Too often in political debate – mea culpa, mea culpa – the idea is to score emotive points against the other side. The easiest way to to this is to attract the flaws in the rhetoric of the other side. What I mean is that political scrapes target the bluster and emotional appeals of the other side as naturally the weakest point in their argument. Both sides score points by using ad hominem (attacking the man, and not the program or the events; the example here is Clinton and Monica) and straw man arguments (over characterize your opponent’s view, then attack the characterization (minimum wage is communism).
But if we allow our selves to dwell in the strange and quite separate universe of theory and analyze some of the basic assumptions and ideas behind the Left and Right, we might come to a much better understand of ourselves, our opponents, and how to actually make things better.
The basic assumption is about human nature. I think that in today’s world we would recognize it most succinctly in the nature vs. nurture debate. Are our actions and personalities shaped by our circumstances, or simply by our genetic material? Conservative thought assumes an essential unchanging humanity, while those on the Left see the social determinacy of human behavior, and seek to mold not just a better society, but a better humanity. What I would point out is that neither side is interested in any aspect of the other in any practical way.
The strength of conservative thought is that by assuming a fixed human being, it sets self up appeal to our experience of the world with each other. It therefore anticipates the disasters of Revolutions, untried economics, and resents the arrogance of the Left. It’s skeptical, and practical, and fits well into our daily lives and experiences. Political and social stability reflects the stability of the human personality.
Leftist thought thinks that the change is too easy. It looks forward to a utopia that seems right around the corner. It’s strength is that by seeking change, it allies itself with the essential truth of living on planet Earth: things change. Leftists see a series of systems that all function together, and so to fix one problem, one must fix all problems, or to fix the system, one fixes all problems. This “totality” gets it into trouble.
I agree that the human personalty is essentially fixed. By this I mean that no matter how perfect our social, economic and political regime is, we will always be inconsistent, changeable, selfish, jealous, angry, unsatisfied, mean, etc. Any political system will have to take into account that on Tuesday, most people will want their entire world to be in order and quite, and then on Friday night, will want to go out and party and put indiscreet photos on Facebook. The Left needs to realize that on a psychological, emotional level, we will always be us; the Right needs to allow real change and acknowledge that your education level, your job, the basic circumstances of your upbringing and life will irrevocably mold your outlook and thoughts and opinions.
But on the other hand, our behavior is incredibly socially determined. First of all, as Aristotle observed, we are social animals. But I do not think we realize how submerged we are in social relations. We are social in the same way that whales are aquatic. We just can’t survive without each other. This is true economically (its just not an option to go out and live in the wilderness) and psychologically. Look no further than high schools cliques. With society (each other; our friends), and in conjunction with our emotions, is our we make our decisions and choose to lead our lives.
Context is everything.
Edmund Burke, at the start of the French Revolution despairs of the actions of the Revolutionaries. He argues for the essential justice and wisdom of the French Monarchy (he’s actually interested in preserving the English Monarchy), and he sees this as linked into a deep social/cultural past. The writings of Voltaire and the sermons of Dr. Price are inexplicable to him. We need to recognize that things change. Behind the immediate political and social reality, behind the reality of our emotions there is a world of massive complex economics.
Behind the drama of the Storming of the Bastille, the Terror, etc, there is the start of the Industrial Revolution, the advancement of technology, the growth of cities, mathematics, global trade, etc. The world is changing, human society slowly changes, and our political upheavals represent manifestations of this change being held back.
In the posters at the top of the article each side has characterized the other, in what I think is a rather revealing way. The poster on the left, created by the Republican Spanish Government during the Spanish Civil War, characterizes the Fascist/Nationalist Forces as the army, Catholic Church, and Nazi powers that be on a ship manned by Moroccan soldiers and sailors.
On the Right, a poster depicting the worst fears about Communism. Strange militaristic ethnic minorities rape and pillage the American heartland.
Hopefully, we can move on from these stereotypes.