True Diversity of Perspective Means Looking Left

In the United States, the political landscape ranges from moderate right to right wing. No one is talking about socialism, which is defined by state ownership of the means of production, even though we have many institutions that have characteristics of socialism, e.g., the U.S. military, police departments, utilities, etc. It’s rare to find any critique of capitalism in any kind of mainstream media. Marxist ideas, such as the theory of surplus value, are never discussed in an accessible format. Want to talk about anarchism? You’ll get laughed out of the room in almost every instance.

Yet, there is this narrative that the default position of the world is “left” that is maintained by U.S. conservatives, where “left” is defined by the Democratic Party, a party of moderate conservatives. Among Democrats, who talks about socialism, communism or socialism? Bernie Sanders is the resident token.

And, the argument goes, since so much of the world is “left,” you really should take a look at diverse points of view to have a broad-minded outlook. You really need to read more conservative points of view.

The goal is obvious. If you engage more with conservative ideas, you are more likely to adopt them. Further, the Internet is a propaganda tool par excellence and it will slowly surface the most extreme views since they are more likely to garner attention and commentary. So, as you engage, you are pulled slowly in the direction of the more radical conservative mental landscape.

Freedom of speech and a diversity of viewpoints are cover. Are these folks reading leftist thinkers such as David Harvey, James C. Scott, etc.? Do they have anything meaningful to say about Noam Chomsky? They don’t. It shows that diversity of viewpoint is neither a goal nor a value of these folks. Ideas that don’t fit on the continuum of Democrat/Republican continue to be “News From Neptune.”

And, the default is not “left” but “right”. In any public forum on the Internet, you’ll find legions of “conservatives” promulgating and proselytizing for conservative viewpoints while under the delusion that their ideas are an “alternative” that everyone desperately needs to hear.

Dude, and they are almost all dudes, there’s someone like you on every site on the Internet. I know your viewpoint. I’ve seen free market fundamentalism, and every variety of right-wing idea that is in common and uncommon currency. I know you’ve been baptized by conservative Jesus, but everyone doesn’t want to hear about it.

The simple fact is that there are some ideas that are simply stupid or hateful. I didn’t need to read “the other side” on issues like vaccinations, Flat earth, whether the Bible relates the true story of the creation of mankind, Aquatic Apes, and the whole host of other equally bad ideas. If you want to talk about Soros, you’re probably an anti-semite trying out arguments that are older than The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I don’t need to look at it. Have an Epstein theory? Great, keep it to yourself.

You could waste your whole life looking at these viewpoints. And, you’d be a lot dumber at the end of your effort.

Diversity of viewpoints is a great idea. You just need to look at the whole spectrum rather than pretend the Overton window is all there is and that the fringe right of allowable discourse – with its attendant racism, sexism, and other X-isms – is somehow under-represented or worth spending much time reading rationalizations in their favor. These are the default, gents, and diversity would be looking at viewpoints critiquing them, and those are found primarily by reading thinkers on the left.

Conversations with Conservatives: Lies We Tell About Ourselves & Others

  1. I was eating at a place that has communal seating. An older white man, mid-70s I’d guess, declares himself a conservative, and later, within the context of another table with, presumably, fellow conservatives says, lightly paraphrased: “Women would rather not work. The only reason they do so is because of economic necessity.”
  2. An older white man, mid-60s I’d guess, starts up a friendly conversation in small town America and quickly turns the conversation to how great a job President Trump is doing. My lack of enthusiasm makes it clear I don’t share his point of view. In a subsequent conversation, he claims he can walk six miles in an hour. As a runner, six miles an hour is a 10 minute per mile pace, which I do on my easy running days. While I’ve heard that there are Olympic race walkers that can do a mile in six minutes, I think there is no chance that this man can walk that fast. I say so. He doubles down and assures me he can do it, and would I like to join him? I tell him if I were to do so, I’d need to run.

These two exchanges got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. Does Conservative 1 not have any female family or friends that could let him know that economic independence is an important precondition for many kinds of self-actualization, which is just as important to women as to men?

Conservative 2 raises a more interesting question. Is he making this kind of out-sized claim about his ability because he is insecure? Or, do these kinds of lies serve a signaling function? By pretending that I’m impressed and taking this claim at face value, am I letting him know that I value our relationship over some kind of “objective truth”, which signals that I am part of his political tribe? By not doing it, am I signaling the opposite? Was this the point of this obvious, white lie?

And, is this also going on in the first example? Maybe the point of claiming that women don’t want to work is to shore up the rationalization of patriarchy among conservative men and to form them into a tribe of shared interests? The reality may be besides the point.

Extend this out far enough, and it starts looking like a feature of our times: left, right and center. Aren’t antifa leftists, liberal Democrats, and pretty much everyone else with a political viewpoint basically trying to signal that they buy into a particular narrative? And don’t all of these narratives have winners and losers, with the losers being some kind of Other to the tribe with that particular set of beliefs?

Outer Limits — Real Life

“Today, one of the best predictors of one’s political orientation is the density of the neighborhood they live in; people who live in the suburbs are also more likely to get their news from broadcast and local television. Taken together, this means suburbanites see fewer strangers in their everyday lives, and fill that void with sensationalized accounts of ever-present, creeping danger.

This creates fertile ground for reactionary, conservative political movements. While most suburbanites still get a majority of their news from these older media sources, more of them are getting it from apps like Facebook and Nextdoor, where the ideas broadcast through outlets like Fox can fester person-to-person. In this way the suburbs get the social functions of the city street, but with suburban-style tools of control and segregation.”

—David A. Banks, “Outer Limits.” Real Life. June 20, 2019.

Something that occurs to me is that the prevalence of far-right conservative ideas among the 65 and older set in the United States might be a symptom of loneliness.

If you have few friends and little social connection, are unemployed, and are considered a marginal Other, you might start looking for belonging wherever you can find it. A Ku Klux Klan outfit might give a sense of relevance back to a person who has grown old and has no experience with being marginalized.

Liberalism is the Incubator of Authoritarianisms

“‘Are you against the ‘liberal order’ which guaranteed peace and stability, and other wonderful things for so long?’ The obvious answer is that your much-cherished liberal order was the incubator for Trumpism and other authoritarianisms. It made human beings subordinate to the market, replacing social bonds with market relations and sanctifying greed. It propagated an ethos of individual autonomy and personal responsibility, while the exigencies of the market made it impossible for people to save and plan for the future. It burdened people with chronic debt and turned them into gamblers in the stock market. Liberal capitalism was supposed to foster a universal middle class and encourage bourgeois values of sobriety and prudence and democratic virtues of accountability. It achieved the opposite: the creation of a precariat with no clear long-term prospects, dangerously vulnerable to demagogues promising them the moon. Uncontrolled liberalism, in other words, prepares the grounds for its own demise.”

—Pankaj Mishra in an interview with Francis Wade, “‘The Liberal Order Is the Incubator for Authoritarianism’: A Conversation with Pankaj Mishra.” The Los Angeles Review of Books. November 15, 2018.

The fact that authoritarians are propped up by other authoritarianisms is commonly understood. Pointing to terrorists, pirates, criminals, and The Other in all their manifestations has always been a way to legitimize the rule and draconian practices of the elite.

But, liberal ideas like “human rights,” “rule of law,” and so forth are given a free pass on a more critical review of when they are applied and who benefits. What do these terms mean in a society where 1/3 of black men spend some time in prison? What do they mean when the bombs dropped by Saudi Arabia in Yemen are made and dropped from planes sold by the United States?

When you understand that concepts like human rights and rule of law don’t apply equally to everyone, as is suggested by the name on the tin and how it is used, then it is easy to see the relationship of liberalism with other forms of fundamentalism. Free market fundamentalism is one obvious manifestation. But, rule of law and legal positivism is no less of a fundamentalism, one that doesn’t track well with reality when one can get past the surface and take a more critical look.

It’s an interesting point that liberalism is the fertile soil in which authoritarianism grows.

Michael Cohen’s GoFundMe: Why Liberals are Giving to Cohen, Stormy Daniels, and Peter Strzok – Vox

“The success of crowdfunding campaigns for anti-Trump figures — even Cohen — seems to be yet another manifestation of the progressive enthusiasm that’s showing up elsewhere. People are angry, upset, and ready to go, and it’s an outlet for them to do something. After Sen. John McCain’s death, one person donated $20 to Cohen’s fund in his name.

‘What it looks like to me is that progressives in particular are engaging in any way you can think of, money being a big one,’ Thomas, from Crowdpac, said.”

—Emily Stewart. “Michael Cohen’s GoFundMe: why liberals are giving to Cohen, Stormy Daniels, and Peter Strzok.” Vox. August 27, 2018.

After reading this article, one has to wonder how contributing to Micheal Cohen’s legal defense fund constitutes a “progressive” outlet for action. Is there not a more worthy cause to contribute your money to than Micheal Cohen’s legal defense fund?

This is just the most recent example where a thinking person has to step back and look at the two party system with its constituent factions and wonder, “What is going on here?”

Progressives, liberals, evangelicals, and Tea Party conservatives are consumed by agendas that are oxymoronic. The classic example: You can have small government. You can have a global war-fighting capability. But, you cannot have both. Modern conservativism pretends you can.

And, it’s not just conservatism. Progressives want government to foster change. But, the more power government has the more attractive it becomes for capture by corporate interests, which uses the government’s power to reenforce the status quo.

Progress, assuming it is possible at all, isn’t driven by the federal government. Exhibit A: alcohol and drug prohibition that was advocated by progressives became tools that turned into the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. In the long run, government power is used to promote elite interests and not any kind of “progress.”

Add in:

  • Free market fundamentalists who believe the free market is the solution to every problem, and neither know of or care about the horrors of the factory systems then and now.
  • Liberal identity politics whose big idea is to put women and people of color in positions of power and maintain the status quo by reigning in the worst abuses.
  • Evangelical literalists that want to return to the social relations of pastoral and agricultural societies while living in an industrialized one.
  • The anything for a Buck crowd that are in it just for the money and influence, i.e., most politicians, regardless of party.

When you look at this dumpster fire, with whom do you wish to associate? Democrat or Republican? Liberal or conservative? The only reasonable answer is none of the above.

I’ll cast my vote for the least worst candidate. But, don’t expect me to pretend to care or believe that it makes much difference.

Free Speech: A Magic Shield That Lets You Be An Asshole?

“The strategy of a lot of the people on the far right is to get us to attack our own institutions and not think that they’re valuable anymore.

By waving free speech around as if it was a magic shield that lets you be an asshole, they’ve convinced a significant percentage of the rest of us that the problem is free speech, as opposed to the problem is you people. I think that there’s a real risk going on here that people fall for it.”

—John Battelle, “A Magic Shield That Let’s You Be An Assh*le?NewCo Shift. May 18, 2018.

Can we at least agree that if you are going to use the word asshole, you should do so without any cute modifications or simply choose another, non-cuss, word?

The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative

Take boots, for example. [Vimes] earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was … on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

—Pratchett, Terry. “Men at Arms”, quoted in Fleischmann, Amir. “The Myth of the Fiscal ConservativeJacobin Magazine. March 5, 2017.

The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative talks about the strange notion that sometimes you have to spend money to save money. One example from the Bush II era is that for every dollar the U.S. federal government spent on Medicare, Part D (the prescription medicine program), Medicare saved two dollars of spending.