I used to think that left-vs-right was an ideological battle that consumed American thinking far more than Australian thinking. However, having indulged in glimpses of Andrew Bolt’s blog and his adversaries at Pure Poison, I’m not sure that we’re really any better. Theoretically, “left” and “right” define a spectrum of economic policy: left for socialism, right for capitalism. Somehow these have become nouns of the form “The Left” and “The Right”, which are about categorising people. If one is “from” The Left or The Right, one is expected to conform to particular stereotypes. Increasingly, these stereotypes have less to do with economic beliefs and more to do with dogmas that span the whole spectrum of political discourse, and even personality characteristics such as anger and dishonesty.
The terms are almost vacuous, and their use says more about the speaker than anything else. They’re born of the same mentality that produces xenophobia and racism. People are placed into groups so that the group can be criticised as one monolithic entity. In extreme cases, the group is made out to be a shadowy, hierarchical organisation, often an extension of a political party.
You are of course expected to take sides – to identify yourself as being a leftist/progressive or rightie/conservative. If you don’t want to label yourself, the choice will be made for you. If you’ve been called a “leftist” on occasion (as I have), you might tend to subconsciously include yourself in that group whenever someone else makes a nebulous stab at “The Left”. Thus, having taken such accusations personally, you recoil at them. You may never have deliberately chosen such a label for yourself, and the person making the criticism may not even know of your existence, and yet animosity arises. Such is the insidiousness of politics. Unlike race, there is at least the possibility of choice, but the choice between two simplistic labels brushes aside an enormous spectrum of complex issues.
Racism, however, gets us to the issue of the moment – Andrew Bolt’s apparent discovery that agents of the forces of darkness are seeking to discredit him, by attempting to post racist comments on his blog. The implicitly-accused suggest that Bolt is making the whole thing up. Bolt’s readership has almost unanimously condemned The Left for this apparent act of treachery, while over at Pure Poison the rebels were flinging it right back at The Right. Pure Poison accuses Bolt’s readership of a general tendancy towards racism, while Bolt cryptically refers to the “New Racism of the Left” (possibly trying to coin a new vacuous catchphrase).
It seems to be the height of wit and cunning to take a criticism directed at your group (e.g. racism) and send it back at the other group. There doesn’t need to be any supporting argument or evidence. It doesn’t even really matter what the criticism is. Your cohort will gleefully pat you on the back for having demonstrated the “hypocrisy” of your opponents. It’s all imaginary hypocrisy, but then truth is whatever is said by one of your own. Hypocrisy is the ultimate point-scoring system, which is why so much effort goes into inventing it. It’s really just a more sophisticated form of “I know you are, but what am I?”
I thought for a moment about making a tearful confession to Bolt, just to see what would happen, but I’d probably be drowned out in the torrent of pre-existing outrage. (Besides, Bolt seems to write a dozen or more blog entries every day, and probably doesn’t really care all that much.)
My approach to the whole thing is this: establish your own beliefs, ignore any attempts to label you, and let others express their beliefs freely without labelling them. It should be possible to debate issues related to economics, society, religion, environmentalism, etc. without resorting to vague and bizarre generalisations of The Left or The Right.