Left And Right
(Culture,Politics)
Noferblatz (17 August 2017 06:00:10)

Apparently, "left" and "right", when it comes to politics, mean different things depending on what country or region of the globe you live in. So let me clear up what I mean when I say "left" or "right". Being from the United States, this is generally how we see it.

Politically, there is a spectrum. This spectrum can be simplified if the ends are properly defined. On the far far right is "anarchy", a condition under which there is no government at all. I'm sorry to all you right leaning people who think that's not the case, but it is. The far end of your side of the scale is anarchy. Being right leaning does not mean you favor anarchy. It just means that the very end of your side of the scale yields that result. At the far left end is pure collectivism, known by various names, like "fascism", "socialism" and "communism". It is the direct opposite of anarchy. It is total government, where government controls all aspects of your life. You left leaning people will simply have to live with the fact that this is true. Being left leaning does not mean you're a communist, socialist or nazi. But that is what awaits at the end of your side of the political spectrum.

American students of political science will likely argue that the above is not true. Let them. Academics usually overthink things and try to assert complexity where simplicity will do as well or better. They often try to assert nuance where linear reasoning is perfectly acceptable.

There are many terms like "socialism", "communism" and "fascism" which have varied definitions that tend to shift over time, often depending on the rhetorical point the speaker or writer is trying to make. I won't try to define them here. Next week, the definitions will change. What I will say is that there is a large difference between how these terms are defined and what they mean in practice. In general, the three terms above mean at least that the means of production are owned by the State. This is a nice definition, technically, but it ignores the reality of these systems. In all three cases, the reality is that the State is really a few individuals who benefit from the labors of the rest, and are considered more or less above the law. Fidel Castro, the leader of communist Cuba for decades, was worth somewhere in the nine figures before he died. His people, on the other hand, were generally dirt poor. This is the reality of these three systems of government. It's also worth noting that all three systems were built and maintained on the deaths of millions. I make these points because there are many people who advocate for these forms of government, based solely on what they theoretically mean and what they theoretically produce. And for some it might be nice if that were the case. But in point of fact, every single place where these systems have been implemented, the facts are that millions had to die to build such systems, and those few in charge reaped huge rewards, contrary to the technical definitions of terms. By the way, those millions who died usually died because they were either randomly targeted for genocide, or they disagreed with the political positions taken by the State.

"Democracy" or "democratic" are terms often used incorrectly and inadvisedly. Both simply mean that the citizens vote on issues or on who will lead government. A pure democracy, while it may sound nice in theory suffers similarly as the above three terms do. It sounds good in theory, but a pure democracy means that those in the minority are always at the mercy of the majority. This may sound good if you're in the majority, but if you're not, you can be guaranteed to suffer, more or less. Further, humans, in large groups do not often make the wisest decisions. Propaganda, selfishness, and all manner of negative human traits can and do influence voting. One could wish that merit alone would determine the course of voting, but this is almost never the case. Consider popularity contests, and you have the germ of what happens with pure democracies. It is difficult to say where "Democracy" fits on the scale, but it is somewhere close to the middle.

A "republic", which elects leaders to represent citizens is what the United States and many other countries are. They are often referred to as democracies, but in fact are not. They may have elements of democracy involved in how they select leaders or representatives, but they are not, technically, democracies.

If the above do not serve to flesh out the definitions of "left" and "right", then let me work a little harder to make the definitions clear.

"Left", for our purposes, means that the State is relied upon to provide for some or all the basic needs of the people. This may variously include pensions, health care, support for the indigent, ensuring public safety (from a variety of threats and dangers), protection of the environment, education of children, etc. etc. In general, anything which could be handled (however badly) by the government is seen as the province of the government. As you can see, the more of this which is allowed to take place, the more one approaches the far left end of the scale, socialism and the like. Solutions to problems which might be better solved by individuals or independent groups are all seen to be better handled by the government. Under a population which votes left, the government will grow proportionally.

"Right", on the other hand, typically means less government. In fact, the less government, the better, according to the right. The U.S. Constitution lays out what could be considered a very minimalist government. (Do not think that the federal government of the U.S., in its current condition bears much resemblence to that which was envisioned by the Founders who wrote the Constitution. This is a constant complaint of the "right".) Charity is best handled by private enterprise, rather than the government. Many items considered human "needs" by the left are considered privileges or just preferred goods and services by the right. For example, health care, while considered a human right by the left, is considered simply a service by the right. In general, the less regulation and service offered by the government, the better, according to the right. According to those on the right (and this pertains to the U.S. only) public safety, environmental protection, education, and the like are all best handled by private enterprise or private effort, rather than the government.

Some try to make the case that the right caters disproportionately to big business. This is not in fact true. Both sides do this. If you don't believe it, check out how much money is donated by big business to left and right political campaigns.

"Democrat" is simply a party label selected by those who lean left, and "Republican" is similarly a party label for those who lean right. I use these terms advisedly, because they do not currently mean what they once did. Both parties have merged toward the middle as the decades have progressed.

Other political parties in the U.S. (e.g. the Libertarian and Green parties) mean whatever they mean at the time, depending on their current platforms.

"Conservative" and "Liberal" are other handy labels bandied about. "Conservative" is supposed to be the type of thinking exercised by the right and the Republicans, while "Liberal" is supposed to characterize the the left and the Democrats. But as I say, both have gradually moved toward the center over the years. A new term, "progressive" has recently been used to characterize the left. But in fact, you also find progressives on the right as well.

Politics in the U.S. has more or less resolved itself to be the subject of how to get elected and re-elected. Political positions, while given lip service, are generally secondary to the all-encompassing task of getting and staying in power. Politicians are endlessly enriched, both in power and money by continuing to remain in government. Many political contests are purely driven by popularity and name recognition, rather than actual merit. This encompasses both the right and the left. Political boundaries (voting districts) are tweaked to ensure incumbents are preferred. Monies from the federal government are returned to the states to buy votes for incumbents. Bluntly, politicians rise in power, wealth and popularity, the longer they can remain in office. This may also be true in your country as well.

If you're from a foreign country (or you lack any Civics education, as is typically the case in this one), the above should serve to clarify what the many political labels mean in the U.S. I can't speak to the political labels applied in other countries, because frankly, I don't understand them. For example, the U.K. makes a distinction between the "working class" and the "middle class". In the U.S., there is no such distinction. Both would be considered more or less the same. Here we have the rich, the middle-class and the poor.

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