The Death Of The Left Right Paradigm

From the about section of Disinfo:

We disagree with any labels such as “progressive” or “conservative,” “left” or “right,” “right” or “wrong”

There are a number of thought viruses embedded within the Disinfo brand that are key to the awakenings triggered within its keenest readers, commentors and contributors. Thanks to these concepts our core community is able to disagree on everything and yet still instantly recognise and respect those who ‘get it’.

The inevitable expansion of the brand means it’s worth re-introducing and re-articulating some of these ideas for newcomers. One of the most important is the often misunderstood aspect of political identity[1]. It’s possible the notion of neither labeling yourself as left wing or right wing will be entirely new. If that’s the case I envy you as someone who listens to a great album for the first time, welcome to a world revealed by The Death Of The Left Right Paradigm.

Firstly a rough definition of what people usually mean by left and right[2]. In short, most people see the left wing liberal as ‘kind’, ‘caring’, ‘interested in changing things’ and ‘a little bit anti-establishment’, unlike the conservative right wing who are placed as their polar opposite. The further left or right you are the more extreme these positions are supposed to become. The theory is that this “political spectrum”, from left to right, is supposed to encapsulate all the different points of view which can be held by people who live in the year 2013 AD. To think people in years to come won’t find this a little absurd is difficult for those who have rejected it.

A paradigm is a way of thinking and, like fashions, they come and go. Those who try on the new clothes offered by the death of left vs right often marvel at the cloth sack pushed by the mainstream media and our education system. Without bulky left vs right thinking you are free to cut a suit specific to your unique perspective. There’s huge power in that is likely why this particular idea is now clearly bleeding from the internet, and obscure political circles, into mainstream consciousness. Recently the BBC broadcast an incredibly interesting exchange regarding the gradual death of left/right thinking on their Question Time programme. Here the founder of ‘The Big Issue’ magazine, John Bird, had been advocating investment in Northern mining communities to the panel and studio audience. He was questioned about his political leanings by a perplexed and “impartial” Johnathan Dimbleby. Bird’s answer was interrupted by the irrepressible responses it provoked and he stuttered a little under the pressure, not unlike a woman nervously going out on the town in a daringly fashionable new dress, provoking both laughter and wolf-whistles:

“I thought, I thought, you once said you were a Tory?” asked Dimbleby.

“I am, uh, this is so interesting, um, you get, you get, somebody quotes a little bit. I am a working class Marxist, uh, Tory with socialist,”

here Bird was interrupted by titters from Dimbleby,

“- uh, socialist, liberal leanings which means to say -”

laughter rippled out from Dimbleby to the rest of the panel and parts of the audience but as reaction set in suddenly supportive whoops and cheers echoed back from the public audience,

“I find it incredibly difficult to fit into left or right, because, like most people, they’re left on some things and right on others”.

BBC Question Time 10th Jan, 11 minutes in

[Nick's note - for 'Tory' read Republican]

There in its most favoured context, a broadcast studio, the left-right paradigm lay in its death throes. I suspect it will continue to exist in the so-called impartial media for some years hence but make no mistake it rarely lasts long in someone’s mind once they really consider it. Furthermore, once it has died in someone’s mind they often start to question if people ever actually believed it, or just hadn’t thought it through. This is how a paradigmatic death occurs. Once gone, just like a peculiar fashion, it starts to look odd and unbelieveable[3]. Furthermore once you’ve seen through them you assume those who adopt them must be doing so with a level of self awareness or irony, in the same way you might go to a 60’s fancy dress night.

Without question the intellectual fashions in our time are evolving more rapidly than previously and this process has been dramatically speeded up by the multiple perspectives offered to people by the internet. One way you can tell a paradigm is on its way out is when they can be apparently demolished in someone else’s mind with only a few words. During the BBC’s broadcast of Question Time I went online and began to tweet. Within moments I was having the following exchange:

@NickMargerrison: Oh, this guy is spot on. Big Issue bloke, you legend. See, the way you spot a gudden is they’re NEITHER left nor right. #bbcqt

@TimothyShaw: Being neither left or right means you have a more balanced view.surely.

@NickMargerrison: I’m not sure that’s true. It makes your views more specific.

@TimothyShaw: Hmm. Never thought of it that way. I suppose that’s right, that John Bird certainly knew his own mind.

@NickMargerrison: Welcome a world revealed by the death of Left v Right! A bird needs two wings to fly.

‏@Timothy_Shaw: I like it!

The tweeter in question was not someone I knew personally but he, like most people who give it thought, instantly came round to the fact that the left vs right idea is way past its sell by date. The complete conversation is here: TWITTER CONVERSATION.

Furthermore, it’s not just obscure internet bloggers and tweeters who make up our number, the comedian Chris Rock puts it well:

“We all got a gang mentality. Republicans are f—ing idiots. Democrats are f—ing idiots. Conservatives are idiots and liberals are idiots. Anyone who makes up their mind before they hear the issue is a f—ing fool. Everybody, nah, nah, nah, everybody is so busy wanting to be down with a gang! I’m a conservative! I’m a liberal! I’m a conservative! It’s bull—t! Be a f—ing person. Listen. Let it swirl around your head. Then form your opinion. No normal decent person is one thing.”

– Chris Rock, ‘Never Scared’

As a comedian Rock occupies the classic role of a joker commenting from the edge of society but he has a huge following and his routine emphasises this point of view is not limited to Disinfo, and surrounding internet subcultures. That it is rarely discussed in the mainstream is a testament to how incredibly useful the left vs right paradigm is to people who wish to herd human cattle.

Firstly, dogmatic left wing and right wing “leaders” use these terms to rally the troops without tackling detail. As mentioned before those on the left identify as being more ‘caring’, this usually means they consider themselves to be more morally good than their enemies on the right. So, if you’re among their number you are likely to be manipulated more easily if a debate is framed in a moral context[4]. In my experience the right wing are more usually pleased if you can frame the argument as being one of intelligence versus stupidity or ignorance. This is because the emotional roots of the two terms are fear and love. People who are outside of the paradigm point out that both emotions are essential to our survival.

Secondly, these terms have risen to prominence, since their inception during the French revolution, in the context of the mass media. I think it’s no co-incidence that they incubated into an established paradigm alongside the notion that the media can somehow send out messages to people which are “impartial”. What most people mean by the word “impartial” is that there is a level of balance to any particular debate and that all reasonable perspectives are represented equally. This is easily done if there are only two points of view and they are both in opposition to each other. This is a lot trickier if you reject the notion of left vs right. I suspect that’s why the BBC presenter Jonathan Dimbleby tittered, to him these ideas are probably unfamiliar and likely very threatening to his way of earning a living.

On the back of my old BBC pass it says this:

“BBC VALUES:

TRUST is the foundation of the BBC, we are independent, impartial and honest”

I suspect that in the future the UK’s publicly funded broadcaster will have to admit the only aspect of its promise on trust that can realistically be maintained is honesty. No one is independent of their own perspective and as a result the opinions to which they are partial will always become apparent in the things they do. It’s only one of the immediate consequences faced as we watch the gradual death of the left right paradigm. The most significant is deciding what you think about an issue without asking a right wing or left wing authority.

Nick Margerrison (my twitter here).

Further listening:

Disinfo’s Matt Staggs discusses “impartial” media on this podcast.

A, slightly different, audio version of this piece exists on my podcast here. It’s right at the end.

Further reading:

Start with this Wikipedia article about The Nolan Chart, it’s a good intro. Follow the links from there.

I anticipate some of our more experienced Disinfonaughts will help newer members by filling out a few of the details in our always essential comments section.

[1] It’s likely seasoned Disinfonaughts will treat this article as a useful reminder. At best it might even be used as a simple way of clarifying your apparently odd mixture of political view points to the uninitiated. When challenged for not being a “liberal” or “conservative”, rather than trying to explain why you’re neither, you can perhaps link to this little article and press on with the detail of your specific debate.

[2] Anyone who thinks beyond these broad brush stereotypes is already breaking out of the narrow and nonsensical paradigm. Few readers, even those who still cling to the labels, will recognise themselves in the descriptions provided here. They are in every sense used ‘for the sake of argument’.

[3] Good example of this is the skepticism which has emerged online regarding whether or not the world ever really was considered to be flat. http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/453/did-people-think-the-earth-was-flat  ; http://bede.org.uk/flatearth.htm  ;  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7540427.stm

[4] Here’s fun. Is Darth Vader left wing or right wing? He is part of an Empire who appear to be opposing a hereditary Monarchy. You’re likely to assume Darth Vader is right wing, simply because he’s bad but in terms of the politics on display in Star Wars the answer is far more complex.

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  • ParanoidCoast

    I agree. In real life we use ad hoc methodology on case studies using deductive and inductive reasoning.

  • ParanoidCoast

    I agree. In real life we use ad hoc methodology on case studies using deductive and inductive reasoning.

  • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

    Darth Vader is Probably closest to Neo Liberal, IMO.

  • Andrew

    Here’s something better than the Nolan Chart: three dimensions! http://www.disinfo.com/2010/09/notes-toward-a-new-political-taxonomy/

  • SoruhFrake

    The Alternate Reality Newspaper, Newspaper
    with fictive news that we wish in our deepest hearts to awaken to. News
    that empowers and speaks of how things could be today in a parallel
    universe. Show people their strength and spread messages that remove
    fear.

    Here is a personal idea of mine:
    http://catharsiopa.com/?p=2035

  • SoruhFrake

    The Alternate Reality Newspaper, Newspaper
    with fictive news that we wish in our deepest hearts to awaken to. News
    that empowers and speaks of how things could be today in a parallel
    universe. Show people their strength and spread messages that remove
    fear.

    Here is a personal idea of mine:
    http://catharsiopa.com/?p=2035

  • BuzzCoastin

    in Amerika & Western Kulture in general
    it’s pretty common practice & even considered a good thing
    to believe in things by faith

    it’s the only Kulture I know of today
    that applauds & encourages people to embrace ideas
    without critical consideration and without any evidence that these beliefs
    are true or helpful to anyone but the sellers of the beliefs

    Oh & BTW: no one takes anything on faith in China
    every law,
    especially ones like keep off the grass, no entry, etc
    needs an explanation for the law on the sign
    and even then
    the average Chinese will evaluate
    whether or not it’s applicable to them or not
    if Homelanders were as recalcitrant as the Chinese
    it would truly be the land of the free

  • alizardx

    What’s killing the paradigm is that “left”centrism and right centrism serves the centrist purpose of upward transfer of wealth, the difference between the two is how they are marketed to their different target demographics, i.e. right-centrism is marketed towards the declining segment of the 1st World population that can’t count past 10 without taking off their shoes.

    The perceptions of difference fade with the first peek behind the curtain.

    When one realizes that to be a “liberal progressive”, one has to support a President who blows up our fellow Americans with drones and a national surveillance state and support a health care program designed to inflate the profits of wealthy investors in Big Health and Big Pharma and Big Insurance at the expense of delivery of actual health care.

    And to be a conservative, one has to support a government big enough to have the manpower to reach into womens’ vaginas, where “freedom of conscience” means the ability to teach that cavemen lived with dinosaurs in public school classrooms, and for pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions that conflict with their religious-myth based values, but that government has to be not big enough to fix our public streets and bridges.

    At least the McSchool vision of public education that’ll be of no use in social mobility (bio labs won’t hire a person who thinks dinosaurs and humans coexisted even if that person speaks Chinese) is bi-partisan. Along with the bi-partisan vision of public works created at taxpayer expense being sold at firesale prices to private investors who will charge far more user fees for worse quality service, these investors just happen to be big campaign donors.

    This goes past the mainstream, to be a good Singulatarian Futurist, one has to support the “wise, benevolent” viewpoint of a Peter Theil, whose political donations that don’t go to his Singularity movement support the sequestration via GOP superPACs, which will shortly be killing off new science research grants in the name of the “Futurist” vision of “NO NEW TAXES” for Silicon Valley billionaires.

    Note that any senior Democratic House or Senate member should be blamed, too for sequestration, they were complicit in a generation of decisions that increased the political power of the top 0.01% to the exclusion of all the rest of us. So only their interests in not paying their fair share of what’s needed to keep the infrastructure working get considered.

    Is it a wonder that people with functioning brains are saying “Fuck it!” to the “left-right” vision and “Fuck You” to the people trying to sell us this vision?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=735360265 Liam Bean

    I agree with the premise. Unfortunately, since most candidates identify with one party or another, it is simply not possible to make a meaningful vote without casting it for one or another of the two main parties.

    I’ve been around long enough to witness what happens when a “dark horse” candidate enters a national race. His or her participation, if s/he has the support, results in a loss of votes for one side and a boost in the effect of the votes for the other.

    There have been some valid third party and party supported candidates. But let us not forget the effect of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” party or the Green’s support of Ralph Nader.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=735360265 Liam Bean

    I agree with the premise. Unfortunately, since most candidates identify with one party or another, it is simply not possible to make a meaningful vote without casting it for one or another of the two main parties.

    I’ve been around long enough to witness what happens when a “dark horse” candidate enters a national race. His or her participation, if s/he has the support, results in a loss of votes for one side and a boost in the effect of the votes for the other.

    There have been some valid third party and party supported candidates. But let us not forget the effect of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” party or the Green’s support of Ralph Nader.

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