Sunday, March 27, 2016

Forget political "left" and "right", it's about power, empathy, and a few other things

When the blogster uses the terms left or right in the context of politics, it* feels a bit sad.

Originating from an 18th century legislature seating arrangement in France, they have come to dominate much of the political discourse. Ayn Rand even embraces the "welcome historic accident" of the meaning of "right" in the English language: "A notable advantage of embracing the political right as our own is that the term right happens to integrate seamlessly with the philosophical and conceptual hierarchy that supports freedom." 

The idea of an "extreme left" and an "extreme right" being polar opposites while, at the same time, being just two sides of the same coin is deeply ingrained in the modern West and is expressed in daily politics, for example, in Germany, as described in the previous post German officials and extremism: always mention right and left together.

Even historians get seriously confused, especially when they try to make sense of the terms over time, for example, in this Twitter sequence:

To the blogster, "left" and "right" are borderline useful stereotypes for participation in standard discussions which involve a larger audience, or an unknown audience such as the readers of this blog post.

But they run against the way the blogster sees the world. The most important effect of this deep discrepancy is that many articles, OpEds, or commentaries on political issues seem boring, outright vapid, a waste of time.

There are earnest attempts to break through the fog. Take the article The Left-Right Political Spectrum is Bogus, from The Atlantic, as an example.
"It might be a division between social identities based on class or region or race or gender, but it is certainly not a clash between different ideas."

After this, we get the familiar arguments, the old cliches, with the admonition that they are bogus. But I agreed with the premise in the first place, otherwise I wouldn't have clicked the link at all.

Only towards the end does the blogster finally get something that feels right: We should arrange political positions according to whether they propose to increase hierarchy or to dismantle it. Instead of left and right, we should be thinking about vertical versus horizontal arrangements of power and wealth.

This may very well be one of the best foundations for moving beyond the confused "left" and "right" in this complex world with its communications with total strangers from across the planet.

Applying the concept laid out in The Atlantic, it becomes easier to understand how old authoritarian Soviet style "left" and fascist and modern "right" exhibit similar behaviors and patterns: power and hierarchy were used in a similar manner.

So, when the blogster heard a German police commander say that a "right wing" group of demonstrators used to follow orders by the police, the blogster was not surprised at all because right-leaning anti-immigrant, authoritarian movements should - according to the power/wealth/empathy paradigm - be generally happy with authority exercised by that universal representative of authority and power, the police force.

The news that German police treated Turkish "Grey Wolves" (authoritarian, nationalist, fascist) better than opposing Kurds at a demonstration in the city of Duisburg on March 26 fits into the same pattern.

As does the behavior of police in Cuba, or - more importantly and to the consternation of many political scientists - the situation in China, where a Communist party has been presiding over a starkly "Western looking" economy.

In looking at and analyzing news, the blogster goes beyond what the article in The Atlantic calls political positions and takes into account the wider psychological aspects addressed very succinctly in Philip Zimbardo's TED Talk: The psychology of evil.

The reason why the blogster does this?

I am not sure if this makes sense, but let's try: to the blogster, political positions, as expressed in discourse and programs, are a layer on top of an even more basic, underlying human condition.

Again, it makes much of what humans do and say unsurprising and in some ways irrelevant. But it is not a case of "we all die, so why do anything". You may not want to, or be able to, enjoy the finer points of upgrading your iPhone by one number and one letter as much as some people appear to, you may be poorer than your peers who read and believe a ton of career advice books.

It is fun to learn, to see where we go wrong, to embrace the uncertainty of it all. And it is fun to take down pompous egos (yes, we should start right here with this post, but we'll publish it first).

Life is a story, fiction. The pretty eggs and the plastic Easter bunnies someone took from the non-believers front porch decoration are now part of that person's fiction.

[Update 4/29/2016]  Germans have seen their social security system slashed by what has been traditionally considered a "left" government of Social Democrats and Greens. Just this week, the current Social Democrat labor minister announced a bill that will prevent EU foreigners from receiving basic means tested social assistance for the first five years of their residence in Germany: that's one year more than the "populist right" AfD demands in its new political program.

* The K-Landnews went gender neutral years ago.

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