Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Right Is Collapsing. What Will Fill The Vacuum?

Left-right see-saw, a cartoon by Wendy Cockcroft for On t'Internet
Anyone following politics as avidly as I do will have noticed something strange lately: while the Right appears to be merrily machine-gunning both of its own feet, the Left is flailing when it could be marching in to take over. Why is that?

I've identified four causes of this situation:

  1. It's global
  2. It's mostly binary
  3. It's tribal
  4. Lack of engagement 

Let's take a look at these problems, then consider some solutions.

It's global

Right-wing numb-nuttery follows the exact same pattern in every Western democracy:

  • demonisation of the left — and all dissenters
  • elimination of the commons
  • dismantling the social safety net
  • abrogation of social responsibility
  • ideally restricting government functions to maintaining the army and protecting property
  • refusal to accept facts that contradict their ideology

Stop jerking your thumbs at America. You can see the same no-nothing bull-headedness in Australia, New Zealand, in Canada during Stephen Harper's rule, in France, and also in the UK. This is due to neoliberalism, an ideology that requires you to suspend your disbelief in order to accept its tenets, and when that doesn't work, bash socialism. Heck, they'll even have a go at the Scandinavian countries that have made a success of their version of it.

Why is this?

In my post, "...And The Will Of The People Must Be Respected: Why We Don't Vote As We're Told," I explained how the Powell Memorandum helped to bring this state of affairs into being:

When Lewis Powell wrote his famous memorandum that kicked off global corporatism as we know it today, he recommended that kids be taught the value of "the American system," i.e. to reject anything that sounds remotely socialistic. This has been very successful, I've personally seen an American visibly jump at the mention of the word "Socialist." 
Whether or not Powell actually meant well is up for debate but because of his memorandum the Chamber of Commerce has been influencing education in American schools and colleges. This has ushered in a shift to right wing and libertarian viewpoints that has resulted in the mess you see today. Don't blame the people, blame the people who kept them too poor and thick to even know how to think for themselves. People who think like this have been controlling the media for decades; when school and the mass media are your main sources of information, you're going to be influenced by them whether you like it or not. Democracy, then, is not the problem, it's the illusion of democracy and the elites who care little for the people they are trying to control.

Powell's Memorandum didn't stay in America, it spread globally because the people who run the media there also run it in Anglophile democracies, e.g. Rupert Murdoch. Since the media is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, they have a disproportionate influence on the information we receive. The advent of the internet has done a lot to counteract this, but consolidation of ISPs is centralising it to the point where they will eventually be able to control it.

What is the left, etc., doing about it?

After all I've written here you'd think there was no left/liberal press at all, but that's not true. The problem is that the right-wing press is more popular. This is a demand-side issue: people want to read it. Since the left-wing press is ostensibly about working for the working folk, why are their titles not more popular? I've asked the question many times and have yet to receive an answer. When it finally does get addressed, we will hopefully see change. Meanwhile, the internet is redressing the balance between the right-wing domination of media and the dissemination of news as it happens.

It's mostly binary

Political discourse tends towards binary propositions: you're either for or against the agenda. With regard to Brexit, if you're against it you hate Britain. If you're on benefits you hate working. If you want tax-funded social programs it's because you want to soak the rich... you get the idea. There's a reason for this: it's an effective way of controlling people. If you can reduce a complex situation to a for or against conclusion you can either get people on board or push them out of the conversation. See these tweets:

The second one is particularly shocking; he's not oblivious to the fact that the rest of us are looking at America through our fingers, he just doesn't care. Why? You're either for them or against them and if you're against them you can be dismissed and ignored. This is where the American right is at now. They're on a different planet to the rest of us. This is what they believe their Glorious Leader has achieved:

Actually, little of this was done by Trump himself or by himself, but they've got to have something to cling to. Now look again at the tweet above. Mind your own business? They've got their noses deep in ours. Their coverage of the Charlie Gard story has been disingenuous at best, outright slanderous at worst.

What is the left, etc., doing about it?

Well they do their best to counter it, but honestly, they're on the back foot. All they seem to be doing is either point out what's bad about right wing positions or rehash tired old ideological positions that don't really work in practice. The left, liberals, and other dissenters are just as bad at playing the see-saw game as their right wing counterparts. They're antagonists who exist to argue with each other. We the people don't get a look-in.

It's tribal

The tribal nature of political discourse these days reminds me of team sports. People will support their team no matter what. I'm seeing some unprecedented craziness now as the Cult of Trump pushes the Republican Party (Grand Old Party or GOP) aside. America's system of checks and balances is supposed to prevent this but that presupposes Congressmen and women who are willing to uphold the Constitution. Imagine living in a country where dignity is a liability. Where failure is rewarded because ideology trumps reason. Where the White House communications director conflates patriotism with uncritical loyalty to the president. Where vulgarity is okay because t'other lot do it. Where the rule of law is not just disregarded, it's actively dismissed. Where not knowing how things are supposed to work is considered a qualification for the job of press secretary.

Cult of personality

Party loyalty and ideological purity are one thing but this cult of personality surrounding Trump is creepy, to say the least. I've explained before that the trouble with echo chambers is that they fragment. You can watch it happen in real time right now as Trump works to separate his base from the GOP, which is imploding in slow motion. You know it's bad when you see conservative thought leaders openly cheering on the advent of full-blown fascism and party members are actively opposing their own leader.

What is the left, etc., doing about it?

Sod all. They've got no leader as such, but they're gearing up for the mid-term elections on the basis that they can make things better, or something. It's not really working. When your sole raison d'ĂȘtre is to oppose the other side you can only be on the back foot; you can't do anything more. However, they can take comfort in this: liberalism is winning and the ACA has not been repealed, nor will it be.

Lack of engagement

Voter turnout tends to be low and people aren't really interested in politics, as a rule. Those whom I know that do take an interest tend to parrot half-remembered talking points from the right-wing press. The man who told me he voted Brexit to take back control of the UK from Brussels also told me he thought copyright should be treated like actual property and handed down the generations. I asked him about title deeds and he went quiet...

What is the left, etc., doing about it?

The left, etc., are actually better about engaging with the public than the right is. In the UK they tend to be more about planning a glorious future than in merely opposing the right. However, there are times when their Marxist slip shows and honestly, it's off-putting. In America they clearly try to be optimistic but lacking a soul and genuine convictions the best they can do is clutch at straws and hope that something works.

What can we do?

First and foremost we must educate ourselves about the issues, using factual sources, not opinions, to inform us. Next, we need to debate with both like-minded people and those we disagree with to ensure that our opinions are based on fact and work in practice. No leftie has taken me on over my opposition to Abi Wilkinson's proposal to tax inherited wealth at 100%. I've been tackled many times on my opinions and sometimes I have changed my mind. It happens. The point is we need to learn stuff and know stuff so we can make good choices where representation and policy are concerned. The main reason politicians come up with the policies they do is because they rely on focus groups and think tanks for information and to gauge the public response. Why not cut out the middleman and engage directly with your representatives?

If we want a party of any kind to fill in the vacuum created by the collapse of the right we're going to have to start supporting them.

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