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The Myth of Left and Right

Abstraction: A conceptual process where general rules and concepts are derived from the usage and classification of specific examples, literal signifiers, first principles, or other methods.

As human beings, we understand nothing without the ability to create abstractions. We take our observations and reduce them, abstract them, to a level of simplicity that allows us to believe we understand them. Often, we simplify matters beyond that point where we can grasp them; we simplify them to a point where we can understand them with little effort, without a need to perform mental work to deal with the nuances of the concepts we’re reducing. Maybe we’re mentally lazy or in a hurry. Perhaps we don’t have the cranial horsepower to deal with the subtleties of the concepts so we have no choice but to oversimplify them.

Unfortunately, when we oversimply something, our understanding ignites a conflict that bodes ill for ourselves and those around us. Here are some examples rampant in today’s world of oversimplifications that yield unnecessary discord and suffering: Republican versus Democrat, Black versus White, Liberal versus Conservative, Christian versus [Muslim, Jew, Hindu, non-believer], Blue Collar versus White Collar, Red versus Blue, Male versus Female, Straight versus LGBTQ. The list goes on seemingly forever. However, for the purposes of this discourse, I’ll claim one of the most odious and diabolical oversimplifications of our time is “Left versus Right”.

To someone sitting on the far right, everyone with even a slightly different view sits to the left. The observer seated on the far left sees only like-minded allies and those sitting to the right. If the world were truly that simple, wouldn’t life be grand?

Some people take their abstractions to a slightly higher level. There are “fiscal conservatives” who are “social liberals”, but it’s still a fairly simple abstraction. You can have “Biblical literalists” versus those who believe the Bible is the “inspired word of God”. There are even some who believe the Bible is a complete work of fantasy and fiction, but may serve as an enlightened set of guidelines by which to live. Regardless of the field, abstractions are necessary.

The “Bell Curve” comes into play here. (I was going to refer to it by its more mathematically correct term, “normal distribution”, but given the context of the discussion, “normal” just doesn’t seem to be the best choice of words.) Given most issues where abstraction is required, it’s not unreasonable to assume those on one side or the other fall into a bell curve distribution. For example, in the case of “left versus right”, most people fall in the middle. The further out toward the extremes, the fewer the number of adherents. Also, to the person on the extreme right of a position, those on the left, even the moderate left, seem that much more extreme in comparison.

So why is that a problem? Because in today’s America, those who disagree with you are cast as villains. Watch Fox News and you’ll get the message. Listen to Donald Trump; nearly everyone who disagrees with him is an un-American villain.

Donald Trump, like Joseph Goebbels before him, knows how to identify and define those who tend to over-abstract their world views. He views those people as suckers and takes full advantage of their oversimplified views of life. Even he knows the views of his marks don’t explain the world as it really is, at least not in its totality, and he preys upon their vulnerabilities that result from their simplified models. He reinforces their self-images as “patriots” who are not respected by their government, lied to by the “fake news”, robbed by the actions of minorities, immigrants, and far-left liberals. He fans the flames of hate rather than attempting to build bridges of understanding. Why expand the worldviews of a group of people that can serve as his sabre in his battle to control the world. He calls them his “base” and they proudly and defiantly profess their faith in him because he’s the only one paying attention to them. In their minds, he’s the only one that cares about them. This has happened before and it didn’t end well.

Here’s the rub, when you fall victim to a Goebbels like manipulator, you too are prone to viewing someone who disagrees with you as a villain that disagrees with you on every issue. The other day, I received an email from the Trump campaign that was typical of the hundreds of emails they continuously send me. Here is the exact verbiage from that email.

We’ll get right to the point – Democrats HATE America.

They’re attacking President Trump for wanting to celebrate Independence Day at Mount Rushmore – an ICONIC monument that features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – as a symbol of white supremacy.

Can you believe it? They truly hate EVERYTHING our great Nation stands for.

They’re trying to scare the American People into voting for their washed-up candidate by spewing irresponsible rhetoric about OUR President and America’s heritage. We can’t stand for their BLATANT LIES any longer and neither should YOU.

With a pathetically weak abstraction, suddenly all Democrats HATE America. Take a step back and think about that one. Mr. Trump claims all Democrats hate America. Further on, he suggests Democrats are “spewing” blatant lies, in other words, a man whose assaults on veracity are the stuff of legend is proclaiming that if you’re a Democrat, you are a liar and you hate your country.

Who could possibly find this type of rhetoric acceptable and believable? Only those with world views defined with incredibly simplistic abstraction. All too often, that descriptor fits “the base” far too well.

Let’s take a look at another example where a seemingly intelligent individual falls prey to such rank manipulation. I recently glanced at an email that was sent with the best of intentions by a fairly close relative. In it, he said:

As much as I dislike Trump, my other huge concern right now is I’m scared of the Democratic far left.  I don’t see many Democratic leaders that seem to care about the rioting, vandalism, looting, etc.  They seem to be ok with defunding the police, which I understand is probably really trying to get changes in how we deal with mental illness, etc.  But still, they won’t stand up and try to get people to do it lawfully…they seem to be gloating in all the rioting and looting, as if we deserve it.  And then there’s the tearing down of statues of everyone who wasn’t totally perfect in every single detail of their lives.

The abstraction of “left versus right” is so apparent in the message as to make bells ring. It is immediately apparent which side of the political divide this person falls. He’s clearly on the “conservative right” side of the bell curve. He is scared by the “Democratic far left”. He has fallen victim to his own abstraction of Democrats. Who or what is the “Democratic far left”? Is it Bernie Sanders? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Pelosi? Is it made up of anyone and everyone who believes the government should play a bigger role in today’s society than it did 200 years ago? However it may be defined, what makes him conclude they – individually or collectively – don’t care about the rioting, vandalism, and looting? The only way to reach that conclusion is to create the abstraction and fill in the names. It’s all on the “far Democratic left”.

He accuses “them” of not standing up and try to get people to do it lawfully. Never mind that the injustices have been ongoing for hundreds of years. It seems pretty certain that doing it “lawfully” hasn’t worked out really well.

And while we’re at it, let’s dispose of another fallacy born of a flawed abstraction. The “protesters” are, with very few exceptions, NOT the rioters, looters, and vandals. But from an oversimplification spawned by those sitting in the right-field bleachers, they’re all lumped into the same class. The “protesters” want peaceful, but meaningful change. The rioters and looters want Nike sneakers.

The “far left Democrats” are also accused of wanting to tear down the statues of everyone who wasn’t totally perfect in every single detail of their lives. How does he know it’s only the far-left Democrats? Can’t a reasonable and thoughtful far-right Republican believe it’s appropriate to remove a symbol of a military person that participated in a violent rebellion against our nation, that was responsible for the deaths of many of our countrymen, and fought to keep millions of blacks as chattel property in chains? If it’s become a symbol of white supremacy, is it not inappropriate to leave it in place? For most Americans, (remember the bell curve), there is no need or desire to remove all representations of our ancestors that were anything less than perfect. Traitors to the nation, yes. But imperfect people, no. Not even those on the far-left (wherever that might be) generally support such bizarre actions.

So far, most of my talk has been directed at those sitting on the right, however, it could all just as easily be directed toward the left. Republicans are generally grouped via abstraction as the “right-wing”. With Trump’s minions running loose, Republicans have increasingly been abstracted by the left as being gluttonous, loud mouthed, dishonest, self-serving, ignoramuses. That is clearly another error in abstraction.

There are a great many Republicans that are highly intelligent, honest people with absolute integrity. These individuals have fundamental differences in political and/or economic philosophy and/or social issues and values with members of the “other side”, but they are still rational, well intentioned, and honorable members of society. Yet, via faulty abstractions, they tend to be grouped together with Trump’s definition of Republicans. For those on the left that can’t differentiate Trump’s Republicans from rational Republicans, their error is just as egregious as those on the right who claim all Democrats lie, hate America, want open borders, and fly the flag with the hammer and sickle. The fact of the matter is that an increasingly large number of sentient Republicans are working hard through groups like The Lincoln Project to distance themselves from the mob, a.k.a., the base. Republicans are moving in droves to defeat Trump in the upcoming election, proof that honesty and civility have not gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Some on the left live under the old impression that the commies are coming and that the party has gone too far left. Others believe the old union loyal Democrats have fallen prey to the right-wing bigots; they think the party should move far more toward the Social-Democrats of Europe and it can’t happen too soon.

Back to the bell curve. Just because you believe the border wall is an outrageously ridiculous expenditure of your tax dollars with twenty negative effects for every one benefit doesn’t mean you can’t support intelligent welfare reform. Are you a left-wing or right-wing person?  Just because you believe fiscal responsibility calls for budgetary restraint doesn’t mean you can’t support budget-busting spending during a global pandemic in order to prevent a complete collapse of society. Are you right or are you left? Just because you’re frustrated by government excesses and want the “swamp drained” doesn’t mean you want knowledgeable and efficient bureaucrats replaced with self-serving plunderers. Are you leaning left or right?

It serves no worthwhile purpose to characterize some abstract group of diverse individuals that may or may not agree with you on some or all issues of consequence. To move forward constructively, open your eyes and ears, drop the stereotypes of left versus right, kiss Joseph Goebbels and for that matter, his self-proclaimed successor, Mr. Trump, good-bye, and run with some variation on this abstraction:

We’re all Americans who are the recipients and guardians of a great country built with the blood, sweat, and tears of our progenitors. Let’s not kill it with gross over-simplifications and divisions that serve no valid purpose. We can’t go back in time, but we can be sensitive to our strengths and weaknesses, our history – all of it – and we can endeavor to strengthen what we’ve done right and correct what we’ve done wrong. If you truly want to make America great again, take it back to the time when people on both sides of the aisle talked to each other with respect and an erstwhile desire to do that which was right. Accept that solely because someone disagrees with you, he isn’t necessary the devil incarnate.

Democrats don’t hate America. Republicans don’t hate America. We’re all on the same ship sailing into the dark night. The dance band is playing and I hear there’s some ice in the water. Our hope rests upon our willingness and ability to work together. Perhaps it’s time we worked on our listening skills as much as we’ve honed our talents to spew hate and vitriol at those we’re told are our opponents, our villains. Sure enough, it’s probably a good idea to make American great again, especially in view of the fact that there really is no left or right. There’s only me and you.

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