Sunday, September 18, 2011

Symmetrical Radicalism

The left is terrified by the ambitious radicalism of the right's push for shrinking government (rolling back services, safety nets, regulations, etc.). They appear almost conservative as they reflexively defend status quo, horrified that a chunk of the country aims to force extreme changes which seem un-American.

It's an interesting exercise to contrast this with the perspective of those once forced to accept sexual revolution, moral relativism, multiculturalism, political correctness, legal abortion, and blatant homosexuality and atheism, etc.. These changes seemed, to them, un-American, but the chunk of the country behind them were unflinchingly certain this was inherently beneficial progress which any enlightened person would applaud. They showed no tolerance at all for other perspectives, which were, after all, obviously backward and hateful.

While I, myself, applaud many of those changes, and find it hard to sympathize with the (backward! hateful!) people who begrudged them, I can nonetheless empathize, generally, with the disorientation of being forced into unwelcome change, and the outrage of having one's values summarily disregarded by arrogant-seeming folks living far away. It's especially easy to understand how the unblinking sense of moral superiority would cause offense. And I can examine the evolution of my own attitudes to understand the perspective of those living in places where no societal tides carried them to conclusions easily embraced in places like my own New York City (please read this).

Can anyone on the left spot the symmetry? It seems glaringly obvious. That said, I can hear the objections: the difference is that Tea Party goals are bad, while 60's goals were good. A priori....much like Michele Bachman. The dogma may change, the radical spin may be clockwise or counterclockwise, but the "a priori" attitude is an evergreen. The answer is: no. No one on the left can spot the symmetry, nor would they acknowledge it if it were pointed out to them. There is a seamless firewall of empathy.

Human beings are reasonably empathic creatures on the local, individual-to-individual level. But our innate intra-tribe empathy is extremely poor. That's always been our Achilles heel as a species.


Jeff said...

In the economic sphere, reasonable people will disagree.

But it's hard to be as sanguine about the social issues that you bring up.

Though some on the left may display the "a priori attitude" you observe, this is an oversimplification. There is an essential difference between the two worldviews.

The right wants freedom. Freedom from excessive taxation, freedom from wealth redistribution, freedom from governmental restrictions in business, freedom of expression without fear of being branded "politically incorrect," freedom to pray wherever and whenever they desire, to the God they KNOW is the one true God.

I want all that for them, too. But I also want freedom, though I might not express it in the same way.

Why does the right only want freedom for those who think and look and act and love and believe like they think and look and act and love and believe?

There are bad actors, hypocrites, and "arrogant seeming folks living far away" on both sides of the political spectrum, as you observe. But the essential difference between the left and the right, is that the left does not want to deny right-wing citizens their rights to not have abortions, to worship God, to have monogamous, heterosexual sex in the privacy of their own homes, and within the bonds of matrimony. The right wants to deny certain members of society the same freedoms they hold self-evident for themselves.

The left should do its best to refrain from name-calling, smugness, arrogance, belittling, or marginalizing the right, but the right presents an existential threat to the left that the left does not present to the right. The less savory beliefs of the right may die of natural causes, but no one is proposing to ban or restrict heterosexual marriage, Christianity, or the rights of white people.

Barry said...

Well said.

Hugo said...

I think it is true living through the past 30 years should give those on the center left some sense of what it felt like during the ostensible liberal hay days of the 1960s when many of these issues were actually even hotter or so hot as not to be on the agenda. But there is something else disturbing about the current state of affairs. CNN and Fox did not exist 40 years ago -- the latter would not be able to exist in its current form due to the fairness doctrin -- but can anyone imagine CNN sponsoring a primary presidential debate that included Stokely Carmichael or Tom Hayden -- Angela Davis being excluded only because of her party affiliation. Yet, here CNN and other news media treat the Tea Party as a normal part of the political spectrum.

Jim Leff said...

"CNN and Fox did not exist 40 years ago --"

True, but Simon and Garfunkle (et al) did.

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