Left, Right, Left Dept.


Last couple of days were rather crazy, culminating in a black eye that I still have covered with a steak, but I'm doing my best to keep the swelling down. Anyway, here's a topic I don't touch on much: politics.

Privatization Memories - NYTimes.com

... what you learned early on in the Social Security debate was that centrists desperately want to believe that there is symmetry between the left and the right, that Democrats and Republicans are equally extreme in their own way. And this means that they are always looking for ways to say nice things about Republicans and their policy proposals, no matter how bad those proposals are. That’s how Paul Ryan ended up getting an award for fiscal responsibility.

Emphasis mine. What this tells me is something I've seen evidence of for a long time: the idea of a one-dimensional political polarity in this country — or in all of reality — is as simpleminded as assuming that the world was in black and white back when all we had was black and while film. A mere left/right polarity not only tells us nothing about the realities of the politics that people actually have; it actively prevents us from sussing out such things. But it's convenient, it's easy, and most of have better things to do with our time than divine the politics of others, and so a one-dimensional spectrum it is.

Once 'pon a time, Patrick Farley mentioned something like this on his blog (now long since gone), and argued for a two- or even three-dimensional political spectrum. Fond as I was of the idea, I didn't believe it would catch on, because few people are in the habit of tracking more than one easy, obvious way of thinking about someone else's politics. This is why people sometimes sub-classify, by calling themselves "socially progressive but fiscally conservative", or some variant thereof: they're hooking into what you already know in some distant way. (Side note. I'm not sure anyone would want to classify themselves as "fiscally liberal". What would that translate to in real-world terms, anyway, being a spendthrift?)

The other thing this brings to mind is something I've tussled with a good deal whenever dealing with people on the fringes of a political spectrum that doesn't split neatly into "left" and "right". I speak here of those who look at the most readily identified sides in a given political situation and declare them all to be of equal vileness. The Doctrine of Malign Equivalence is not shy of rearing its head in most any situation; I have seen it invoked to condemn all sides in World War II — Axis and Allies alike — on the basis that a) because no one side can demonstrate complete purity of intention, all are morally polluted, or b) it was really some kind of cynical swap of soldiers and blood for power and territory, conducted at the highest levels of power at the expense of the men in the trenches on all sides.

The first of those two positions is a sort of moral indignation one sees little of these days, in big part because it doesn't lend itself to finding much of an audience. The few people drawn to such a position seem mostly interested in using it as a justification for being radically disengaged from an irredeemably corrupt world. But the second position is tougher to parse: it's flat-out conspiracy theory, but one masquerading as the sort of speaking truth to power that is appealing to the disaffected. I suspect the only reason such people don't automatically burst into gales of laughter at the idea that the likes of Churchill, Hitler, and Stalin would all sit down at a table and agree to let these over here die in exchange for those over there is because they sincerely believe that's how history and politics actually work. A terrifying concept.

tl;dr: We get not only the politics we deserve, but the view of political positions we deserve.


Tags: politics


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2015/04/02 10:00.

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