Is it possible to clear up misunderstandings between right and left in the English speaking world and restore courteous discussion?
This seems like a nice question, but the problem is that many, but not all, right wingers, seem to consider that abuse, name calling, obfuscation, and lying are essential to argument when used by their side. They have been following this pattern in the media, in politics and internet discussion for at least 25-30 years. However, they tend to get upset if abused themselves, when someone they don’t identify with, beaks after years of continual abuse.
Quite a few times over the years, rightists have explained to me that they see the point of discussion as total elimination of the opposition, and that anything they do is fair in pursuit of that target. These people do not appear to have a sense of discussion as a tool to increase understanding, learn things or reach a workable compromise. This is obvious when you look at righteous media commentators and politicians, especially the President, and how they act.
So no, they will largely not be interested in such ideas. Words have very different meanings to both sides and this causes problems and confusion, and furthers the vitriol they desire.
What follows is caricature. I offer a commentary in the spirit of Right wing ‘argument’, so it is a little bitter. Many people (especially real conservatives) may say they don’t believe this, but look at what the politicians on their side actually do as opposed to what they say they will do.
On the left, justice may mean something like reparation, restoring things back to where they were before the crime. The system should do everything to help people who have been victimised by crime. Similarly, convicted criminals should be given every opportunity to reform rather than be punished for ever, or in advance. However, some people cannot, or will not, reform, that’s sad but reality. Justice can also mean something like preserving relative equality before the law, so that powerful people do not stomp over everybody or automatically get lower sentences for their crimes, on the rare occasion they get convicted. Hence the idea of avoiding profiling as much as possible.
For the righteous, justice should be defined by the highest bidder. Libertarians, in particular, love the idea of justice for sale with private police and private judges. Again, people on their side in power can lie, obfuscate intimidate and so on and this is ok, because power and kicking the less powerful is what life is all about. Hence it is completely ‘just’ that wealthy white men run nearly everything in the English speaking world, and try to keep it that way. The laws have been largely written by the wealthy in the first place, but this is a good thing as it keeps other people in their place. Being kept in your place is just as God decrees this. People who challenge wealth and dominance are really criminal. People who look different are probably criminal as well, especially if they are not wealthy. Supreme court judges can lie openly if they are righteous, because God is on their side. Justice is about preserving the power of the righteous elites.
For progressives finding truth is complicated and takes work. It takes research, discussion, experiment, testing and so on. Most progressives think that science is the best method we have of determining truth, even though it can be sometimes be mistaken. They think it is useful to be aware of the best knowledge we have at this moment and to be cautious if there is doubt.
For the righteous, truth is often whatever the victors (ie themselves) want it to be. It is whatever is convenient to argue against progressives. It’s usually on Fox news. Science is wrong and biased whenever it contradicts fundamental rightist ideology, or the making of profit. A righteous person can easily refute a philosophy or knowledge that they know nothing about, and be cheered on by the others. Some of the righteous seem to believe that truth can only be found in some books – such as the Bible, or those written by Ayn Rand or Ludwig Mises. They suppress scientific information on government websites, because they think it is simply a matter of opinion and they know better.
Some progressive may worry too much about people’s feelings being hurt.
The righteous know hurt is important. Hence they support hurting the feelings of those they consider weaker than themselves, and protect the feelings of those in power through libel and slander laws, and the self-censorship of reputable publishers. They love their President’s continual abuse of others, but are alarmed when people dislike their President and express it.
For progressives, government means encouraging everyone to participate in the governance of the country and making the laws that apply to them. Liberty is important, but unfortunately no one should have unrestrained liberty to hurt, injure or repress other people, otherwise there is no liberty. One of government’s main functions is to do useful things to help people fulfil their lives and to balance (to an extent) bad luck and disaster as much as possible. Government ultimately has to respond to reality, so it needs an educated population and good knowledge.
Righteous people define good government as rule by the powerful and wealthy, with exclusion of the unpowerful other than as tools and shock troops. They link this government to a refusal to look at the way reality works, as that might get in the way. It means preserving established wealthy power elites even if it means we all get destroyed because we cannot adapt to reality. Righteous people support bad education for the ‘masses’, because it helps relieve ordinary people from the burden of thinking about self-governance, and they are more easily lied to. You should only get the quality of education you can pay for. When the righteous talk about small government, they have no objections to massive regulation of ordinary people and government that works to support and fund corporate power and wealth; indeed they encourage it. This appears to be because they think that wealthy people are specially virtuous and have the right to continue to be wealthy, and keep others poor. This position is not always popular, even on their own side, so they try and win support by distraction: stirring up irrelevant culture wars and implying that those who side with them have the right to kick everyone who disagrees. Righteous people also believe that if you suffer misfortune, the misfortune should be compounded, or you should submit to charity. In this set up, liberty is about preserving or intensifying property, wealth and power distributions. The more unequal the country the better, as wealthy people should never be hindered by their underlings. Rightists perpetually ‘confuse’ corporate liberty with liberty for all.
Progressives say people have many different identities. Celebrate this and learn. Respect identities which are not your own, especially ones that the righteous like stomping over.
The Righteous claim we should all defer to the one primary identity. Women should realise their purpose in life is reproduction and obedience to men. All us white men together are what made this country great, and we are now under threat. No one should make us listen to those other people. Talk of respecting others shows weakness. People on the right perpetually pretend to have the most victimised identities of them all. Thus racism only affects white people, sexism only affects men and so on. Racism and sexism are primarily displayed when someone on their side is criticised for being racist or sexist.
Progressives want to maintain the checks and balances that have developed over the years to protect people from the potential rapacity of capitalists and bosses, and which help people to survive standard human misfortune. They also like the idea of keeping the environment in such a state that it allows us to continue our civilisation.
For the Righteous, conservation means protecting neoliberal economics and supporting corporations in almost whatever they do (unless they seem progressive). This largely involves stripping away everything that gave ordinary people a decent life; lowering wages, conditions and liberties in the name of efficiency. It also means destroying the environment to support the profit of the already wealthy, as wealthy people have the right to hurt the non-wealthy. The righteous keen for the wealthy to poison ordinary people through pollution and maim them at work. Ordinary people are inherently inferior (otherwise they would be wealthy), and corporate profit as the only important thing. Sometimes they support authoritarian Christians who want to rule over and suppress sinners (ie those who don’t accept their authority)
The righteous elites are filled the idealism that the wealthy will provide good government, and need to have an even bigger share of the wealth so that the money might trickle down to ordinary people. In order to further the power and wealth of corporations they want to allow those businesses to pollute and poison more effectively. In other words they want you dead. They cavalierly destroy anything that gets in the way of this, and do not think to check whether their theories deliver what they promise. They may aim at other results than the ones they promise, so they may not be stupid here.
This is pretty terrifying.