Thursday, January 20, 2011

Left-Wing Narratives: Everything Was Fine Until...

Michael Lind is no left-winger, but after reading a recent article of his, it appears that he is a subscriber to one of the left-wing's most prevalant narratives. Lind falls into the same category of many left- and right-wing elite, especially those who cannot seem to reconcile the positions of others who do not agree with them 100%. Thus is the burden of already knowing everything.

You know how they know this? Because in the past, back when everyone who mattered "agreed" with them (the idea that they could be picking and chosing the agreement of historical figures to their personal philosophy never seems to be taken into account), the world was a far better, almost utopian, place. Just look at the state of things today, and how much better off we'd be if we had continued what was working!

Sound familiar? It should. There is an almost identical past-as-utopia streak running through the right-wing. (I'm not surprised that Lind is described as a "former" neoconservative.) But we can't ignore the danger of the same narrative running through the DNA of the left.

The main difference with the left's version is the understanding of what and where that utopian past specifically went off the rails. Lind fairly nails this current: Everything Was Fine Until The Christians Showed Up (In the 1970's). To many a leftist, society's fall from the rational advance of rational reason can be explained rationally as a result of irrational Christianity's rise to political power some time after 1970.

Because, the narrative tells us, lots of people in this country were Christians in the past, but they weren't very Christian-y. Not like today, anyway. Religion didn't have a very large impact on policy or history, the narrative goes, except as a foil for the forces of rationalism to defeat. The forces of irrational religion never won against the reasonable arguments of rational behavior, until something went wrong in the very recent past.

Oh, and this switch was made without any rational reason, because every scientific advance experienced in American history never had a consequence that was bad, ever.

This very recent and shocking rise of religion over rationality is an exception to the historical rule. Though it does explain, to the left-wing mind, the following things:

1. Why people disagree with their rational beliefs in the first place;
2. Why people vote against their own interests, making their disagreements policy;
3. Why the most left-wing candidates lose elections to dumb people voting against their own interests;
4. Why people who disagree with them should just shut their stupid mouths as not to encourage the dumb people who vote against their interests;
5. Why the only recourse is to make fun of those who disagree - there's nothing that can be done except withdraw into circles of similar thought and maybe throw a protest every now and again to compare witty and ironic signs.

With all that in play, I can tell you that the left doesn't have a problem losing elections because the "dumb people" are "irrationally" voting against their interests. The left loses elections because they subscribe to this narrative, and don't see the value in understanding why voting against their policies can be seen by large numbers of voters as the most rational thing to do.



dsb said...

Have you had a chance to read Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Yes. That is a fascinating read, and I should go back and look at it again after all these years.

I didn't think he gave voters enough credit for their decision making, and I think he underestimated the Democratic/progressive/liberal ability to play right into right-wing narratives.

"Walking into the punch" is what he called it, I think, and it still represents an underestimation.

Editor B said...

Who is this "left" you speak of, running candidates? The Democratic Party? Are they really a left party? I think of the Democrats as moderate conservatives.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

You draw a circle around anyone who you consider, or who considers themselves "right wing," or those who adheres to "right wing narratives." Everyone outside that circle is "left-wing."

This is why the "right" is easier to identify than the "left," because the right has singluar, core narratives and a near-monolithic structure, while the left is that chaotic group of movements, thought groups, and organizations sometimes forming coalitions to acheive common goals, but identified only by their absence of right-wingery.

That's one reason "left-wing narratives" are very difficult to identify - they aren't universally believed or adhered to; they can't be repeated like rote learning. But there are a few, and I'm working on figuring out what they are.

Dante said...

"This is why the "right" is easier to identify than the "left," because the right has singluar, core narratives and a near-monolithic structure, while the left is that chaotic group of movements, thought groups, and organizations sometimes forming coalitions to acheive common goals, but identified only by their absence of right-wingery."

You only think that because you lean left politically. Folks on the right think just the opposite.

patsbrother said...

I register my dismay that anyone found that Thomas Frank book "fascinating".

In contrast, I found it vapid and I was greatly disappointed reading it. Essentially, here is the author's premise: I was a Republican until no frat would have me, so I became a Democrat, and all those people who got in the frat are stupid.

I also agree with Dante's point entirely.

There is one thing I would add, in reference to Editor B's comment. You think Democrats are "moderate conservatives" likely because you are what most people would consider far left. I say this not at all as a detraction. I think each of us harbors the fantasy that we're middle-of-the-road sane and that its everyone else to our left or our right who are at least somewhat nutty. We judge how extreme or how moderate someone else is using ourselves as the axis point.

(And of course in my case my fantasy just happens to be reality. )

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Bringing up "What's the Matter With Kansas" actually cuts to the heart of this matter. The real premise of the book examines how Kansas went from a state that was the cradle of the progressive movement and became the state of one issue litmus testing.

A big part of that is examining the emergence of hyper-political Christianism that really changed the post-Vietnam landscape, and continues to have oversized influence today.