Monday, 7 March 2011

One Hand Is Not the Other

Boxing gloves - by Ralph Berger, via Wikimedia Commons - released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.As a rule, I don't think there's much to choose between the parties of conventional Left and Right that alternate in power within Western democracies like the UK or the USA. Here follows a short reflection on why I usually think that's right - and where I'm coming to think it's systemically wrong.

The 'Left' oligarchic strategy is to use State power to make one's fortune and those of one's corporate cronies, on the pretext of defending the people from wicked domineering plutocrats. Thus, via Social Democracy, is a golden mean steered between the idealistic dreams of the civic temple and the competent selfishness of the market. We then reach a moderate and inclusive compromise between the little pig who went to market and the little pig who lacked roast beef.

The 'Right' oligarchic strategy is to use one's fortune and those of one's corporate cronies to purchase the powers of the State, on the pretext of defending the people from wicked domineering bureaucrats. Thus, via One Nation Conservatism, is a golden mean steered between the chaotic virtue of civil society and the decisive competence of the executive. The two little pigs reach their moderate and inclusive compromise again, only more of the beef gets sold and less of it gets doled out by order.

All this statesmanship is widely admired until somebody notices that both pigs are in either case toes on the same foot, and are frankly taking the piss all the way home. This discovery is technically referred to as extremism, anarchism, nihilism, communist cant, fascist demagoguery, or irresponsible and cynical journalism which cannot stand in a free or civilized country. My own preference is for the shorter term 'DUH!'.

Whenever I begin to be so politically certain that the word 'DUH!' sounds like a telling argument, I also begin to wonder what I am missing. (Well, duh...!) So I ask myself: are the violent partisan feelings between Liebour and ConDem, Dim-o-crats and Rethuglicans, &c., ad naus., really just a combination of public dupery and the genuinely different interests of the faction-fighters' present client groups? Is it only the natural viciousness of Tweedledee and Tweedledum scrapping to be Lord of the Rattle, or could the two factions have predictably, radically different characteristics?

I think they do, and I think I noticed this a long time before this notion finally took coherent shape in my brain. It isn't just that their constituencies have different interests and values - most of those, after all, are going to end up shafted anyway, since the oligarchs' common interests are convergent and much more important. Rather, it's that both the starting endowments of each faction, and the respective natures of their shticks, necessarily twist each into a shape that cannot be superimposed on the other. That is, it isn't just that the left hand is on the left and the right on the right; it is also that a left hand would be a left hand wherever you put it, and vice versa.

Short form: the Left forces people into the tent, the Right forces people out. The Left looks for breadth of domination, the Right for depth. The Left seeks strategic quantity, the Right strategic quality. Each uses methods of the other as far as is possible - which is why, at the very extremes of method and domination, the two power-strategies really can become indistinguishable - but, generally speaking, each is more comfortable and effective with its own speciality.

So, as a general rule, I expect more nannying, hyper-regulation for its own sake, and attempts to sap and destroy unplanned civil society in toto from the Left. Everyone must be in the tent, and subjected in all things to the Ringmaster and his clowns. Only a few criminals and maniacs ought to operate outside the great plan, and the fewer is really the better. And amongst the Masses, at least, equality is truly part of that plan.

From the Right, though, the tactic is very different. One builds up the smallest safe block of supporters, finds the most profitably vulnerable group to attack, and then rallies the rest to drive it from the tent and grab its stuff. It is not really that important whether everybody agrees with you or not. Conflict, and the need it generates for concentrated authority, is most of the point: the spoils of war, and of keeping every minority competing to bribe you not to be the target of the next attack, is the rest of it. So inequality even amongst the Masses is part of that plan: it creates both their division and your strategic opportunities.

So when the Left attain power I fear mostly surveillance, inquisition, and control; when the Right, violence, reaction, and dehumanization. Similar levels of crap, but differently distributed. With the left, ubiquity of oppression, and a real wish to eliminate dissent; with the right, selective intensity of oppression, and a real need for dissenters to destroy. Experience with the relatively very mild forms of oppression prevalent in contemporary Britain informs my instinct that it swings like this. Under Thatcher I was a great deal more worried that my friends would get their heads broken for being specific targets; under Blair, that they would be randomly harassed, shaken down, or denounced for non-crimes by professional sin-sniffers. I think most of us were more oppressed under Blair. But I think the many who were oppressed under Thatcher at all would have generally been stark bloody insane to prefer her. And - the modern UK is not, mostly, a very oppressive polity at all.

Neither the conscription of Leftist power-methods, nor the internecine strife of Rightist ones, are compatible with civilization. You cannot choose one above the other. If you do, and it wins, eventually its masters will grow so powerful that they can deploy all the tactics of both. It does not matter whether they are southpaws or right-handers by nature, once the rest of us are reeling on the ropes!

All you can do is have tactics prepared against both, and civil methods of both Left (solidarity and commonality) and Right (specialization and concentration) ambidextrously at hand to promote the desired alternatives. I have a lot more thinking to do on those points!

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