Candice Holdsworth
Candice Holdsworth

Can’t tell my right from my left

I am no longer sure where I fit upon the political spectrum anymore.

I wish I could be as righteously anarchic as some of my Libertarian friends, but I like the rule of law too much. I am also known to display certain hippyish tendencies that preclude the possibility of ever being seriously considered a conservative.

In fact, I’m not sure I have ever firmly defined myself as either ‘right’ or ‘left’. I suppose I’ve always entertained myself with the (admittedly, pretentious) notion that I’m more interested in ideas than political gangs. And, believe me, political discourse is dominated by a gang mentality.

I have often seen perfectly civil discussions (inevitably) descend into shouting matches between those who self-identify as either left or right-wing who view each other as evil. Many a main course has been consumed amidst icy silences, tightly clasped cutlery, and dagger-like glances, when these two factions meet.

This unhappy dynamic is replicated in public discourse. I’m not so sure, but I think you may be in the desert of ideas when your best response to an opponent is: “You’re stupid”, à la George Monbiot. Without a doubt, there will be those who see this as confirmation of my own right-wing tendencies; in turn, I could not ask for better affirmation of the point I am trying to make.

In order to find fault with Monbiot’s line of reasoning, do I need to inhabit the opposing pole of political space? Does it also mean that I don’t agree with other things he may have said? For the more subtly minded, this point will seem either trivial or obvious, but for those who apply the broad- brush strokes of ideology, it is less clear.

It’s not always so easy to challenge the mushy contentment of the tribe’s ‘consensus.’ A notable example of this is the late Christopher Hitchens’ very public falling out with the British Left after voicing his support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Along with others, such as Nick Cohen, who dared to suppose that George Bush might be something other than a hopeless buffoon, he was called a ‘traitor’, a ‘neo-con’, a ‘hypocrite’, a ‘complete and utter b*****d’, ‘the devil incarnate’, and other more colourful, exclamatory expletives.

Yet through it all, both Hitchens and Cohen, felt they were standing up for the values of the Left, and it was the others who had lost their way.

What this demonstrates is that political space, or rather, the language of political space can and does shift. Tony Blair too was accused of betraying the values of the British Labour Party with the invasion of Iraq. Although it would seem that he had begun to test those boundaries long before in his quest to make the Labour Party electable again. The old British Labour Party underwent a complete transformation under the guidance of Blair and his newfangled ‘Third Way’. Clause IV of the party’s constitution was promptly revised, the favour of the private sector was lovingly courted, and Blair himself even dared admit that he admired Margaret Thatcher.

A transformation indeed! And it worked. The Labour Party under Tony Blair won three consecutive election victories. They also presided over the worst financial crisis since the 1929 stock market crash. Failing to regulate is not something the Labour party of old would have been accused of.

Believe me, I say none of this in an accusatory sense. It is more of an observation that perhaps even the staunchest ‘man of the left’ (or right) may have lost sight of how such a stance may have changed over the years, or how easily it is manipulated by wily politicians.

Personal change over a lifetime is a good thing anyway. I would encourage it. Otherwise we too easily become prisoners of our own convictions. Keep thinking I say. As long as it is you that is doing the thinking of course.

And perhaps we all have far more in common than we actually realize.

For instance: I’ll take egalitarianism over hierarchy, ability over authority, and freedom over restraint any day. But could these preferences be placed within any one particular paradigm? They seem present all along the political spectrum? Most reasonable people abhor authoritarianism and dictatorship, irrespective of political affiliation.

Oh yes, reasonableness. Another concept entirely.

And let’s not get too nicey nice, as old Hitch (the hero of this piece) would say whenever real differences were glossed over at the end of a debate: “You can’t build a bridge to the middle and you’d be a fool to try. The dialectic is the only way you’re ever going to learn anything.”

After all a shift in perspective does not imply an absence of belief in anything, but a move towards something else. Just because a position cannot be neatly situated within the prejudices of either the right or the left does not mean that it inhabits ‘non-space’ as it were.

An easy mistake to make in a world where if one is not black, then one must be white, with very little allowance for grey.

The real dialectical process is perhaps not even with others, but mostly with yourself.

I used to think such mutability signified weakness or confusion, but perhaps it points to sharper clarity of focus, and strength: the strength to stand alone. The fundamentalist needs the reassurance of his fanaticism, but wisdom knows that no such certainty really exists.

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    • Garg Unzola

      @Village Idiot:
      What is happening where progressive legislation is being rolled back? This is a loaded question. Firstly, the legislation is being rolled back for various reasons, least of all the fact that governments cannot afford to maintain them. Secondly, to blame the rolling back of such legislation for the results of such legislation in the first place and contingency measures as a result, is a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.

      We’d have to follow the causal chain further back to before the progressive legislation was implemented, see what the results of such legislation were, and then see why the legislation is being repealed, as well as its results. Progressive legislation has been repealed in various countries because people vote for such repeals in the majority of cases (UK for example), while in others we see more progressive legislation being implemented all the time (Greece, which went bankrupt as a result).

      Obamacare is a bailout package for medical aid insurance, not for medical services. This is an important distinction.

      The banking legislation in America created a distorted market picture whereby most of the markets were tightly regulated and only some banking sectors weren’t. Naturally, you’d expect eventual overcrowding in the unregulated part. Less regulation is still regulation and does not amount to deregulation.

      And exactly, bottom-up systems tend to last while top-down (regulated) systems tend to be very flimsy.

    • Dave Harris

      Candice, I can’t understand how you can now deny your advocacy of Gadaffi’s “rough justice” when you clearly state the following blog that “Revenge is perhaps best served cold” and numerous other heartless statements.

      So not only can’t you tell your left from right, like many beneficiaries of apartheid, you also have difficulty taking responsibility for your past actions.

    • Candice Holdsworth

      Yes, revenge is best served cold, i.e through fair judicial process.

    • The Village Idiot

      Good intentions? Capitalism’s ideology is based on the incentivising of screwing all others over. Somehow, supposedly that is in everyone’s best interests if we let that happen.

      The lack of regulation led to the regulation in the first place. Why do you think the British parliament introduced laws with regards to the production of bread for instance? That was because the producers were not above putting in arsenic and other lovely substances to reduce costs. The scary thing is that such practices were legal. If you want, you can check Hansard for that.

      Whether such regulations are banned in a fascist state or a state more similar to eighteenth century England hardly makes a difference; lack of money means people are compelled to sell their labour. They have to feed themselves somehow, preferably not with the kind of bread free market advocates have no problems with. In the one state they will be starving to death. In the other state their family will get a bill for the bullet.

      Political and social coercion are not independent of each other. You imply as much in your own arguments already. You demand that students have “salable skills”, You find it perfectly acceptable to use political power to coerce people into doing certain things.

      You are advocating for a status quo, and that is always in the best interests of the elite in charge. BTW, your understanding of Obamacare is factually flawed. Try listening less to Faux News.

    • The Village Idiot

      Those policies are often perfectly affordable. It is just a lack of political will to pay for them, or collect tax money to pay for them Garg Unzola. Just look at the developments in tax laws in the US for instance. The movement has been one of moving away from taxing the wealthy: instead we tax the poor and middle classes more and more.

      Or even worse, with the health care systems in Europe: let’s inundate these systems with myopic managers, who add no value to the product, are hopelessly overpaid, add to bureaucratic nonsense, with their moronic models of time management. They are absolute parasites to the system, and get even handsome payments when they refuse to do their job well (golden handshakes; I personally know of one idiot who managed to earn one of 5 million euros for sheer incompetence in running a school).

      Before people start blaming regulations, you do not even have to be a qualified doctor to run a plastic surgery practice in some West-European countries. The sad thing is, the same people who run such enterprises try their best to misinform the general public about it. Why let ethical considerations stand in the way of making a buck?

      The sickening thing is that those idiots who were responsible of the economic mess we are in, are not prosecuted for their crimes, and are still living lives of leisure. Not surprising, considering the fact that the elites make the rules, and are effectively sole arbiters of what justice is.

    • J.J.

      Candice, glad to see you responding to comments on this article. I’ll give it to you that you certainly know how to write a headline (or is that your editor?) to provoke a debate. The same goes for your topics and subject matter. Great!

      This has been proven in your previous articles.

      It’s beyond disappointing then to see you go completely mum when the debate/s really heat up. Debates you initiated with strong personal statements. Which you then fail to abide by.

      This from: “A long walk to authoritarianism.”

      “To my mind there are three types of intellectual death: when we are subject to government censor, when we opt for mediocrity over causing offence and when we self-censor remaining silent when we really should be speaking up. Although, we may be unwillingly subject to the first type may we never willingly subject ourselves to the latter two.”

      You were invited to comment by some posters but chose to remain completely silent and opt for…: Self Censorship.

      Sorry, but I’m a bit of a sucker for inconsistencies and contradictions – it’s all about us being able to take your seriously, beyond just clever headlines.

      Although you imply to not know your left from your right, I think it’s a bit disingenuous to get your commenters to advise YOU on your “left or your right”, aren’t you the person with the master’s degree in political theory from the London School of Economics? (or maybe just clever, we are all commenting)

      Looking forward to your…

    • J.J.

      …next controversial article (especially the headlines).

    • Reducto

      Harris, you never bother to read articles properly, do you? You take one line in a lengthy blog, quote it in isolation, and conclude that Candice was advocating Gaddafi’s death.

      It is not the first time you have not bothered to read an article properly, remember your comments on this blog?

    • HD

      @ Village Idiot

      (1) Please define capitalism? I don’t agree that your description fits “capitalism” in an technical economic sense or in terms of a political (-economic) system. Unfortunately it sounds like the usual misconceptions people spout about economics, markets and profit. Maybe you should pick up a book on economic thought / theory and see these things in it proper context. Folk economics don’t cut it when you are talking economics!

      (2) I am not against regulation, especially those that protect people, property and basic liberties. I am skeptical that intentions always match outcomes or that you can design/police people/society into desired behaviour. I have far more believe in people doing the right thing under the right institutional incentives. The social world in complex and policy making should be aimed at getting the basic rights and not micro managing society – it always fails.

      (3) Please define what you mean by coercion? I would assume if you are not compelling someone against his will to do something that he would not freely choose to do it is coercion. Forcing a business to employ someone or to pay for someone else’s education by law/regulation – is coercion. Read my comments again, students cannot expect a job nor should they be entitled to one that there is no market demand for…by all means do a MA in puppetry but don’t be surprised or moan about the educational system if you don’t find a job…

      (4) Please correct me on Obamacare.

    • HD

      (5) Some studies and findings on Obamacare:

      Increasing healthcare costs = increasing insurance premiums = consumers paying more and yes, big insurance companies milking the government sponsored/regulated system more since there is no free market in health care and lots of mandated/bureaucratic costs

      (6) Where do you think taxes come from? Do you know what the actual tax burden is for someone that owns a business, invests and still pays personal income tax? Add that up and the government takes a lot of your money in return for what? This is the real question that needs to be asked? Tax revolts were far more common when the people could see what their king were up too…good luck with the leviathan government programs of today.

      Taxes are not some treasure chest that people are entitled too…Sustainability and effectiveness issues aside, there are serious moral arguments as well. Sure most people are happy to pay for security, rule law, some public goods and a basic safety – for pupetry classes?

      (7) I would think that the bureaucratic red tape you describe in the EU healthcare system rather underscores the efficiency, competition and quality arguments made against government programs vs private sector solutions.

      (8) I don’t really see the point of your plastic surgeon example. If you are wary of an “unqualified” plastic surgeon, just go to the one with the reputation and degrees on his…

    • HD

      (9) Yes and no. Very few actual laws were broken. The “Inside Job” documentary has this plea for people to go to jail, but never explains what laws were broken. It amounts to saying we think you did something we don’t like (it just appears wrong) and think you are to blame, so you should go to jail! (The filmmakers never try to explain the purpose of such instrument and just play on the viewers sentiments and emotions)

      Lots of laws were made that created bad incentives and that despite regulators best efforts did not prevent a crisis.

      Who bailed out the banks? Who created accounting regulations, a rating agency cartel, pushed for more affordable housing loans below market value (higher risk profile), instructed a parastatal to aggressively target a specific market segment, was a major player in selling new mortgage backed instruments, created regulations that gave AAA status to certain mortgage backed instruments, changed accounting regulations etc?

      I am sorry, but to blame the whole financial crisis on bankers or capitalism – show a very poor understanding of what exactly happened.

      “Inside Job” is shocking in its simplicity and naivety, putting all the blame on bankers and making politicians look like the heroes (or at least all the Democrats), when they are right smack in the middle of it!

      Check this out for a more complete picture:

    • Garg Unzola

      Village Idiot:

      You can rectify your factual errors with any source on American taxes:

      For the record, I have never watched Fox News, but any news is Faux News.

    • Dave Harris

      Excellent comment J.J.
      Based on Candice’s reasoning and debating skills, seems like that overseas education is highly overrated! 😉

    • Garg Unzola

      @JJ and Dave Harris:
      In the interest of quality debate, here’s a guide to logic for you.

      Warning Dave, this is not from your own blog so it might be difficult to realise that there are other sources out there.