricting roles more, which seems at odds with the “individual first” point of view.

(If the Right really favors the individual over government, why aren’t they the ones pushing for gay marriage?)

[One of the dumber arguments the Right ever came up with (at least back then) was this idea that gay marriage threatens the institution of marriage. But no one ever says how. My theory is that Republicans are all secretly deeply closeted gay and they would all abandon their womenfolk if gay was okay to them. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.]

[[I take that back. That modern Republicans, in general, are fucking idiots is a much better explanation and almost certainly correct.]]

Perhaps a pithy way to define the two sides is that the Left believes in “ours” while the Right believes in “mine.”

§ §

Liking that last line is what kept this piece in my queue for so many years. I think it kinda sums it up. Mine versus ours. We’re really feeling that difference with the Biden administration. (Oh, what a blessing it is.)

Of course, knowing wrong from right is a whole other matter, and one the very ironically named Right seems to be having a lot of trouble with these days.

Ain’t life strange?

Now I gotta go bundle up warmly and shovel some snow. (It’s up to -1. Hooray?)

Stay centered, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

10 responses to “Knowing Left from Right

  • Wyrd Smythe

    And that’s two more notes gone from my pile! I may yet manage to vanquish that stack! (The problem is that I keep adding new notes.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Much better! (And it’s up to 0 degrees. Almost balmy.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Wow. I have such a low tolerance for bullshit these days… listening to Twitler’s attorney at the Impeachment is really raising my blood pressure. 😦

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    The behavior of political parties makes more sense when we stop thinking of them as competing philosophical or ideological schools of thought, and more as competing coalitions of constituent interests, that each happen to have propaganda that, at times, becomes inconvenient to those interests.

    It’s about 39 F here, but with the humidity and wind, it feels bitingly cold. No snow though, and I don’t think I’d be able to move in 0 F, much less -10.

    For my own wellbeing, I’ve strictly limited my time watching the impeachment.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      That’s a big part of what’s wrong with politics: the notion it’s some sort of team sport where loyalties are the main thing that matters. The very lack of philosophical or ideological thought is exactly why they so badly lose their way. And why so many people think it’s all pointless crap. What’s that old saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” We’ve seen that in action.

      The trick to the cold is dressing for it. Layers! That said, even for outdoorsy Minnesotans, most have a cut-off around -10 (although it depends on wind and humidity). Properly dressed and moving around, anything above +10 is pretty tolerable. (For standing still and watching a parade, not so much. Been there, done that.)

      Yeah, I watch until I can’t stand it anymore. The last two days with the House Managers was very good viewing, but watching Twitler’s lawyer isn’t. After writing the post and shoveling, I tuned in time to catch the questions and watched for maybe an hour before that lawyer was just too much to take.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I actually think the idea that the parties are about differing ideologies exacerbates the team sport aspect. It’s a lot harder to make a deal with people you see as evil, rather than just people with varying interests. The problem is currently very bad on the right, but the left is far from free of it.

        Makes sense on layers. I do it even for 30 F, but I guess you have to pile on even more for -10. It’s supposed to get down to 14 F here Monday night. That’s going to be a major freeze event down here.

        I think I’d be more interested in the impeachment proceedings if I thought they were going to make a difference. They might for history, but not for the verdict.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        There’s no innate reason to see a valid ideology as evil. I’ve said many times a healthy society requires both points of view for balance, but those views have to be honest and grounded in reality. We have 200 years of generally successful history navigating between those views because, in the past, they were generally honest and grounded. The current problem is the dishonesty and complete detachment from reality.

        I don’t know if you read the previous post, but part of it was about “good” propaganda versus “bad” — the difference being the degree of truth and consonance with rational grounded behavior. Ideologies, likewise, can be good or bad.

        A key factor is that the current situation is abnormal in the extreme; we’ve badly lost our way, and I can’t help but think part of that is losing touch with an honest, grounded ideology. One that includes things like honor and character and honesty — values both parties used to hold dear.

        The whole nation seems to be in a deep freeze right now (weather wise). You’re headed for +14, we’re headed for -14 and below (I think the overnight lows are -21 or something).

        I suspect you’re more pragmatic than I am. I think I’ve mentioned before that I feel pulled to “bear witness” for important national events. At least until I can’t take it anymore. 😮

        (It’s gotten interesting again today now that the idiot’s idiot defense rested. Astonishing the lies and filth that came from that lawyer. But they’ve actually voted to call witnesses, so now they’re negotiating about how many etc. I’m not sure they’ll get a conviction, but I’m not sure it’s definite they won’t.)

  • Michael

    I think Mike makes a good point: for all of the ideological positioning, in a two-party system it boils down to coalitions of diverse perspectives that can achieve a governing majority… and loyalty. I liked your own synopsis, too.

    I think the Republicans talk a lot about small government, but mean it mostly for business and not defense. I also think they have failed to a large degree in terms of preventing monopolies and oligopolies, which is what Republican governments should be doing if they were practicing what they preach.

    The Dem’s on the other hand, when they assume government is the solution to everything, to the point where the federal government is setting minimum wages for the whole country at the federal level when the cost of living clearly varies throughout the country, seems crazy. Also, at times I think they have the country’s best interest at heart, but don’t always offer practical or grounded solutions.

    It’s chaos right now, and clearly about power. We seem to be riding the knifes edge.


    • Wyrd Smythe

      I think we’re all on the same page regarding the reality of both parties, especially these days. It’s that very ideological fail that I’m pointing to. Imagine if the Republicans took their supposed ideology seriously (or even just their oath of office). A huge part of the problem is that party turning so completely away from its espoused values that most old-guard Republicans can’t recognize their own party anymore.

      It’s interesting that the UK seems to have multiple parties whereas our attempts to create even a third one always fall flat. Some of that, I think, is voting block power. I’ve heard parties in England need to form collitions to get work done. But is some of it that our culture is more simple-minded? We seem to only ever see two sides? (Which amount to “mine” and “theirs”.)

      The goal, as I see it, is that conservatives prevent progressives from leaping off cliffs without looking, and progressives insure society remains dynamic. We need both to be healthy, because, as you say, neither side would govern well unchecked.

      As I mentioned to Mike, I’ve never seen Republicans as evil… until recently, and it’s a matter of tactics, not worldview. (FWIW, the previous post got into some of those tactics. This post is something of an echo.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Just thinking about political parties…

    Would it be possible to have a political system without any parties? What if people just voted for candidates they wanted and issues they wanted without attaching a party label? Is there a value to political parties, or is it just another expression of our innate tribalism?

    It’s certainly that tribal aspect that’s led to a lot of trouble.

And what do you think?

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