Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Left/Right, Self/Other: more

Thinking more on the subject, I recall times when I saw such a Self/Other paradigm on the left. When i was in college (late 1960s) the left became more strident and doctrinaire as it fractured. The reigning paradigm of purely heroic and virtuous third-world liberation movements became ever more the realm of the purity troll, ever less skeptically applied to domestic issues such as civil rights, as if everyone other than a black man (sic) was an entitled white person living a privileged life in Algiers' European colony, as if all who didn't agree with black students brandishing machine weapons taking over colleges, Mao's Cultural Revolution and the like were imperialist fascists and would get their just deserts come the Revolution, as if the left were the sole repository of decency. As time went on, more information became available and the political and moral bankruptcy of such positions made clearer, I see the left as having mostly moved from such positions. Meanwhile, the works of such as Solzhenitsyn and Robert Conquest finally and completely ended the left's ability to even apologise for, much less embrace, Stalin and the Soviet Union, and such events as the murderous tyranny of Pol Pot and the divergence from Jeffersonian democracy of the newly unified Vietnam forced the left to find an intellectually honest way to further an agenda of social justice while unequivocally rejecting those perpetrating horror in its name. A chastened, circumspect, but still committed left emerged. The work of the late Tony Judt, notably 'Ill Fares The Land', seems to me the best reasoned, most knowledgable and deeply intellectually honest current presentation. But the right has never acknowledged similarly flawed, strained actions of its own--embrace of domestic and foreign racists, apologies for the horrors of imperialism, applause for the resolve and determination of such as Hitler and Mussolini, potted histories of slavery and Indian genocide, the manifest injustices of unbridled capitalism, the equation of sober assessments of such things as hatred of America and/or freedom, and so on. So, today, now, while acknowledging out of a belief in our common humanity our universal capacity for error, I think the Self/Other paradigm best fits the right far more than the left.

Consider, in this context, the right's, most of all the Christian right's, embrace of Likud Israeli policies. They identify entirely with the fantasy Israel as a virtuous, embattled Self, surrounded by bellicose, brutal, dehumanized Others, but, unlike that politically correct, pusillanimous America subverted and weakened by 'liberals', unapologetic in its military strength and its casual use in the face of world opinion. They wish 'their America' did that, too. And, as always, domestically as well as abroad. And those who disagree with the Likud are not just anti-Semitic, though that, too, is oft said. They, in that disagreement, in their assertion that there are alternatives open to Israel, assault frontally the right's view of domestic and foreign politics, morality and policy across the board. Out of this, too, arises their casual equation of Israeli Judaism, American Judaism, contemporary Zionism, nineteenth century Zionism, the Likud, AIPAC and so on as identical, and their denial of the existence of dissent within Israel and the American Jewish community. Another example of why negotiation with these people is difficult to impossible, and why they so stubbornly embrace even those positions easily demonstrated to be counterfactual.

So, the right, while decrying 'feminazis' and like that, actually embrace one of the bedrock principles of feminism--that the personal is the political--though they'd never acknowledge it. They can't empathise; they positively reject empathy; it threatens them to the core.

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