What the Right Fears, the Left Desires

Let us throw out a simple observation with limited detail and analysis. This is a phenomenon that seems to define the reactionary mind. And so it is more often found on the American right-wing. But it can be observed in anyone who is pulled into reaction, including those reacting to reactionaries or otherwise immersed in the reactionary dynamic; a dynamic, by the way, that is inevitably authoritarian. Within the reactionary culture of American society, that can include much of the population to varying degrees. While this complicates matters, we will mostly ignore it for the time being, since we’ve already discussed it elsewhere.

We’ll briefly note the complication in the following and then move on. To put this in concrete terms, most Democratic elite and partisans tend towards the reactionary, if less strongly and blatantly than GOP elite and partisans. It’s nearly impossible to be involved in the polarization and propaganda of partisan politics without being at least somewhat reactionary — it’s almost a prerequisite. Still, there are vast differences of degree and it’s mainly those at the extreme end that we’re talking about. It is a specific category of person that falls into the full glory of the reactionary mind and embraces it as an identity (for details, see our writings on Corey Robin and the reactionary mind).

Here is the observation. Reactionaries only perceive the other side’s beliefs and views, values and principles as ideological, that only those other people’s ideologies are radical and extremist; that other’s politics are a religious faith, other’s political actions are nihilism and anarchism, other’s religions are cults and myths, other’s rhetoric is propaganda, other’s fears are moral panic, other’s behavior is mass formation, other’s governance is authoritarianism, on and on and on. Basically, those other people are bad or evil, whereas reactionaries are confident that they are on the side of Light and Righteousness. There is a lack of humility and introspection, mixed with projection and caricature.

This relates also to various ways that reactionaries can be dismissive of others. Another person’s information and evidence, experience and suffering is not fully real to them. The reactionary mind works by closing down and excluding. So, another group’s oppression and victimization is not only less real but less legitimate and important. This is why, among Americans, many white conservatives, white fundamentalists, and white males believe they are the most victimized people in the United States, maybe in the world; a view starkly disconnected from reality.

This is an old pattern. And, in Anglo-American culture, it really does usually divide according to Left and Right. It was the emergent conservatives, as reactionary counter-revolutionaries, who accused the political left of being nihilists following the American and French revolutions. Then shortly after that, it was the Southern aristocracy, in reacting to modernization, that accused Northerners of ideological ‘-isms’. And these reactionaries would repeat this rhetoric endlessly, as if it was the most damning of judgments. But the point is that kind of dismissive criticism has rarely been heard on the Anglo-American left.

Why is that? We originally didn’t plan to offer any analysis, but let’s point to some old themes of ours and share a cursory explanation. The fundamental reason for this difference involves moral imagination, symbolic conflation, social constructionism, and ideological realism (we have numerous posts on all of these). We could surely add to that list, if we gave it much more thought. Basically, the reactionary right requires their worldview to be conflated with reality, confused in the mind, buried in the unconscious, obscured from public gaze, and so placed above interrogation. There are many tools to achieve this end such as faux nostalgia, historical revisionism, and invented traditions; and so erasing the evidence of its origins in order to make something appear as if it was always that way.

On the other hand, the action of the political left has typically been the opposite, to explore origins and analyze the development, to place things in context; and hence the reason the political left has long been closely associated with intellectuality, science, academia, and education. Between the conservative and liberal minds, this is the push and pull between two forces, what Lewis Hyde called Hermes of the Dark and Hermes of the Light, one that enchants and the other that disenchants. The liberal mind wants to bring things out into the open so that they can be analyzed, questioned, and doubted; or understood and appreciated. And this is precisely what conservatives fear, the grubby scrutiny of consciousness that Edmund Burke portrayed as a lecherous mob penetrating the palace and tearing away the queen’s clothing to reveal what should not be seen by prying eyes.

The ruling power of the reactionary mind and the conservative order can only operate by being hidden and protected. This is why the reactionary right fears the left as radical and extremist, nihilist and anarchist. There is a grain of truth to this. Consider that ‘radical’ means to get to the root of things and that is what the liberal-minded like to do, pull things up out of the dirt and into the sunlight. The conservative-minded rightly points out that this might kill the plant, but if it is a weed or invasive species we do want to kill it. And, if it turns out to be a desirable plant, we can always transplant it into the safety of a garden where it will be tended and watered. Contrary to reactionary obfuscation, the liberal mind seeks open-eyed clarity and discernment.

Even the accusation of nihilism hints at something genuine. It originally was a dismissive label and a slur used against revolutionaries, reformers, and radicals. But some far leftists in late 19th century Russia took it as a proud and honorable title; in the way some blacks use the ‘N’ word to take ownership of it and neuter it as a weapon. The Russian Nihilists were not a highly organized movement, similar to the present ‘antifa’ in the US (supposedly everywhere and yet can never be found), but they shared a common philosophy or attitude. To their understanding, nihilism meant that, although future solutions are unknown in the present, they could seek to eliminate the problems that obstructed the ability to seek and enact those potential solutions — like tearing a structure down to its foundation in order to rebuild or plowing a field to plant crops; that is to say creative destruction.

Unlike the false claims of nihilism as mere anarchistic terrorism, these Nihilists didn’t lack beliefs and values. Rather, what they wanted was an open public debate about beliefs and values, that nothing should be off limits. Their actions were pro-active. They embodied Hermes the Light who disenchants, but always with the purpose of re-enchanting (i.e., inspiring and enthralling) the mind with a different and better ideological frame of narrative and understanding. This is nothing unusual, as every major change necessitates this process of undoing, prior to re-creating. It depends on one’s perspective. To British reactionaries like Edmund Burke, the American Revolution ended up seeming like the chaotic nihilism of violent mobs. But, ironically, the American reactionaries, once they co-opted the revolutionary nation-building, saw it as the most wonderful thing.

There is a real distinction to be made between right and left, reactionary and non-reactionary. The political right is correct to an extent. The two mentalities really do diverge, even if a mutual dynamic lashes them together in their movements. This is what many soft-hearted and well-intentioned liberals fail to understand, in their desire for equality and their vulnerability to false equivalency. The two mindsets are not only different in degree but in substance and motivation — they are two worldviews foreign to each other. As rightism attempts to enclose the whole world within its ideological grip, leftism at its best points beyond itself to what is presently unknown. This is fundamentally nihilistic, whichever definition of that term one prefers, but essentially a broad and curious-minded openness toward undiscovered and unproven possibility.

Here is an even more important distinction. The reactionary right is drawn into essentialism and determinism, as related to ideological realism. This is the naturalistic fallacy. Like races and gender, social mindsets and political identities can be taken as reality itself; and so abstractions as labels can become reified. These are among the many things the political left seeks to undo and dispel, to disenchant. Think of the difference between Ayn Rand and Karl Marx. The former asserted an absolutist dogma, whereas the latter was more akin to the Russian nihilists in never having outlined any specific ideological system that would inevitably replace capitalist realism, as he also thought solutions couldn’t be determined beforehand. Leftism and liberalism, as such, are more markers of undetermined significance, pointing in a direction as yet unknown.

Those on the political left don’t need to dismiss the other side because leftism wants to weaken such boundaries of the mind and boundaries of social order, particularly boundaries of pseudo-tribalism, so as to imagine something else. In reality, none of us is actually left-wing or right-wing, conservative or liberal. These are social constructions, not reality; whether or not we deem them useful fictions. We are free to create something else and the suggestion that seeking not yet known possibilities is nihilistic is meaningless and irrelevant, and empty fear lashing out in the darkness. The leftist has less difficulty in admitting that their own politics are also an ideological worldview because it is only in admitting this that we can bring our biases and failures out into the open to be aired. What the right fears, the left desires.

The political left has less to defend, both in a practical sense and as an ideological project. This is why, in our own writings, we regularly take shots at all sides. In fact, we are often most critical of those who are most similar and most in agreement with us, and we regularly piss off people who might be perceived as being on ‘our side’. An example of this is our complaint against the corporate takeover of environmentalist arguments, in co-opting veganism as a political tool (e.g., EAT-Lancet). It’s precisely because we have been strident environmentalists for as long as we can remember that we take such offense at this movement being misused as propagandistic social control. The value of environmentalism, in our own liberal mind, is not as a social identifier of group identity. This is how we’ve ended up such a disloyal liberal in refusing to bow down to the DNC elite, AFSCME union leadership, or anyone else.

Group loyalty is not a defining trait of the liberal mind. It’s because of this resistant attitude toward group-mindedness that some describe trying to organize the political left as herding cats. It’s the strength and weakness of liberal-mindedness. Left-liberalism, rather than falling into strongly and strictly contained boundaries of us versus them, tends to expand and sometimes, sadly, splinter apart. But there is something impressive and worthy about the liberal mind. We’ve previously noted that white liberals are the first ‘group’ seen in American research to express a pro-outgroup bias, as opposed to identifying with those supposedly like themselves (i.e., other white liberals).

The reason is that most of those white liberals don’t take white liberalism as their group identity, in the way that do white conservatives, for they’ve opened and expanded the circle of concern. There is less sense of an other to project upon because the liberal potentially invites everyone, even those on the reactionary right, into belonging as members of a liberal society. Terms such as reactionary and progressive, left and right are relative, not absolute, labels and context-dependent, not essentialist, identities; and so one day those terms will disappear while the human race will remain. Liberalism aspires to unity through diversity. The political right sees this pro-outgroup bias as leftist self-hatred that seeks to destroy all that is good about the white race, the Christian religion, and Western civilization. But, in the liberal mind, there is enough kindness and compassion to go around, along with enough resources if shared equally and fairly.

It’s a split between an attitude of scarcity and an attitude of abundance, between fear and love. To the left-liberal persuasion, we are all humans on a shared earth, we are all citizens of the world — the ancient dream of the Axial Age prophets. Those on the reactionary right, obviously, disagree in that they define themselves by what they oppose and exclude. As conservative Ronald Reagan pointed out, we might only be unified as a common human species when earth is attacked by a common enemy of space aliens; although simply the existence of space aliens, even if entirely peaceful, would be enough to elicit a reaction of fear from reactionaries. If and when that happens, the reactionary right will accuse those space aliens of everything that, in the past, they accused liberals and leftists. Meanwhile, the political left will seriously consider and openly debate about whether space aliens should have the same freedom and rights, should be welcomed as fellow beings as part of a single shared galaxy or universe.

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Notes on terminology:

We don’t make an absolute differentiation in how we use the labels of left-wing, leftism, liberalism, and left-liberalism. Even ‘progressivism’, at this point, has mostly been subsumed within this political left matrix. But there is separate historical development of the ‘left’ and the ‘liberal. We’ve covered this information before, but we’ll rehash it here.

Since the French Revolution, the political left has been primarily associated with egalitarianism and similar concepts of fraternity, solidarity, camaraderie, and such. This is about what mutually unites and holds together an economic class or group of people (typically a large group), either formally organized (e.g., labor union), informally associated (e.g., a poor community), or otherwise allied through common vision, interests, and benefit. The desired goal is to escape false consciousness by developing class consciousness or group consciousness, the knowledge and awareness of the conditions that create the social world one was born into. For this reason, the idea of a leftist way of thinking has also become implicated in theories or understandings about what is interdependent, systemic, environmental, ecological, holistic, integral, intersectional, complex, etc.

The metaphorical ‘left’ has an ancient pedigree, such as the left-hand path; as opposed to a right-hand man, being in the right, and having rights. Liberty and hence libertarianism is about the individual rights that can be given or taken away by official and legal power, specifically the right to not be enslaved, whether or not others are enslaved. Freedom, on the other hand, is more cultural and communal, such as belonging a free people and being among friends. See: Cultural Freedom, Legal Liberty. The word ‘right’ might be etymologically related to Greek ‘arete’ as virtue, righteousness, pride, power, ability, etc; and maybe also related to words like regent, royalty, and rajah. One can sense why the right-wing became naturally identified with authoritarianism. Whereas the connection to conservatism is more of a sociopolitical observation, since every authoritarian regime that has ever existed has been socially conservative, including Stalinism and Maoism.

Liberalism stands as unique among these terms. Unlike conservatism, it’s earliest definition had nothing to do with governance, politics, political parties, social order, power structure, legal systems, social movements, and such. To this day, it maintains more of its basic meaning as a psychological predisposition, a behavioral mentality or attitude, a way of relating to or treating others, and how one inhabits or acts in the world; particularly, as measured in FFM openness, MBTI intuition and perceiving, and Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary type. Most simply, liberalism always has carried the meaning of generosity of spirit, although conservatives argue that liberals are being generous with other people’s money. This spiritual generosity, of course, never was inherently and primarily about money; as it mainly suggests an attitude of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

This relates to how liberalism became described according to the religious notion of a bleeding heart, which means a good Christian who sacrifices for others; but as an accusation it implies one who cares too much or who wants to be (or to be perceived as being) a martyr. And that brings us to the crime of sympathizing with the enemy, foreigners, and other unwanted or dangerous outsiders; along with sympathizing with undesirables in general (e.g., the conservative perception of the dirty, lazy, criminal, and all around inferior poor who are supposedly undeserving of sympathy) — anyone who is deemed ‘other’. This is why, during the Cold War, liberals were sometimes called fellow travelers, to judge them as guilty by perceived association with communists. There are endless associations along these lines, as the word ‘liberal’ has been around so along to accumulate a mixed history of meanings.

There is one other thing that is a new thought. In studying Julian Jaynes and Lewis Hyde, the use of language comes up. Everyone uses metaphors and metonymies and they have immense power over the mind (see the literature on linguistic relativity). But the left-liberal tends to use such language openly and consciously; while the right-conservative does so obscurely or unconsciously. It’s partly a difference of whether our use of language is held lightly or tightly. That even applies to the language of left and right, a metonymical metaphor of the body politic. That is the point we made above about the left pointing beyond itself. Left-liberalism wants to disenchant the mind and there is no greater power of enchantment than word magic, particularly as memetic mind virus.

That is why those who complain the most about the left-right metaphor are typically those on the left, not those on the right. It’s amusing because in complaining they are demonstrating their leftist style of thinking, in not perceiving these words as representing essentialist and deterministic qualities that literally divide up humanity. Metaphors are either useful or not, but when useful they help clarify patterns that are otherwise difficult to perceive and talk about. At present, there is not yet an equally potent and effective metaphor to replace this one. And no such metaphor disappears without being replaced. That is why, despite our own criticisms of all of these terms, we go on using them. There simply are no other good alternatives. We could simply speak of egalitarianism in place of leftism and liberalism, but that word doesn’t have the readymade sense of meaning that most people easily grasp.

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2/5/22 – Note on left vs right, liberal vs conservative:

As often repeated in this blog, reactionaries can co-opt anything. That is a complicating factor. Take the Nazis, as right-wing authoritarian (RWA) as they come, and combined with social dominance orientation (SDO) — they used any and all rhetoric as it was convenient, in typical realpolitik fashion. This included also using the rhetoric of leftism and progressivism, but they also used the rhetoric of conservatism, religion, and much else. One observer who visited Nazi Germany stated that Nazi rhetoric was incoherent, as they simply would say anything. But there is actually a coherent motivation within the reactionary mind, if one scrutinizes it closely enough and digs down into its underlying psychological structure. The reactionary mind is essentially a Dark Personality, defined by the Dark Triad or Dark Tetrad.

Rhetoric is largely irrelevant, at least at this level. You have to first determine someone is honest in their use of rhetoric before you can take their rhetoric at face value. One of the pillars of the Dark Personality is Machiavellianism, having to do with a lack of humility and a willingness to do anything to get ahead. This is closely associated with SDO, which is distinct from but often overlapping with RWA. How they are differentiated is, for example, their motivation for prejudice. RWAs will fear and hate those who are unable or unwilling to assimilate to the group identity and subordinate themselves to conventional authority, which is why RWAs are actually more flexible in simply wanting to be good followers, even in a liberal social democracy or a leftist state. SDOs, instead, fear and hate those who will attempt to assimilate because, in doing so, they threaten to undo the social order of hierarchy and inequality.

That said, later research does differentiate between two elements of SDO that must be measured separately (The Nature of Social Dominance Orientation, Arnold K. Ho et al). There are the full-on dominators who express old school bigotry like racism. That is SDO-Dominance (SDO-D). But that aspect is on the decline in the West since it is no longer politically correct in mainstream society and no longer allowed to be enforced in law. That is where SDO-Egalitarianism (SDO-E) comes in. Many SDOs are prejudiced in more subtle ways and with more subtle means. They simply want to enforce anti-egalitarianism itself. That kind of SDO might be find if a few black people become rich, just as long as most black people remain poor, and just as long as the plutocrats remain in power. The same would apply to other groups as well, such as a harsh attitude toward poor whites (e.g., DNC elites and DNC-aligned corporate media scapegoating poor whites for Donald Trump’s rise to power, despite the fact that his main supporters were middle class whites). The fear is that the repressed will rise up, but SDO-Es are less concerned about the exact demographics of the repressed.

Obviously, one can sense how the reactionary can be complicated and why it comes in degrees. But the full reactionary mind will be high in both SDO-D and SDO-E, will be high in both SDO and RWA, what are referred to as Double Highs — these are the worse of the worst, the most prejudiced and the most likely to become leaders of far right groups. But what about left-wing authoritarianism and dominance? That is one of the further complications, as indeed reactionaries can and will use any rhetoric. Josef Stalin is the greatest example of how a Double High will use Machiavellianism to gain power and rule. He didn’t actually care about communism, other than how it helped him rebuild the Russian Empire with a neo-feudal peasantry as forced labor. What stands out is that Stalinism was socially conservative, not socially liberal. That is the main point. Reactionaries can co-opt any rhetoric, but this is superficial. What they can’t ever fully co-opt is social liberalism itself as behavior and policy because that would undermine RWA and SDO.

This is shown in research where “dark personalities seem to have a particularly important impact on political extremism and election of politicians and political parties who are considered right- or left-wing” and yet simultaneously “narcissism and psychopathy were associated with political conservatism, whereas Machiavellianism was associated with low rates of liberalism (Jonason, 2014). The Dark Triad traits also correlate with conservative judgments such as capital punishment, gay marriage, and gun control (Arvan, 2013). […] Finally, dark personality traits have been shown to be associated with moral foundations that in turn are linked to conservatism. For example, Međedović and Petrović (2016) showed that Machiavellianism predicted both ingroup/loyalty and authority/respect, whereas psychopathy was positively associated with ingroup/loyalty” (Boris Duspara and Tobias Greitemeyer, The impact of dark tetrad traits on political orientation and extremism).

So, even when some left-wingers or rather some using left-wing rhetoric measure high in dark personality traits related to RWA and SDO, they also measure high in conservative traits. You will never find a dark personality with liberal traits because, by definition and by essence, liberal traits are the complete opposite of the Dark Triad/Tetrad, RWA, and SDO. This is why, in seeking to clarify, we speak of left-liberals as a distinct category because one could also argue that left-conservatives exist along with right-conservatives, but what one will never find are right-liberals as the right-wing is defined to the degree it is not liberal, whereas the left is a bit less clear in its relationship to liberalism (there is a long conflict between leftists and liberals that has formed a legacy of confusion, although it is as much or more a conflict between old liberalism and new liberalism).

When we use the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ in this blog, we are always referring to motivations and not rhetoric. The strange phenomenon of left-conservatives doesn’t make sense beyond superficial rhetoric because conservatism inherently opposes the very substance and meaning of left-wing ideology. So, to refer to left-conservatives is simply another way of saying reactionaries co-opting left-wing rhetoric for right-wing purposes of RWA and SDO. This is useful knowledge, though, for intellectual discernment and intellectual self-defense. We are always using the past as a touchstone because, despite all of the confusion, there is a consistency of ideological distinction that goes back centuries. That is why it is helpful to put this in the earliest historical context. Right and left originally referred to the seating arrangement in the French Assembly. Supporters for the king sat on the right side of the king; whereas detractors, critics, reformers, and malcontents sat on his left. This basic kind of distinction remains true, no matter what is the power in question.

The French king was a Double High figure and so to support him meant to support a system that was based on high RWA and high SDO. There is only one way to be loyal to a strongman ruler who demands total obedience, only one position to be in when on the right. To be a right-winger means submission to some system of authority and domination, be it political, social, economic, or religious. To be the king’s right-hand man is to do as one is told, to be a yes-man, to be a good follower and a good enforcer of submission. But there is potentially an infinite number of ways to be on the king’s left. That basic distinction remains true to this day, at least in a Western context (as left and right categorization may or may not apply to other cultures). In the United States, there is no established left-wing system, institution, or organization of respected authority that wields any significant power and influence. Even academia in universities is structured according to authoritarian bureaucracy and dependent on authoritarian corporate funding, which is the reason why egalitarian far leftists like anarchists are rarely employed as college professors and researchers. American leftists inevitably are forced outside of power because that is the nature of being a Double Low and Light Personality within any society dominated by Double Highs and Dark Personalities.

But even in the most liberal society and most well-functioning social democracy, there will always be left-wing critics who are forever pushing toward new and greater possibilities, just as conservatives and authoritarians will come to defend the established order, even defending a liberal and egalitarian order — another way in which leftism is partly distinct from a broad sense of liberalism. To be a leftist is to be forever dissatisfied with what is in imagining what might be. This is why the political left is an endless spur toward progress as there is no ultimate end to possibility, in that enacting one possibility simply opens up to further possibilities. That goes to the point that left-wing ideology is never limited to any single political system but, rather, opens up to diverse possibilities that includes what has not yet been fully understood, articulated, and envisioned. Leftism simply stands for possibility itself, which ironically is how leftists get identified as nihilists with a bad attitude because leftism first requires pointing out what is wrong. Possibility, to be sought and made manifest, must be freed from what seeks to limit and eliminate possibility. More than anything else, this is possibility-mindedness as openness, curiosity, exploration, wonder, hope, and optimism.

This possibility-mindedness, though, is not a blank slate for it is inherently motivated by a love of ever increasing egalitarian freedom — it represents the possibility and the potential that is seen as equally residing within everyone; the opposite of and opposing to ideological realism that constrains possibility by shutting down the radical imagination. Leftism shakes loose the calcified mind and identity. Liberalism is just one component of this, but an important component. It is the victory of leftism that liberalism has become the dominant paradigm that frames and defines everything, even the reactionary right; where each and every generation of conservatives is more liberal than the last, such that the average conservative today is to the left of the average liberal from a century ago. This has created a strange situation where the majority of Americans are left-liberals, even as the reactionary right continues to not only rule the government and economy but also rule the public mind, public identity, and public imagination — rule by oppression.

Liberalism has been so normalized that classical conservatism is almost entirely buried and forgotten. One is hard put to find many contemporary American conservatives who openly and blatantly, fully and proudly defend the misogynistic, racist, eugenicist, genocidal, plutocratic, and imperialist conservatism from past centuries (e.g., a rigid caste system of aristocrats and peasants, of slaveholders and slaves, of colonizers and colonized, of the civilized and the primitive, of WASPs and ethnics). Classical conservatism is now politically incorrect, even on the mainstream political right, so politically correct that it can’t even be acknowledged. This is why, among the educated and respectable classes, conservatives will often claim to be classical liberals (i.e., early modern liberalism). But, of course, the reactionary right’s understanding of past liberalism is extremely narrow and nostalgic — they don’t mean radical Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers: Baruch Spinoza, Denis Diderot, Marquis de Condorcet, Pierre Bayle, Giambattista Vico, Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Thomas Young, Abraham Clark, etc. Mostly, reactionary right classical liberals are looking to John Locke and Adam Smith; but Lockean land rights were earlier, not to mention more strongly and radically, defended by Roger Williams; and modern conservatives overlook the fact that Adam Smith, the leading light of capitalist thought, stated a free society wasn’t possible with high inequality.

So, amusingly, the reactionary right in selectively co-opting yesteryear’s liberalism and filtering it through nostalgic historical revisionism has no inherent substance of its own, while the egalitarian left in abandoning or transforming old liberal positions is the creative force that again and again establishes the very substance that can be later co-opted. The right uses moral imagination to appear to have substance in hiding  its lack of substance, in that the reactionary is forever defined not by what it is for but by what it is reacting against. And the left constantly denies its own substance once it has been established, which can leave the impression of the left lacking substance, of being merely critical and antagonistic, destructive and nihilistic. Like the French left, the Anglo-American left came into being in opposition to a king and the entire authoritarian system of monarchy and aristocracy. The French were following the example of Anglo-American revolt, not only the American Revolution but also the earlier regicidal English Civil War that itself was influenced by the earlier radical class war of the Peasants’ Revolts, along with the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, and Anabaptist hereticism. All of this formed into a larger Western tradition of leftist politics that continues to oppose whatever powers that be, but not knee-jerk opposition for it is seeking to reform and re-create. What the left is seeking freedom from and hence freedom toward is always a moving target.

Leftism Points Beyond the Right and Beyond Itself

Table of Contents

  • Introduction and Summary
  • Political Spectrum, Liberal Framework
  • Origins: Tribalism and Pseudo-Tribalism
  • From Axial Age to Modernity: Universalism, Egalitarianism, etc
  • Traditional Values Are Not Culture Wars
  • Freedom to Belong, Responsibility to Others
  • Reactionary Right, Leftover Liberalism, and Leftist Supermajority
  • Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Abundance

Introduction and Summary

Despite having conservative parents, we spent most of our lives in liberal communities and we were raised in liberal churches. By our twenties, we were drawn toward social liberalism and increasingly leftism, although we were already becoming familiar with the reactionary before we knew what it was (from discovering Art Bell, Alex Jones, etc in the late 1990s).

But we’ve never been strongly attached to particular labels, except to the extent they are useful means. If anything, we’ve constantly questioned issues of social and political identities. So, with that in mind, we’d be more than happy if the conflict between right and left simply disappeared or became moot. That is the aim of leftism, as we see it. Leftism aspires to a world where explicit leftism is no longer necessary, that is to say a world no longer afflicted by the reactionary mind.

Summary – In a particular take of left-wing ideology, it is affirmed that:

  • Reality and society consists of systems, processes, and environments that shape us.
  • Social experience of identity, roles, and relationships are socially constructed and intersectional.
  • Situated cognition is embodied, embedded, extended, and enacted (4E).
  • The body, mind, and world are multitudinous and bundled, fluid and open.
  • People are inseparable from each other, from society, and from the larger world.
  • Humans need health, safety, security, trust, relationship, belonging, and connection.
  • The human species is inherently social; freedom is communal and collective.
  • A good society is achieved through culture of trust, cohesive solidarity, group consciousness, mutual support, and collective action.

And it is affirmed that:

  • Egalitarianism and fairness is central to human nature, is the center of any worthy politics and good society.
  • High inequality is unhealthy, stressful, traumatizing, dangerous, and unsustainable.
  • Artificial scarcity, authoritarian hierarchy, and social division should be challenged.
  • Ideological realism and false consciousness are social control through perception management.
  • The reactionary mind is abnormal and unnatural, insubstantial and deceptive.
  • The right-wing is a reaction to liberalism; it denies, obscures, and co-opts what it is reacting to.
  • Liberalism is the framework of modern Western civilization by which left and right are defined.
  • Leftism is a placeholder for something else, the finger pointing at the moon.

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Political Spectrum, Liberal Framework

What does ‘left-wing’ ideology refer to? What was the original and basic meaning? The main element and motivating force of leftism has been to perceive the world and society, people and groups more as interdependent systems or processes than as reified things, unchanging categories, and isolated units; much less in terms of fixed and immutable laws, known certainties, absolutist dogma, and authoritarian institutions (or, if you prefer, unquestioned and unchallenged institutional authority as received truth, conventional wisdom, and ideological realism; that is to say, enforced norms as normative enforcement, as social control through what Louis Althusser called ideological interpellation or hailing; i.e., the enclosure of the mind).

By ideology, this implies not only ‘ideas’ in the narrow sense as principles, values, and belief structure but also ‘ideos’ as worldview, mindset, and imaginary (i.e., a leftist conception of ideology; rooted more in an ancient conception of the power of ideas as a psychic force). This is based on thinner boundaries of mind that promote experience and identity that is more fluid in allowing things to overlap, shift, and merge (i.e., liberal-mindedness as expressed in social liberalism; or: FFM openness, MBTI intuition and perceiving, and Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary type). In creating and promoting the conditions for greater empathy and compassion, it is what derogatively gets called ‘Bleeding Heart Liberalism‘ (a slur originally used to describe, disparage, and dismiss radically egalitarian social justice warriors seeking to illegalize lynching, vigilante justice, and mob violence; in contrast to the right-wing pseudo-libertarians who thought government shouldn’t intervene), similar to being a ‘tree-hugging hippy’ and ‘sympathizing with the enemy’.

This distinguishes it from the political right where everything is defined by what evaluatively and hierarchically separates one clearly demarcated category from another (us vs them, ingroup vs outgroup, worthy vs unworthy, pure vs impure, good vs evil), within the rigidified boundaries of the egoic mind (FFM conscientiousness, MBTI judging, and Ernest Hartmann’s thick boundary type) — even left vs right, treated as a black/white division and ruling paradigm, falls prey to the reactionary right-wing; something we will try to carefully avoid. This is why conservatives more strongly obsess over narrow and/or exclusionary group identities (race, religion, ethno-nationalism, etc) and atomistic conceptions of identities (lone individuals, consumer-citizens, capitalist actors, social Darwinian competitors, nuclear families, etc); and why those on the left can become more conservative and reactionary when they become pulled into similar identities. One can begin to sense how, in being framed within post-Enlightenment liberalism, the modern political right is inherently and inevitably opposed to the actual traditionalism of the past, from earliest communal Christianity to Medieval communal feudalism.

This modern right-wing dogmatism and groupthink lends itself to conventional thought that gives an appearance of certainty and orderliness, a sense of predictability and familiarity, a demand of hierarchy and control. A place for everything; and everything in its place — which means anything out of place better be put back into place and kept in place, by any means necessary and at any cost. On the global stage, this plays out in Manichaean narratives like the Catholic Crusades, Manifest Destiny, White Man’s Burden, Cold War, and Clash of Civilizations; not to mention the overuse of the war metaphor that always means a war on the public and particularly a war on the poor and powerless; such as War on Poverty, War on Drugs, and War on Terror (how does one have war on an emotion like ‘terror’?). This is where there must be a winner and loser; the winner, of course, is presumably the good guys and they take all in a final victory against the forces of evil, or else the bad guys win and all that good is destroyed. There is little, if any, room for moderation, tolerance, and cooperation toward shared vision and common good or simply a middle ground of mutual respect (other than convenient and often fleeting alliances), much less equality, fairness, justice, and freedom.

Lockstep solidarity is intentionally constrained to an insular group identity, what could be called pseudo-tribalism because of how it mimics tribalism but without the intimacy of actual tribes. To be a Westerner or American, White or Christian (or Evangelical) is to be part of an exclusive and exclusionary group that includes vast numbers of strangers who otherwise have nothing in common since most of the members have never met or shared any experience beyond mass media, nationalistic propaganda, religious apologetics, and such. This is what makes pseudo-tribalism reactionary, neither leftist nor traditional; and so this gives the modern and increasingly postmodern right-wing a distinct flavor. The actual past is erased and replaced with faux nostalgia and historical revisionism, but where the face of the past is worn like a bloody mask skinned from the corpse of tradition.

Let us make a further distinction or rather non-distinction. Liberalism, as we’ve argued, is not really so much left or right. Instead, it is the frame of both, of the whole ‘spectrum’. That is why conservatives and other right-wingers should, at least sometimes, be taken at face value when they claim to be classical liberals, even when their nostalgic rhetoric is historical revisionism, opportunistic realpolitik, and manipulative spin. When reactionaries co-opt from the left, as they do in using old liberal ideas and language, they essentially become what they are pretending to be and so, to some degree, make it real (i.e., hyperstition); the con man who first must con himself. But the radicals on the left also operate within the liberal sphere of our shared society, even when they contest this claim. Calling someone a liberal or not doesn’t really tell us much, since it can as easily and as validly be embraced by reactionaries and regressives as by radicals and progressives.

As such, many leftists prefer to deny any association with liberalism or else maintain a wariness of distance, whether or not such a stance is realistic within the ruling liberal paradigm that also rules inside our minds. If they’re not careful, in reacting to liberalism, leftists can end up just another variety of reactionary and so begin to display the right-wing traits of a reactionary (e.g., the Leninist revolutionary vanguard that, in fighting bourgeois liberals, became a Stalinist ruling elite that enforced yet another socially conservative hierarchy within the Soviet Union, and so basically re-created the Russian Empire with Joseph Stalin as the new czar and the working class as a new peasantry). [Then again, the bourgeois liberals in reacting against leftists can likewise fall to the dark side (e.g., in post-WWI Germany, many of the middle class ‘liberals’ sided with the capitalist class to join the Nazis in having had fought against radical artists, freethinking intellectuals, free speech advocates, labor activists, social democrats, communists, and Marxists; or, if one prefers an example closer to home, think of the American Cold War liberals who were among the greatest enemies of the political left and ended up promoting illiberalism).]

Simply put, when reacting to reactionaries, the reactionary mind always wins because both sides offer no alternative; just two claims of lesser evil that inevitably leads to greater evil (closely related to the problematic dynamic between authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism, where authoritarianism ends up defining even those who oppose it; e.g., the sad and strange phenomenon of authoritarian right-libertarians using anti-authoritarian rhetoric). This is ideological realism as epistemic closure, a totalizing narrative, a hermetically-sealed reality tunnel; forever mired in mind games of symbolic conflation and indoctrination. The reactionary is the shadow of liberalism and so everyone is vulnerable to infection from the reactionary mind virus; perfectly symbolized by Two-Face in the Batman mythos (this represents the whole reactionary worldview in how both Two-Face and Batman are not only enemies but two competing varieties of reactionary, since the entire dynamic between them is reactionary as is the entire Gotham story-world, specifically as fleshed out in the Dark Knight movies). Nonetheless, it could and maybe should be maintained that leftism, by definition and practice, is not reactionary and neither is it opposite of nor in opposition to the reactionary. Rather, leftism, if it is to be meaningful at all, is offering an entirely different understanding, a genuine alternative that is at the heart of the liberal project. Leftists, along with anyone else who disidentifies with the right-wing and/or disagrees with right-wing views, would do well to remember this.

Considering the complications and confusions, it is fair that some complain about the problems and limitations of these broad ideological labels; in particular the broadly amorphous and typically non-identifying left-liberal supermajority that has been suppressed and silenced into a state of public ignorance, as public identity can only form with public knowledge — the ruling elite in politics and media portray and attack left-liberals as a minority; causing mass psychosis in how people’s private selves become splintered from public experience and mediated reality through the perception management of indoctrination and propaganda campaigns, a form of gaslighting — so, what is the ‘Left’ when it can’t be seen or heard? That is all the more reason for us to pinpoint the distinctions that do matter, the distinctions that have remained relevant and potent across the centuries. The leftist difference that makes a difference keeps reappearing, no matter how often it is attacked and dismissed or mimicked and appropriated by the reactionary right, including by those using respectability politics to pose as ‘centrists’ and ‘moderates’. But it is often easiest to see something by looking back to a time when it was still young and fresh, not yet grimy and scarred from historical accretions.

There is a thinking style — fundamentally communal and collective, broadly systemic and holistic, potentially integrative and integral — that consistently shows up as one of the defining features of the left-wing that influenced, informed, and inspired the earliest and most radical of Enlightenment thought (e.g., Baruch Spinoza‘s panentheism) and post-Enlightenment thought (e.g., Karl Marx’s historical materialism). It’s what underlies Germanic communal and cultural ‘freedom’, as opposed to Latin individualistic and legalistic ‘liberty’; along with capturing the essence of egalitarianism and fraternity, particularly in terms of the Axial Age ideal of a universal humanity and the Enlightenment Age ideal of a global citizenry, but resonating with an aspect of tribal belonging as well. As for the latter, one might suggest all leftist politics begins not in abstract ideas but in the concrete lived reality of small local communities that give meaning to ideas (e.g., the labor organizing and strikes of factory workers in a factory town, as part of a community where people live in the same neighborhoods, shop at the same stores, belong to the same churches, and whose kids go to the same schools); the communities and associations that William Godwin, a reactionary-minded progressive reformer (i.e., bourgeois classical liberal), feared as the “common mass” and “organized society”. That certainly was the early history of the left, a populist movement that initially formed from the bottom up.

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Origins: Tribalism and Pseudo-Tribalism

This basic distinction between left and right is ancient, although not archaic — it does have a beginning point. There doesn’t appear to be any clear evidence of this divide in thinking styles during the Bronze Age or in the following dark age, although it might have been carried as a seed of possibility within the early city-states as they began to merge into the first multicultural empires. But it was only with the Axial Age that there was a sudden and undeniable flourishing of radically new thought, specifically egalitarianism and universalism, along with emergent understandings of democracy, freedom, liberty, rights, justice, tolerance, compassion, etc; as recorded in the words of real or fictitious prophets, teachers, wise men, and salvific figures. Proto-leftism was born, if only as a promise of what was to come, along with the proto-reactionary quickly following (e.g., Plato’s authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy).

Let us consider a historical example. In presaging Classical Greece, the Presocratics were the first to speak of a universal and singular kosmos that acknowledged a larger sense of a shared world inhabited by diverse people across a continuous landscape and contained within the same immense universe (literally, one verse; i.e., one story of the world and of humanity; what today would be called a meta-narrative, to which postmodernism responds and metamodernism reframes). That is to say we all look up at the same stars, something that may seem obvious to the point of being banal but wasn’t commonly understood until long-distance travel became common. At the same time, it’s the ability to think about the world abstractly in this manner that makes possible map-making where the known world can be divided up by abstract boundaries that defined larger socially constructed identities (a Greek or a Jew, a Roman or a Barbarian), and thus make possible one variety of reactionary pseudo-tribalism — tellingly, in the ancient world of mostly oral cultures, abstract categories had less influence over identities of group belonging (Racism, Proto-Racism, and Social Constructs; Ancient Complexity; Ancient Social Identity: The Case of Jews; & Who were the Phoenicians?).

Such pseudo-tribalism took many millennia until it finally formed as modern racialized nation-states now so favored by the reactionary right-wing. Prior to World War era, most people instead identified with a non-reactionary or less reactionary and more organic sense of local community that included ethnicity, language, religion, and regionalism. Consider that, as feudalism came clashing into modernity with the French Revolution, the French population was still so fragmented with distinct dialects that they weren’t always able to understand those in neighboring regions, much less able to have comprehended the respectable speech in the French Assembly. The modern French nationality had to be invented and socially constructed. That was even more true of the Italians when the majority at the time of the nation’s founding didn’t speak Italian at all. The once feudal serfs had to be forced into modern ethno-nationalism, having resulted in the reactionary disease of nostalgia, a sometimes literally paralyzing and deadly disease.

This is pseudo-tribalism not only because it’s different than tribalism but, more importantly, because it erases the reality and memory of tribalism, overwriting it with invented traditions and false consciousness. One can see the path of the reactionary mind having passed by in the traces left behind of romantic nostalgia and historical revisionism. This so often leads not to national unity but endless division, as anything that is invented and enforced with artificial social constructions will ever be challenged and changed by new inventions (e.g., the Nazis deciding who was German and not, no matter how many generations or centuries one’s family may have resided there; i.e., conservatism opposing traditionalism). Pseudo-tribalism annihilates, co-opts, and replaces traditional cultures with their much more complex and shifting identities, as was seen in the ancient world. The earliest Jews, for example, would not have recognized the social identity projected upon them by most modern Jews — the two worlds are alien to each other, to such an extent that one scholar noted that it would’ve been near impossible to determine who was and was not a Jew in the ancient world. That traditionalism, having survived in large parts of the world fairly late in history, has mostly disappeared from living memory (e.g., isolated cultures of European tribal paganism survived into the Middle Ages).

Modern ethno-nationalism is a result of the reactionary mind and, once established, it is a further contributing factor in establishing and entrenching the conditions for the reactionary mind to spread; even as liberal mind might use this as a jumping off point for a greater sense of identity (e.g., humanity as a single species and people with a common human nature and universal human rights). In being a component of liberalism, it was the radical potential of modern nationalism that made possible the multicultural American that extended into the yet more radicalized potential of a global citizenry, as envisioned by the progressive Thomas Paine, that transcended the insular bigotry of the mere rights of Englishmen and so was effectively wielded as a weapon against British authoritarian claims of rule. As he wrote in ‘Common Sense’, it was undeniably “absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island,” especially when “Not one third of the inhabitants, even of this province, [Pennsylvania], are of English descent” (other British colonies were likewise majority non-English). Paine took his being a citizen of the world even further in aspiring to a revolution that would spread — Benjamin Franklin supposedly told him that, “Where liberty is, there is my country,” and Paine’s response was that, “Where liberty is not, there is my country.”

Prior to all of these modern changes, progressive and reactionary, people in traditional tribes and villages took their own immediate communal experience and territory as an autonomous self-contained world largely separate from that of others, each community with its own local ruling deities and spiritus loci. Consider, for example, the Semitic henotheism that can be discerned behind later Yahwist interpolations of the Tanakh; or the traces surviving into the Middle Ages when local spirits were still worshipped and appeased, such as the wintertime wassailing of the presiding spirit of the orchard. Hence, going back far enough into the past, everyone was able to have claimed their own population as the first people and their own place as the center of the world without having had asserted any hegemonic intentions upon others. It was a pluriverse, not a universe — a world of worlds.

That was the original conception of something akin to social and moral relativism, if more indifference and ignorance than tolerance, acceptance, or celebration of diversity. Consider the Amazonian Piraha’s friendly but aloof attitude towards strangers. As a Piraha explained, Piraha culture is good for Piraha, foreign cultures are good for foreigners; and hence there is no need for cultural hegemony as ideological realism to be proclaimed as absolutist dogma, much less enforced through authoritarian and violent conquering and genocide, social control and assimilation. To be Piraha simply means to be Piraha with no greater claims on all of reality, quite opposite of monotheistic fundamentalism (the latter being incomprehensible to the Piraha, as generations of failed missionaries have discovered). That once was a more common experience of the world. At the level of individual persons, one thing was not separate from another for the shared ground of cohesion was the larger network of kinship and community. In the case of animistic and bicameral societies, this included the bundled mind with a shared voice-hearing tradition as opposed to the privatized egoic voice trapped in each person’s skull (a few surviving animistic tribes still maintain such a cultural mentality). This relativism lingered in areas of Axial Age thought.

Keep in mind that what some think of as ancient proto-racism really wasn’t racism at all. It was a common belief that a people’s culture and collective personality was determined by their environment: weather patterns, food, etc (e.g., dark skin was caused by living in sunnier climes); an almost Larmarckian or epigenetic understanding of real or perceived population-wide phenotypic plasticity. The experience of world and the experience of self were inseparable, such as how the animistic personal space of hunter-gatherers extends into the surrounding sensory space and perceptual field far beyond the physical body. This is the embodied and extended mind, closely related to the bundled mind. This still dwells within the modern mind and it regularly reasserts itself, however much most modern people pretend they are isolated and self-contained individuals — hence, the reactionary impulse of the splintered modern psyche.

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From Axial Age to Modernity: Universalism, Egalitarianism, etc

This archaic sense of reality probably influenced the basis of Greco-Roman humoral theory and later on elements of Christian thought, the belief that we are shaped by external factors and hence, with a post-animistic/bicameral twist, that systems (e.g., written laws) could be used as social control that determined behavior. This was seen in medieval food laws that banned red meat before and during Carnival to prevent the excess heating of ‘blood’ that it was feared would cause people to be rowdy and rebellious; an ideology, later formulated as veganism, that was adapted by Seventh Day Adventists to supposedly prevent sinfulness, moral depravity, and physical dissolution (as part of a public health moral panic and anti-masturbation crusade). Archaic and ancient traditional thought has never really disappeared for it constantly gets reinterpreted and redirected, if the forms it takes increasingly diverge from traditional experience and understanding, in how it’s expressed in both the progressive mind and the reactionary mind.

As filtered through the stronger universalizing impulse of modern thought, this particularly came to shape 20th century leftism. It was very much informed by anthropology and social science (e.g., the study of traditional cultures by anthropologist Franz Boas and his students), in articulating a shared human nature that consisted more of flexible potentials than of deterministic laws (e.g., Carl Jung’s personality types that influenced the theories of cultural relativity espoused by some of Boas’ students, such as Ruth Benedict who in turn influenced those like Julian Jaynes). This general development in Western thought shaped new understandings like social constructivism and intersectionality, not to mention even more interesting theories about linguistic relativity and consciousness. As divergent as some might take them, there has always been a creative dynamic on the left between universalism and relativism. But, as always, this has been just as easily co-opted by the reactionary right, if in more constrained forms that were used to prevent collective consciousness instead of promoting it (Peter Augustine Lawler: “conservative thought today is authentic postmodernism”; for example: “Russel Kirk’s unconscious postmodernismKarl Rove’s social constructivismDonald Trump’s post-truth, and Jordan Peterson’s self-loathing pluralism“).

About universalism specifically, such thinking had become more common as alphabetic languages, written texts, literary traditions, and abstract thought became widespread in the Axial Age and post-Axial Age empires (the precursors of modern WEIRD culture that took hold with mass literacy; see Joseph Henrich, The WEIRDest People in the World). This was seen also in natural law and liberty of the soul, as formulated by Stoics and later adopted by early Christians. These were initially radical ideas and one can still sense what, at various points in history, made them such a threat. The first generation of Christians, similar to the Stoics before them, flouted the laws and social customs of both Jews and Romans, and they did so according to the belief in a higher truth of natural law that stood above human law, the basis upon which psychic and spiritual reality could be experienced as unconstrained (e.g., the Kingdom of Heaven all around us). This was an early expression of universalism as radical egalitarianism, specifically grounded in communitarianism and often literal communes with shared work and resources, not to mention positions determined by egalitarian lots (i.e., egalitarian authority). This was in direct conflict with the rigid authoritarian hierarchies if worldly power (dividing rulers from ruled, free from slave, upper caste from lower caste, civilized from barbarian) in the Roman Empire, hierarchies of status that determined privilege and oppression in having made clear that all were not equal before God or man.

Among those early Christians, the egalitarian way of living and relating was specifically demonstrated in what some consider the original baptismal creed proclaiming that there was no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male and female; for, it was believed, we are all children of God, all one in Spirit; to the extent that, as Jesus put it, “you are all gods” (Stephen J. Patterson, The Forgotten Creed). Universal divine law trumped even the social constructs of identity and so denied them any reified legitimacy as ideological realism. The earliest Christians, in their charismatic practice, took this literally in how everyone, even the most lowly enslaved women, had equal access to leadership and authority within the church community. This was concretely expressed in how all congregants, in communal ecstasy, danced with their long hair allowed to flow freely, in direct contradiction to gender norms where Roman men kept their hair cut short and Roman women kept their hair bound up. This was one of the many things that worried Paul because he wanted to make Christianity more respectable, in conformance with normative social expectations; but he didn’t understand that this is precisely what made such charismatic faith so inspiring to the oppressed and downtrodden.

Many radicals since that time, from the English Peasants’ Revolt to the American Revolution, often drew upon natural law rhetoric to challenge human legal institutions (although some, like the deist Thomas Jefferson, had a less certain relationship to such beliefs). That was also part of the power of the Protestant Reformation in taking on the Catholic Church. Yet, despite its ever present potential of radicalism, it has been increasingly held up as a favorite principle of conservative-minded fundamentalists and other right-wingers, one of the many cases where once radical thought is increasingly used and monopolized by the reactionary mind. There is a mixed history to natural law, as the conservative-minded sometimes understood that it was a two-edged sword. The Catholic Edmund Burke opposed natural law specifically because of the radical threat it posed. But, for other reasons, the egalitarian and often radical Quakers have long favored an alternative to natural law since, as heretics, they sought higher authority through a personal relationship with a living God, rather than an impersonal and unreachable God of laws that required intercession by a priestly class — a different route to the same end of challenging unjust worldly power. As a historical note, Quaker constitutionalism appears to be the earliest major predecessor of liberal living constitutionalism, that a constitution is a living document agreed to by a living generation as a covenant with a living deity, truth, or principle; and such radicalism of the Quakers came out of the radical English Civil War that ended with the regicide, the overthrow and beheading of the king. This is one of the many ways the English Civil War set the pattern for the American Revolution.

There have been many kinds of radicalism over time and, importantly, most of them originated within religion. It’s historically complicated, but over time the specific radicalism of natural law seems to have faded almost entirely. As so often happens, the radicalism that takes hold as a revolution of the mind quickly becomes normalized and so becomes the new social norm as status quo to be defended by the reactionary right. That is how natural law has become neutered in being largely identified with the reactionary and regressive at this point. Fundamentalist apologists have come to treat their beliefs about social order, gender, family, abortion, etc as an ideological realism of natural law and so seek to enforce it through human law (i.e., theocracy); in spite of the fact that Jesus offered very little light on the subject or, if anything, a rather anti-fundamentalist view in his having heretically challenged the Jewish fundamentalism of his own era. Jesus went so far as to deny his own mother on multiple occasions; not to mention having told one man about his father’s corpse to let the dead bury the dead; having declared that he came not to bring peace but to turn son against father, daughter against mother; and we can’t forget his repeated challenge to wealth and power, including a direct attack on the established elite in overturning the moneylenders tables in the temple. As for abortion and homosexuality, he was silent, as was the Old Testament. Are these Christian moral values and family values?

Traditional Values Are Not Culture Wars

This is another area where traditionalism stands in stark contrast to the reactionary right and, at times, finds resonance with a progressive left. Think about how, prior to the 1960s, abortion was a non-issue among Christians with a long history of theological arguments actually justifying it, not to mention Christian communities condoning the practice that was common in the past. The Bible does speak against infanticide, but that is referring to the killing (exposure or abandoning) of babies that were already born, not the terminating of pregnancies which was a standard practice at the time. Abortifacients have existed in nearly every traditional society, for being able to control when to have children was even more important in the past when unneeded children to feed could be a threat to the survival of family and community. There is even an abortifacient recipe in the Old Testament. Odd as it may sound in this era of reactionary culture war, most early-to-mid 20th century American Christians, specifically Protestants and including Evangelicals, saw no conflict between family values and abortion; and instead they often saw these as closely related because family planning was seen as central to family responsibility.

About another topic, when we look at historical texts and anthropological records, it’s amazing how many past societies had much more nuanced understandings of gender and sexuality, to the point of including multiple gender identities/roles. That is far from saying that traditionalism has typically been socially liberal, as three or more genders could be as strict and oppressive as only two, although not necessarily. But what it does demonstrate, contrary to conservative claims, is that a binary gender belief system is not an ideological realism of natural law that was created by God and emblazoned upon human nature and biology. That is to say gender realism is as much bullshit as ethno-nationalist realism, capitalist realism, domestic realism, etc. This has always been the line of critique by the left, the dismantling of false assumptions, the puncturing of the obfuscatory hot air that bloats the reactionary moral imagination.

We must take the past on its own terms, not ours. If we go back to the traditional societies, the fluidity of social identities sometimes included, besides temporary or permanent shifts in name and personality (at least among people who were animistic and possibly bicameral), gender fluidity and sexual variation as well. People could hold amorphous or divergent identities in ways that are hard for us to imagine and sometimes that meant people changing gender or identifying with two genders (e.g., Two Spirits). This is because, in many older cultures, gender was not always equated to sexual anatomy or sexual activity. At the time of European first contact with Native American tribes, there were over a hundred recorded instances of non-binary gender expression, including in Mexico that has since become identified with Christianized macho culture. This was seen all over the world: Polynesia, Hawaii, ancient Iran, ancient Egypt, and on and on. It might be safe to say gender fluidity and/or diversity was closer to the norm than an exception.

In the ancient world, many deities had mixed anatomy, such as goddesses with erect penises. Also seen were androgynous deities. Even older portrayals of Jesus sometimes showed him as androgynous, occasionally including breasts. In the ancient world, many salvific godmen took on the feminine traits (physical, psychological, and spiritual) associated with the archaic agricultural goddesses who still were or had previously been the virgin mothers of such godmen, as the goddesses became demoted (e.g., the Egyptian Isis had been worshipped in her own right throughout the Roman Empire, only to have her statues co-opted as the Black Madonna and so she was replaced with worship of a merely human Mother Mary who played a secondary role). Unsurprisingly, many of those individuals traditionally perceived as a third gender or two-gendered could become shamans, healers, priests, or otherwise played important roles in society and rituals; as someone who transcended gender might be believed to also be able to cross other boundaries such as into the worlds of spirits, the dead, and non-human beings.

There was even open homosexuality in the pre-modern world, such as in Africa (e.g., an apparently ancient Egyptian gay couple buried together in a lover’s embrace). All of this was far from limited to only gender identity or sexuality. In the Americas, research on burials indicate that 30-50% of big game hunters might’ve been anatomically female, demonstrating gender specialization of work did not necessarily always exist. Similarly, some hieroglyphs in the Americas can be interpreted as showing both men and women holding hands of children; according to the number of fingers shown on hands, a way of symbolizing gender; possibly indicating that childrearing was not limited to one gender (info from a display at the Florence Indian Mound and Museum in Alabama). Such a finding should be unsurprising, as many hunter-gatherer societies demonstrate something similar with all kinds of work being done by both anatomical women and men, even ignoring the complexity of gender issues. This wasn’t limited to the non-Western world. There were Viking and Germanic shield-maidens and they were apparently treated with respect and honor, indicating gender identities were not absolute in entirely limiting social role, position, and opportunities.

Gender fluidity or else complexity, along with multiple forms of sexual relationships, seems to have persisted quite late into history; maybe having indicated acceptance, tolerance, or indifference. In England, there was no official position on homosexuality until the 1533 Buggery Act, what one might interpret as the first sign of a modern reactionary culture war. That was about right when the Protestant Reformation (i.e., fundamentalist nuclear family values and heteronormativity) and colonization (i.e., the militarization of the heroic hyper-masculine figure) began, while the traditional order of feudal Church and villages was in the process of being dismantled (i.e., the decline of Carnival practice of role-reversals and gender-bending). Prior to European colonization in Africa, there was no known cases of anti-LGBT laws or persecution. So, conservative gender and sexual bigotry is only a few centuries old, as compared to entirely different notions of gender that were widespread for millennia before that.

As far as all of that goes, marriage and monogamy are likewise a lot more complicated than it typically gets portrayed, as based on modern Western biases. Yes, monogamy does appear to be quite common among many cultures, but such monogamy doesn’t seem to preclude promiscuity; and, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll ignore the large number of openly polygamous and polyandrous societies that have existed. To return to one concrete example, the Piraha are informally monogamous, if in practice this means serial monogamy. Basically, whenever two Piraha are having sex, they are considered married; and when one Piraha goes off to have repeated sex with another then the original couple are then de facto divorced. There are no laws or authorities to enforce monogamy and no punishment, other than hurt feelings, to dissuade individuals from having multiple sexual partners. Also, they are far from prudish. Young Piraha children learn about sex early from direct observation and sexual play, including between adults and children. And serial monogamy is so rampant, in how most people in a tribe have had sex with so many others in the tribe, that the tribes are closely bonded together by overlapping carnal knowledge, even including homosexual play among among adults.

Is this what conservative Christians mean by traditional monogamy and family values being the social norm of the human species? We’re reminded of an incident in early America where a white man visited a Native American tribe. He noticed how common was promiscuity and so asked how did a man know who his children were. The answer was that no one knew and no one cared, as all children were considered to belong to the whole tribe. Yet many of these tribes might have been recorded as ‘monogamous’ and so falsely used as evidence to strengthen the reactionary claims that conflate traditionalism with modern conservatism, as voiced in modern WEIRD culture.

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Freedom to Belong, Responsibility to Others

This supports the leftist counter-claim that gender, sexuality, and marriage are socially constructed to a fair degree and obviously so in diverse ways; despite overgeneralizations made about superficial observations. But it also verifies the leftist view of how powerfully we are shaped by environment, particularly socio-cultural and material conditions. This goes back to the main point being made here. The political left perceives humans as embedded in dynamic systems, both communal and collective or otherwise interdependent. We are in and of the world. The world is us. We the People are a plural, not a collection of individuals; and that is why we are greater than the sum of our parts, but it is also what offers an escape from the prison of the reactionary mind, the key to the lock.

We aren’t victims or passengers, much less lone actors. Our identities and roles in society aren’t imprinted into our genetics as essentialism and determinism. And, since the world we know was created by past generations, we are forever in the position to create our world again, as the Anti-Federalist Thomas Paine so wonderfully put it. This was a central concept to the American founding, that the dead hand of past generations could not and should not compel authoritarian submission of the living generation. Prior to written texts that trapped the past like an insect in amber, traditional societies as oral cultures always treated traditions as organic practices brought to life by voice and invocation, not immutable laws and unchanging doctrines. This remains fundamentally true, as human nature is still the same, even if the media and culture alters its expression.

That is to say we are and always have been free as a people, but this freedom is not individualistic and legalistic liberty, not the mere civil rights written on a piece of paper or upheld in a court of law. We are free according to our own human nature, something that can’t be denied or destroyed, can’t be taken away from us. We verify and prove this freedom in our own experience. And, importantly, we are not lost souls wandering in an alien land, not lost souls waiting for the afterlife in order to return somewhere else. Our shared humanity is part of larger systems of a living world in which we are enmeshed and immersed in, a world to which we belong as our home. We are social creatures by nature, not disconnected as lone individuals or nuclear families, as worker-citizens or capitalist owners. We are not separate and isolated, and so we are not powerless. The world we were born into is not inevitable. Near infinite possibility is before us, the extent of which we can only discover through experimentation and exploration. We are free through acting freely, in knowing the strength of our shared freedom.

We could end on that inspiring note. But our purpose here is not to preach to the choir or rally the forces of good. More fundamentally, we are curious about what this all means and so we seek compassionate understanding, for others as much as for ourselves. Why do such divides of the mind get formed and persist? In some ways, the whole left vs right framing could be part of the problem, as inherently dualistic and oppositional, and hence reactionary. Although this is not a new insight, the political spectrum remains a powerful way of understanding our present conflict because it isn’t just an idea. The left/right dichotomy has become built into every aspect of our society and mind. We carry it and so dismissing it is not an option. Some more powerful metaphor will have to organically emerge as a more compelling meme. That is the reason to emphasize the leftist view, since it points beyond to another possibility, a third way. In the end, the ‘leftist’ ideals of egalitarianism and solidarity (or fellowship) are not about one ideology fighting against another ideology. Rather, these words speak to the truth within us that can’t be negated. It’s simply who we are.

This is demonstrated by the so-called political issues. There is a reason the most heated debates involve such things as environmentalism, systemic racism, and class consciousness. These touch upon the leftist understanding of systems that the political right, in order to sustain their illusion of separation and division, must deny. The thing is this is not one belief system against another but rather a choice between embracing reality or an illusion, to accept our shared humanity or deny it. This is a truth known in our direct experience and also known in science. Systems are not ideas for they are how the world actually operates. Nothing is really separate, in ways that are quite profound, as quantum physics has shown us but also demonstrated in every other field of science. This is both a human truth and a scientific fact.

Whether one believes in and supports environmentalism or not, for example, the environment remains a stark reality explaining what is happening to the natural world we are inseparable from. Climate change continues to get worse with measurable shifting weather patterns and increases in extreme weather events, as part of a single world with a single atmosphere. Ecosystems continue to be destroyed, rainforests cut down, species gone extinct, toxins having polluted the water and air, and on and on. This isn’t a leftist claim. It’s an objective and verifiable fact that also is a knowable in human experience. Anyone who has lived long enough will have noticed how monarch butterfly populations have declined, as one recollects a childhood where such creatures once were seen everywhere. Or take the opposite where invasive species spread further north where they never were before found because of global warming. No left-wing ideologue or scientific elite needs to tell us this is true. We can confirm it for ourselves and thousands of other similar observable changes in the world around us. It is part of our lived experience — personal, direct, and concrete.

Similarly, whether or not one acknowledges racism and class war, it remains the social reality enforced upon so many. The victims of it know it in their bones and can see it in the world all around them, even if they don’t always have the terminology to articulate it. So, it may come out as distorted conspiracy theories and get co-opted by other reactionary fear-mongering. Think about the QANON conspiracy theory that, through dark fantasies, expresses the very real sense of a world divided by vast inequalities of wealth and power that are determined by ruling systems. But what the reactionary mind does not grasp is the first victims of propaganda campaigns are those in the ruling class. That is how ideological realism dominates, in being internalized, such as how even the victims of systemic oppression act according to the incentives and disincentives built into the systems of oppression. And, ultimately, in a victimization culture everyone is a victim of the same unfreedom (e.g., the wealthy, in high inequality societies, having higher rates of social problems and health issues; compared to those in low inequality societies).

The reactionary right is a funhouse mirror that both shows and obscures the truth given voice by the political left. That is what we get when we’ve lost our ability to see clearly because we feel alone in a fractured society. We look for enemies in those other people, rather than realizing the trap we are all caught in. So, we follow the maze looking for our cheese, instead of looking for a way out. Leftist ideology emphasizes and prioritizes the relative; and so it is not to be taken as a final truth but as a dynamic learning process, as a finger pointing toward something else. From a leftist perspective, the only value in thinking about a linear political spectrum of two polar positions is to help us create a new society where a left vs right framing would no longer makes sense. While the political right typically proclaims itself as an answer and conclusion, the political left at its best offers a beginning point that opens up to an unknown future that simultaneously gives us new insight into the past, brings light into our shared humanity. Accordingly, we are more than we’ve been told we are.

* * *

Reactionary Right, Leftover Liberalism, and Leftist Supermajority

This has been a somewhat hard post to write. And it’s not clear how successful it has so far turned out. The actual writing was more involved than the simplicity of the original impetus. We’ll go for broke with further explanation and, hopefully, we won’t add more confusion in the process (if nothing else, maybe this post will serve as an intriguing thought experiment about experienced reality, according to metaphors and memes, social construction and perception management). The central observation in mind was that of leftist thought about systems and similar things. This occurred to us in thinking about the symbolic value of issues like environmentalism and systemic racism, as discussed above.

It has long stood out how those on the political right take systems thinking as one of their primary targets. What is feared about something like Marxism is that it brings to light systems of oppression so that they can be seen and challenged, analyzed and debated. Even if all leftist alternatives so far proffered are wrong and impossible, the leftist critique might remain true or at least compelling and hence dangerous. Similarly, it is understandable that systemic racism gets dismissed so easily because social conservatism has always been mired in racist systems, at least so far. Racism, after all, is simply one particular expression of social conservatism; and central to American society from the beginning. But maybe we can dream of a day when American conservatives become anti-racist in both words and deeds. Admittedly, it has been a small achievement to get the political right to declare that “All Lives Matter” since, in finally pretending to believe what they previously denied, they might continue going further left. Do all lives really matter in how they are treated? Really? What if that actually was how everyone was treated?

The political right, indeed, has become more egalitarian or else less rabidly and openly inegalitarian over time. If this continues, would there come a point where the reactionary right that we presently know essentially stops existing? As for now, the reactionary right is alive and well; and all right-wing hierarchy involves various forms of rigid authority and privilege, which inevitably lead to unfairness and injustice and oppression (i.e., inegalitarianism). This right-wing hierarchy is a socially constructed system, demonstrating and proving that reactionaries understand systems just fine. So, the general attitude in outwardly dismissing all that which is systemic seems strange because how can conservatives be so unconcerned about conserving the environment, the basis of all life and civilization. But then one realizes that, with historical revisionism, the political right has never been all that concerned about conserving. All of that is besides the point because reaction always plays out in the immediate moment. The past is a mere convenience, a stage upon which to project nostalgic visions.

The real point is not only about if this or that system gets acknowledged as real but whether this entire leftist way of thinking about systems is even included in allowable thought and collective consciousness. The political right wants to shut down the public imagination before it gets to that point, to prevent public debate before it happens — strangle dangerous ideas in their crib. The moment there is actual inquiry about systems the political right has already lost the battle, and they know this. In symbolic conflation, systems must remain obscured by the fantasizing of the moral imagination. That is the basic argument Edmund Burke made about the moral imagination. So, it’s not that systems don’t also operate in the reactionary mind, but by nature they never can operate openly, honestly, and forthrightly. They must be presented as an unquestioned or unseen reality (i.e., ideological realism), often being claimed as something else (i.e., symbolic conflation).

The political right, as portrayed on the political right, in a sense doesn’t really or fully exist. It is a mirage of the moral imagination for the reason it has been promoted by perception management, the most powerful method of social control. Even though most Americans are far left-leaning in their views, the majority when given a forced choice continue to self-identify as ‘conservative’. This belies the social reality of a leftist supermajority. That is why one can, in all fairness, question the existence of the political right. Most Americans on the political right are, in many ways, further left than was the case among most American leftists a century ago and definitely as compared to the centuries prior. This is shown by how such a significant number of Republicans have come to agree with the general majority in recognizing racism in the police and in supporting stronger environmental regulations; other examples have been given elsewhere. It wasn’t that long ago that such ideas were radical not only to liberals but leftists as well, back when the political left was mainly focused on economic issues. As such, the disagreement, at present, is not about the reality of the situation but our response to it or else reaction.

That said, there might be a small genuine right-wing, what elsewhere in this blog has been called the ‘Ferengi‘ (based on the acronym FER that refers to the overlapping demographics of Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and Republicans). But even there, it’s not clear to what degree most of this hardcore minority holds the beliefs they claim, as appears in polls. The reactionary mind is defined by what it reacts to, not by what it affirms. When reactionaries aren’t co-opting from the left, they are sometimes simply declaring the complete opposite for rhetorical effect and strategic positioning. So, other than being reactionary, what exactly can we know about the political right? Not much, one might argue. The vast majority of conservatives and Republicans often privately admit to holding many views that, according to the political and media elites, would be considered rather liberal and leftist. The main body of the political right mostly evaporates upon close scrutiny, leaving little behind besides the emotional reflex of nostalgia and resentment; of anxiety, fear, and paranoia. But is psychological reaction, no matter how rhetorically narratized, enough to be called an ideology?

That has been the key question others have asked, such as the political scientist Corey Robin. Basically, he comes down with the view that the reactionary is simply a modern defense of entrenched hierarchy, but where the reactionaries as an aspiring elite seek to replace the prior hierarchies in order to seize power and privilege, wealth and resources. According to the analysis here in this post, the reactionary is nothing more than inegalitarianism (SDO-E on the SDO7 scale), the void of an egalitarianism gone missing; or what Robin describes as the denied agency of the subordinate class. This still doesn’t tell us much, other than reactionaries are not egalitarians, further defining them by negation, by what they lack. Then we are left with figuring out what might be the project of entrenched hierarchy, other than opportunistic realpolitik. That leads us back to what exactly do we mean by ideology. Is it just a vague psychological stance or does it require a specific political project that seeks a clear vision and agenda about an ideal society?

Pretty much all of the political right has embraced the leftover liberalism of past generations, but done so in the typical mix-and-match style (i.e., bricolage) of the reactionary mind. There doesn’t appear to be any consistent principle behind all of it, no reason for why this aspect of liberalism is co-opted and another attacked and still another distorted in unrecognizable form. It can seem like ideology as a fortress where what is hidden and protected behind the defensive wall remains unknown, assuming anything at all is to be found. Yet, going by the argument of this post, we would stand by the view that the reactionary is fundamentally liberal in being inseparable from the liberal paradigm, as it is defined in its reacting to and co-opting of liberalism. Among the most reactionary of reactionaries, the right-wing elite and the staunch alt-righters, one senses that many and maybe most have come to agree with broad liberalism, as well as much of leftism. They’re not really arguing for something entirely different, as in articulating a distinct vision, for their main purpose is to defend the prevailing ideological realism itself toward a specific agenda and in serving particular interests.

One would be naive to celebrate this victory of liberalism as an End of History. The reactionaries may have gained the upper hand, given that reaction is an easier task with nothing really to achieve other than constantly causing difficulty by obstructing what others are trying to achieve (e.g., anti-democratic tactics, from voter suppression to voter purges). There is a suspicion that many of the seemingly active debates have already ended and, at this point, have become mere political spectacle. The most reactionary extremists — the social dominators, Machiavellian demagogues, opportunistic psychopaths, and narcissistic poseurs — maybe already know, to some degree, that the left has been right in its analysis and judgment. That is sort of the conclusion Corey Robin comes to, in that reactionaries agree the past has been a failure for otherwise they wouldn’t constantly seek to replace it with historical revisionism (e.g., falsely denying that the political right once was openly defined by racism). But it goes further than that, as seen with how the political right accepts large swaths of social liberalism (e.g., the political right stopped talking much about same sex marriage once it became undeniable that the vast supermajority of Americans took this basic gay right as a non-issue).

Yet here we are. The right-wing systems, structures, and institutions remain in place. It really doesn’t matter what someone like Donald Trump or Steven Bannon personally believes in actuality, since it’s almost guaranteed that they wouldn’t care about one of their own family members getting an abortion or getting gay married. They aren’t anti-liberal ideologues, but they realize pretending to be so is convenient rhetoric for manipulating a segment of the public. The strange thing is most of those being manipulated probably also are fine with these issues on a personal level. This is all about symbolic politics and symbolic identities — it’s a story being told. What views and opinions, values and ideals are held by individuals is irrelevant and moot. That is the power of systems over the mind, which is understood across the political spectrum but it’s only leftists that speak this truth. Right-wingers understand that right-wing systems work precisely by being taken as a given, by being left in the background where they cloak themselves in the shadows of moral imagination; otherwise, the emperor will be seen as having no clothes, the great Wizard of Oz just a feeble man behind a curtain.

The political left may appear to have lost the war of political power and social control, even as it won the battle over the public mind, although change always begins in the public mind where it might not see effects until generations or centuries later, as the somewhat reactionary John Adams admitted about the revolution of mind preceding the revolution of politics, although a revolution of mind that began much earlier than he realized. This is demonstrated by the immense amount of time that passed across the relevant history; starting with the egalitarian rhetoric of the 14th century peasants’ revolts, continuing with the emergent radicalism of the 17th century English civil War, and finally coming to fruition with the egalitarian action of the 18th century political revolutions (although the deeper history of egalitarianism originates much earlier in the Axial Age). Systems change slowly because systems have a way of taking on lives of their own. They are hyperobjects that begin acting like hypersubjects — they are the demiurgic forces that rule over us, more than does any ruling elite; but also the utopian ideals that inspire us with promises of freedom. The memetic power of ideas only gradually percolates throughout a system.

What the left dreams of is a time when the demos (the public, the people) once again regains its position as the leading hypersubject, the public mind within the body politic. The left wants to bring this all into collective consciousness, to manifest the victory that, one hopes, has already been achieved within the human heart. With a firm foothold in the public imagination, how might we lift ourselves by our own bootstraps? Then maybe we can stop talking about a left and a right.

* * *

Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Abundance

After writing all of the above, we thought of a post we’d written before and another post we’re still working on. The previous post came to the bold conclusion that we are all egalitarians, similar to an earlier more humorous assertion about all of us being white liberals now. The point is that such things have come to define our whole society, either in embracing or reacting to them. Ultimately, there is no inegalitarianism, in the way there is no illiberalism. Rather, a modern Westerner can choose between being a progressive egalitarian-liberal or a regressive egalitarian-liberal. But reaction can’t escape what it’s reacting to. As we put it in the post about egalitarianism:

“Egalitarianism isn’t and never was simply about modern left-wing ideology as formed out of the revolutionary philosophies of post-Enlightenment thinkers, dreamers, and activists. Egalitarianism isn’t an abstract ideal for it is rooted within us. To attempt to remove it would be to destroy our collective soul, an act akin to ripping out our heart. We don’t hold egalitarianism as a value and principle, as a vision and worldview. Egalitarianism, rather, is who we are. There is no ‘left’ and ‘right’, no division between a set of egalitarian political ideologies and what supposedly opposes them. To oppose egalitarianism would be insanity because it would be to oppose ourselves. Egalitarianism can’t be denied. Rather than a ‘left’ and ‘right’, there is simply and fundamentally the egalitarian center of our being. To embrace this revolutionary radicalism (i.e., to return to the root) would mean to become fully human. That is the only centrism, moderate or otherwise, that has any meaning.”

That argument is biased by our spiritual inclinations and religious upbringings. In high school, we read A Course In Miracles. The theology of the text isn’t relevant, per se, but there is one statement that has stuck in our mind all these decades later: “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.” That is basically how we’ve come to think of the left and right, as respectively motivated by love and fear. This extends into our understanding of the social sciences, such as not seeing egalitarianism and authority as opposites for not all authority is authoritarianism, the latter being a distortion of the former. For most of human existence, egalitarianism has been the norm where most hierarchies were moderate, flexible, and temporary. This is why egalitarianism is so deeply embedded in human nature, as both inclination and aspiration. It requires tremendous amounts of fear and anxiety to go against this inborn tendency and default mode.

This leads us to the post we’ve been working on for a while and still plan to finish. It brings in the health angle. We are a sickly society and so, combined with high inequality and artificial scarcity, it makes perfect sense that we are drowning in anxiety and fear. There has never been such overwhelmingly stressful societies as seen in modern industrialized states, and it’s an entirely new kind of set of stressors; chronic stress as unresolved tension and unhealed trauma. This is shown in the growing rates of psychosis among urbanized youth and growing rates of disease in general at ever younger ages. Our entire social order, lifestyle, and food system is out of sync with our evolved nature. An example of this is our being literally ungrounded from the earth. It wasn’t until the post-war period that humans started using synthetic material for shoes that disconnects the human body from the immense source of electrons and the site of electromagnetic cycles in the earth (as enmeshed with the atmosphere and the sun), possibly why we’ve become so obsessed with antioxidants that are able to loan electrons in preventing body-wide damage from free radical cascades.

In observing people, it is obvious how disconnected, sickly, stunted, malformed, and mentally disturbed is the average person — a genuine reason for moral panic and existential crisis. So many people feel crappy in both their minds and bodies, and so they act in ways that are personally and socially dysfunctional. This is not a normal state of humanity and it might explain why our society, in having a weakened social immune system, has become so vulnerable to the reactionary mind virus (what one might call the terrain theory of memetics, metaphorically likened to the terrain theory of immunity). It’s not only about powerful ideas but an alteration of how the human body-mind functions. Even low levels of stress from sickliness can trigger personal and social responses of authoritarianism, as shown in the research on communities with higher parasite load. What if most of the framing of right vs left is simply a confused attempt to grasp the distinction between a healthy society and an unhealthy society, pro-social behavior and anti-social behavior, societal progress and societal decline? It’s one thing for a society to temporarily fall into reactionary mode as a survival response to an immediate concrete threat. But to become stuck continuously in reaction is abnormal, unhealthy, and dangerous.

That is how we’ve come to see this whole issue. We all react at various points in our lives and that is perfectly normal. That is a healthy and necessary survival response. But remaining permanently in a state of fight or flight is unbearably stressful. Research has found that low levels of chronic stress are more traumatic than a single much worse traumatic event. That is what living in a high inequality society does to us. It potentially can be worse than a war or a famine, being violently attacked or raped. The reason is because it never ends and so never can be escaped. There is no respite and refuge, no moment to rest and de-stress, no place of protection and chance for healing. It often leads to learned helplessness or, worse still, various dysfunctional mental illnesses and personality traits: psychosis, mood disorders, personality disorders, the Dark Triad (Machiavellianism, authoritarianism, and narcissism; or Dark Tetrad if sadism is added), etc. The reactionary mind, one might argue, is simply the pattern of symptoms seen in severe unhealed trauma. And right-wing ideology is simply the political, economic, and social reaction of the most traumatized in a society of the severely traumatized.

We see this in decades of data that compares societies that are high and low in inequality. It matters less if this involves poverty or wealth. Many of the physically and mentally healthiest populations are traditional cultures like hunter-gatherer tribes where they have little outward wealth. But what they also lack is the authoritarian enforcement of artificial scarcity. We’ve noted how modern Americans act as if they live in a world of scarcity, despite stores full of stuff. This is because the basic human needs are not being met. Inequality creates an environment of stress, anxiety, and fear where there is a constant sense of vulnerability to danger and threat. We are disconnected from the world in a way that is not true in traditional societies. The Piraha, to return to a favorite example, live amidst great abundance of food and resources that are easily obtained from the surrounding jungle and nearby river. That is why they don’t worry about survival nor even store food. They eat when they want, but can go days without eating for no particular reason. As Daniel Everett observed, they seem to have no fear of the world around them, a world that objectively we modern Westerners would perceive as threateningly dangerous. Yet, to the Piraha, they feel relaxed and at home, with unswerving confidence that they belong.

Not only do the Piraha lack scarcity, real and imagined, but also they lack authoritarian hierarchy. They have no permanent positions of authority or even expertise; council of elders, no chiefs, war leaders, healers, shamans, etc. To occasionally achieve some practical end involving cooperation, a single individual might temporarily take leadership but it doesn’t continue beyond the activity itself. It’s not merely that their life is simple for they do possess immense knowledge that requires a level of memory few modern Westerners are capable of. What results from this? The Piraha are happy, friendly, gregarious, kind, generous, and welcoming; including toward strangers who visit them. There is no signs of long-term stress or unhealed trauma, no known cases of depression or suicide. They are one of the few remaining egalitarian tribes that shows us the conditions under which human nature evolved. They show us the potential that exists within us all.

This isn’t about some nostalgic past but about the present and, if we allow it, it could also be about our future. That is what is imagined in the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation. What might it be like to live in fully functioning democratic socialism that is not based on sickness, fear, and punishment? We don’t have to limit ourselves to science fiction utopias. We already know, to some extent, what is possible. The more successful social democracies have many elements of democratic socialism about them, including wide-scale public ownership and government operation of numerous areas of the society and economy — not only welfare, education, and infrastructure, but also childcare, job training, healthcare, utilities, natural resources, and much else. These socialist-leaning social democracies are, importantly, low-inequality with all that goes with that: better public health, lower rates of violent crimes and mental illness, high rates of public trust, and such.

All of the factors that feed into the reactionary mind are much more muted in these societies focused on the public good. That is what allows the egalitarianism within human nature to fully express. Healthy environments create healthy people and healthy cultures. This is a world where differences are allowed to a greater extent within a shared concern and motivated by a shared humanity. When people are no longer trapped in fear and scarcity, then even public disagreement and debate doesn’t have to result in reactionary polarization and pseudo-tribalism. This is the leftist vision of humanity that, instead of offering a final conclusion and totalizing answer of totalitarian ideology, offers new beginnings and opens up to new possibilities. What this specifically would mean for any given society at any given time would be determined through a culture of trust and democratic self-governance, an inspiring potential that can’t be guaranteed or proven in advance.

MSM Spin On White Liberals

From Tablet Magazine, Zach Goldberg writes about white liberals, what he calls America’s White Saviors. This is an example of how corporate media slants their reporting on public opinion. In this case, the author focuses on one narrow demograpic of race and ideology, so as to isolate it and make it seem far left, while ignoring that the majority of Americans agree with white liberals on most major issues. I’ll break it down and respond to it piece by piece.

“In one especially telling example of the broader trend, white liberals recently became the only demographic group in America to display a pro-outgroup bias—meaning that among all the different groups surveyed white liberals were the only one that expressed a preference for other racial and ethnic communities above their own.”

This isn’t surprising. Going back many years, I’ve seen data like this. In social science research from earlier last century, it was well known that liberals had stronger pro-outgroup bias. From some years back, one survey showed liberals had greater empathy for foreign noncombatants killed by US soldiers than for US soldiers.

There has always been a subset of people with a strong pro-outgroup bias, although Goldberg is correct to point out that this is growing. But in a way that is the whole history of the United States. Thomas Paine, in arguing for Independence from the British Empire, made an outgroup argument that a large part of American colonists weren’t English, including the majority in his adopted home of Pennsylvania.

“In the past five years, white liberals have moved so far to the left on questions of race and racism that they are now, on these issues, to the left of even the typical black voter.”

That is not entirely meaningful. Why compare an ideological demographic with a purely racial demographic? The fact of the matter is black liberals would, generally speaking, be further to the left of white liberals on most issues and particularly on issues of race and racism. This framing feels manipulative, an exercise in sophistry.

“They are also tied to a significant decrease in support for Israel and—perhaps more surprisingly—a rise in the number of white liberals who express negative attitudes about the perceived political power of American Jews.”

I doubt most white liberals have any issue with “perceived political power of American Jews” in and of itself. Rather, it’s probably an opposition to the colonial Apartheid of Zionism. As far as that goes, Jewish liberals tend to oppose Zionism as well and probably are even more critical than white liberals. Once again, why isolate white liberals in the way others isolate rural whites to scapegoat them?

Later in the artcle, the author points out that white liberals retain a strong favorability toward Jews. In fact, their favorability is stronger than that of white moderates and white conservatives toward Jews. As for ranking of advantage and disadvantage, all whites (liberal, moderate, and conservative) put Jews about smack dab in the middle. And the white liberal ranking of Jews relative to other demographic groups is about the same as white moderates, the two combined being the view of most whites in general.

“As white liberals have come to place far greater emphasis on racial injustice, they have also endorsed reparative race-related social policies in greater numbers.”

That is about right. As a white liberal, I’ve personally followed this trend. I was raised by white conservatives in the racist Deep South. I didn’t understand racism when I was younger and probably expressed unconscious racism all the time. But I educated myself and expanded my social experience. Any informed person is forced to admit that there will never be justice until there is some form of compensation for the harm done and continuing to be done, whatever that might mean. That doesn’t particularly radical to me, just common sense, as Thomas Paine thought the theft of the Commons should be compensated with a land tax.

“The woke elite act like white saviors who must lead the rest of the country, including the racial minorities whose interests they claim to represent, to a vision of justice the less enlightened groups would not choose for themselves.”

That comes across as bullshit. The author points out that minorities, even minority Democrats and liberals, are not as strongly supportive of certain issues about immigration. Sure, there is variation depending on the particular issue, but that ignores the general agreement. On immigration, the majority of every racial demographic of Democrats and liberals supports the same positions on immigration, if some support it stronger than others. Also, the vast majority of Democrats and liberals of all races agree that diversity makes the US a better place to live.

One area of divergence was on whether one sympathizes more with Israelis or Palestinians. Minorities in general seem to sympathize more with Israelis. But this sympathy has been dropping for minorities as well. And by 2018, most minority Democrats and liberals had no opinion at all in sympathizing with either side. Another issue of even less disagreement is abortion. The majority of white and Hispanic Democrats think women should be able to get an abortion under any condition, but only about half of black Democrats think so. Then again, most Americans in general, including most blacks, do support abortion in all or most cases. So, why show the most extreme scenario to portray a false division?

As for freedom to choose gender identity, the majority of Hispanic and Asian Democrats are in line wiith the majority of white Democrats in being all in favor. Even generally conservative black Democrats support this at 42% and probably quickly rising, maybe already being a majority position among young blacks. On a related issue, across all racial groups, Democrats and liberals are in agreement that there needs to be more attention given sexual harassment in the workplace.

“White liberals make up 20-24% of the general population but, for a multitude of reasons, exert an outsize political and cultural influence. […] The danger is that “woke” white activists acting on behalf of voiceless minorities have had their perceptions distorted by social media-tinted caricatures that obscure more objective measures of reality and end up silencing or ignoring what the voiceless groups, themselves, have to say about what policies are in their best interest.”

I’m not sure this is a problem, considering the vast majority of Americans support liberal views, causes, and policies. The self-identified liberal demographic might be smaller but those who are liberal without identifying as such is now the moral majority. The main problem is that, in using ‘liberal’ as a slur, most liberal-minded Americans are still afraid to identify as liberal. Demonstrating this problem, the author of that article is creating more confusion in portraying liberalism as extremism, and I’m sure that is intentional

“In fact, multiple recent studies find no racial disparities in police use of deadly force. The odds of an unarmed black person being shot by police appear to approximate his/her chance of being struck by lightning. The probability of being killed by a right-wing extremist is equally low, if not lower.”

That is such a fundamentally dishonest portrayal of the racial issue. I’m not sure about those specific claims of data, but why cherry pick what confirms the author’s beliefs. A ton of other data does show racial biases in policing and the criminal system. And, sure, rigth-wing extremism is low in a general sense, but to be honest we have to admit that most terrorism is right-wing. So, right-wingers only occasionally blow up buildings and kill lots of people. Well, occasionally is too often. Left-wingers in recent history don’t generally commit that kind of violence at all. Consider that in the past quarter of a century, no anti-fascist has ever assassinated anyone or committed terrorism.

“Due at least in part to digital media, white liberal attitudes that more or less endured for decades have been drastically overturned in the space of months or single years. In contrast, the attitudes of white conservatives—and conservatives in general—have moved at a more glacial pace, if at all. For liberals, the lack of awareness of how fast and far their attitudes have shifted fosters an illusion of conservative extremism. In reality, the conservatives of today are not all that different from the conservatives of years past.”

That deceptive argument is morally indefensible. Most Americans in general, not only white liberals, have grown increasingly leftist over the decades. Conservatives may not be any more political evil than in the past, may not be any more racist and misogynist, bigoted and xenophobic, theocratic and fascist. But pointing out that they are as extremist as they ever were is hardly a defense that they aren’t extremists and that such extremism is not problematic in being outside the moral norm of most Americans at this point.

“Resentment of those seen as standing in the way of necessary social and cultural change may inspire a commitment to what political scientist Eric Kaufman calls “multicultural millenarianism”: the belief that the demise of a white majority will pave the way for a more racially progressive and just society. Perhaps this is why white support for increasing immigration coincides with more negative feelings toward whites.”

Demise? WTF! Only a reactionary conservative would fearfully portray growing diversity as a demise. The difference for white liberals is that there simply is not a fear of the other. It’s largely irrelevant, anyway. All that is likely to happen won’t conform to the paranoid fantasy of the decline of the white race but simply a shift in how whiteness is culturally defined and so who identifies as white. Increased immigration will simply hasten this process, such that a large number of Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans will adapt to white identity, as did Jews and Italians in the past. It is the expansion of whiteness, not the disappearance, that is so fearful to white conservatives. As for white liberals, I doubt they care, one way or another about the future prospects of white identity politics. I doubt most other Americans care either.

The Moral Axis of the Axial Age

Where is the world heading and upon what might it all be revolving? One would be unwise to speculate too much or offer strong predictions, but it must be noted that there has been a general trend that is well-established. Over time, Americans have been moving further and further to the political ‘left’. The majority of Americans are strongly liberal and progressive on nearly every major issue — political, social, economic, environmental, etc. But this is also happening on the political ‘right’, even among the religious. It’s interesting that as the elite have often pushed the Overton window to the ‘right’, the political ‘right’ has generally gone ‘left’ in following the rest of the American population. The whole spectrum shifts leftward.

Only a minority of right-wingers have become increasingly extreme in the other direction. The problem is this small demographic, what I call the ‘Ferengi‘ (overlap of propagandized Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and partisan Republicans), has had an outsized voice in the corporate media and an outsized influence in corporatocratic politics. This ideological shift, to a large extent, is a generational divide or rather an age-related gradation. Each generation becomes steadily more liberal and progressive, sometimes outright left-wing on certain issues compared to how issues were perceived in the past.

This conflict of views has less relevance in the Democratic Party but is quite stark in the Republican Party. It’s also seen among Evangelicals. Old Evangelicals, at least among whites, are part of the Ferengi extremists. But young Evangelicals identify with the ‘progressive’ label and support such things as same sex marriage while no longer seeing abortion as an important issue, much less feeling drawn to polticized religiosity. The Ferengi are opposite of the majority of Americans, often opposite of a large number of moderate Republicans and conservatives, and definitely opposite of the young.

Yet the Ferengi are held up as an equivalent demographic to these much larger demographics in creating a false narrative of polarization and division. The ideological gap, though, is in some sense real. The Ferengi fringe are disproportionately represented among those who are most politically active with high voter turnout, specifically as found among older conservatives with more money and influence. Even as they are a shrinking minority, they still strongly control or otherwise are overly represented by the Republican Party and right-wing media. The extremism of this minority emphasizes, in contrast, how far ‘left’ the rest of the population has gone.

This ongoing leftward pattern, what some might consider ‘progress’, isn’t exactly new. The shift hasn’t only happened over the decades and across the generations but, one might argue, goes back centuries or possibly even millennia. Being part of the political ‘left’ project has required saintly patience, prophetic vision, and heroic will. The impulse of egalitarianism and universalism initially were religious imperatives — born under the Axial Age, grew into childhood during the Middle Ages, and came to young adulthood in the Enligthenment Age, if still not yet having reached full maturity.

It was in the 1300s, when the moral vision of Jesus, as expressed in the orignal Christian creed, finally captured the populist imagination as something akin to class war and sociopolitical ideology. Some of those early proto-leftists sought to overthrow the hierarchy of fuedalism and church, to bring the equality of heaven down to earth. Their thinking on the matter was far from being rationally articulated as a coherent philosophy, but the demands they made were stated in no uncertain terms. They weren’t content with otherworldly promises of rewards in the afterlife. Once imagined, those ideals as demands in the here-and-now inevitably became radical in their threat to worldly power.

Yet no one back then had any notion of a political ‘left’, per se. For most of the past two millennia, it remained a moral intuition bubbling up out of the collective psyche. Even so, it was a poweful moral intuition. Those peasants, in revolting, did rampage into the cities and killed more than a few of the elite. They nearly took the king hostage, although they weren’t quite sure what to do as the commoners had never previously gained the upper hand to that degree. It would require many more centuries for the dirty masses to figure out exactly what were their demands and to what end, and what exactly did this moral intuition mean, but for damn sure it could not be denied and it would only grow stronger over time.

That ancient outrage of the commoners is what we have inherited. We’ve fancied it up with Enlightenment thought and clothed it in modern respectability, while the political ‘right’ has sought to blame it on French Jacobins and postmodern neo-Marxists or whatever, but in essence it remains that crude beating heart of moral righteousness and divine judgment, the authority of God’s command brought down like a sledgehammer to level the towers of human pride, as with Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. It’s not an intellectual argument and so, in response to it, rationality is impotent. But equally impotent are the churchly claims of fundamentalists and the delicate sensibilities of social conservatives.

Every single advance of society began as a never-before-thought idea that was imagined into existence but at first denied and attacked as heretical, dangerous, crazy, or impossible. So much of what has become established and normalized, so much of what even conservatives now accept and defend began as terrifying radicalism, fevered dream, and ranting jeremiad. Before written about in revolutionary pamphlets, scholarly tomes and left-wing analyses, these obstinate demands and unrealistic ideals were originally brought forth by prophets from the desert and peasants from the countryside, the uncouth and illiterate rabble who spoke with the moral certainty of faith and of God’s intimacy.

These initially incohate inklings and urgings of the Anglo-American and broader Western moral imagination took so many unknown generations of struggle to take shape as we know them now. But we act like the revolutionary zeal of the late 18th century burst forth like Athena from Zeus’ head, as if intellectuals with too much time on their hands thought it all up while getting a bit tipsy in colonial taverns and French cafes. More than a few of those rabblerousers and pamphlet scribblers began as religious dissenters, a tradition they inherited from their forefathers who fled to the colonies during the religious uprising and populist unrest of the English Civil War, an aftershock of the English Peasants’ Revolt (with similar uprisings shaping the experience of immigrants from other countries).

Thomas Paine, a man hated for claiming God was not an evil authoritarian ruling over humanity, has been largely forgotten in his later writing of Agrarian Justice in 1797. In offering a plan for land and tax reform, he spelled out ideas on an old age pension and basic income, as paid for by progressive taxation. The former took almost a century and half to finally get enacted as Social Security and the latter we’re still working toward. These kinds of radical proposals take a while to gain purchase in political action, even when they’ve been part of the political imaginary for many generations or longer. Paine himself was merely responding to an ongoing public debate that preceded him in the centuries before.

Even his criticisms of organized religion were largely his having repeated what others had already said. Some of those heretical thoughts had been recorded in the ancient world. Jesus, after all, was one of the greatest heretics of them all, a detail that didn’t go without notice by so many heretics who followed his example. Such religious heresy always went hand in hand with social and political heresy. The early Christians were disliked because they refused to participate in the worship and celebrations of imperial religion. And some of the first Christian communities set themselves apart by living in egalitarian communes where positions were decided through drawing lots. Their radical beliefs led to radical actions and radical social order, not mere nice-sounding rhetoric about a distant Heaven.

So, it’s unsurprising that primitive communism, proto-socialism, and Marxist-like critiques began among religious dissenters, as heard during the Peasants’ Revolt and English Civil War. They took inspiration from Jesus and the original Christians, as those in the first century were themselves drawing upon the words written down over the half millennia before that. When the full-fledged American socialists came along with their crazy dreams as implemented in Milwaukee’s sewer socialism and labor organizing, they were doing so as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition and in carrying forward ancient ideals. Don’t forget the American “Pledge of Allegiance” was written by a Christian socialist.

Yet here we are. The radical notion of sewer socialism where everyone equally deserves clean water was once considered a threat to Western civilization by the respectable elite but now is considered an essential component of that very same ruling order. Conservatives no longer openly argue that poor people deserve to fall into horrific sickness and die from sewage and filthy water. What used to be radically left-wing has simply become the new unquestioned norm, the moral ground below which we won’t descend. Some might call that progress.

It’s the same thing with constitutional republicanism, civil rights, free markets, universal education, women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, and on and on. In centuries past, these were originally dangerous notions to conservatives and traditionalists. They were condemned and violently suppressed. But now the modern right-winger has so fully embraced and become identified with this radicalism as to have forgotten it was ever radical. And this trend continues. As clean water is accepted as a universal right, in the near future, same sex marriage and basic income might be likewise brought into the fold of what defines civilization; in fact, a majority of Americans already support same sex marriage, universal healthcare, women’s rights, pro-choice, etc.

There is no reason to assume that this seismic shift that began so long ago is going to stop anytime soon, as long as this civilizational project continues its development. The aftershocks of an ancient cataclysm will likely continue to redefine the world from one age to the next. In a sense, we are still living in the struggle of the Axial Age (“The Empire never ended!” PKD) and no one knows when it will finally come to a close nor what will be the final result, what world will have come to fruition from the seed that was planted in that fertile soil. The Axial Age is the moral axis upon which the world we know rotates. A revolution is a turning and returning, an eternal recurrence — and in a state of disorientation with no end in sight, around and around we go.

* * *

On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far
by Kim Parker and Ruth Igielnik

Within the GOP, Gen Zers have sharp differences with their elders

Among Republicans and those who lean to the Republican Party, there are striking differences between Generation Z and older generations on social and political issues. In their views on race, Gen Z Republicans are more likely than older generations of Republicans to say blacks are treated less fairly than whites in the U.S. today. Fully 43% of Republican Gen Zers say this, compared with 30% of Millennial Republicans and roughly two-in-ten Gen X, Boomer and Silent Generation Republicans. Views are much more consistent across generations among Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Similarly, the youngest Republicans stand out in their views on the role of government and the causes of climate change. Gen Z Republicans are much more likely than older generations of Republicans to desire an increased government role in solving problems. About half (52%) of Republican Gen Zers say government should do more, compared with 38% of Millennials, 29% of Gen Xers and even smaller shares among older generations. And the youngest Republicans are less likely than their older counterparts to attribute the earth’s warming temperatures to natural patterns, as opposed to human activity (18% of Gen Z Republicans say this, compared with three-in-ten or more among older generations of Republicans).

Overall, members of Gen Z look similar to Millennials in their political preferences, particularly when it comes to the upcoming 2020 election. Among registered voters, a January Pew Research Center survey found that 61% of Gen Z voters (ages 18 to 23) said they were definitely or probably going to vote for the Democratic candidate for president in the 2020 election, while about a quarter (22%) said they were planning to vote for Trump. Millennial voters, similarly, were much more likely to say they plan to support a Democrat in November than Trump (58% vs. 25%). Larger shares of Gen X voters (37%), Boomers (44%) and Silents (53%) said they plan to support President Trump. […]

Generations differ in their familiarity and comfort with using gender-neutral pronouns

Ideas about gender identity are rapidly changing in the U.S., and Gen Z is at the front end of those changes. Gen Zers are much more likely than those in older generations to say they personally know someone who prefers to go by gender-neutral pronouns, with 35% saying so, compared with 25% of Millennials, 16% of Gen Xers, 12% of Boomers and just 7% of Silents. This generational pattern is evident among both Democrats and Republicans.

There are also stark generational differences in views of how gender options are presented on official documents. Gen Z is by far the most likely to say that when a form or online profile asks about a person’s gender it should include options other than “man” and “woman.” About six-in-ten Gen Zers (59%) say forms or online profiles should include additional gender options, compared with half of Millennials, about four-in-ten Gen Xers and Boomers (40% and 37%, respectively) and roughly a third of those in the Silent Generation (32%).

These views vary widely along partisan lines, and there are generational differences within each party coalition. But those differences are sharpest among Republicans: About four-in-ten Republican Gen Zers (41%) think forms should include additional gender options, compared with 27% of Republican Millennials, 17% of Gen Xers and Boomers and 16% of Silents. Among Democrats, half or more in all generations say this.

Gen Zers are similar to Millennials in their comfort with using gender-neutral pronouns. Both groups express somewhat higher levels of comfort than other generations, though generational differences on this question are fairly modest. Majorities of Gen Zers and Millennials say they would feel “very” or “somewhat” comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to someone if asked to do so. By comparison, Gen Xers and Boomers are about evenly divided: About as many say they would feel at least somewhat comfortable (49% and 50%, respectively) as say they would be uncomfortable.

Members of Gen Z are also similar to Millennials in their views on society’s acceptance of those who do not identify as a man or a woman. Roughly half of Gen Zers (50%) and Millennials (47%) think that society is not accepting enough of these individuals. Smaller shares of Gen Xers (39%), Boomers (36%) and those in the Silent Generation (32%) say the same.

Here again there are large partisan gaps, and Gen Z Republicans stand apart from other generations of Republicans in their views. About three-in-ten Republican Gen Zers (28%) say that society is not accepting enough of people who don’t identify as a man or woman, compared with two-in-ten Millennials, 15% of Gen Xers, 13% of Boomers and 11% of Silents. Democrats’ views are nearly uniform across generations in saying that society is not accepting enough of people who don’t identify as a man or a woman.

Corporate-Ruled MSM & DNC Is Left-Wing, Says Corporatist Right-Wingers

The warmongering big biz establishment media is what the right-wing ruling elites repeatedly call left-wing, in their accusation of a supposedly ‘liberal’ bias (What Does Liberal Bias Mean?) and related to perceptions of censorship, silencing, and political correctness (Framing Free Speech; & Right-Wing Political Correctness, Censorship, and Silencing). To be fair, there might be a basic sense in which entertainment media, if not news media, can sometimes express a long-established cultural liberalism. This is to the degree that the majority of the viewing public is socially liberal and so that is what sells, considering there has been a major strain of liberalism in American society going back centuries (Conservatives Watching Liberal Media. That still leaves the question open about what exactly is this ‘liberalism’, to the degree it can be found in the center of the establishment ‘mainstream’ (The Shallows of the Mainstream Mind).

Consider the pervasive and systematic racial bias that has been shown in news reporting on crime and poverty (Katherine Sims, The Role of News Media & Racial Perceptions of Crime; Cale G., The Media and Government’s Biased Response to Muhammad Youssef vs. Dylann Roof; Jenée Desmond-Harris, These 2 sets of pictures are everything you need to know about race, crime, and media bias; Nick Wing, When The Media Treat White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims; Elizabeth Sun, The Dangerous Racialization of Crime in U.S. News Media; John Wihbey, Racial bias and news media reporting: New research trends; The Opportunity Agenda, Media Representations and Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys; Trina T. Creighton et al, Coverage of Black versus White Males in Local Television News Lead Stories; Wikipedia, Racial bias in criminal news in the United States; et cetera; one could include a thousand other articles, studies, and summary reports). Even the local media in this liberal college town has been shown fall into such default racism (Robert E. Gutsche, Jr., A Transplanted Chicago: Race, Place and the Press in Iowa City; The Old WASP Dream Falters). Is that the infamous ‘liberal’ bias one hears so much about?

One might argue that liberalism is the paradigm of modernity and that conservatism is simply a reactionary variation on liberal ideology. That said, the corporate media is just as happy to push reactionary right-wing crime dramas, murder mysteries, and cop shows that promote a hardcore vision of law-and-order; along with noirish films, hyper-patriotic war movies, moralistic superhero flicks, and popular entertainment like The Dark Knight series. Anyway, conventional liberalism has never been left-wing. Liberals have often been the most vicious attack dogs set against the political left in their defense of the conservative status quo, as seen during the Cold War when liberals joined in the McCarthyist witch hunts of commies, fellow travelers, and sexual deviants. Labels of liberal and conservative sometimes are ways of making relative distinctions within the reactionary mind, in an age that has been overshadowed by all things reactionary.

The accusation of liberal media bias is similar to the right-wing claim that the corporatist DNC, in serving the interests of plutocratic big biz, is somehow simultaneously communist, Marxist, Nazi, fascist, and antifa; elitist, anarchistic, ideologically dogmatic, morally relativist, and nihilistic; or whatever rhetoric is convenient at the moment. But the supposed left-wing media and political elite offers little pushback against this ideologically-confused narrative, often repeating some variation of it themselves. In fact, one sometimes hears supposedly liberal journalists discussing the supposedly liberal bias of a supposedly liberal media, another example of the reactionary dynamic at play.

But if liberal ideologues actually controlled the mainstream media, the last place one would expect to hear such accusations is in the mainstream media (Bias About Bias). Generally speaking, people don’t accuse themselves of being ideologically biased when they genuinely believe in an ideology as right and true, as fair and accurate, as moral and worthy. “It’s not as if those on the political right are lacking media to support their worldview and confirm their biases. […] The only reason they think the rest of media is biased is because the political right media that dominates keeps repeating this and, as the old propaganda trick goes, anything repeated enough to a large enough audience will be treated as if it were fact” (Corporate Bias of ‘Mainstream’ Media). What little pseudo-debate is involved happens within the corporate system itself with all sides of the same elite opinion being widely broadcast and funded by corporate advertising (e.g., Ross Douthat, The Missing Right-of-Center Media, The New York Times). Gets one thinking about the actual ideological bias that is motivating it all.

A false duality is created within a narrow range of elite-enforced opinion. This is the political spectrum as political SNAFU. Pick your side among the two predetermined choices within the same corporate power structure. In the shadow of this obfuscation, the ideal of democracy gets called mobocracy while the reality of a banana republic gets called democracy (Will Democracy’s Myths Doom Liberty?, James Bovard; an analysis that identifies the problem but, sadly, falls into the trap of false rhetoric). And, of course, the American people are to blame for everything that goes wrong. This is what is argued by the anti-majoritarian elite who wish to undermine democracy, and so we the people probably should trust what they tell us to believe. I’m sure they have our best interests in mind. But don’t worry. The psuedo-left often goes along with this caricature, as the gatekeepers mark the boundaries of allowable thought: this far left and no further. That is to say not very far left at all.

One of the leading news sources on this presumed political left is the Washington Post. It has the official slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness,” which implies the newspaper’s purpose is represent and defend democracy, although others suggest it is more of a threat and a promise. The WaPo is owned by Jeff Bezos, one of the wealthiest and most powerful plutocrats in the world and a strange person to be a communist, who got his wealth through crony capitalism and his grandfather’s Pentagon connections while building his business model on highly profitable contracts with not only the Pentagon but also the CIA (Plutocratic Mirage of Self-Made Billionaires). By the way, don’t be confused by two corporate plutocrats, Bezos and Donald Trump, having a battle of egos in fighting over who controls the profit system; that doesn’t make one of them a communist by any stretch of the imagination.

In WaPo articles, unnamed CIA sources are regularly used — sadly, not a new situation (Good Reason The New Pentagon Papers Movie Was About “The Post,” NOT The New York Times). Also, the newspaper hires right-wing hacks whose apparent job it is to punch left and attack left-wingers, including left-wing journalists working in the independent press and alternative media (Why Journalism Sucks In America!). When candidates use left-wing rhetoric, such as Bernie Sanders, they are bashed mercilessly while third party left-wingers are ignored and dismissed in the hope that American voters won’t realize there is more than two parties. Now that is some sneaky liberal bias, in hiding it behind actions that appear to undiscerning minds as if they were right-wing.

The aforementioned Sanders, in calling himself a socialist, plays the role of a sheepdog to weaken any left-wing challenge and once again he has driven votes to the corporatist oligarchy to ensure the plutocracy remains in power. Similarly, Noam Chomsky, after having spent a lifetime proving beyond all doubt that the Democrats are as deceptive and dangerous as the Republicans, repeatedly throws his weight behind each new corporatist Clinton Democrat. Those corrupt Clinton Democrats are led by the Clinton dynasty, old cronies and close family friends with the Trumps, and yet we are told they’ll save us from Trump’s rule. Such behavior by self-proclaimed left-wingers confirms the false belief that soft fascism is actually communism or even genuine progressivism.

One might come to cynical conclusions. The disconnection between words and deeds, as demonstrated by Sanders and Chomsky, could be taken as indicating a consciously planned deception of the American people. But one can, instead, choose a more generous and forgiving interpretation. Maybe such influential figures are as dissociated from reality as the rest of the American public. They took are ignorant and confused in having been taken in by manipulative rhetorical frames. When Sanders speaks of ‘socialism’, does he even know what that word means? One might start to have doubts. What if these possibly unintentional purveyors of propaganda are the first and most prized targets of indoctrination? Some have suggested that this is the case (Hillsdale’s Imprimis: Neocon Propaganda). Maybe they really believe what they say, discordant as it is with what they do. But, of course, that makes them all the more dangerous to our freedom. Here is a brilliant take on it by C. J. Hopkins (Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works):

“The primary aim of official propaganda is to generate an “official narrative” that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point. The point is to draw a Maginot line, a defensive ideological boundary, between “the truth” as defined by the ruling classes and any other “truth” that contradicts their narrative. […]

“In short, official propaganda is not designed to deceive the public (no more than the speeches in an actor’s script are intended to deceive the actor who speaks them). It is designed to be absorbed and repeated, no matter how implausible or preposterous it might be. Actually, it is often most effective when those who are forced to robotically repeat it know that it is utter nonsense, as the humiliation of having to do so cements their allegiance to the ruling classes (this phenomenon being a standard feature of the classic Stockholm Syndrome model, and authoritarian conditioning generally).”

It’s all controlled opposition as part of a propaganda machine that pushes division and outrage, and it’s highly effective: “The failure of corporate media is as much or more ommission than it is commission. Various media figures attacking each other about their supposed biases is yet more distraction. Arguing over biases is a safe and managed debate, each side playing the role of controlled opposition for the other. But what is it that both sides avoid? What is disallowed by the propaganda model of media? What is not being spoken and represented? What is missing?” (Funhouse Mirrors of Corporate Media). One thing that is clearly missing is the perspective of labor unions and the working class. In the early life of the still living older generations, newspapers typically had a labor section as newspapers still have a business section, but that has since been eliminated. The labor section would have been the one place in the mainstream media where left-wing voices might have been regularly heard.

Managed debate replaced what was once actual thriving public debate in this country. There is no surprise that the American public, left and right, is so confused about what any of these political labels mean since only one side of the old left-right debate is being heard. That is the whole purpose, to spread disinfo and division, to provoke cynicism and reaction. It’s unclear, at this point, if any of these words mean anything at all. Left and right of what? Of the ruling class? Of the center of power on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C.? Well, the political elites of both parties are to the right of the American public on major issues, in particular economic issues but also many social issues (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism; American People Keep Going Further Left; Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism; The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2; Fox News: Americans are the ‘Left-Wing’ Enemy Threatening America; Polarization Between the Majority and Minority; American Leftist Supermajority; We Are All White Liberals Now; We Are All Bleeding Heart Liberals Now; & We Are All Egalitarians, and Always Have Been). With an illiberal, authoritarian ruling elite that defines the terms, controls the narrative, and frames the debate, Orwellian doublespeak has replaced reality itself in the minds of most people.

Yet the left-wing is forever the scapegoat. One might wish the left-wing was the threat it’s claimed to be. But the political left is neutered and hobbled. We haven’t seen an organized left in the United States for more than a half century, not since the FBI’s COINTELPRO successfully targeted and destroyed leftist organizing. It’s not clear what a left-wing could possibly mean under these oppressive conditions of mass brainwashing and indoctrination. Does a ‘left’ exist at all these days? The propagandists have won that battle and we may be forced to abandon the entire left vs. right paradigm. Any potential future challenge to authoritarianism, one suspects, will need to define itself according to entirely new ideological terms, frames, and understandings.

This is not something that can be solved through teaching the American public about American history in order to shed light on collective amnesia. It’s not a lack of information or a lack of access. All of this can easily be understood by anyone who goes looking for it and gives it a half second of thought. No, the failure is not necessarily of knowledge and education. What we are missing is a sense of moral vision and radical imagination, the gut-level groking of other possibilities, even if they can’t yet be articulated. What matters is not how words are manipulated but the sense of fear, anxiety, anger, and outrage behind it all. The public is frustrated and ready for something else entirely, but they need leaders and visionaries to speak to this truth they know in their own direct experience, that the way things are is fundamentally wrong and intolerable.

The fog of rhetoric and propaganda, the veil of lies only has to be lifted for a moment. Once the public glimpses behind the charade, it will be harder and harder to lull most Americans back to sleep again. No matter how effective the games of power, manipulation, and deception, it won’t last forever… but it might last longer than some of us would prefer. The ruling elite will play it for all its worth for as long as they can. Still, take comfort in knowing we might be entering an age of revelation, of awakening. We are long past the stale left-right battles of the Cold War and now are heading into unknown territory. After the political left is assassinated and buried, after we mourn the loss, may something new be born.

* * *

So, how did we get to this point? The left-right paradigm began in the French National Assembly, originally having to do with choice of seating indicating one’s political position in relation to the king, for or against the monarchy and reform of the monarchy, presaging the later fight over revolution and republicanism. Then it took on still other meanings during the revolution with the formation of the Legislative Assembly. It’s true that the left was represented by extremists, but those that gained power were radical more in the reactionary sense. Advocates of democracy like Thomas Paine, the most radical of radicals in that era (the equivalent of many American left-wingers in the Cold War), actually sat on the right side with the critics and supposed moderates.

Interestingly, this right-sitting Paine was the lone leftist voice of a strong democracy in advocating for a democratic constitution as part of the new French government, which the other revolutionary leaders ignored — not exactly what we’d call ‘right-wing’ today. But we should keep this in mind, going by our present sense of the left-wing, as Paine was the most radical leftist in both the American and French revolutions. No other revolutionary pushed for such extreme democratic reforms in seeking to dethrone organized religion and state churches (Age of Reason), overthrow aristocracy and plutocracy (e.g., his attack on war profiteers), and promote not only direct democracy but also progressive land taxation (to redistribute back downward what had been redistributed upward) and a citizens dividend (a combination of an old age pension like Social Security, universal basic income, and reparations for the stolen/privatized commons of public land and public natural resources).

Right from the beginning, there was some obvious confusion built into these labels if ‘left’ and ‘right’. Nonetheless, a basic ideological division did take form over the following generations and many came to see it as applying more widely. The political spectrum was adopted in other Western countries, as it captured a central schism in the modern West that developed after the destruction and dismantling of the ancien regime. Over the past couple of centuries, there has been much agreement that it expressed something meaningful about the political systems that have emerged, largely corresponding to views on class identity and class war but also related to general attitudes of open or closed, inclusionary or exclusionary (“In the Spirit of Our People”).

Is this still true and meaningful? Rick Wilson is a major political figure, former Republican, and now opponent of Trump. He states that political power in Washington D.C., including the aligned corporate media, is not partisan but transpartisan (Why Republicans Still Support Trump, a talk with Cenk Uygur, another former Republican; also see Journalism of, by and for the Elite by Reed Richardson). It isn’t Democrats vs Republicans, left vs right. The real divide is insiders vs outsiders, which is to say the rulers and the ruled, the elite and the masses, the plutocracy and the precariat; although, to be accurate, this is the very distinction that used to be represented by the labels of right and left. Wilson is saying this as someone who not long ago was an insider of the establishment he has come to criticize. He was an insider who has become an outsider because he revealed the workings of the system. He broke the rule of secrecy.

The original valence of meaning was shaped by a metaphor about political positions. Left and right indicate a relationship that is visuospatial. It’s maybe unsurprising that such a framing took hold in concert with widescale literacy. In the West, we read from left to right. The Enlightenment and early modernity also brought us the obsession with lenses, further emphasizing the importance of a visual culture that was replacing the older oral culture. It was vision through observation that, in science, has revealed truth. Seeing is believing or rather knowing. The duality of left and right also resonated with Cartesian dualism, spirit and matter, mind and body; basically, a distinction between what can and cannot be seen.

Maybe this metaphor is breaking down. There has been the rise of media technology: radio, telephone, television, cable, internet, and smartphones. The one commonality of all these technologies is audio. It’s true that the visual has increased as well, but there is a particular emphasis on sound: “All media has increased, as unmediated experience has gone on a rapid decline” (The Great Weirding of New Media). Think of how in the 21st century that, even when we are otherwise occupied, we almost always have audio playing. We have radios and news running in the background. We have voices pumped directly into our brains in the form of podcasts and audiobooks, often by way of earbuds that make the voices sound like they are inside our heads. And we fall asleep to Netflix movies, Hulu shows, and Youtube videos streaming as our eyes close.

Sound, with or without visual accompaniment, is an ever present reality — most of it as voices that sing, speak, report, narrate, explain, opinionate, argue, dialogue, and debate. As such, a visuouspatial metaphor may no longer have the compelling potency it once possessed. We now exist in cacophany of voices. What once was experienced as totalizing visions, as encompassing worldviews has splintered into an endless multitude of voices, a seeming chaos of noise. It is an immersive aural space that surrounds us and penetrates our skulls (Battle of Voices of Authorization in the World and in Ourselves). Dozens of voices permeate our personal space, our mindspace. They become internalized and we identify with them. They speak to us, a constant input of spoken words.

If the visuospatial metaphor of left and right is no longer the dominant frame and paradigm, then what might be the aurospatial metaphor replacing it? How will we reorient ourselves in our identities and alignments? And how will we differentiate according to what new distinctions? What voices of authorization will speak to us, shape our thoughts, and compel us to action? And how will these voices be heard and perceived? What is the change from primary to secondary oral culture? With new media technology, what might be the new message or rather messages spoken and heard? What will become of our mediated identities? Will we collectively and communally experience the return of the bundled and porous mind? Or will some entirely unforeseen mentality emerge?

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Other related posts:

Dominant Culture Denies Its Dominance
Black and White and Re(a)d All Over
NPR: Liberal Bias?
The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties
Man vs Nature, Man vs Man: NPR, Parking Ramps, etc
Otto Reich’s Legacy of White Propaganda
A Culture of Propaganda
Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism
Political Elites Disconnected From General Public
US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism
American People Keep Going Further Left
Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism
Most Oppose Cutting Social Security (data)
Environmentalist Majority
Warmongering Politicians & Progressive Public
Gun Violence & Regulation (Data, Analysis, Rhetoric)
The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2
Poll Answers, Stated Beliefs, Ideological Labels