It is an oversimplification, and setting aside the polarization which comes hand in hand with politicization for the moment, but ideologies the world over and throughout history can be seen as leaning either to ‘the Left’ or to ‘the Right’, or to use other terms ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. The truth is much more of a spectrum than a simple ‘A or B’ but the further you range from the center the clearer the distinctions become.
The specific issues and concerns can vary greatly but overall Left-leaning ideologies are rooted in inclusivity while Right-leaning ideologies are rooted in exclusivity. Both believe people are worthy of rights, privileges, and protections the difference is Left ideologies seek them for everyone whereas Right ideologies seek them for members of a specific group. Both have their strengths and appealing characteristics. And both have their weaknesses and less attractive tendencies.
Again this is an oversimplification, as all binary models inherently are, but in terms of pointing to the primary difference between the two perceived ‘wings’ of ideologies the inclusive or exclusive focus is the clearest and truest.
Left-leaning ideologies are often seen, or depicted, as being the more noble and compassionate of the two because of their central drive to seek solutions which include and apply to everyone. Equality and fairness are always the front and center priorities regardless of the issue at hand and the compassion and open-minded awareness can be both admirable and inspiring.
But inclusivity can also become paralytic because, noble or not, seeking universally inclusive solutions runs the risk of setting an unreachably high bar as it is virtually impossible to find an answer which makes absolutely everyone happy. Including as many people as possible in consideration is compassionately noble but it also brings more and more voices and perspectives into the mix. Solutions which work for most people are certainly achievable, though they can be difficult to reach, but everyone is an extremely difficult ring to grasp and can lead to exhaustion and apathy as the problems wind up feeling to enormous to unravel or change.
The other area where Left ideologies can wind up folding in against themselves is also one of their most appealing traits, the support and recognition of individual identity. In order to include everyone it is necessary to include every one, inclusion isn’t about sameness but rather the removal of consequence for difference. As with all things if taken to extremes inclusivity can become self-destructive as the efforts to acknowledge and empower each individual voice can wind up suffocating away any space for unifying consensus.
Many Left motivated movements have launched with incredible compassion driven zeal for progressive change only to falter and devolve into in-fighting. Battles over which internal voices are being promoted versus feeling less heard or seeming contests of comparison over which group within the group has suffered greater hardship. The shared compassionate outrage which ignited the initial surge to action fragments and granularizes to the point the original unifying vision gets lost altogether. The noble and tragic paradox of seeking to ensure all voices are heard when the only result of all voices speaking at once is an incomprehensible roar.
Right-leaning ideologies are often seen, or depicted, as the more moral and devout of the two because they are much more focused on rules, boundaries, and not only the perspective of ‘right and wrong’ but also the non-negotiable consequences of both. Qualification and worthiness are central themes and the unwavering dedication to declared principles can be both immensely powerful and deeply admirable.
Exclusivity is often branded as inherently heartless, cruel, and hypocritical in any mention of compassion but that is not automatically the case. Exclusive ideologies are still very much capable of compassion and empowerment they simply reserve them as privileges for those who meet the specified requirements of qualification.
Being selectively compassionate may seem a contradiction in terms but for those with Right or exclusive mindsets compassion and empowerment are precious commodities which shouldn’t just be tossed about freely without consideration. They should be reserved for those who are able to demonstrate they are deserving of them, something which at the core doesn’t have anything to do with being a majority or minority in the population. It’s not about the size of the numbers, though those certainly help the sense of security, it is about perceived worthiness.
If kept at a theoretical level, or seen from the inside, it can seem like a perfectly logical model but where Right ideologies always start to fall down is in the designating of the qualifications required for being ‘worthy’. What are they? How are they decided? Who decides them? How is it decided who is given the power to decide? The decisions are invariably arbitrary, vehemently narrow in scope, and inevitably absolutist. Once they are made they are set and beyond challenge. Determination of one’s status is purely a ‘pass-fail’ process, the results of which are almost always permanent.
The narrowed focus can enable a very targeted concentration of effort and energy which leads to the Right’s signature zealous and unshakable dedication but also to a highly distorted view of the world as all information is forced to fit through that narrow lens. Any information which doesn’t fit is deemed enemy propaganda and the only information which does make it through is that which agrees with the already existing perceptions leading to the other stereotypical signatures of Right-leaning ideologies, antagonistic superiority and the stagnation of purely insular thinking.
Choose your issue, it isn’t hard to see how the inclusive or exclusive mindsets take their stance. Income inequality, race, gender, religion, sexuality, pick any significant societal issue and the perceptions and ideologies rather quickly fall on the ‘everyone deserves access’ versus ‘only certain people should have access’ spectrum.
Any ideology taken to extremes becomes harmful to all involved but historically we tend to think of the Right as being the only range of the spectrum either capable or prone to extremism. That zealous and belligerently uncompromising nature of the Right approach certainly makes them a bit more prone to overt extremism, given that all their passions are so narrowly committed, and the tyrannical and xenophobic behavior which it all too commonly manifests is easy to spot and point to.
One might think it could not be possible to take compassion to extremist degrees but the Left is just as capable of extremes, though it can be a bit more difficult to quantify. Exhausting into apathy and devolving into infighting aside Left-leaning ideologies take on an identical characteristic when they swing too far into extremes. It may present in a different tone and spring from a different motivation or goal but at the core it is the same dysfunction, the absence of process.
Regardless of Left of Right when the bar for qualifying as an enemy becomes virtually zero, status as an enemy becomes both instant and permanent, and the consequence for that status is automatically and universally of maximum severity then the ideology has entered a toxic and unsustainable cycle focused purely on punitive retaliation.
The overt and often unapologetic discrimination common in extreme Right ideologies is easy to point to and condemn because of the arbitrary and insular nature of the grounds they use for that discrimination. But extreme Left ideologies can, and do, become just as arbitrary, absolutist, and punitive even if their starting point and perceived mission is one of compassion, inclusion, and fairness.
It is easy to condemn someone who is belligerently discriminating based upon someone’s race, who is instantly branding another person as an unworthy ‘other’ deserving only of ridicule and punishment without, or regardless of, any evidence of character or conduct. But the same mechanisms are at work when the expected, or required, response to an accusation of misconduct is the instant and irrevocable end of their career and destruction of their lives.
When there is no space or process for actual investigation and clarification of the facts and context, when the assignment of guilt and consequence are both instant and of maximum severity it doesn’t matter how compassionate the initial motivation might have been the ideology has become tyrannical.
Just as we would decry defining a person by a singular sweeping assumption of all possible people of their race we should also decry any ideology or doctrine which uses the same absolute and sweeping method of definition for all actions within a certain category.
Matt Damon got himself in a fair bit of hot water attempting to make a call for moderation in our public approach to dealing with incidents of sexual misconduct. An argument could certainly be made that, especially at the time, that would have been a message better received if it were not coming from the voice of a success white male but that does not mean his point wasn’t valid or that the immediate backlash of the ‘you’re either good or evil, and if you’re evil off with your head’ mentality wasn’t an illustration of absolutist extremism.
To be clear sexual misconduct is a pervasive and serious problem which needs to be addressed, confronted, and held to account. There is no denying that at all. But not all incidents, or their impacts, are identical and thus the consequences and our responses to them should not be either. Someone who tells a highly inappropriate joke at an office party versus someone who attempts to physically force themselves on a co-worker are very different incidents. Both are transgressions and both need to be addressed and have consequences but they should not be the same.
Substitute in examples of discrimination based on race, gender, or sexuality and the paradigm remains the same. If the only acceptable, and expected, response to any accusation is instant assignment of guilt and maximum consequence even the noble pursuit of righting a wrongdoing has become extremist. We are no longer consequencing and affecting the individual and their transgression but symbolically punishing an entire range of transgressions as a whole.
The rage, impatience, and distrust around issues of sexual misconduct and discrimination are understandable and justified. There has been far too long a history of imbalanced and destructively dismissive systemic responses to such transgressions. We are continuing to see important, necessary, and completely justified protests over racial injustice fueled by that very anger. But replacing one tyranny with another does not solve the problems, it merely gives them a new coat of paint.
Genuine sustainable change takes time. It is messy, uncomfortable, and the best possible results are ones which find the most amount of satisfaction for the most amount of people. No answer can ever make everybody happy, nor should it only make one group entirely happy.
Assessment of culpability takes time. It requires investigation, clarification, and understanding of all relevant facts and context. Accusations should be taken seriously but proper process and assessment need to be given the necessary time. The person being accused may well be guilty but we cannot possibly know that within the first few hours after word of an accusation is first posted on social media.
Left or Right, compassionate or moralizing, whatever direction an ideology leans they are all capable of being taken to extremes and once that has happened they end up doing far more harm than good, in tragic irony all too often the very harm they first set out to oppose.
Intolerance is the sign post. When we cease to listen, when there is no room for process or conversation or context or pursuit of genuine understanding then even the most pure, compassionate, and noble of ideologies has become swept up in extremism and into the realm of tyranny.