Reading Right to Left
To a progressive liberal, the right of all adults to participate directly in their governance seems obvious, so how is it that the authoritarian regime seems to be in ascendancy the world over? Where is the general public gathering to be taught that they need autocratic direction? Where are average people persuaded that they are not actually human beings but instead animals in need of herding? Of course one need look no further than the nearest pulpit. Christ is The Good Shepherd and His flock is comprised of what many of us would call “humans”: humans who believe themselves to be sheep. Televangelist Joel Osteen tells seven million people every week “you’ve got to live an obedient life” and by that he means obedience to an all-knowing god. The motto of Kenneth Copeland Ministries is “Jesus is Lord.” A lord, of course, is the owner of the land and sovereign of all workers on that land. He collects the fruit of the workers’ labor and ultimately controls them. Oral Roberts was a faith healer meaning that members of his flock would come to him offering obeisance in return for the special gift that only he could provide. From these pulpits, the message spreads as each true believer carries their minister’s message to friends and associates. With this ancient and pervasive legacy, no wonder a sizable majority of people believe that a leader is essential to a healthy society. Those people proudly assert the philosophy of the right wing.
Various middle-of-the-road Democrats and Independents seek to express their belief that despite our differences, we are all intent upon the common goal of a functional democracy; but, of course, we do not all believe in democracy. The right and the left identify distinct poles. The words derive from L’États généraux of 1789: the French General Assembly of the Estates just preceding the French Revolution. In that gathering, those who believed that human beings had a right to govern themselves were largely gathered to the left of the president’s seat. Those who believed that humans were merely sheep who needed to be directed by a shepherd of some sort were gathered at the right of the president’s seat. Left versus Right defined those who favored democracy and those who favored monarchy.
By today’s standards the founding fathers of the U.S. were somewhere between left and right. They took their cues from the ancient democracies of Sparta and Athens which often restricted voting rights to an elite subset of the general population. For this reason, our founders suggested that white male landowners were best suited to govern. Fortunately, they provided for amending the Constitution and through that process, we have significantly expanded the voting population as the U.S. has moved consistently leftward over the past centuries.
Despite their firmly held beliefs, everyone on the left spends some time in doubt. It was U.S. voters who gave us “W” and Trump. It was U.S. voters who gave gerrymandering Republicans free reign to assure continuous Republican majorities. It was British voters who decided to Brexit when the U.K. was enjoying all the advantages of E.U. membership without the disadvantage of adopting the Euro. Every lefty knows that there are real rational people who seriously question whether democracy makes any sense at all; and every lefty wonders if that claim may actually be true. I regret to say that I, yes even I, a progressive liberal have occasionally despaired, writing in my 2006 novel The Flying Crossbeam
“[Politicians learned an essential lesson.] That virtue is not only insufficient, it is the heart of failure. That truth is not merely unnecessary, it is misleading. That the shepherd may not guide through reason, but only by sending dogs into the flock and calling repeatedly in a familiar voice.”
This is the hopeless cry of the doubting democrat and the legitimate proclamation of the right-wing autocrat. When Adlai Stevenson was told by an enthusiastic supporter that every intelligent American would vote for him, he responded, “Perhaps, ma’am — but unfortunately I require a majority.” Even Stevenson, an exemplar of the left, did not trust that people were qualified to vote wisely.
The ongoing question confronted by the left wing is how to deal with the observable fact that most people seem to fall short of expectations. Surely we all understand that roughly 50% of people are below average and average is just mediocre, dressed-up. How do those who basically trust people address that fact? Were there a reliable way to determine who is actually qualified to vote, the left would readily embrace it. The founders thought that only white male landowners were qualified. Over the ensuing years we have learned, to our surprise, that that sub-population can be just as incompetent as the rest of us. We have discovered that women may be brilliant and politically innovative. We have found that people of African lineage are just as smart as white men and in some cases more so. For this reason, the left advocates universal suffrage because they are deeply aware of the damage done by our earlier faulty filters. Without a universally accepted test of voter qualification, everyone needs to participate.
The U.S. Constitution clearly defines the United States as a republic comprised of a collection of smaller republics. This means that sincere right-wing voters must go to extreme lengths to elevate their monarch to the status of President. For the right-wing objectivists who favor the rule of capitalists over politicians, corporate autocrats must be surreptitiously granted special favors such as tax breaks and rights to establish monopolies despite there being laws contravening such rights. To these people, gerrymandering, voter suppression and baffling with straw-man arguments appear to be legitimate actions to promote right-wing goals. The right wing believe that people are not smart enough to directly participate in their governance; so, isn’t it appropriate to suppress the votes of those the right wing sees as unqualified? I mean, the founders did the same thing only their qualifications were white male landowner. How much of a deviation is it to qualify only white Christians or to qualify only rich businessmen or to qualify only people with European surnames?
A left-wing solution to this problem would be to educate as many voters as possible. A society of well educated voters should yield a skilled and competent government. Of course, how can you be certain that the educators are qualified? Alternatively, a right-leaning solution may be to select candidates from a perceived corps of proved leaders and promote one of them to the benevolent leader. Strange idea since some batch of imbeciles will have to decide on the qualifications of that leader and imbeciles are easily fooled. In other words right-wing autocracy doesn’t address the basic problem which is that people are imbeciles. Both the right and the left are confounded by this problem. Which approach is most likely to provide a reasonable solution: a society providing the greatest benefit to the largest percentage of its population? Political decisions are based upon a sound guess as to what will happen next. In other words we make decisions in order to yield some guessed-at beneficial result. As a general rule we know that people tend to make decisions that yield disastrous unintended consequences; but, more importantly, we know that experts in the field tend to get it wrong more often than well researched amateurs (see the 2005 book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? by Philip E. Tetlock).
There are sound and compelling arguments for the right-wing understanding of the world. That understanding, that philosophy is not the problem. The problem is that, since the right-wing argument is anathema to the most fundamental beliefs of most Americans, the only option is subterfuge and subversion. The real problem is that the right wing has resorted to operations which should be understood by clear-thinking individuals as criminal. By gerrymandering southern states, they have restricted the rights of legitimate voters for their own gain. By refusing to enforce the Sherman Act and other active anti-monopoly laws, they grant their rich benefactors unlimited control over their market space. By “scrubbing” voter rolls they restrict the voting rights of non-white Americans. These operations do not convey the right-wing argument, they corrupt it. That corruption promotes strategies we associate with organized crime: trading money for special favors which skirt the legal norms in order to advance a private agenda, one yielding potentially billions of dollars for the stakeholders.
Right-wing evangelist Paul Weyrich stated the essential right-wing dictum:
“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Now there’s a man who speaks the truth! This is what we need. The right needs to actually engage in open discussion. Rather than cry voter fraud! and expunge select voters from lists by non-European name, the right should honestly and openly make their argument that hispanics and muslims are not qualified to vote. They should explain why that assessment makes sense. Rather than gerrymander districts in the south, they should make their argument for why only white Christian fundamentalists who listen to Alex Jones should vote. Rather than set aside the Sherman Act and allow unfettered monopolies, the right should make their argument for why rich people should have unlimited rights to enslave the poor and track, for their profit, everyone with a credit card. In that world, we could actually discuss why the autocrat is a better choice than the elected executive; why the rich pampered capitalist has more rights than the worker; why the people of western European descent are morally superior to those from the “third-world” like Africa or South America. Actually hearing the right-wing arguments in support of those beliefs would allow for a real understanding of the ongoing puzzling conflict that appears inscrutable only because one of the parties in the discussion is simply lying.
Right wing attitudes are not limited to Fox News and InfoWars. Why do MSNBC hosts avoid mention of Bernie Sanders to the point of openly discussing the “top” and “number three” candidates while skipping number two? Why do reporters at The New York Times go out of their way to crop Bernie Sanders from photos of the Democratic candidates despite his being the top contender in several polls? It is because they are right-wing enough to believe that those in their care would not be able to come to the correct conclusions given all the facts. They curate your information as a shepherd herds the sheep.
The religious metaphor of the sheep is apt but problematic. Sheep are not herded for their benefit, they are to be harvested and their bounty converted to wealth which is rightly distributed to their protectors. To be a sheep is to be someone’s commodity. The U.S. has become a capitalist wonderland: millions of humans who believe themselves to be sheep lining up willingly for the sheer. Bucolic scenes portray the shepherd lovingly carrying the lamb without showing its ultimate end as mutton. A better metaphor is possible. Miners chip through rock to yield value for their employers and what remains after the precious metals have been extracted are called “tailings.” The employer paying slave wages for years of sweat and suffering extract the precious value from their employees and when they fall short of expectations, they are ejected as the wretched remains of a spent tunnel. These mine tailings are the rightful end of a simple consumed resource which is no longer a human. The life-cycle of the citizen from innocent sheep to buried tailing reveals a failed society that dehumanizes its population. The right-wing strategy is basically one of dehumanization.
In modern society those who herd and govern us do so through commercial more than governmental processes. We order all of our goods and supplies from a single online monopoly. We buy our method of communication from one of two semi-monopolies who completely control the market and who, through software updates, do not allow us full ownership of what we have bought. We come to our objective understanding of the world by trusting friendly faces telling us information that their sponsors and top management decide we should know. These processes and structures, so familiar to each of us, promote the corruption of the self and with it self-governance. This does not need to be a right-wing conspiracy. We are aware of common organizers such as the major Republican donors; but those donors do not need to persuade major corporate officers that they make more money from duped sheep than from reasoning individuals. That comes with the territory.
As I wrote in Use Your Words, there is a basic problem when one party in a conversation can inhibit communication by converting our legitimate and useful words into misleading signals. This is not a strategy to persuade; but instead, a strategy of misdirection carried out in multiple countries through well-planned and sinister propaganda. It is the responsibility of those on the left to reject these signals and demand to know what words (actual words) are true representations of the right-wing intent.
Umair haque in his thorough and compelling article, This is How a Society Dies, makes the horrifyingly believable argument that the U.S. and Britain are on a one way trip to fascist collapse. Despite the competence of his argument, we do not have permission to let it happen without a struggle. We should be aware of the critical nature of our situation but when we hear a right-wing signal spoken out loud, it is incumbent upon rational people to question the statement and ask what actual words are meant.
“I understand that you favor monopolies, why do you believe that citizens should not have choices?”; “Why do you believe that that monopoly will always be helpful to you when it doesn’t have to be?”; “Will your life be easier if a single corporation is controlling all of your choices?”; “Doesn’t that make the corporation like a government and wouldn’t you hate that?”
“Hillary Clinton was involved in child trafficking? What does that have to do with whether the President is above the law?”; “What if the U.S. President was a black woman?”; “I see, so only certain types of people are legitimate Presidents?”; “What types of people are those?”
“What do you mean by ‘libtard’?”; “I see, you mean ‘Liberal’; but what is a liberal?”; “Ah, so you believe that liberals are against freedom. What do you mean by freedom’?”; “So what if a company poisoned your water? Would the loss of your family be just another expression of true freedom?”
This is most important for right-wing arguments but also for many left-wing arguments where right-wing tropes have been mindlessly adopted. Tropes like “How do we pay for that?”; “The era of big government is over.”; and, “Access to health care” are direct right-wing adoptions. The Left has tripped itself up by borrowing such liberal signals as “responsibility” (meaning that poverty is always the fault of the poor) and “pull up your pants” (meaning black families are not raising their children correctly) and “austerity” (meaning that the poor must tighten their belts so the rich may prosper). It should become standard practice, among free-thinking individuals, to insist on a frank discussion using the words that convey the actual underlying goals. Our corporate news presenters will not and so we must seek out the opportunity to directly confront the faulty meme with questions that will bring that out. I suspect that most supporters of the Right have never heard their actual beliefs spoken out loud. Perhaps to hear themselves stuttering out the confused noise generated by translating the right-wing signal will result in a revelation. If not that, it may at least clarify whether the person is reachable.
Action is required on all fronts, if disaster is to be averted; and one of those fronts is ordinary human interaction. On social media and in face-to-face conversation, repudiate the immoral strategies that seek to surreptitiously enact right-wing agendas without public assent. Don’t argue, since the people uttering the right-wing signals probably have no idea what they are saying, Instead, politely ask the questions that expose the actual intent behind those signals. We may be doomed but we don’t have to help it along.
Julian S. Taylor is author of The Flying Crossbeam, a novel about whether spirituality may be compatible with reason. See Sockwood Press