What's Left?

My homie The Goat and I have been having an exchange about Santa Cruz on his blog this morning. He took issue with my assertion that SC is a nice community. Most of our exchange is in the comments following his post.

I'm not so much interested in rehashing my thoughts on SC and racism, inchoate as those are. Instead, I'm reminded again of how weird it is to be somewhere in the center-right vis-a-vis many (most?) of my friends here. I think back to when I worked at the free-market-gone-mad companies I used to be at, surrounded by ex-military guys who thought all environmental laws were ridiculous and who loathed the very idea of organized labor, where I was the pinko commie tree-hugger, and then I think to now, where I'm the reactionary. It makes me think Deep Thoughts about what it means to be Left.

To be left is to have a sense of indignation at social injustice. It's a refusal to accept that everyone in the entire world can't be equal, or at least can't have equal chances. It's a belief that the just society must do its utmost to protect not only the rights of its citizens (please note my nationalistic use of "citizens" as the default kind of human being), but their possibilities to succeed in achieving happiness and comfort.

On paper, of course, the Right largely buys that agenda, but it believes that the free market is the proper mechanism for bringing it about. Ideally speaking, it's correct (I think) that all people starting from the same place would arrive at their station in life according to an aggregate of luck and ability, but what makes the left take issue with that concept is that never in human history has everyone started from the same place, and it isn't "luck" that prevents people from having equal chances, it's structural factors like racism, (neo-,post-,whatever-) colonialism, sexism, etc. that limit the chances of the many so that the chances of the few are dramatically improved. While many of the overtly racist / sexist / etc. doctrines have been shelved, at least in official rhetoric, the legacies remain in all of the ways that people in academia are constantly pointing out.

The problem is that it's really easy to be right and really hard to be left. If all you have to do to live a just life is try to get rich while staying more-or-less honest and honorable, it doesn't take a lot of analysis. Look at all the mouth-breathing morons in business programs. On the other hand, if justice is only achievable after the most careful study of history, economics, politics, sociology, and psychology, who among us can really claim to understand the Big Picture? Marxism has had such a long shelf-life because Marx was very, very smart, and he offered a total picture of life that leftists could cling to; he had already figured out the whole fucking world, and marxists obstinately clung to his explanations over a century after they no longer described the world accurately.

Another reason it's easy to be right and hard to be left is that the right doesn't have to worry about fixing problems; the market will take care of them. All the individual has to do is worry about his or her own financial situation and the proof-in-the-pudding of living the good life is money in the bank. The left, on the other hand, has to figure out how to fix everything and by what means. This fact lends itself to the endless in-fighting and bickering among leftists, as they try to clarify their positions and champion their solutions, often at cross-purposes with people who agree with their principles in theory (which is what brought this whole thing up for me today: ok, SC is largely white and racism is bad. Now what?)

It's frustrating. I know what I believe: the unrestrained free market plunders the earth and mercilessly exploits human beings, so the proper role of government is the regulation of the market. The environment must be protected because human life, and quality of life, depends on its continued healthy existence. Religion is a matter of personal choice and must not be forced on anyone, particularly on children. A group of certain "rights" represent the best working definition of civil freedom and must be treated as legal and ethical absolutes. Violence is only justified in self defense. Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

The problem is that, even if my "fellow" leftists agree with all of that, we'd still argue all night about the particulars, while the right is off getting rich and ruling the world.

In conclusion to a too-long blog post, I'll just say that "we" would do well to remember who are friends are; we have a lot of enemies, and we don't do ourselves any favors undermining and sniping at one another.


Rachel said...

It also depends on what version of 'right' you're talking about. If nothing else, the current crop of prez candidates shows that the 'right' is about as good as the left at the whole bickering thing.

Have to agree with your point, though - just pointing out the structural problems doesn't accomplish much, and there are piles of people who don't give a damn anyway. I was surprised at how much latent racism I encountered in Montana this last weekend from people who would never consider themselves racist. This is when you're more happy than ever that you live in Seattle (or someplace similar). Those in the left bicker about methods while large corporate interests buy bigger yachts.

kungfuramone said...

It's a good point about the right bickering, too. One of my profs here was reminding me a while back that the issue of "propaganda" is one of the most important things in modern history, because almost everyone believes that they're correct in their outlook and the only reason other people disagree is that they (other people) have been misled.

Which lends itself to further bickering. Bicker bicker bicker.

Alexis said...

It's true. I work for ye olde property manager / owner of of New York and the World, and when I go out with my friends from urban educator days and their not-for-profit friends I can watch as I name my employer, mention that I don't find him (the CEO) so evil really, at all, and their (the non for profit kids') eyes do this widen at the edges and set, then look away thing. I shut my mouth instead of going into a "Well, say you were born with all these building deeds in your hand..." thing. Because isn't the American success model somehting like "At least you're not a junkie" But, I'm serious--- I mean, isn't the way we evaluate our success along lines by which it would be worse to not pursue power if given the opportunity. Wouldn't the CEO have failed his family had he not learned to manage wealth?
See how I will now apply this to ME...
I guess their eyes do this becasue I'm bright enough, they noticed, and how can I be devoting my commodity of energy to something ignoble like maintaining records for a property management group.
The problem is that I like fun best of all. And food. Now what I really want is just one more room. I'd like peace. I guess I have to volunteer for something. Darfur. I always sign petitions for Darfur.
I'm losing the thread.
I really like what you had to say about Marx and, obviously, I like your point on the difficulties of having the more complicated take on things.
Lefties sometimes really piss me off. I just want to do what I'm doing right here --- like, be confessional about all the ways I don't live my life in full consciousness of all the issues. And it usually really turns them off. And I'm like, yeah, I knew it would.
I am in a very strange mood today.
I'd be interested in what citizens can do about hating what's happening in Iraq. The thing is, I went to a protest before we went into Iraq and those, all over the world, didn't so shit. I think they probably have to be more consistent... and threaten the status quo. It never really got there. Plus that already happened in such recent memory and those people make money now.
See the property manager isn't taking TOO much of my energy commodity. They just want me to be able to see the doctor. Aren't they sweet to me?

Chrissy said...

Dude, you name ONE city in America where white people and black people TRULY live in harmony together, and I will shit you a golden monkey.

Trust in Steel said...

I guess I will throw my perspective into this arena, as someone who could best be classified as 'other' in terms of political persuasion - simply opposed to being subjugated by any left-wing and right-wing political structure. In any case, what makes KFR's perspective great is he actually evaluates the potential strengths and weaknesses of his own political positions and attempts to propose pragmatic solutions. The problem is that most of humanity will not do this as most of the population find it easier to blindly follow the mindless ideological rantings that are thrown out and recycled through the decades and centuries. The world needs more introspective minds like KFR, the problem is I hold the majority of the world to be lazy, self-absorbed, and relatively ignorant. This is why highly distilled 24 hour news cycles that spew simplistic analytical political frameworks have risen to be a plague affecting the intellectual health of an already decaying society. Periodically, society must purge the disease of it's corrupted nature via limited reform or violent revolution, depending on the severity of the condition. Maybe minds like KFR can find pragmatically viable reforms for political structures, although this very rarely happens. If and when this fails, I personally feel comfortable jumping into the abyss of self-absorbed barbarism to throw off the shackles of political subjugation. It is better to die with pride than to concede and live life as a slave. "Destroy all nations! Destroy all nations!" - Rage Against the Machine

Serenaded Hourly said...

Blergen blergen blergen blergen. Stop being so smart and thoughtful. You're making the rest of us look bad.

The Goat said...

I dunno. I like the quibbling. I agree that it is one of the things that defines the left, and I'm ok with it. You look at all of the problems out there, systems of oppression, and we obviously want to do something about it. And yet, the closer we get to solving the problem, the more complex the problem gets.

I guess my concern is that if we stop "quibbling" and essentialize solutions, we actually become what we are railing against. Not only that, but paying less attention to detail for the sake of "fighting the right," or "ending capitalist oppression" may indeed keep us from having a republican president in the short term, but in the long term we are running a risk of creating leftist politics that are just as exclusionary as those on the right.

Perhaps my issue is really more with the notion that it is "us against them," as opposed to making a better "us." If we are to achieve the latter-- which I think people on the left can at least agree upon in theory-- our politics has to be about more than simply calling out those on the right, but it also has to be about self-examination and education.

If we don't quibble about the apparently inconsequential details of race and the structures and institutions that perpetuate injustice, then we are denying the part that we implicitly play in this structure, whether we believe it or not.

Sure, the social, political, and economic problems that we see in front of us today (and they are all intersecting, blah blah blah) can be solved if we quit bickering, but I fear what those solutions would look like, and who they would exclude. By then, I doubt anyone would have any friends, let alone remember who they are.

Now, if you don't mind, I have to go eat some apple pie and murder white people.

kungfuramone said...

I am so fucking done talking about this shit for a while.