Circular lines . . .
How do you define yourself? Are you on the left? The right? Are you a centrist? Most people in the U.S. would probably define themselves as being somewhere in the middle. Center left or center right . . . whatever is hip or popular in the social circles they run in, because, let’s face it, it’s easier to just be accepted by your friends than to do the hard work of deep philosophical thought. Very few identify as hard left or hard right but those few are very vocal so it can seem that there are more than there really are.
How can we really know, these days? The media and academia have been moving/re-defining the center for decades. Perhaps some of that movement is good, perhaps not so much? We can’t really know unless we do the hard work of a philosophical exercise that defines the opposite ends of the political/socio-economic scale. Only then can we see what the middle averages out to be.
The general convention for the political/socio-economic scale is a line graph with total government control over the lives of individuals at the extreme left end of the scale and no government at all-or complete anarchy-on the extreme right end of the scale.
Wait? That’s not how I heard it? I heard communism was on the left and fascism was on the right!
Well, that’s because the very left/right scale itself has been redefined by the media and academia, not just the center point of that scale. Let’s think about this logically. Total government and no government are opposites and this is what really defines the scale. Communism and fascism are not opposites therefore they cannot define the extremes of a spectrum.
Wait . . . what? Communism and fascism are not opposites?
No. We have fallen victim, yet again, to re-definition of terms by media and academia. The term fascist has come to mean, in popular culture, a person who oppresses others by forcing their point of view and public policy on others like a jack-booted thug with his heel on the neck of those who would get in his way. This is understandable once you look into actual historical fascism. What is less clear is how it ended up on the right end of the scale. The economic term, fascism, actually refers to a system in which the government controls the means of production.
Wait? That can’t be right . . . ‘cause that sounds like more government control, not less?
That’s right. Fascism necessitates a larger government that has more control over its people. That means the reason communism and fascism have always been contrasted as if they were at opposite ends of the spectrum is because they are rivals for the same space on the spectrum. Rivals often look like opposites.
So, if communism and anarchy really define the extremes of the spectrum, where do those two balance out? What is the true fulcrum of this scale? Those who argue the merits of communism might say that a system where everything is distributed equally to everyone is the way to go. That way, everyone’s needs are met. Point taken. An anarchist may hold that there is virtue in self-determination and ask, who are you to tell me what I need and what I can and cannot have? Also, a valid point. For the purpose of finding balance, we have simplified the discussion to a possible merit of each view. Obviously, they both, historically, have had severe negative consequences as well. We will keep the discussion to the positive, that is, we will consider what we are trying to accomplish, not what we are trying to avoid. So, all this being said, perhaps this balances to a system in which the individual keeps as much self-determination as possible while living in community with one another in such a way that society as a whole assures that those who cannot take care of themselves are cared for. Perhaps the centrist, being a balance of the two extremes would ask two questions; who am I to tell you what you need and what you can and cannot have (notice the change in perspective from the right winger)? and, how can we help someone who is truly in need?
I think we all, at a personal level, take issue with others telling us what to do or trying to tell us who we are. This is something that people on both sides of a protest line have in common, no matter how inconsistent that may be with one’s political philosophy. We all also, I would like to think, feel that taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves is a good thing. These are ideas on which most of us can agree. That’s what makes these ideas centrist. It is in our view of how we should realize these ideals that lands us either left or right of center. My hope, in writing this blog, is that we can all remember that-for the most part-we all have similar goals. If we come from that perspective, maybe we can turn conflict into constructive discourse.
It may also help us to gain some perspective if we add a dimension to the left/right scale. Imagine that you are looking at the scale as a line and then you start to float up to get the 30,000 foot view, as they say. What you will see is that, what you thought to be a line is really a circle and that whether you go around the left side of the circle or the right side of the circle, you end up at the same place . . . tyranny. If true freedom that benefits all of society is the center-point of the front side of this circle, then tyranny is on the back side, directly opposite, and it can be reached from either side. Historically, communism ends up with a dictator and a very small group of elites exercising oppressive control over the rest of the population. In contrast, or rather, comparison . . . anarchy ends up with a strong man dictator rising. Or a few, competing strong men, again . . . a small group exercising oppressive control over a larger population.
So let me ask . . . Who am I to tell you what you do or do not need or what you can or cannot have? Parenting aside, I should not have that power in your life, but we give that power over to others, inch by inch both through apathy and through political activism.
The center of the political scale is individual self-governance tempered by a community or society that takes care of those who cannot take care of themselves.
As we have public discourse surrounding these ideas, may we remember the old proverb:
. . . the first to plead his case seems right, until the next witness speaks . . .