"Left," "Right" and Rhetoric

From: Greg Burch (gregburch@gregburch.net)
Date: Thu Aug 09 2001 - 18:05:34 MDT

 With the still simmering discussion of race and the gloss of "conservative"
vs. "liberal" that's been placed on it, along with references to David Duke,
posting of articles from sources that are clearly in the "traditional
 values" camp, shading into outright racist and white-supremacist material,
I thought I'd offer some musings on terminology and ideology.
 As usual, some personal background as context: I come to my current
libertarianism primarily from a "left-liberal" adolescent and early adult
mind-set. Recently I came across some things I wrote 25 years ago or so,
and I was amazed at how "red" my sentiments and values were. It was an
interesting exercise to look into how I could have written the things I did.
Most of it could be attributed to a very deep ignorance of how in fact the
world really works. My world-view was influenced by a few sketchy ideas
about "business" and "corporations" that, in the hindsight of knowledge
gained from real work in the real world of business and law, I can now see
to be utterly wrong. Among these grossly incorrect assumptions (which at
the time I strongly believed to be facts) were the ideas that large
corporations were controlled as monoliths by just a few very wealthy
individuals and that it was harder to rise into positions of control over
parts of the economic and social machinery of power in our society than in
fact it is.

 Even though an adult life slowly but surely maneuvering through that
machinery of economic and social power has significantly changed my ideas of
how society does and should work, there is a residue of sentiment from my
early world view. I still have a deep distaste for the outward trappings of
what I saw in my youth as "conservative" ideas. The superficial signs of
the culture of mid-20th-century American "establishment" institutions and
ways of life set off negative emotional reactions within me that are not
necessarily rational, but are there nonetheless. Thus, anything that comes
from a source that espouses "white-bread", "Leave It To Beaver" values or
uses the code-words of the more contemporary and self-conscious movement of
cultural conservatism raises my hackles.

 Distrust for the semiotics of the left, on the other hand, is for me a
completely "rational", self-taught attitude. Interestingly, I feel I have
more or less successfully inoculated myself against the icons of modern
American liberalism as a balance to my essentially instinctive caution when
confronting the signs of "conservatism". Thus now I have just as much of a
feeling of revulsion when I see Warren Beatty as I do when I see David Duke.

 I perceive that much of the talk here about race and other issues that are
addressed by the two polarized camps of modern Western ideology (this
includes personal weapons and religion) involves emotional or sentimental
reactions to the superficial signs exhibited by the sources of material
offered for discussion, as well as the terminology used by some of the
posters here. Expressions of suspicion of affirmative action and defense of
gun rights triggers a kind of emotional revulsion in some people, because
those views are identified with knuckle-dragging cultural conservatives.
Sensitivity to the injustice of past and current racism and a desire to seek
social security likewise evokes a feeling of disgust in others, because
those are causes espoused by the collectivist, "leveler" pole of the public
discourse on policy and culture. Like it or not, those emotional reactions
are real and effect our thinking. It helps to be as aware of them as we can
be, because when we aren't, we tend to caricature the persons who may be
speaking in terms that trigger those reactions. The bottom line is that
just because someone is willing to question the wisdom or moral rightness of
affirmative action doesn't mean that they subscribe to the entirety of the
reactionary program of the culturally conservative "right", any more than
that every one who might wonder whether SOME restrictions on the private
ownership of weapons is a Stalinist.

Greg Burch

Vice-President, Extropy Institute


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