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 Which makes it both outdated and yet oddly still relevant.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.