Monday, October 13, 2008

Transcending left and right?

Via David Eaves, I come to this about the distinctions between "progressivism" and "the left". (Incidentally, I get very tired of academics who can't be bothered to define their terms. What is progressivism? How is it not a position of the left? It's never made clear. I understand it's a popular piece, but, c'mon: clarity is important when you're throwing around technical terms to the general public. Anyway.) In it, there's a theme -- I don't call it an argument, it's not particularly rigorous -- to the effect that "progressives" can overcome or transcend the division between the left and the right.

What on earth does that actually mean? It's not the first time I've heard that line. But it strikes me that the only way it makes sense is if we define the right and the left in some incredibly restrictive way -- that is, in such a way that they are contrary (both cannot be true, but both can be false) rather than contradictory (one must be true, the other must be false). Which is fine, but I strongly suspect that there's some elision here. That is, the terms are defined, in the argument/discussion, in the former way, but then the conclusion is used to browbeat those who define the terms in the latter way. Which is a pretty blatant non sequitur.

Surely the issue that should really be driving the argument is that the old ways of understanding the left and right need some revision to address the institutional differences that now exist. Or am I missing something?

4 comments:

Catelli said...

Progressives can no more bridge the gap between left and right, than a gay man can bridge the gap between men and women.

For me, a progressive is a person willing to consider new ideas and evidence based policy. Under that definition a progressive could be left or right.

I gather progressives are considered "left" by many because of the hyperactive anti-liberal neo-cons that dominate the debate for the right. However, left and right (when applied to political ideologies) are almost so vague to be almost meaningless. By eschewing the moderate conservative and ascribing the right to aforementioned neo-cons, we leave too many out of the debate.

Progressives will work with other progressives, regardless of ideology. An open mind, adherence to a scientific like method and a calm demeanor are all personality traits that will help forge better policies.

And that's the part that this paper leaves out, by only identifying people and groups by ideology, it leaves out the much more important personality.

ADHR said...

Perhaps. But I would take considering new ideas and evidence based policy to be the bare minimum for having a political viewpoint. Anyone who won't do that is just irrational and ideological. Which seems to describe many neocons, but not the classic conservative.

Which, I suppose, is why I wouldn't take progressive to be quite that broad. It would include traditional conservatives, when surely "progressive" and "conservative" are intended as contradictories.

Catelli said...

Anyone who won't do that is just irrational and ideological

There are more of those on both sides of the divide than are acceptable. Or am I being too cynical?

You're right, I'm being a little broad there, but no more than left and right are very broad definitions too.

My main point is that personality traits are the more important factor than political ideology. I will concede that certain traits are found more often within different ideologies, but that only emphasizes my point. You have to understand the person behind the ideology rather then writing them off as right-tard or Lie-beral etc.

If they're someone you can't work with, its either you or them or the vast gulf in between. But it requires personal introspection to really understand the failure to communicate and bridge that gap.

ADHR said...

I'm not sure you always have to try to understand the person. There is such a thing as being blinded by an ideology, after all; to the point that any interesting or admirable personality traits are swamped by the dogma of the group.

That said, I also think that bridging any sort of gap has to require work on both ends. A significant chunk of the Blogging Tories (SDA springs to mind) as well as some Libbloggers, and various Republicans at Palin rallies, simply aren't interested in hearing what anyone who disagrees with them has to say.