Saturday, 21 July 2018

The left-right tango is a dead end

The problem won’t go away. Even if Trump is defeated in 2020 by a Democratic candidate, the Democrats will certainly lose another election at some point in the future. Then, who will the GOP bring out to furnish material for their party’s chances at government? If we are being primed for fascism with Trump, how much worse will be the next person who wins the party’s nomination for president?

The internet is becoming increasingly shrill on both sides, with people on the left and on the right reacting with hyper-partisan fever to things that are published to furnish material for the debates that rage online. It’s not quite an echo-chamber, but it does involve narrow-casting by politicians keen to reach their target audiences. What is incontrovertibly true however is that the quality of the discussions online is mostly very low-quality, with people digging into entrenched positions and using sarcasm to make points, and often releasing ad-hominem barbs, rather than dispassionately addressing the issues at hand.

In this environment of claim and counterclaim there is no quarter given. People reward the figures in the public sphere who take the most extreme positions possible, and unthinkingly share their productions as they strive to defeat their enemies and create cohesion with others who have similar views as them. Rewarding extreme views on both sides just serves to further polarise the public sphere and the people in the middle are ignored or shouted down. Like Narcissus at the pond in the forest, people only admire their own image, and give recognition to others if they conform to a single, narrow stereotype. It’s a world as chaotic as the one foretold by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats in his now-famous lines, published in 1920:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The best are the people with moderate views who are ignored in this frenzy of consumption, where the most execrable junk food, laden with carbs and sugar, is devoured with the same relish as some rare delight from a fine eatery located in the swanky end of town.

This is no way to conduct debate, and it will just result in governments that make poor decisions in order to fulfil election platforms that take form in a maelstrom of extremist rhetoric. We need a better way, a slower pace of news, and more considered development of informed opinion. But people don’t share stories that ask them to think for themselves. They just react to idiocy and sensationalism, like a leg when the doctor strikes under the kneecap with a rubber hammer: a reflex action. No wonder so many people are unhappy.

In the US, generations of poor decisions, privileging the elites over ordinary workers, due to idiocy inspired by the Cold War, have hollowed out the left to a point where it is quite ineffectual, resulting in the sort of entrenched inequality that readily finds solace in xenophobia and other artefacts of nationalistic exceptionalism. Overseas, conservative think-tanks and politicians take infantile ideas bred within this crucible of neoliberalism and wrap them in notions of “progress” in order to sell them to their electorates in the months and years between elections. And every eight years or so they get a chance to implement them as law.

A story by Owen Jones that appeared in the UK on the website of the Guardian on 19 July said that the only antidote to the rise of the far-right is to have more radical left political solutions. He applauded the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn and regretted the demise of the Democrats’ Bernie Sanders in the US.

But you need angles to achieve anything lasting and useful on the policy front. When I lived in Queensland looking after mum she told me one day that a man had climbed to the top of her garden wall. The wall is about ten feet high and is made of Besser blocks that have been rendered with cement and painted. But it’s not perfectly straight. At one point in the middle of the street frontage, there are two right-angles made where the wall has been built to accommodate a planter space on the footpath side. The man had used the soles of his sneakers on the angles created by these perpendicular sections of wall to leverage himself up to the top of it, where he had sat, looking in. Mum told me that she just happened to be at the front window at the moment he appeared out of nowhere at the top of her wall. She shooed him away with her hand, she said, and he dropped back into the street and left her alone.

Getting to the top of the policy wall that separates the left and the right, so that productive policy decisions can be made for the benefit of everyone living in the community, and not just those who have paid lobbyists looking after their interests, should be the goal of politicians, the media, and the electorate that supports them. That means compromise rather than the endless left-right tango that we usually favour. Because the next iteration from the right might be bigly challenging.

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