Why Are You Left?
Posted on 10 May 2016
The question I wish more progressives would ask themselves is, why are the right so organised and the left can barely organise a garden party, much less a political one? The right can pull themselves into a frightening lock step and hell march us into oblivion without thinking twice about the consequences. For the left a room full of a dozen people will hold several dozen opinions, and only a few will find enough commonality to cooperate.
Humans are not solitary creatures. We very specifically evolved as social beings. Social animals often ostracise members that are ill, malformed, or tyrannical. This is frequently a death sentence. As such we are acutely sensitive to being socially isolated. The right, for all their talk about being rugged individualists, are very much into social conformity and will agree with their clique’s positions whether or not those positions make sense. They understand strength in numbers and fear being cut off from their friends, colleagues, and families. Nevertheless, they are quick to cut others off who through association might endanger their position. This is why right-wing parents can so easily reject their own children.
Many people on the left were not born into a progressive orientation. Many chose to be left either in response to ostracisation or to cut themselves off from their people in self preservation. They could have chosen to be different types of right. So, here are some reasons why left.
Transgressive left are often people who feel hard done by parents or their society. If parents and/or society are right-wing, then they are left-wing in reaction.
You will find people who are transgressive left in many groups, but they tend to congregate where they can shout the loudest. An edge of vengeance can creep into their behaviour toward a selected enemy.
People who are sympathetic with an agenda that protects the environment and ensures the well-being of humanity, find themselves shying away from environmental groups and social justice groups who seem dangerous in their desire for punishment of wrong-doers, especially when it’s not entirely clear from where the anger springs and how easily at can be aimed at new targets.
The book A Force More Powerful cites the words of Russian writer Maxim Gorkii during the Bolshevic revolution. Gorkii said that:
Instead of social revolution, Lenin and his party had caused a “zoological” outburst of violence. “This is no longer a capital. It is a cesspit,” he wrote his wife. Even justice had been perverted: Mobs tried criminals in the streets–when one thief’s face was smashed and his eye was torn out, a group of children cheered. “These are our children, the future builders of our life,” Gorkii wrote. A revolution unleashing violence was “incapable of changing our lives but can only lead to bitterness and evil.”
~ A Force More Powerful: a century of nonviolent conflict
Peter Ackerman – Jack DuVall – St. Martin’s Press – 2000, pp 457-458)
Transgressive groups often don’t understand their own issues. They can collapse from in-fighting. They can also disempower themselves out of deep cynicism. Worst is when they act out by destroying what they see as bad, without any vision of how to build what is good. When students ran around wearing “Fuck Abbott” t-shirts, I repeatedly tried to explain that it wasn’t good enough to simply remove our current prime minister. The party from which he came would replace him with someone to continue implementing the same destructive policies. Fight the policies not a figurehead.
Shoe On The Other Foot
The Law of Iron posits that positions of power attract people whose sole ambition are positions of power. It’s not that power necessarily corrupts, it simply attracts the corrupt. The left-wing are a niche market for power. Those who are unable to achieve power on the right, perhaps because they weren’t born into a high enough class, may move into the left and exploit transgressive anger.
“Shoe on the other foot” left-wingers not only want vengeance, they want to take over positions of power and enforce lower status on those formerly in control. They can be led by very evil people. Desmond Tutu writes an example of “shoe on the other foot” dynamic.
A year after the genocide of Rwanda, when at least half a million people were massacred, I visited that blighted land…The history of Rwanda was typical of a history of “top dog” and “underdog”. The top dog wanted to cling to its privileged position and the underdog strove to topple the top dog. When that happened, the new top dog engaged in an orgy of retribution to pay back the new underdog for all the pain and suffering it had caused when it was top dog. The new underdog fought like an enraged bull to topple the new top dog, storing in its memory all the pain and suffering it was enduring, forgetting that the new top dog was in its view only retaliating for all that it remembered it had suffered when the underdog had been the master.
~No Future Without Forgiveness
Desmond Tutu – Rider – 1999, pp 207-208
Peaceful revolutions can happen without the need for retaliation against the powerful. It has happened more than once: South Africa, Poland, even US civil rights. Those most willing to use violence are often terrified that the oppressed will turn and do unto them as they are doing to the oppressed. Oppressors may then get caught in a cycle of using more and more violence, creating more unrest, giving them more reason to feel terrified of their own masses.
The US has sold its public and much of the world on the “rags to riches” myth: that they are a country where if you have the ambition, intelligence, and will-power, you too can become part of the elite. It has been clear for a long time that the US does not function in this manner. Rich white males are favoured over any one else. They do not have to prove superiority, because they are born into it.
Nevertheless, the idea of a meritocracy still appeals to people. Some feel they are left-wing because they want to ensure a genuine meritocracy is in place. If schools and businesses were structured such that colour, gender, age, etc were set aside and people were able to move up in society based on their ability, then that would be a fair society. Everyone would get what they deserve.
But would they?
Who decides what is worthy of merit? Is a middle manager within a corporation truly worth more money than a woman gestating then caring for a new born baby?
I think Mark Olmsted from Huffington Post nails the major issue with meritocracy in this quote:
Here’s the problem with “meritocracy.” You can’t have the “excellent” and the “above average” unless you have the “average” and the “below average.” Anyone can make it, but everybody can’t. Most children born into poverty will live in poverty; most people born rich will remain rich…So here’s the question society needs to ask itself: Do the “average” and “below average” have the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the “above average” and the “excellent?” Is it a crime to react unexceptionally to your circumstances? Shouldn’t qualities like a willingness to do your best and kindness to your fellows be valued as much as traits like guile, enterprise and risk-taking? Do those born into money and a good education really “deserve” huge slices of the pie because they picked the right parents?
~”The Trouble with Meritocracy”
The meritocratic game is rigged and always will be. We need to treat everyone with respect.
It always boggles me when someone who is pro-environment or pro-gay rights is also anti-feminism. I am acquainted with many people who only take on one or another aspect of progressive policies, but no more.
In Australia of the two major parties Labor is technically left and Liberal is techincally right. However, it was the labour movement that brought about the enstatement of the “White Australia Policy” in 1901, which prevented the immigration of any but those from Britain and Europe to our country. It was a form of job protectionism as well as racism. This law wasn’t fully dismantled until 1973. Even so the Labor party in their most recent term in Federal Parliament also chose to turn back non-white refugees in contravention of their United Nations agreements.
I find it incredibly sad when people insist on kindness, compassion, and inclusion of themselves, but do not have the grace to turn around and offer these same things to others in need.
Universal goodwill is the only sort of left-wing that will ever work in the long run. The world needs people who peacefully seek the well-being of all living things. We need people who understand that by ensuring everyone’s basic needs are met, we are more likely to forge a liveable future. We all need to understand that when we make sure everyone has the opportunity to flourish, we flourish as well. We reach this future by learning how to coexist and cooperate, even when it was a lack of cooperation that led us out of destructive groups.
This is the sort of progress we need to be building right now. It requires big compassion that seeks to rehabilitate rather than retaliate. I understand the anger, I understand the frustration. Use these to motivate, but do not focus on relieving these feelings through destructive acts. Go out and heal, create, and care until the fires inside subside to a loving glow.
Peace and kindness,