Monthly Archives: June 2012

Why does the Left like to fight itself so much?

@JonnieMarbles discussed this point on Twitter recently, and got me thinking. I’ve been thinking about it because the Jubilee stewards issue and many of the recent articles about rape culture make me turn-green-and-break-expensive-equipment angry. And I had to meet up with the girlfriend’s family this weekend so I was on best-behaviour notice.

[Tl;dr: The conclusion is just after the bold header lower down if you want to skip to the end]

So I’ve been thinking about this question mostly to stay sane, and to an extent it worked. I’ve just started reading Carne Ross’ The Leaderless Revolution which was published late last year and is hopefully a sign that mainstream thinkers and politicians are beginning to understand the power of Occupy-style liberal socialist movements. Which is a good thing.

But part of Carne’s thesis is that people need to come together en masse for change to happen, and while we’re seeing convincing signs that this kind of bottom-up revolution is beginning to happen (Occupy, the Arab Spring, and UK Uncut spring to mind in an instant), the Left remains fragmented, beset by internecine bickering and infighting. Why, when the right wing seem to vote as a bloc on almost every issue in the US, does the left not unite to fight against bigotry and hate? Why, when civil liberties for all seem so obvious a cause to all of us, are there still people on the left wing arguing that fighting for rights for women, gay people and minorities isn’t worth our time?

My early answer was that people dislike hypocrisy more than the things they oppose ideologically. That sentence might not sound like it makes a lot of sense on the first reading so let me try another way: I have a much bigger problem with a man who claims to fight for the people, who promises to give the downtrodden hope, and who wins a Nobel peace prize going on to send drones out to kill innocent Pakistani civilians than I would if a foreign policy hawk spent 3 years banging on about terrorism before doing the same.

In both cases, the action is identical – innocent people will die for no more reason than a far away country convinced itself it was under threat. But in the former case, you can throw in a personal betrayal as well: we believed in the first guy, however briefly.

And to an extent this is a very human thing. We have heuristics for evaluating ideas and people, and things that affect us often seem more important than things which are far away. It’s why the chickenhawks can sleep at night – they don’t notice the children dying on the other side of the world, but they no how terrified they feel every time they go to an airport and see somebody who might be an Arab.

So it’s possible this is the reason. We are self-policing, hounding out people who betray our principles whilst attempting to win our loyalty and keeping everybody on the straight and narrow through a sort of crowdsourced ‘DCI Internet’. And it sounds plausible, but here’s two reasons why it probably isn’t true:

  1. It makes us all look good, which is a bit self-serving
  2. I thought of it

The third reason is again to do with heuristics in our decision making. Kahnemann work on discovering that there are essentially two kinds of thought processes comes in to play here: Type I is quick, but relies on signals and heuristics, Type II can think more rationally but takes more time. And these two sides find communicating very difficult.

It’s why test audiences don’t improve bad films. Audiences use Type I thinking to decide they don’t like a film, but use Type II thinking to answer the question “What was wrong with it?” The answer they give (“The story was overwrought”, “It was too gory”, “Clive Owen was in it”) will be rational, will make sense, and will even be true but deep down won’t be the real answer.

Johnnie’s answer was less kind to us lefties, but strikes me harder as closer to the truth. We are tribal. We label ourselves and fight with a real sense of in-group loyalty and out-group hostility. Look at what happened in the atheist community after Sam Harris turned out to be a racist cock (google Pharyngula Sam Harris and read some comments at mild criticism of Harris if you want to get an idea of what I’m talking about).

It’s easy to give our team a name, dislike any other group with a slightly differing outlook on how to fight for better rights for all and assume that they’re not following the One Right Way(TM) for the movement as a whole. The Socialist Activist Manifesto is a good example of this. It’s like they decided that anyone who has fun and is a socialist isn’t doing it right:

We cannot realize a socialist society with moral and intellectual weakness; we must be consistent and steadfast.
We cannot realize a socialist society with time-wasting and partying; we must always be serious and dedicated.
We cannot realize a socialist society with romantic ideals and sentiments; we must be practical, pragmatic, and deliberate.

That’s tribalism, pure and simple – “if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them” rings from every single line of their insufferably pompous manifesto. This as a reason for infighting feels like it is why, and while I’m not normally one to follow gut feelings, here it’s appropriate: only my Type I thought process can really work like other people’s Type I processes.

So maybe Jonnie’s right. In fact, he probably is right. Maybe I’m right. It’s likely that both things contribute. But I have a final question:

Why does it matter if we fight?

We’re not on a simple linear left-right scale. Left- and Right-wing are simple labels when mainstream politics has essentially a two party dichotomy but it in no way means that we, the people, need to separate into two diametrically opposed voting blocs like foxes and rabbits.

Why are we not asking why there is such a dearth of free thrinking on the right that we’re still hearing the same refrain for lower taxes from a united voice? Why is everybody dumbly towing the line considered a strength? It may get things done, but it’s a weaker movement for it, more open to extremism fostered on a majority by a vocal minority (abortion rights, anyone?).

On ‘the Left’ we represent a cacaphony of different voices, each pushing for their own struggle. Yes, it means some people will think that they have the Most Important Idea Ever(TM) and that there’s a conspiracy to keep it down by all the people who are banging on about other stuff all the time. But it also means that the traditionally voiceless can get themselves heard. And that we raise issues long before ‘the Right’ ever could.

If anyone wants to disagree with that, I’m well up for hearing it. And I love irony.

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Sunny on Englishness

@sunny_hundal likes Englishness. In fact, he’s liked it ever since Ed Miliband decided to do a speech about it. But the important thing about this article is that his ideas are better than both the right-wing (Englishness is racist for them, boo) and the left-wing (who are just pooh-poohing anything which sounds nationalist).

I always thought patriotism was the last refuge of scoundrels.

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How to Write a Jubilee Article

Warning: This post is not for people with dependency management issues. If you didn’t understand the Matrix, you won’t like this article. If you did understand the Matrix, it’s likely that you still won’t like this article.

So, the struggling journo thinks to himself, I should write an article about the Jubilee. Lots of people seemed to take it pretty seriously, and every journalist seems to have an opinion. But I also want to make sure I get a staff position somewhere – maybe the Telegraph or somewhere like that. I’d really love to write something that’s both original (so I can look clever and witty to the Mail) and conformist (so I don’t look like one of them crazy Queen-hatin’ liberals).

If only, he thinks, I had access to this article, which completely details everything I need to write a serious piece about the Jubilee without saying anything stupid.

How to Write a Jubilee Article

The Headline: A headline is all important for an article about the Jubilee. Remember that this is a feature as it’s been nearly a week since the weekend itself, so you’ll need to pose your headline as a question to make it look like your analysis goes deeper than simply gushing about the benefits of long-term inbreeding. A few hints to get you started:

  • Throwing in a reference to mainstream politics is always good:
    • How Does the Queen’s Legacy Contract with the Transience of Modern Politics?
    • Are the People Ready to use the Queen as an Example of how to Live in Modern Britain?
  • Remember you never need to address the question itself, this is only here suck people in to your article and make them assume you’ve thought very deeply about the questions of monarchy itself.
  • Don’t ask the question in a way that could conceivably be answered with a No:
    • In Today’s Society, does the Jubilee Highlight the Queen’s Continuing Relevance? – this is out, as it’ll let the bastard lefties in to the comment section to ruin the image of conformity and destroy a budding journalistic career. And you wouldn’t want that.

To begin the article itself, remember that the Jubilee is not about you – it’s about the Queen, so be sure to shoehorn in your personal feelings about the Queen into the first paragraph, so everyone knows how much this article is about her. If you have one, tell an anecdote about meeting her once when you went on a school trip or something. If you’ve never done so, imagine what meeting her would be like and write that down. People love to read what other people think meeting the Queen might be like. It’s gold.

Move on to describe the boat show – as the main ‘attraction’ of the whole thing you should spend some time doing this, with at least one paragraph on each of

  • What the Queen was wearing. Her personality is less important than the talents of her wardrobe staff. Remember she’s a figurehead of imperialism, not a real human being with any feelings. If there’s a political twist to the exact shade of pastel she’s wearing, throw that in there for good measure.
  • Comment on her bravery for spending all day in the rain. Because she’s in her 80’s, and standing in the rain is tough at that age when all you have is millions of pounds and the best medical staff money can buy. Extra points for then explaining that the unemployed scroungers forced to sleep under London Bridge  for no money should take a lesson in fortitude from their reigning monarch.
  • Describe how awesome you thought the boats were. Cold hard numbers are good – how many boats, how long did it take, if you laid them end to end how many times would they go to the moon and back. Add in numbers for crowds too – it’s only a guess anyway, so add on a few zeroes if you fancy. Lying means you love the Queen the most.
  • Adjectives that may assist
    • Resplendent
    • Moving
    • Stalwart
    • Beloved
    • Joyous
    • Regal
    • Astonishing
    • Erstwhile (if you fancy something a little different)

Briefly mention the concert – people usually derided as chavs in the sorts of newspaper you want to work for can suddenly become national treasures by singing out of key for Queen’n’Country. Be sure to mention their working class background, to show that even celebrities from very poor backgrounds will sing at a concert on the Mall on National Television. Leave implied that the real reason they’re doing it is because everyone loves the Queen so much

The latter half of the article should be a brief story of her reign. Mention how she ascended the throne, and then run through a list of things that have happened since then, to show just how darned awesome she is. Don’t compare how the 30 year reign of Mubarak was considered a disgusting exercise in despotism – people don’t like to think we have double standards in the UK. A list of events that may help:

  • Katrina and the Waves won EuroVision
  • Rationing ended
  • Thatcher systematically destroyed the labour movement in Britain
  • Liberty X had four (count ’em) top 5 hits
  • The sun rose and fell 22,030 times
  • Tim Ballantine was born, 3rd December 1987
  • Tim Ballantine had 24 birthdays

Add others as necessary.

Finally, avoid quoting your own article. It generally makes one look pretentious. And avoid the pronoun ‘I’. One would not be amused to see the queen say it, and she would not want to hear it from you. And one wouldn’t want that.

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