Does the left need to re-connect too?


by Sunny
26th March, 2009 at 1:05 am    

There’s an interesting article on Washington Monthly about an American conservative magazine (Culture11) that eventually folded sooner after launching. But, the writer says, it was trying an interesting experiment. Here’s a good quote:

For decades, the Nixonian notion of the silent majority created a strong temptation for conservatives to simply wall off the parts of society that they didn’t like or understand, secure in the belief that there were more people on their side of the wall. Ballot for ballot, this may have been true in the 1970s and ’80s, and even into the ’90s. But if you build a border fence, it’s difficult to see what’s happening on the other side of it. Which is why in 2008 the Republican Party awoke to a world in which it was losing every politically important demographic battle and had essentially ceded the field on issues like education, where it hadn’t contributed a new policy idea since the school voucher, and energy, where the best plan it could come up with was a renewed push for offshore drilling. Big Hollywood’s mania for ideological categorization stems from the same mind-set—shared even by some of the smarter reform conservatives—that produced the Bush administration’s disastrous loyalty-over-performance hiring practices: the instinct to see everything, from the Sundance Film Festival to NASA’s atmospheric research programs, as just another battleground. What Culture11’s editors got right was the observation that, regardless of what you think of the world as it is, you can’t figure out how to wrestle with it until you understand what’s actually happening in it.

I’m not a conservative, so while I understand that above paragraph is true – I also wonder whether it affects parts of the left in the UK. I saw this because clearly I see myself on the liberal-left, and I’d like those values/ideas to triumph.

But the article quite rightly states that what was different about Culture11 was not that it wanted to enter battle with liberals, but that it understood some conservatives needed to do some serious rethinking if they wanted power again. Does that apply to the left? Possibly (though the next person who says: ‘the left needs to stop appeasing fascism’ deserves to be shot by death squad).

I also wonder if internet communities – which have a tendency to attract similar minded folks, and then achieve cohesiveness by attacking ‘the enemy’ and constantly being in a state of battle against them – end up then reinforcing bad ideas and a victim mentality. Could the internet lead to more ideological battles that only end up reinforcing bad ideas?


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  1. pickles

    New blog post: Does the left need to re-connect too? http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/3894




  1. cjcjc — on 26th March, 2009 at 8:40 am  

    Very wise obeservations for all sides to take on board.

  2. billericaydicky — on 26th March, 2009 at 9:37 am  

    You’ve summed the whole thing up in the last sentence. That is exactly what happens on this site and socialistunity.com is even worse.

    I pointed out to them yesterday that they live in a little left wing ghetto thinking inside boxes and on tram lines. Any dissenters from the prevailing orthodoxy like myself are dismissed as fascists or state agent provocateurs.

    Interesting and thought provoking article, whether it will actually do either to people posting here is another matter.

  3. Rumbold — on 26th March, 2009 at 10:05 am  

    What all high-profile commentators and politicians need to realise is that the charge of hypocrisy is one that resonates with many people. Like the social conservatives who get caught out having affairs, too many leftists pontificate on things like the environment, restricting second homes, or low pay, while themselves flying everywhere (Al Gore), owning nine homes (Michael Meacher), or being very well paid (Polly Toynbee).

    I can’t take people seriously who don’t practice what they preach. And I am not the only one.

  4. billericaydicky — on 26th March, 2009 at 10:54 am  

    I have mixed feelings about Polly Toynbee, most of what she writes is pretty banal but she had a good piece in the Guardian earlirt this week about the press. As most people know long established titles are closing daily and this is particularly true of the local press.

    She quite rightly says that good local reporting is an essential part of the democratic process especially where local councils are investigated and held to account.

    She rightly points out that council free sheets are little more than propaganda for the ruling group on any council and makes some interesting recomendations including scrapping all the freebies and instead taking out advertising for council events in the local paper.

    I remember her out canvassing with Margaret Hodge in Barking in 2006. Due to La Hodges unpopularity with the local party no one locally would canvass so she brought the Islington cafe latte set down to the white council estates.

    The reception she got sent them all scuttling back to N1 and Hodge making the statement that a third of Londoners might vote for the BNP. That gave them another six seats in Band D to the six we already predicted they would get. Talk about putting her foot in it.

  5. dave bones — on 26th March, 2009 at 11:29 am  

    Absolutely. Leftists ghettoes speaking their own language really put me off too though I never knew Michael Meacher had nine homes. What does he put in them? Whenever we move away from the politics of left and right and toward the politics of what works and what doesn’t wake me up.

  6. Rumbold — on 26th March, 2009 at 11:31 am  
  7. Riz Din — on 26th March, 2009 at 11:42 am  

    The quoted article says ‘What Culture11’s editors got right was the observation that, regardless of what you think of the world as it is, you can’t figure out how to wrestle with it until you understand what’s actually happening in it.’

    I applaud the idea but we’ll never truly know how it works as there is simply too much complexity and too many variables to dissect it properly. That’s not to say we should give up, just that we need to be humble before an ever changing world. Also, I believe humility of the grand system needs to be meshed with humility of oneself, with the realisation that even our more honest endeavours to form an objective conclusion or view on a problem or topic will be tainted from the very start by our own internal biases – perhaps being aware of these hindrances could be a good start to appreciating that both sides contain truths and make worthy points. This is the opposite of the House of Commons debates where both sides mock the other to the point of debasing themselves.

    I guess the beauty of the open society that we find on the internet is that if two largely opposing ideologies suffer from group think and bias which reinforces particular ideas, the very nature of the internet is that new sites will open up, trying to bridge the two by taking a more objective view.

  8. Shamit — on 26th March, 2009 at 12:29 pm  

    “I guess the beauty of the open society that we find on the internet is that if two largely opposing ideologies suffer from group think and bias which reinforces particular ideas, the very nature of the internet is that new sites will open up, trying to bridge the two by taking a more objective view.”

    Excellent point.

  9. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 26th March, 2009 at 3:28 pm  

    But the article quite rightly states that what was different about Culture11 was not that it wanted to enter battle with liberals, but that it understood some conservatives needed to do some serious rethinking if they wanted power again

    There is that word again, “power” … ?

    I am sorry that I had to laugh seeing this wrote out ..”Could the internet lead to more ideological battles that only end up reinforcing bad ideas?”
    after reading this blog for years now, I can not believe how long it took for that to be asked!
    but at least someone finally has, glad is was you sunny.
    I may not always agree with what you say but have learned to trust balance is somehow being sought here.
    Bridge building has been my goal from the very beginning… not much luck so far, at least I don’t think so yet.
    From Blog land I’ve come to the conclusion people use these for power too, and popularity. on every site there is always one or two regular commenters at least trying to add to the perception from another view.
    but what good does it do on new more objective blogs if they are still just gonna argure?
    seems more balanced to me for left thinkers to participate in right conversations and vise versa… no? It is how people like me in the dead center have come to see everything objectively, isn’t that the point of debate?
    From personal experience, when I first set out to save the world, I started by going around in search of others …. My year in NYC I have been to almost every group there is, listening to what they have to say. Not one has offered anything I could support, or leads where I would follow.
    Honestly my encounters with the “left” have been kind of scary … the thing people seem to hate most are questions and apparently I am crazy and stupid for even asking.
    I did invent a new word “Conlibrative” – LOL …but so far it hasn’t caught on.
    and population of fiddlesticks remains at 1 (unless you count the cat)

  10. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 26th March, 2009 at 4:22 pm  

    I feel bad now and need to take back my above “not one” statement, as i have meet some incredible people too, like the members of the Joseph Campbell foundation. and “We, the world”.
    (bit of a plug for some of the more quite type activists out there, working hard none the less)
    sometimes I lose my own objectivity.
    I do have a question though since I keep seeing “travel” as a new target for environmentalist, I hate to see one day we all end up in prison like worlds where we are just stuck somewhere according to birth. Maybe some would be happy like that, but not everyone … how do you balance in freedom with that? is there a plan at all?

  11. Riz Din — on 26th March, 2009 at 5:12 pm  

    Overcoming bias have a nice little piece on how surrounding yourself with like minded people raises confidence because the audience has been pre-selected be supportive to your view.

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/03/echo-chamber-confidence.html

    I disagree with a fair portion of what people say on here, and am prone to stepping on the occasional toe (sometimes my own) but I am on here to keep my mind open to the other side and with an awareness that nothing is fixed, least of all one’s thinking.

    My personal recommendation for a web-site is to know where you stand and step forward with confidence. For example, not providing a balanced argument with the assumption that people can go elsewhere for the other side of the story is perfectly fine, and it takes less effort in putting a piece together, but it is pretty blunt and leads to be being labelled as opinion extremists. It could also be self-fulfilling even if it started off with more honest intentions. Also, on the downside, people who don’t understand you are not trying to provide balance may mistake your opinions as misguided and pay you less respect than you are due, making accusations of credibility.

    Personally, I’d much prefer an approach where articles try to act as the glue that helps brings sides together. This would seem quite fitting with the ethos of PP, and while it requires more a more laborious investigative approach and a greater willingness to see the view from the other side, rather than just churning out a rant, it would be much more ‘complete’ in its analysis. It would surely produce less vehement supporters, but it could appeal to a wider base.

    Lastly, a little tip when reading analysis you support, or that supports you, it can be quite helpful to google the topic of interest with ‘arguments against’ or such like to find views on the other side. If this is the last thing you look at, I find it helps temper one’s certainty of opinion.

  12. Sunny — on 27th March, 2009 at 6:06 am  

    everyone: just a few points.

    I don’t think its possible for a blog alone to engage in bridge-building, especially since we don’t have the capacity or the resources.

    The point of blogging is to build narratives. Now, I accept that some of these narratives may not reflect reality – they don’t have to all the time since reality is (subjective) perception.

    So to that extent, the success of Pickled Politics isn’t down to just individually bring people together – it is about pushing a broader narrative that leads to other action that brings people together. Geddit?

    Queen:
    Honestly my encounters with the “left” have been kind of scary … the thing people seem to hate most are questions and apparently I am crazy and stupid for even asking.

    Why? In what way?

  13. Riz Din — on 27th March, 2009 at 11:59 am  

    Sunny, your self-perception and awareness is to be applauded! From this base narrative can be developed along with debate, versus always pushing the hard line.

    Queen – I agree, the commies are scary! ;)

    Perhaps it is in the nature of man for degenerating debates that try to be objective into subjective arguments that can’t be resolved because as we move further and further down the subjective route, so one man’s sense gets further and further removed from another man’s sense.

  14. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 27th March, 2009 at 4:43 pm  

    Sunny,
    First off they tend to be in need of some anger management!
    I attended a I/P peace talk, and even though the majority were center thinkers (including myself) all well aware of both sides of the issue and had come to discuss solutions … there were a few left type “peace activists” one woman in particular just full of rage against everyone for no reason making a big scene in support of Palestinians, even if you agreed with her she just kept screaming … and the wrath unleashed over any questions presented was just laughable.
    honestly I don’t know why she bothered to come … I think solutions were the last thing on her mind.
    She like many others I have met was also full of “conspiracy theory’s” – from 9/11 to immigration to science and history, aids, all the way down to smoking and drug use …. everything it seems is all part of some …. I can’t figure out what evil plan?
    I also attended a “morals without god” lecture at NYU … it was advertised in a way that made me think it promoted unity of beliefs … but not one of the speakers offered anything diverse. Their plan for a better future was to simply erase all thinking in general.
    so yes!! the commies are very very scary!!!
    I also don’t understand the socialists thinking everyone should be the same by preventing success of any individuals. Don’t dare ask either of them questions ! it seems everyting in life is not only free but magically falls from the sky …
    really I could go on and on and on …
    I won’t even start with the environmentalists!
    throwing paper bags at me … gagging and coughing over a person smoking outside and crying at the sight of fried chicken …
    I do know they are extremists and hopefully not examples of the entire left … but come on, they have gone insane!

    In general my biggest complaint is there seems to be this idea of a perfect world, and it is demanded ..NOW!!! always makes me think of that willy wonka song … spoiled rotten children throwing tantrums …
    No patience no thinking … just screaming.
    here in NYC at least there also seems to be “tribal” issues… like if you don’t put on the hippie gear you can’t be in the club … protest occurred when some punk types tried to join in on the peace activities … etc ..
    politically I think it is hilarious many of the pre – election Obamah suppoters … have now become “post” readers … but maybe only a new yorker would get that .. haha
    end rant …
    from the other side I find the “right” always a bit patronizing.
    I am still for bridge building, but maybe thats not really it … the problem may lie in getting people to cross, is that even possible or good.
    I agree reality is (subjective) perception.
    Too many conflicting realities!

  15. halima — on 27th March, 2009 at 5:00 pm  

    “Queen – I agree, the commies are scary! ;)

    “it seems everyting in life is not only free but magically falls from the sky …”

    I know you guys are being light-hearted and all .. but
    communists and the Maoists in parts of India, in Nepal and all over China … are pretty much the norm and they plan a government that delivers in ways that we might be be accustomed to.

    It’s a question of where you’re sitting ..

  16. Sunny — on 27th March, 2009 at 5:41 pm  

    What Halima said.

    And Queen, you say: I do know they are extremists and hopefully not examples of the entire left … but come on, they have gone insane!

    Erm – you are actually citing some crazies in a general discussion, and then saying I hope these people don’t infect the general left.

    There’s always going to be some nutters in any broad movement. I find it rather facile when people pick up examples of left-wing crazies and use them as representatives for everyone, while not doing the same for right-wingers. Do you happen to think the right is full of sane people? You live in America – I hope I don’t have to talk to you about Bill O Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity etc. And how popular are they?

    From where I’m sitting, the conservative right is definitely full of more nutbags.

  17. ad — on 27th March, 2009 at 5:57 pm  
  18. Riz Din — on 27th March, 2009 at 6:00 pm  

    I’m with you Sunny on that one. The right has a much higher quotient of nutjobs, and what’s worse is that they are often folk high up the political food chain, with great power and little sense. There is much to be scared of on both sides, and only I am right! All alone….so alone.

  19. Riz Din — on 27th March, 2009 at 6:04 pm  

    Ad, the Dalyrymple book looks very good…just added to my reading list, which unfortunately means I probably won’t read it, but thanks anyway.

  20. halima — on 27th March, 2009 at 6:07 pm  

    “Yes, but you are sitting on the Left…”

    I meant look around the world and see what left and right means in other contexts.. both the left and the right can equally plan and deliver services and govern well and efficiently. the difference is likely to be your values to how we organise society – not whether one side is efficient or not.

  21. Riz Din — on 27th March, 2009 at 6:10 pm  

    Queen of Fiddlesticks – I used to think life didn’t have to be an eternal struggle for existence as described by Darwin and that we could rise above the animals, and I still think this is possible, but I look to myself to do this and not to the structure of the system to compensate. Perhaps this is a major difference in our thinking versus what many on the left are proposing? Also, re the conspiracy theorists, I am pretty center as well and hate how key issues get lost in hippy thinking, conspiracies etc, but I in most cases at least the ‘far-outs’ on the left are less likely to call for war than the ‘far-outs’ on the right.

  22. Riz Din — on 27th March, 2009 at 6:17 pm  

    Halima – re efficiency and organisation of society, the two are surely entwined.

  23. billericaydicky — on 28th March, 2009 at 11:30 am  

    It all depends what you mean by left and right. While I have always considered myself to be on the Libertarian left/Anarchist end of the spectrum I do agree that if someone is new to radical politics then some of the people you will meet will come across as a little strange.

    I have come over the years to the belief that there is an authoritarian personality whic is atracted to extremes. I know this theory isn’t new or even original but I have seen it in practise.

    Both the far left and the far right have what they believe to be all the answers and anyone who disagrees or obstructs their objective is a communist/fascist/wrecker/splitter/race traitor/class traitor or any combination of the above.

    Given the right circumstances, Soviet Russia/ Nazi Germany these people will slaughter millions and the ony reason that they can’t do it in the UK is that they are tiny and fragmented and their politics have been rejected by the electorate time and time again.

    This absolute certainty of the correctness of their respective positions means that anyone who dissents is automatically suspect as the enemy which is what some of those posting here are describing. These movements also attract people who are quite clearly in need of treatment and who could equally be in the Moonies or the SWP.

  24. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 29th March, 2009 at 2:57 pm  

    you are actually citing some crazies in a general discussion, and then saying I hope these people don’t infect the general left.

    well yes I did, but actually I was just trying to be nice. Indeed there are crazies on both sides .. that is exactly why I am center, and you didn’t ask for a critique on the right, The question asked was, does the LEFT need to reconnect too … answer to that is yes!

    Do you happen to think the right is full of sane people? You live in America – I hope I don’t have to talk to you about Bill O Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity etc. And how popular are they?

    We can talk about them … I guess I could look at the rating’s … oh my god fox is #1 ! with 2 million nightly tuning in to watch these shows!! Oh wait US population (over 18) is 200+ million … so you tell me how popular 1% is? and are you assuming all those watching do so in support?

    When I say communists are scary … where did I mention China? This isn’t 1950. I’m talking about communists in the united states. We aren’t fighting the cold war … veitnam or WWII for that matter.

    Halima,
    the difference is likely to be your values to how we organise society – not whether one side is efficient or not.

    Umm please explain more .. cause if it’s not about being effective … is it control issues? and how would you organise society?

  25. ad — on 29th March, 2009 at 3:12 pm  

    Riz, Dalrymples book “Life at the Bottom” is a collection of (very good) essays. So it is not difficult to find time to read it – it’s a good way of passing a coffee break.

    Although you may find yourself wanting to extend the coffee break to read the next essay…

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