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A Different Way of Understanding Left Vs. Right

Being stuck in this time of quarantine, I’m naturally consuming a lot more news than I typically would. Politics are such a hairy matter that I honestly don’t even like thinking about them, and the only reason I’ve become more attuned to them is by proxy of trying to keep up with what’s the latest development in COVID-19.

Because I recognize the bias inherent in pretty much every news source, I don’t default to one place I get my news. Like many others out there, I’m pretty much reliant on what is circulating on Twitter. And yes, I recognize there’s probably a bias inherent in there, too, but at least I tend to see many perspectives on a topic. The good news about this is that many people talking about the same thing, regardless of personal bias, at least points to a consistency that has some undergirding of truth. For example, regardless of one’s personal stance on COVID-19 and stay-at-home measures, we at least recognize it’s a global concern that we have to be mindful of. There’s no question of that undergirding truth.

Yet still, you can’t “unfilter” the latent bias in pretty much every news source. Of course, I don’t think you can ever truly filter out bias entirely, but my time consuming more news these last few weeks has made it abundantly clear how polarizing that bias can be. Maybe it’s just that these polarizing voices get the most attention bandwidth, but it appears that news sources tend to be diehard left or diehard right, both wearing rose-colored glasses in favor of their political party’s consensus views.

Naturally, it’s pretty difficult to get an even-keeled view from our news sources these days, but that’s not what this post is about. (A great book to understand that whole thing better is Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday.) Rather, I think it’s better for us to understand the general philosophy undergirding both the right and the left so we can hopefully learn to meld the good in both for a better future.

Quick disclaimer before moving forward: talking about things this general obviously means we’ll be painting with a very broad brush. I’m sure you’ll be able to find individual examples that usurp what I’m about to share, and I actually hope that’s the case. That means those folks are probably already acting in reconciliation already, which is what I hope to be the case anyway!

Moving along, let’s consider some of the high level concepts generally associated with the left and the right. These concepts aren’t intended to be good or bad, at least in my opinion. They just are what they are. With the left, you tend to see ideas around progressivism, social change / reform, and economic change / reform. Naturally, the concepts associated with the right are pretty much the opposite of the left’s associations: conservatism, maintaining the social status quo, and maintaining the economic status quo.

Again, I personally don’t see any inherent “evil” in any of these concepts, but I’m sure you’ll recognize where the finger pointing will already begin. In its worst state, each side looks at the other and thinks, “Those people over there are trying to make life worse for the future!” If we’re truly honest with ourselves, however, do we honestly believe that’s true? Again, set aside the individual cases where evil individuals with malicious intent do exist. Think about your own friends, family, and coworkers. Do you truly believe they want life to be worse tomorrow than it is today?

Seeking the good in others, I tend to believe that people want a better tomorrow even if they do not understand how the implications of their actions might cause harm to somebody else. Put another way, I believe most people have good intentions even if those good intentions produce bad fruit. And truth be told, we all fall prey to this tendency regardless of whether we believe it or not. A huge part of the problem with all political matters is that we simply don’t have the mental capacity to be aware of every little factor at stake in every single decision. That’s just life, and even in our Information Age, we’re too inundated with data to truly ever make a “clean call” about pretty much anything.

So back to understanding the left versus the right. We mentioned a couple core philosophical concepts associated with both; terms that you’ve likely heard tossed around many times before. I’d like to hopefully recast them in a new light now so that you can appreciate the value in both: the left is all about making life better through change and reform while the right seeks to make life better by preserving ideals that have served us well to date. At their deepest roots, I truly believe both seek the betterment of life.

Of course, if this is true, then why is there so much strife? We already named one big factor: the curse of ignorance that comes despite good intentions. The other big one is this tendency toward groupthink. Human beings, for better or worse, tend to be very tribalistic in nature. It’s a practical survival instinct found even in other species: we are stronger in numbers. As noted earlier, the very general concepts between left and right ideology are dualistic in nature, so it’s no surprise that those dual concepts all globbed together to form the two polarized political parties we are now familiar with today. And given that there are some negative aspects of a duality that exist, they have unfortunately become negatively associated with each respective party along the way. (If you’re not sure what I mean, just watch how one side tries to paint the other in a negative light. Those negative associations come up all the time.)

Let’s focus back on the individual. Why do people form their tendencies toward left or right ideologies? Simply put, individuals form their ideas from their own personal experiences. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a direct experience. It could be that you grew up in a community where people around you experienced something that you either want to change or want to preserve. So if you look at many associated with the left, they can probably share many experiences of pain or oppression that they don’t want anybody else to experience, so their political inclination is toward change. Likewise, many associated with the right have had a lot of positive experiences they would like to preserve for the benefit of life moving forward.

Again, neither view is necessarily positive or negative. I know many, for example, who might argue there’s nothing about modern life worth preserving and that it all needs changed. But when I look at something like child starvation, the current system we have in place has done a far better job at curbing that problem compared to how other systems fared with it throughout history. And yes, I recognize that there’s room for improvement even there, but the point is both left and right ideologies help us balance what to preserve and what to change for the betterment of all human lives moving forward.

Neither side has all the answers. Neither side is correct 100% of the time. My personal frustration with the current system is how every issue has been polarized between left and right. We’ve set up this game for our candidates that you’re either all-in or all-out. I’ll pick on my Christian heritage here as an example. A political candidate could have really strong economic principles and a very kind person overall, but if that candidate supported something like pro-choice rights, that would be enough to sour many Christian voters from promoting that candidate. So we’ve gotten to this point where if I a candidate wants to win this game, they have to play by the crazy rules our society has established over time.

I don’t know when we’ll see another successful “moderate” candidate, if ever. I put “moderate” in quotes there because I feel like that word is generally associated with somebody who is ho-hum on every political idea. When I mean moderate, I mean somebody who is strongly progressive on some issues, strongly conservative on other issues, and sure, traditionally moderate on things that are presently steady state. If I despair about anything, it’s that our current political parties would never allow for a candidate like this.

But that’s where I hope to turn the tide with a post like this. To help people see that both sides have a richness and fullness that can help make life better everywhere. That despite what we see on TV or on Twitter, we aren’t so different from those on the other side of the political divide. Anybody who has ever sat down to eat a meal with somebody they’re “opposed to” can tell you they can’t be made at somebody they’re breaking bread with.

That’s where my hope lies. And that’s also a good place to end this post! Thanks for reading.

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