Not really a desi post… The Left/Right Divide

Several posts (for ex., here and here) have ignited quite a firestorm of comments and degenerated into Left vs. Right name calling. This being a blog and we being Desi, I suppose it’s understandable that eventually, things have gotta get political.

I found this post from Eric Raymond an interesting read for many of our “lefty” commentors (Sluggo/Liberalpundit, Anjali, Desinar, etc.) trying to understand why the “righty” folks (myself, GC, Razib, etc.) react the way we do to so much of the rhetoric -

IÂ’ve been reading a new blog called Left2Right, founded in mid-November 2004 as an attempt by a group of left-wing intellectuals to reach out to intelligent people on the right of the American political spectrum. It is indeed a thought-provoking read, but the thoughts they are provoking are not necessarily of the sort they intend. …One advantage my libertarianism gives me is that while I disagree violently with a lot of right-wing thinking, I understand it much better than most leftists do. The reverse is not quite as true; while I do believe I understand left-wing thinking pretty well, most right-wing intellectuals are not so ignorant of leftism that I have an unusual advantage there. They canÂ’t be, not after having passed through the PC indoctrination camps that most American universities have become.

What proceeds is a GREAT “Lefties are from Mars, Righties are from Venus” sort of discussion. In this particular case, how the Left often talks past the Right even when they’re trying to meaningfully engage them. (the fact that Raymond is writing from a Libertarian perspective is, as usual, major bonus points ;-)

For example, this quoted passage and its response could practically have been lifted verbatim from some of the stuff in our comments -

[quoting a "lefty" author] “If interests were all that divided us, the Democratic Party (what there is of the Left that has institutional power) would enjoy an overwhelming majority, since it represents the interests of the bulk of the population, while Republican policies favor mainly the rich. Most people understand this, and the Left can offer sound arguments and evidence to persuade those who disagree.” I am not a Republican. I have never been a Republican. But claims like this, presented as though they are unassailable fact, utterly infuriate me. And if they infuriate me, imagine how they would affect an actual conservative!

Another example – I’ve gotta imagine that for many lefty commentor’s, GC’s repeated invocation of the death toll from Communism feels like a red herring argument from, uh, right field. As if in GC’s honor, Raymond discusses the centrality of the fight against Communism in framing much righty thought.

Anyone out there have a similar “Right2Left” deconstruction? Now back to our regularly scheduled flamewars.

17 thoughts on “Not really a desi post… The Left/Right Divide

  1. Vinod, I’m glad you blogged about this. I’ve stopped for the most part commenting on political posts here because they do degenerate into shouting matches awfully quickly. There are other blogs where right and left argue forcefully, but thoughtfully, with one another.

    I, like many, used to be more to the left when I was younger and am now more conservative. So, it is easier for me to debate from the right as it were, because I spend a lifetime up until now arguing from the left. I’m always suprised by how ignorant some on the left are of even the basic ideas of the right. Very odd.

  2. I’m always suprised by how ignorant some on the left are of even the basic ideas of the right. Very odd.

    I’m probably treading into muddy waters here, BUT I’d tack on to this point and say that with many of the Lefty’s, in lieu of not knowing these core ideas, they instead conceive of them as simply the diametric opposite to their beliefs – for ex., “if we’re the believers in equality, then they must believe in inequality! how mean!”

    This ain’t the way to reach out….

  3. t for many lefty commentor’s, GC’s repeated invocation of the death toll from Communism feels like a red herring argument from, uh, left field. As if in GC’s honor, Raymond discusses the centrality of the fight against Communism in framing much righty thought.

    The reason I bring it up so much is that it’s the rotten core of so much lefty thought – whether they’re claiming that socialism is noble, that genetics don’t matter, or that the US has been “imperialist” for the last 50 years…it almost always comes back to brute ignorance of the enormous human toll that Communism took.

    I know, because I used to say the same things when I was ignorant in the same way.

  4. It’s funny. Many commentators have given examples of what drives them crazy about leftist blather. I found myself having the same reaction reading much of Eric Raymond’s article :) . Not that I think what he has to say is blather; it’s just that i feel that he is guilty to an extent of the same kinds of generalizations and ‘tarring with the same brush’ that he accuses ‘leftists’ of doing to rightwingers.

    But criticism is easy: what does a leftist stand for ? I don’t think the atrocities of communist governments the world over prove that a progressive ideology is doomed, any more than the fall of fascism can be attributed to the failure of right-wing political philosophy.

    From a purely political perspective, I would say that the fundamental tension exists between a “leftist” perspective” and a libertarian one: big government vs small.

    A progressive generally believes in a set of (possibly) utopian ideals, including issues like fairness, social justice, equality of all, and others that I am not competent to go into. Now these are of course things that a conservative/libertarian might also agree are good things to have. The difference lies in the belief of whether these goals are feasible, and how to achieve them.

    A libertarian point of view distrusts agglomeration of power: and if there is anything that the 20th century has taught us, it is that agglomeration of power, be it fascist or communist, can be a very dangerous thing. A libertarian/conservative might believe that even if some of the above goals are achievable in the ideal, enforcement of such goals either leads to more inequality, or leads to dangerous side effects and consequences for other aspects of social welfare.

    If we consider the matter of civil rights, there are many examples of conservative points of view at the time advising caution and recommending slow change rather than the top-down enforcement that came from the Civil Rights Act. A progressive looks to issues like this as examples of how the “leftist” viewpoint leads to lasting meaningful improvement in society. Whether or not one agree with this is beyond the point; progressives believe this to be so.

    I’m beginning to ramble :) , so I’ll leave the rest for another comment later on. But similar analysis can be made for economic issues (where I feel the conservative point of view has a far better track record, if only with some blinds spots regarding the nature of corporations).

    What I will agree with is that a valid worldview for liberalism has not been enunciated well in recent years. Ever since the sucess of progressive movements in the 30s all the way thru the 60s in the US, liberals have been content to sit on their message, thinking that it had become mainstream truth.

    What we are seeing now is a reaction to this orthodoxy, and in many ways this is refreshing, because inevitably a progressive movement for the 21st century will be different, and will have different bedrock principles than 20th century liberalism.

    Vinod was asking if there was a similar translation to do the opposite of what Eric Raymond has done. I don’t know of any good one, but for an interesting structural analysis of the kinds of rhetoric that conservatives traditionally apply (dating back to Edmund Burke and before), the book by Albert Hirschman called ‘The Rhetoric of Reaction’ is worth a read.

  5. Whoa, Suresh Venkatsubramaniam! I’ll respond to your post later (you make some good points), but you should know that there’s a funny article written about you:

    Johnny Can’t Add But Suresh Venktasubramanian Can by Fred Reed The other day I went to the Web site of Bell Labs, one of the country’s premier research outfits. I clicked at random on a research project, Programmable Networks for Tomorrow. The scientists working on the project were Gisli Hjalmstysson, Nikos Anerousis, Pawan Goyal, K. K. Ramakrishnan, Jennifer Rexford, Kobus Van der Merwe, and Sneha Kumar Kasera. Clicking again at random, this time on the Information Visualization Research Group, the research team turned out to be John Ellson, Emden Gansner, John Mocenigo, Stephen North, Jeffery Korn, Eleftherios Koutsofios, Bin Wei, Shankar Krishnan, and Suresh Venktasubramanian. Here is a pattern I’ve noticed in countless organizations at the high end of the research spectrum. In the personnel lists, certain groups are phenomenally over-represented with respect to their appearance in the general American population: Chinese, Koreans, Indians, and, though it doesn’t show in the above lists, Jews. What the precise statistical breakdown across the world of American research might be, I don’t know. An awful lot of personnel lists look like the foregoing. [much more at the link]

    Ok, it just references you, but I thought you’d find it cool.

  6. andrea’s story! long.

    Economically, I have never known a position other than the left. The system (mostly meaning health care, my big domestic soapbox) has NOT worked for me and my family, so I do not trust it. It is unjustified to expect someone who makes $40k a year pay $700 a month for health insurance. That’s what my mom thinks too, and that’s why she doesn’t have any. That’s the easy story to tell. There’s about ten more where that came from. If there were any reason for me to move to Canada, this is it.

    Morally, my political roots have two beginnings: my lifelong belief in equality and fairness (it was NOT fair for Mandy Norfolk to punch me in nursery school and get away with it because her grandmother was playground monitor), and everyone’s favorite Christian Coalition (long story… teenage rebellion..don’t ask.) Eventually I had major issues with how the Christian Coalition viewed equality as everyone is equal in the eyes of Jesus, and the government should think so too as long as you espouse our beliefs and worldview, and I’ve been a social liberal ever since.

    I’m conservative on gun control tho, since I realized that my short-lived pro-gun control position was based on the fact that I WAS AFRAID OF GUNS. I still am, but that doesn’t mean that you, or my husband, can’t have one. WTF?

    Perhaps a lot of my left-leaningness is leftover bitterness from my religious right days, or from SMU days where scholarship-student me heard my Republican classmates literally say “I don’t care about the issues, as long as I can keep summering in the Hamptons” – I’m open-minded enough to realize it’s a possibility ;) But I’m getting to the place where I know there’s a lot of nuances on both sides, and try not to paint either one with a broad brush.

    But nothing gets on my nerves more than being patronized. The right cries victimization about this all the time in recent days, how the “liberal elite” thinks they’re all stupid (and in typical lefty fashion, I offer a blanket apology for all the liberal prats who actually do think like this and I realize there’s a lot of them) – but it comes from both sides, and in Texas -> Dallas -> Plano, working in Highland Park (Texans will understand what this implies) – I get A LOT OF IT. From “you liberals just don’t understand how a rational mind thinks” or “when you get older and have children, you’ll vote Republican” lectures to being afraid to put my “We are creating enemies faster than we can kill them” bumpersticker on my car because I don’t want it to get keyed… both sides are guilty.

    When engaging in left/right dialogue, I try very hard to remember where I came from back in the day, although my opinions were just forming then. I was still a person who had rationale for what she believed. I don’t think either side has 100% of the right answers, and I refuse to debate with those who do, because no one’s mind is getting changed in those situations. As Abhi is fond of saying, we’re people, not vehicles for ideas, and so we should be respectful, cause they and we are more than a set of political beliefs.

  7. gc, sadly I am aware of this post :) . it was pointed out to me some time ago, and it was quite amusing to become (for a few brief moments) a poster child for what’s wrong with american education, and a link on right-wing websites everywhere.

    I made up for it this election, with a bunch of “sore liberal loser” cries for my cartogram posts of the us election results :)

  8. i guess i am on the “right.” but i voted for kerry. i thought that GC did too. guess that says something about how “right” and “left” in defined in this blog zeitgeist is two non-liberals who voted for kerry are 2 out of 3 rightists.

    also, i think a crucial problem is that many people, whether left or right, can’t conceive of people disagreeing on ultimate ends, that is, many left or right individuals simply assume they are arguing about means to the same ends when their ends do actually differ (eg; income equality vs. maximum median income).

  9. I think what most intellectuals on both sides don’t realize is what passes for right-wing thinking in non-urban, non-coastal areas relies solely on Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the local preacher. In much of the U.S., liberals are godless babykilling fag heathens, and conservatives are the only ones who are going to be saved at the Second Coming. I’m from the midwest and going back and seeing the mentality there makes me want to puke. If conservatives accuse lefties of being “out of touch” with the average American, then they need to realize that the average righty (the kind who doesn’t blog or write articles in magazines about economic policies) is quite often a half-literate Bible-thumping racist and this is why there are so many liberals foaming at the mouth once they escape their narrow-minded hometowns and get to college. Until the religious right breaks its hold on the Republicans and opens up rational discussion that isn’t Jeebus-based, I think liberals are going to continue to froth, because a critical thinker simply can’t argue with someone who uses religion as their intellectual base.

    Go watch “The Corporation” documentary, too. Sickening.

  10. Hmmm – so communists own the position that genetic don’t matter eh? I guess the founding fathers were all communists then. Oh, and as long as we’re lumping people together into simplistic groups, then should’t we put GC in the same group as the most prominent proponents of genetic politics in the 20th century?

  11. so communists own the position that genetic don’t matter eh

    Uh, yeah:

    After the end of the Second World War, German scientists wanted to separate science from ideology. They hoped for a new beginning without misanthropic political doctrines, but in East Germany [German Democratic Republic (GDR)], this hope was thwarted. There it soon became clear that the communists would decide in which direction scientific research would go, just as the national socialists had done before. This was true especially of biology and philosophy. In the 1950s and 1960s, the attitude of a scientist to the mode of thought encapsulated by the theory of evolution known as Lysenkoism and to the “the socialist achievements of the Soviet Union” was used as a measure of his or her political stance (1). It was within the doctrine of Lysenkoism that the self-styled developmental biologist, Georg Schneider, elaborated his career in the GDR. The Ukrainian agronomist Trofim D. Lysenko (1898-1976) became well known in the 1930s… Lysenko developed his anti-Mendelian theories over the next few decades. His idea–that acquired characters could be inherited–was totally at odds with what was known about genetics at this time. This notion was first known as “Michurin biology” [Ivan D. Michurin (1855-1935) was an early proponent of acquired inheritance, gaining his ideas from fruit-tree selection studies] and later as “creative Darwinism.” By the 1930s, Lysenko had gained Joseph Stalin’s support, which helped him to become president of the Lenin Academy for Agricultural Sciences (VASKhNIL) in 1938 and director of the Department of Genetics at the USSR Academy of Science in 1940. Because of Lysenko’s political power, Soviet geneticists abstained from criticizing his theories at their conferences in Moscow in 1936 and 1939. Finally, after the VASKhNIL conference in August 1948 (during times of general repression, denunciation, imprisonment, and murder), the principles of classical genetics were suppressed in the Soviet Union. Soviet genetics, which had until then been of the highest international standards and was led by researchers including S. S. Cetverikov, T. Dobzhansky, G. F. Gauze, N. V. Timoféeff-Ressovsky, and N. I. Vavilov, was given a blow from which it would take a long time to recover. Lysenko’s ideas found their way into textbooks and were taught in schools and universities. There were even attempts to apply his ideas to the evolution of man (e.g., in the ideas of I. I. Prezent).

    I seriously doubt the founding fathers were communists. “All men are created equal” meant that they held all men to be spirituallly equal, not that they believed men to be biologically equal. Only a fool would say that Yao Ming and Richard Feynman are “biologically equal”.

    the most prominent proponents of genetic politics in the 20th century?

    What, you mean Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood?

    she agreed with the “progressives” of her day who favored * incentives for the voluntary hospitalization and/or sterilization of people with untreatable, disabling, hereditary conditions * the adoption and enforcement of stringent regulations to prevent the immigration of the diseased and “feebleminded” into the U.S. * placing so-called illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, and dope-fiends on farms and open spaces as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct

    More Sanger:

    She focused many of her efforts on gaining support from the medical profession, social workers, and the liberal wing of the eugenics movement. She increasingly rationalized birth control as a means of reducing genetically transmitted mental or physical defects, and at times supported sterilization for the mentally incompetent.

    Yes, the “liberal wing of the eugenics movement” – i.e. the progressives?

    Much of eugenics belonged to the wave of progressive social reform that swept through western Europe and North America during the early decades of the century. For progressives, eugenics was a branch of the drive for social improvement or perfection that many reformers of the day thought might be achieved through the deployment of science to good social ends.

    When you’re ignorant, you’re ignorant…what can I say? Perhaps you didn’t know that eugenics was HUGE on the left, and that the “progressives” were the most prominent American proponents of sterilization, abortion, etcetera.

    As for my views – I support voluntary GE. As I said in another thread, the difference between voluntary genetic engineering (i.e. reproductive choice) and coercive eugenics (stopping people from reproducing) should be obvious to anyone who can tell the difference between coercive taxation and voluntary charity…oh, wait…

  12. FWIW, the Burgess-Jackson article that Suresh points out is more accurately a description of European Conservatism & Liberalism. Here, the central distinction is b/t tradition and “newness”.

    While there are some overlaps with the American defs of those terms but also some very big divergences… I’d argue that a non-trivial aspect of American conservativism is what’s often been termed “Classical Liberalism” (as opposed to “modern liberalism”) and focuses on a central question about the relationship b/t the individual and society (which, of course, does bleed into questions of tradition… but only as a corollary)

    The wikipedia entry on Liberalism captures some of the interesting nuances here.

  13. Anyone out there have a similar “Right2Left” deconstruction?


    On the Left, “On the one hand there is the Left. Yes, there is the one hand, literally on the left, and it is generally a bit more artistic. This can be good and can be bad. Some on the Left go pretty far and are like a bohemian artist who blurs the lines instead of drawing any lines at all. Perhaps they want to see things from both sides or see things from the other sides. They just can’t quite see things from the Right side. So in some artist’s minds there is not much right, only the little of what is Left. In the words, this is the kind of mind that hides between the lines and must be drawn out into the lines. For art, like morality, consists of drawing the line. Slightly more often, their words are literally backwards, dyslexic. The indiscriminate seek to blur discriminations, one will have to draw the lines for them. The link between ethics and aesthetics cannot be overlooked, it must be seen through insight to be seen in sight.” Into Good and Evil…

    Right to Leftists…. on Leftists narratives and their focus on the American judiciary.