Friday, July 13, 2007

Left Behind

Phoebe Maltz wonders about those who say they want to critique the left "from the left." If they disagree with the left about so much, why do they call themselves leftists? Why not become a rightist? Or adopt some other political identity?

Well, the obvious answer is that you're attacking the left from a position even further to the left, but from the context I don't think Phoebe is talking about that. However, I would say that she is overestimating the amount of dispute "critics from the left" have with their supposed compatriots--they probably are on the same page for most issues, and are just at odds over one (probably high profile) thing. It seems silly to strike out on one's own just because of a handful of differences.

However, at the core, I think the answer to Phoebe's question lies in the realm of a shared set of commitments or presuppositions. More than policy end-results, this is how I think most people (or at least most intellectuals) determine who they consider to be in their camp or not. People don't come up with their political beliefs in a void--they do so by drawing on rich veins of argument, writing, and schools of thought. The people engaging in the debates Phoebe wonders about are, I suspect, having an intramural affair--it is entirely possible that a right-winger might not identify with the reasoning a leftist uses to get from point A to point B, even if she too agrees with B. And on the flip side, even where they agree on end points, a person who identifies with a certain intellectual paradigm may not want to associate himself with another, even if they end up agreeing on certain end-point policies. This is especially true where the person suspects his would-be allies have made their decision based on reasoning or beliefs he finds repugnant.

For example, take a leftist who supports aggressive action to promote women's rights in the Arab World. He says that he supports this stance due to liberal notions of equality for all persons and the belief that the subjugation of women, regardless of culture, is wrong (incidentally, the belief that Western liberals and feminists wouldn't sign onto that is one of the more peculiar myths to have been perpetuated against the modern left. But whatever). Looking at right-wingers who also are loudly decrying abuses of women's rights in that region, he might still not want to join their camp, for a variety of reasons. He might think they are being disingenuous, and don't actually care about women (wait for the first Islamic feminist to start demanding abortion rights and see what happens). Even if their commitment is genuine, it might be based on stereotyping or other beliefs he might not want to be associated with ("won't somebody please save these heathen savages?"). It's not all about the end game--the journey matters just as much. Because of that, people are quite reasonable to try and convince their old traveling mates to sign on to a new destination, rather than search about for new parties who say they're going where you're going but getting there in a morally intolerable way.


Dr. Ferris said...

The problem is that the Left no longer represents the liberal pole of a political spectrum, but instead a transnational criminal syndicate in the business of protecting Left-aligned despots, narco-terrorists, and resource pirates. It's more like a big Mafia than an ideological camp (thus why the disconnect between women's rights and Islamic sharia law, hardly a 'myth' amongst feminists of the mainstream Left, is so telling).

People who joined the Left based on their moral stances have left it, precisely because they find the Left something entirely different from what they purport to be. This trend has been obvious since the time of George Orwell; indeed one can trace the sentiment to the days of Emma Goldman when she visited St. Petersburg during the Russian Revolution.

What's much more curious - for me at least - is that anyone still falls for the same old Leftist lies, almost a century after the gulags. One would simply think looking to the example of the PRC would be sufficient evidence to give moral pause. Perhaps I'm naive.

David Schraub said...

I am so sick of this BS strawmaning. I haven't met a single mainstream feminist who's supported Sharia law. I haven't met a single mainstream leftist who approves of narco-terrorism. I don't know a single mainstream leftist who doesn't want to see freedom and democracy spread to every corner of the earth. And I don't know a single mainstream leftist who sees China as a model for what they want our or any other society to look like.

Lord knows I don't agree with everything that comes out of the left these days. But I challenge you to find a single influential feminist who approves of how Sharia treats women. Find me the one that says China is a utopia. Find me the one that says democracy is for chumps.

Until you do that, you're just trafficking in myth and slander.

Jack said...

a transnational criminal syndicate in the business of protecting Left-aligned despots, narco-terrorists, and resource pirates