The Superficiality of Left & Right
October 1992By Thomas Storck
Thomas Storck is a librarian in Washington, D.C.
Terms give names to the concepts we have in our minds. And concepts, in turn, are, or ought to be, our internal mental comprehension of what actually exists in the world. When our concepts signify what truly exists, then our thinking can deal with things as they really are, surely the first requisite for intelligent and effective action. But when our concepts are not adequate comprehensions of reality, then our thinking and acting are necessarily based, at least in part, on illusions. When this happens the terms we employ to express what is in our minds will obviously also be confused and will generally make whatever we are discussing more, rather than less, obscure. Moreover, since most of us do not habitually ground our thinking in first principles, a confused set of terms is likely to hold the field unchallenged. And if the matter is an important one, the results of all this ambiguity are likely to be serious.
For example, when we use the term unborn baby, we are giving expression to our mental grasp of the reality outside our minds, namely, that the fetus is truly a baby who simply happens to not yet be born. If, on the other hand, such terms as product of conception or protoplasmic parasite express what is in our minds, that would show that in this case we do not have an adequate grasp of reality.
There is another major area where the above confusion exists. This is in our political terminology, which hinders clear thought, and makes coherent action difficult. The terms I refer to are those that classify all political and socio-economic positions along a unilinear spectrum from Right to Left, terms such as reactionary, conservative, moderate, liberal, and radical. These terms and the set of concepts that underlie them are not only illusory, but dangerous; they contribute, most notably, to the dichotomy that exists between those working for prolife and related causes and those working for economic justice. For instead of being the allies that they should be, these two movements too often view each other as, if not the enemy, at least in close alliance with the enemy. As a result, each of these causes is hindered in its work as well as intellectually discredited in the eyes of many.
It is almost universally assumed that political positions can be placed along a line from Right to Left. For example, those on the Right want the government to leave them alone to make money, but they want the authorities to watch closely everyone elses behavior in bed and what they are reading, listening to, and viewing. In foreign policy they want a big stick speaking softly is regarded as wimpy. Those of the Left, on the other hand, want the state not just to leave them alone while they pursue their own private pleasures, but, if possible, to finance them as well and prevent anyone else from making them feel bad about their behavior or its consequences. Regarding economic activity they laudably see the injustices caused by the free market, but their remedy is a new bureaucracy with fancy initials. Regarding foreign affairs they show a commendable desire for restraint in military operations, but in their own way culturally they desire to Americanize the world just as much as the Right. And the Center? Depending on the particular mix of opinions held, it can consist of the worst or the best of both sides, but, usually it will in basic agreement with either the Right or the Left, but make major concessions to the other side in the name of compromise and moderation.
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