Saturday, 22 October 2011

How Left Meets Right and Collides Into Annihilation

This piece emerges from a particular perspective I have been nurturing; firstly in reaction to the emergence of a right wing discourse that rails against big government, and places all its faith in ‘the small guy’ who, in a neoliberal fantasy world where all things remain equal, will inevitably triumph over restrictive regulation and taxation and prevail in the  ‘free market’. Secondly, it is a reaction to the emergence of a left wing discourse that apriori assumes that the mechanisms of global hegemony are at work in every event and circumstance that unfolds upon our television and computer screens, fed by a corporatized media that slavishly and un-objectively executes the ‘will’ of their corporate owners. I will not debate the merits or the facts of the respective positions adopted by the left or the right. Instead, I will point out their ultimate similarities, and reveal how they become mirrors of each other, ultimately hijacking the political space for free expression and political debate, rendering those who do not fall within either camp, to the obscurity of political apathy.
The first view, maintained by the right, relegates any taxation, regulation, etc. as evil instruments of the left, who are constantly trying to find a way to dupe or con them into accepting dressed up forms of socialism and communism into their hallowed freedom, and to distort ‘true’ (read neoliberal or neoconservative) democracy. Fox news – the Rupert Murdoch owned channel that is unashamedly pro-conservative - is perhaps the best example of this view, where all debates are located in frameworks where the ‘right’ (in the sense of ‘correct’ here) view is presented as self-evident and obvious.  It is used as the framework for judging dissenting or differing opinion. It is not a neutral ground where opinions are debated on their own merit. Opinions are filtered through the ‘tea party’ discourse, chewed on like cud, and either expelled or grudgingly swallowed in the name of upholding the tenets of ‘freedom of opinion’. The conspiracy mill is very much alive and at constantly work on the right, rooting out the schemes of the left, finding fault with their nefarious ’do-gooder’, bleeding heart nonsense that is used to further an agenda of inciting class warfare and to put it simply, to use higher taxation and state resources to keep the lazy and unproductive afloat. The right, of this ilk, are not open to critique – they already ‘know’ what the problem is, and what the solutions are, and have no need for debate except in demonstrating that the freedom to debate still exists. This is ironic, even paradoxical, as it means that the freedom to engage or act does not exist in reality. What exists, is a shadow of freedom that masquerades as the real thing. You can disagree, but in reality, nobody is listening for disagreement. Their minds are made up and they only seek out agreement.
Likewise, the left have slowly but surely perverted the discourse on global hegemony into an apriori framework that informs all their analysis and opinion on global or local events. No longer does the left make recourse to objective analyses before arriving at an opinion or idea of what is transpiring. Rather, the discourse on global hegemony has gained so much strength that it serves as a conspiratorial meta-narrative through which all events and situations are filtered in analysis. There is a clear evil, and a clear good, and never the twain shall meet. The West, driven by its corporations and governments are intent on dominating the resource bases, polity and social values of all those within its borders and those outside of it. They are an evil machine that churns out self-serving platitudes to purposively dominate all events and all situations across the globe. The Western Empire trundles forth behind its massive weaponry, bombing whoever stands in their way, making  a mockery of the very values they purport to uphold, not unlike the hithertoe Catholic Church of yesteryear. Any action they take is not to be trusted, as it is loaded with hidden agendas to control the rest of the planet and its resource bases. In return, the left cheers any and all that make the appearance of ‘standing up to’ or ‘bucking’ the West, and regards them as brethren to which their loyalty must surely be given under any and all circumstances. They are loathe to criticise 'one of themselves' because they are all brothers and need each other in the great 'struggle' against the West. They are reluctant to be forcibly critical of the Chinese and Cuban governments, or Gaddafi and other 'left-aligned' populist dictators, despite the availability  of evidence of human rights violations in these countries. Like their right wing counterparts, the left also believe that there is no need for debate, except as a show of their appreciation of the need for ‘freedom of speech’. Yet they are not listening when opinions go against their framework of beliefs, as their beliefs have become foundational. They are not up for debate. Rather, their beliefs become a standard by which the debate (and those of dissenting  opinion) are judged. Often this judgement takes the form of “either you understand or you don’t”, and the left resorts to clich├ęs such as “there are none so blind as those who will not see!” to justify where it stands. You have to be able to 'see' the conspiracy by adopting a particular framework of interpretation, the interpretive framework does not necessarily have to follow from an analysis of each situation, taken on its own merits.
Yet there is something central in this attitude, because it is shared by both the left and the right, and in this sense they become mirrors of each other. It is political mysticism. It is simple to diagnose if you do not fall completely within either side. It is that there is a shared belief that understanding can only be achieved through one set of filters, and that these filters can only be understood or ‘seen’ if the individual searches deeply within themselves and interprets the evidence ‘honestly’ or 'in the right way'. It is mysticism dressed up as objectivity - a claim that there is 'correct' way of seeing, to the exclusion of others. Both sides appeal to a mystical sense of ‘knowing’ or being in the know, in order to arrive at the position that they have arrived at. In both cases, circular logic is imposed i.e. they begin from a foundational view, interpret all evidence within that foundational view, and thereafter declare the foundational view correct or justified. It is tautological; it starts and ends in the same place. Causality isn’t drawn out from the specificities of context – rather, causality is framed within the original, foundational position and over-arching meta-narrative. It is not true analysis. It is the same mystical belief shared by cults, who state the same thing, that is; “if you can’t see the mystical truth, then something is deficient in you” – it is your fault for not being able to see things their way. It is not incumbent upon them to convince you, you have to earn the privilege of sharing the right to the hallowed 'truth'.
Both the left and right have, in their extreme polarisation, become cult-like conspiracy mills in which any objective analysis of an event that occurs in real time, is obscured by historical meta-narratives that claim a hegemony of their own over all present and future events. Yet seldom do the proponents of either side step back to ask the critical question, “if we already know the answer, then what is the point of analysis?” And this is the question that reveals what the right-left mirror constituencies have become – they have become fundamentalists who believe in foundational views. Things as they are, or will be, have no uniqueness, they have no contextuality to those who occupy the poles. Rather, they can only be understood through  foundational filters.
And this is where the problems begin, for the exclusivity of these cults relegate a large number of people to the domain of the politically apathetic. Why? Because apathy is not just a consequence of laziness or political illiteracy, it is also a consequence of the exceptionalism of the right and the left. It results from perceiving that one is unable to engage politically, except if one adopts one of the sides in this bipolar form of democracy. In short, starting in the middle is useless - you have to choose a side. For many, they become apathetic because the moment they express an opinion, either side pounces upon them and rebukes them for not knowing the mystical 'truths' that they should know about 'how the world really works'. And nobody likes to ‘not be in the know’. So shutting up is the first option. The second option is to regard both sides with the same contempt that is reserved for religious cults and to block them out completely. They ruin life by harping on the same chords and singing the same songs, time and time again. In turn, the left and right predictably withdraw to their self-righteous thrones and denounce the state of knowledge and understanding amongst the ‘masses’ in the world, who deceived by the ‘powers that be’ cannot distinguish right from wrong. Very scarcely do they stop to consider the thought that this disengagement, this apathy, might actually result from the degrees of polarisation on the right and left, which leaves the space in the middle a political ‘no-man’s land’. 
To paraphrase the comedian Chris Rock, “Nowadays everybody wants to be down with the gang … I’m a republican, I’m a conservative … no decent person is one thing or another … listen to the issue, let that shit swirl around your head.” It is this gang, or cult mentality that has infected the global political state of debate. It leaves a huge, yawning gap in the middle, where the possibility of finding a third actually way exists. Yet without any legitimate free debate being allowed to grow and mature out of this middle, no new ideas are being born. We oscillate in an endless debate between outdated theories that were written in an age that has long past. It is almost as if we are dragging the past into the present and forcing it upon a new age and era because we have run out of ideas. Instead, all we have is our suspicion of ‘the other’ to draw on, and those who dominate the political spectrum love this as it plays perfectly into the divide and conquer strategy that makes it easy for politiicans to dupe us. It prevents us from formulating a system that can eventually displace rhetoric, and absolves us from dealing the realities of poverty, inequality, oppression, hunger, slavery, war, etc. in any substantive measure. Who needs facts, and textured contextual analysis when the moment you open your mouth, an 'angel' sings the truth through you? What more could you ask for?
Real freedom, according to Slavoj Zizkek in "First As Tragedy, Then as Farce", is the freedom to fundamentally change the political systems we live with. This is a view that appeals to my sensibilities. The freedom we have today, is the freedom to “live as if we were free” (Zizek paraphrased), and Zizek diagnoses correctly that both the left and the right are complicit in landing us in this mess. In the absence of any substantial progress on agreeing what real, fundamental changes are necessary, we are relegated to the domain of the mystical in our politics. We either ‘understand’ or we don’t. Anything else is anathema. The rhetoric of the left and the right becomes ineffable – it needs no authority but itself – it becomes the word of God. This bland, but dangerously polarising political mysticism ultimately undoes freedom by undoing the secularity of freedom itself from within, but employs dogma and rhetoric instead of religion. The foundational views of either side are elevated beyond reproach and are not up for question. It is my contention that this is why we are failing, over and over again, even 11 years into the new century, to formulate a new politics. It is because we are not truly free. And this time, it is not governments who are robbing us of our freedom, but our own propensity for recreating ideological no-go zones that have come to define our lifestyles, personalities and generally, our reason for existence. In short, we have become confused between the freedom to change systems and the freedom to champion a position. The freedom to champion a singular position eventually weighs down like an anchor around our necks, and we become stuck, rigid. What kind of freedom is this? A 'groundhog day' freedom is not freedom. It is the farcical enactment of freedom.
Real freedom allows and enables us to let go of cherished ideals and beliefs (even for a short while), to be able to entertain perspectives from the viewpoint or standpoint of others. If we cannot achieve this then the other remains a monstrous construct, to which the only logical end is the use of force or violence. Where there can be no dialogue, the only recourse to resolve conflict becomes violence, which is easier if the other is your exact opposite in the first place (i.e. an abomination of you). The left-right mirror opposites are like matter and anti-matter. They emerge out of a vacuum, moving backward and forward in time, and then they collide and annihilate, disappearing into the vacuum. Nothing new is created by their emergence, or their disappearance, energy is conserved in the reaction because they are equal opposites to each other. Their entanglement does not result in the creation of anything but their mutually brief existences, and  then they are gone, unable to be grasped or drawn into the real. It is the very anti-thesis of the Gandhian approach, or the approach taken by such luminaries such as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. In this new world, “love thine enemy” is utilised instrumentally, in much the same way the rhetoric of ‘free speech and debate’ is invoked and the farce of ‘objective analysis’ is made. No real effort is made to interrogate the fundamentals upon which either side stands, by themselves. Instead, what we observe is two cult-like followings who cast barbs at each other and stand in judgement of each other. Not everybody has the stomach for this, and the levels of disengagement and apathy towards local and global politics we see in the world today is a consequence of the failure to allow for true pluralism, where freedom reigns. Rather, politics is led by the exceptionalism and exclusivity of the cult, and if you haven’t had your mystical moment of realisation then you don’t qualify to enter the political domain. Indeed, you are worse off than an island in no-man’s land. It is for this reason that my position is that it is ultimately better to be hated by both the left and the right than to be loved by them, because if you allow them to love you they quickly rob you of your voice. You end up speaking with someone else’s voice, and not your own – that is; the voice of whichever visionary, angel, God or demi-God the cult chooses as its soothsayer at that moment in time.
In the spirit of this piece, you, the reader, have all the freedom in the world to disagree with me. This is not a search for yet another absolute position, but an appeal for greater tolerance, broader debate and for sincere analysis that can help us formulate different ways of enabling our freedom in this new global era. My appeal is that you seek more deeply to understand those positions you might disagree with most. It is not easy to do this, but it does help open up dialogues and debates that have a genuine freedom and not a contrived freedom in which agendas and positions are already worked out. My appeal is that you judge the transition that the globe is undergoing as vigilantly as you can, but allow the context and evidence to inform your judgement, rather than retro-fitting the evidence to a framework you have already decided upon. The more you fail to achieve this on the left and right, the more you alienate those who aren’t ‘believers’ and rob them of their chance to enter the debate. It is your messianic exceptionalism that catalyses apathy. Ultimately, however, I am acutely aware that the majority of you will end up hating me for diagnosing you as part of the problem. I, being hated by both sides, also become part of the problem in this respect, but I welcome your hate. It is nothing new to me. I’d rather you hate me than you love me, because your love is more dangerous than hate.

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