Comments: Evidence For My Theory

Maybe. 'Left' and 'right' mean different things in different contexts - economics, social issues, militarism, etc. Re: political economy broadly, I'm inclined to go with Altemeyer on this: that there simply are authoritarian personalities, and such people tend to be religious (ie, members of churches), are motivated by fear, are power oriented, accept social hierarchies based on subservience, etc.

Personally, I think that the tension within people which projects into social organization as 'left' and 'right' is the acceptance/internalization of free thought as a value/practice in an individual.

Free thinking people, and by that I mean (loosely) those capable of critically evaluating evidence and comparing the conclusions against their their own, personally determined values*, tend to oppose institutional structures which conflict with the exercise of freedom.

People motivated by emotions (often particular, singular emotions, such as the need for security, greed, fear, etc.) tend to accept/reject institutional structures which they believe further those narrow interests, but which frequently produce contradictions between intentions and outcomes.

*I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to non-circularly define 'personally determined values'.

Posted by scudbucket at July 28, 2008 04:45 PM

Birds have left and right wings.
It's the co-ordination part, the synchronizing, the direction from the essence, that makes flight.
With us it's as though each wing wants to go its own way, leading to awkward metaphorical imagery.

Posted by Roy Belmont at July 28, 2008 05:01 PM

I would add that you can learn a lot about what it means to be an American from Nazi Germany.

Posted by Seth at July 28, 2008 05:02 PM

But what, Seth? And which American(s)? Many of those in 1944, bombing the shit out of Nazi Germany or dying to defeat it? Today's American(s)? Why one, or why both?
Can one also learn what it means to be French, Italian, Croatian or Polish from Nazi Germany? If not, why not?

Posted by donescobar at July 28, 2008 05:47 PM

I'd say WE've learned a hell of a lot from The Nazis.

Posted by Mike Meyer at July 28, 2008 06:00 PM

Who you're putting into that "WE?"
And--what? When? Right after WWII? Later? How did this learning process work? Which and how many Americans never absorbed these lessons?

Posted by donescobar at July 28, 2008 06:19 PM

I'd argue that the different parts of a person are a survival mechanism created in response to "trauma". Now there's a loaded word, especially in this context.

For a detailed clinical explanation, with footnotes, check this out:

http://www.trauma-pages.com/a/nijenhuis-2004.php

The paper, and subsequent book, draw heavily on the ideas of the early French psychologist Pierre Janet.

Now comes the rabbit out of the hat: The late-great Billmon, in response to a question of Why do American's support Torture? replied that an answer lie in a better understanding of the Marquis de Sade and Pierre Janet. (It was from a comment thread that I can't find a link to. So at this point a tiny bit of doubt is beginning to creep into my memory of it.)

[segue]

We're still growing food on our roofs, and have expanded into a blahg.

http://greenroofgrowers.blogspot.com/

Posted by Bruce F at July 28, 2008 06:49 PM

I don't know that societies universally fall into this kind of divide. What about in the USSR? Were Soviet dissidents "rightists"? They would be the people speaking for the "conscience" of society, I think. Is this divide supposed to also persist in tribal societies? The Chippewa? The !Kung? I'm unconvinced.

What do "left" and "right" mean here? Are these designators going to be good enough to get the job done? A better scheme I've seen has an authoritarian–anarchist axis and an individualist–communitarian axis, and this too is a simplification of the situation. Things like militarism, traditionalism, religiosity, and all manner of other things go unaccounted for.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at July 28, 2008 07:04 PM

If people were torn by dialectical struggles (left vs right, or authoritarian vs anarchist) then wouldn't you expect this to be measurable? You could track over time how often people changed their minds and use that to measure the dialectical tension.

But do people change their minds? Ironically the fact that the political landscape is immensely consensual at the top makes changes more difficult.

You might want to switch from Coke to Dr Pepper. But why would you go from Coke to Pepsi?
Hard to imagine some longtime Republican bolting out of his tradition in order to vote for... Kerry!

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 28, 2008 09:04 PM

There is often a lot of consternation about everyday life under Hitler, especially after the war started.

People are fascinated by how daily life could integrate the psychotic behavior of the state almost seamlessly.

All I say is that any member of a great empire can gain a lot by examining their own historical position.

Posted by Seth at July 28, 2008 10:05 PM
You might want to switch from Coke to Dr Pepper. But why would you go from Coke to Pepsi?

Because your shop only has Pepsi machines?

Free thinking people, and by that I mean (loosely) those capable of critically evaluating evidence and comparing the conclusions against their their own, personally determined values*, tend to oppose institutional structures which conflict with the exercise of freedom.

Oh my!

Posted by Labiche at July 28, 2008 10:17 PM

Labiche: if you're a coke man and your shop has only pepsi then that wouldn't be your shop!!
These are sacred values, man!

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 28, 2008 10:31 PM

donescobar: Space program, genetics, techniques in warfare, nuclear powered weapons, mass psychology, and of course facsism.(plus what takes to have a really snappy uniform)

Posted by Mike Meyer at July 28, 2008 10:44 PM

Then this mixture of motives, values, etc. within each person is replicated on a large scale, so that every society operates like one big person. (And conversely, every person operates like a tiny society.) No society can ever be said to "be" left-wing or right-wing, any more than an individual can. It is merely the case that certain tendencies within a society (or person) predominate over others at certain times.

There is a mathematical correlation to your idea, fractals.

A fractal is generally "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,"[1] a property called self-similarity. The term was coined by Benoît Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning "broken" or "fractured."

Because they appear similar at all levels of magnification, fractals are often considered to be infinitely complex (in informal terms). Natural objects that approximate fractals to a degree include clouds, mountain ranges, lightning bolts, coastlines, and snow flakes. However, not all self-similar objects are fractals—for example, the real line (a straight Euclidean line) is formally self-similar but fails to have other fractal characteristics.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal

Posted by Rob Payne at July 29, 2008 01:37 AM
Labiche: if you're a coke man and your shop has only pepsi then that wouldn't be your shop!! These are sacred values, man!

Actually, I'm a Dr. Pepper guy, or even a Dr. Thunder if no Dr. Pepper is around. I'm no elitist.

By shop I meant workplace.

When your workplace only has Pepsi machines and you're parched, one may break down and conclude -- "Shit, they're pretty similar ain't they? And I'm thirsty."

Sorta like the Progressives and Democrats. Similar sweet flavor, with strong differences mainly obvious to the aficionados.

Posted by Labiche at July 29, 2008 07:57 AM
Hard to imagine some longtime Republican bolting out of his tradition in order to vote for... Kerry!

It did happen from time to time.

It is a fool's errand to generalize from the terms Right and Left to the state of humanity. Right and Left are shallow terms in the U.S. Right includes a set of policies, and nothing else. No values, no ideology (save for what enables the policies). Within right-wing politics are those who are voting for a set of principles (most of which are immoral -- misogyny could require opposition to birth control, for example), and some who are pursuing policies that increase their wealth, power, and privilege at the expense of others, and some that do both. Sometimes the former contradicts the latter: many right-wing politicians drag their heels on abortion because they don't really care about it.

That's pretty specific, and while there are cognates across the planet, politics needn't shake out this way. The most general aspect of right-wing politics to be found everywhere is the powermonger nature.

The Left is anyone who isn't rightwing, which includes philosophies, principles and values that contradict one another. This is an absurdity to generalize about.

It would only be safe to say that there are authoritarians who are in opposition to liberals or democrats (lower case) in every society. Right and Left are too specific for the former and too broad for the latter to apply to all of humanity.

Posted by No One of Consequence at July 29, 2008 12:22 PM

Watch the Congressional calendar for the Official Narrative Act. Talking point: Protect our citizens from freedom-hating revisionists!

Posted by Monkay at July 29, 2008 01:37 PM

Personally, I think it will be a great day when humans stop believing that there are only two political directions. The 2 D graph that Libertarians use is a start in this direction. I think politics that recognize only two directions, two possibilities, are boring and also dangerous. In such a situation, it is very easy for an evil person to convince one of the groups to attack the other. A situation with three or more groups might be a bit different, I think.

Posted by atheist at July 29, 2008 07:17 PM

Thanks for reading my comment, atheist and No One of Consequence.

Posted by StO at July 29, 2008 11:57 PM

Think of 'left' and 'right' not as distinct, but as the extremes of a continuum. To the extent that you are prepared to sacrifice self-interest for the benefit of others, you are of the 'left'. To the extent that you are prepared to harm others for your self-interest, you are of the 'right'.

For obvious reasons, action is typically 'right' and rhetoric is typically 'left'.


Posted by RLaing at July 31, 2008 01:14 PM