Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is There A Left?

This is one of the smartest things I have read for a while:
Keep in mind that the political spectrum in much of the world, and certainly in places like Australia, USA and Europe, is very far right. So you're actually choosing between two right wing parties, one of whom is extreme right and another slightly less so.

One of the central tenets of right wing philosophies is that rich people get richer. They dress it up a little differently, but that's the fundamental. The political debates we get these days are about how quickly and to how great an extent this can happen, and how much at the expense of poor people can it be (eg. how much can you get away with before they revolt, strike, or engage in other stubbornness).
All other discussion is off the table. If you try to represent an argument balancing the range of possible political systems, perhaps taking advantage of the good points of several, you get labelled an extremist. It's very difficult to get a discussion going, or throw ideas around. If you represent a genuine left of centre perspective, you are labelled as a loony or downright dangerous.
Thus, the terms "left" and "right" no longer have any useful meaning, as people might historically think of them. A more honest framing would be "degree of right wing extremism".
I wish I had said it first. But the quote is from here, and I first found a reference to it here. It happens very rarely that I want to shut up and let somebody else be heard but this is just that kind of case.

13 comments:

tinceiri said...

Keep in mind that the political spectrum in much of the world, and certainly in places like Australia, USA and Europe, is very far right. So you're actually choosing between two right wing parties, one of whom is extreme right and another slightly less so.

Looking at this in terms of 'left and right' is very paternalistic and very imperialistic. When I hear something like this, I often think that the author is trying to alude to something like "purdah" or "machismo" or geishas and footbinding, or whatever stereotyped cultural tropes are taken as signs that everywhere can be thought of as "left and right" as it is understood in America and the "rational and secular" Western world.

It is also extremely paternalistic. It attempts to "rank" places in the sense that "left and right" are commonly understood elsewhere. That's the classic colonialist way of thinking about this - a teleological line of progress for reductively comparing and hierarchically ordering whole societies, mitigating discussion instead of sitting down and listening.

And that's all kinds of fucked-up because it's this sort of attitude that has supported brutal regimes and horrible economic policies in the name of "progress" - "progress" that has disproportionately harmed women around the world. And I say that as a U.S. citizen.

Clarissa said...

The person was only talking about the US, Australia and Europe, so I don't know how this has anything to do with colonialism.

Also, I am greatly in favor of the idea of progress. And I am not afraid of calling a spade a spade and talking about horribly sexist practices in japan, Latin America, Muslim countries, etc. I respect people living there enough to hold them to the same standards I hold myself and my neighbors. The opposite is what's paternalistic.

tinceiri said...

No, you're the one who is being paternalistic.

When you say something like "the political spectrum in much of the world....is very far right" you're setting yourself up from this highly ethnocentric viewpoint as the rational and "progressive" one, and establishing the standard by which all others should be judged.

This isn't just an issue of words. Considering the history that feminism in "Anglo-world" has of actively using women of color and other cultures and ethnicities without any regard to their views or feelings, I don't think it is just a question of how you frame your words.

Rationality and "progress" is informed by culture, so to view another culture from "outside objectivity" is impossible. And not only that, but not all people are secular - so how can you help them if you are not keeping in mind their unique perspectives, their goals, their dreams?

Change should always come from within. Always. ANY outsider who comes into a culture and says "You should do this" is imperialistic, paternalistic, and off-putting. In short, to do so only furthers systems of oppression.

tinceiri said...

I should also point out that I think that your intentions are good, but that you're relying too much on a false dichotomy to make your arguments.

You see, I live in a "progressive" society where the whole purpose in life (at least as I understand it as status is bestowed) is to be in some form of full-time market-based employment and to buy lots of pointless crap that I don't need. The production of which, of course, is threatening the continued survival of this very planet.

Then, I'm being told by said "progressive" that I've got to make plans to make marriage and family-based life plans.

You see, you've already got a pretty good idea of how certain things in the world work - but you don't have a keen enough awareness of how ridiculous the notion of "progress" is in your own culture. A good exercise would be to listen to women from other cultures giving you their impression on yours - suddenly your certainty about who needs to learn from whom may be shaken.

And I do not say this to tear you down. I find you to be a smart person who is certainly willing to listen to other people and wants to do the right thing.

Clarissa said...

"and establishing the standard by which all others should be judged."

-The others I'm referring to definitely have no problem with judging me. Why should I be afraid of having a judgement and expressing it?

"Change should always come from within. Always. ANY outsider who comes into a culture and says "You should do this" is imperialistic, paternalistic, and off-putting."

-Excuse me, but I'm not coming into any culture and telling anybody what to do. I'm sitting right here and expressing my opinions. I don't see how having an opinion (beyond the inane everything-is-acceptable philosophy) is "imperialistic."

"And not only that, but not all people are secular - so how can you help them if you are not keeping in mind their unique perspectives, their goals, their dreams?"

-Help them?? And then you say I'm paternalistic?? I never suggested I was interested in "helping" anybody who did not ask me to do so. I want to help myself and defend my rights. I respect other people enough to believe them capable of doing the same if they so wish. If I'm opposed to the burqa and think it's a barbaric, chauvinistic, repressive, and disgusting habit, it's not because I want to "help" burqa-wearers. I only want to prevent them from forcing their burqa-wearing on me. that's all.

Clarissa said...

"You see, I live in a "progressive" society where the whole purpose in life (at least as I understand it as status is bestowed) is to be in some form of full-time market-based employment and to buy lots of pointless crap that I don't need."

-The purpose of my life is completely different. So maybe it's not the society's problem if you define your life purpose this way. Maybe it makes sense to take some responsibility for the purpose of YOUR life.

"Then, I'm being told by said "progressive" that I've got to make plans to make marriage and family-based life plans."

-Is anybody forcing you to listen to the message at gunpoint? If not, then you CHOOSE to listen to this crap. And then blame "society."

" but you don't have a keen enough awareness of how ridiculous the notion of "progress" is in your own culture."

-A mere 100 years ago I wouldn't be able to get an education, be a professor, publish scholarly articles, have as many sex partners as I want and not get pregnant every 15 minutes. For me, that's progress and a pretty amazing one. And, of course, I care what anybody from a sexist culture thinks about this progress just as much as they care about what I think about them. :-) So there is perfect equality here. :-)

Clarissa said...

"And I do not say this to tear you down. I find you to be a smart person who is certainly willing to listen to other people and wants to do the right thing."

-Thank you. :-) It's the definition of "the right thing" that usually causes the most trouble. :-)

tinceiri said...

"and establishing the standard by which all others should be judged."

-The others I'm referring to definitely have no problem with judging me. Why should I be afraid of having a judgement and expressing it?


The issue is that by looking at things in terms of "left" and "right" as it's understood in Anglo-America by this blogger that you are only furthering existing stereotypes and judgement calls that are cast upon various groups as if they are depraved and irrational, Dark Age superstitious people who "mate" like animals and slave away for some sort of quasi-Republican right-wing semi-divine "capitalist" overlord.

These people aren't in the Anglo-America world, and this author is an idiot. It's not just a paternalistic thing to say, but racist in the sense that it's just being used to serve a higher cause in the social "radicalism" paradigm.

"-Excuse me, but I'm not coming into any culture and telling anybody what to do. I'm sitting right here and expressing my opinions. I don't see how having an opinion (beyond the inane everything-is-acceptable philosophy) is imperialistic."

We are all complicit in American imperialism, and the argument is often over to which degrees our opinions are imperialistic. This is not trite - bad opinions have the power to kill people.

In the case of imperialism, it is not just about maintaining overt control over a country but promoting and maintaining certain "ideas" that are still racist, hierarchical, and colonialist at the core. Anyone who points at another group and imposes their ideas on them is doing exactly that.

"Help them?? And then you say I'm paternalistic?? I never suggested I was interested in "helping" anybody who did not ask me to do so. I want to help myself and defend my rights. I respect other people enough to believe them capable of doing the same if they so wish. If I'm opposed to the burqa and think it's a barbaric, chauvinistic, repressive, and disgusting habit, it's not because I want to "help" burqa-wearers. I only want to prevent them from forcing their burqa-wearing on me. that's all."

Helping people isn't paternalistic if you're helping them by listening to their concerns and enabling them to empower themselves. That's part of being a good ally and an activist.

You're also trying to bait me with the burqa comment - nice try.

-The purpose of my life is completely different. So maybe it's not the society's problem if you define your life purpose this way. Maybe it makes sense to take some responsibility for the purpose of YOUR life.

-Is anybody forcing you to listen to the message at gunpoint? If not, then you CHOOSE to listen to this crap. And then blame "society."


Except it doesn't work like that. Society is not created in a vacuum, and we are all complicit in the process of imperialism. Particularly when "rational self-interest" enters the picture.

"-A mere 100 years ago I wouldn't be able to get an education, be a professor, publish scholarly articles, have as many sex partners as I want and not get pregnant every 15 minutes. For me, that's progress and a pretty amazing one. And, of course, I care what anybody from a sexist culture thinks about this progress just as much as they care about what I think about them. :-) So there is perfect equality here. :-)"

Except it's not perfect "equality" and it's extremely problematic to assume that. Your notion of sexism doesn't apply to what someone in another culture has experienced because your background is different and your cultural norms are different.

That's a nice list of various privileges that you've obtained, but it hardly extends to everyone who lives in the United States.

Clarissa said...

"as if they are depraved and irrational, Dark Age superstitious people who "mate" like animals and slave away "

-Notice, tinceiri, that this description comes from nobody other than you. These are your beliefs, your thoughts, and your characterizations. None of this could have come from me if only because I'm incapable of using the words "Dark Ages" which refer to a historical myth. And also because I believe that "mating lke animals" is fantastic. In right-wing societoes people, unfortunatley, do not "mate like animals", and that's their tragedy.

"Anyone who points at another group and imposes their ideas on them is doing exactly that."

-You seem to confuse expressing opinions and imposing them. How can stating what you think in your blog "impose" anything on anybody? Those who don't want to read it can always just switch to another blog, site, forum, or whatever.

Clarissa said...

"Helping people isn't paternalistic if you're helping them by listening to their concerns and enabling them to empower themselves. That's part of being a good ally and an activist."

-Nobody has really been coming to me asking for my help. If people come to express their concerns to you, then good for you.

"Except it's not perfect "equality" and it's extremely problematic to assume that."

-The term "progress" does not imply perfection. It implies just the opposite, namely, that there is a lot more that remains to be done.

"That's a nice list of various privileges that you've obtained, but it hardly extends to everyone who lives in the United States."

-Could you name which things out of those that I mentioned are inaccessible to some women in the US, Australia, and Western Europe?

tinceiri said...

How can you NOT be familiar with policies such as "White Australia" or their equivalents in the rest of the English-speaking world? Even when "equality is guaranteed on the books" women of color are still being treated as second-class citizens.

I have absolutely nothing to say about the rest of this.

Clarissa said...

Would you rather that rights were not guaranteed to women "on the books"? Are women better off when things are guaranteed on the books than when things were not guaranteed on the books?

If the answer is yes, then you have to agree there is progress. Once again, progress doesn't mean perfection.

tinceiri said...

From my point of view, it is always problematic to rely upon the books to coerce "progress." It is really more indicative of the problem than the intended solution.

Often, "progress" has not come quite as far as one would think.