Keep On Truckin’
During college, I worked as a salesperson in the hardware department of a national chain store where I encountered many of the earthier, blue collar clientele. I found myself waiting on a woman one day who was in her 50’s, missing multiple teeth, smelling strongly of liquor, and presenting an all around haggard appearance. Her husband was making his rounds, unassisted, and so she became my best friend, chatting me up at my cash register. After telling several unsolicited and rather crude jokes involving gas and other nocturnal processes, she managed to steer the conversation to a discussion of pickup trucks – in particular, Ford and Chevy. She proclaimed very matter-of-factly that on their side of the street it was “Ford Country” (her eyes beaming with pride), while on the opposite side it was “Chevy Country” (Annie, grab your gun!)… With no thought to the more than 200 million total vehicles in the United States, or of the dozens of manufacturers producing them, she asked me with utter sincerity, “Which one do you like???” I barely had the heart to tell her I drove a Volkswagen…
Amusing, though this was, it remains so deeply representative of the popular political ethos and of its central flaw that laughter might give way to tears. The fundamental way in which the left-right paradigm is “false” is that this left-to-right tracking reduces the political spectrum to a single lateral (side-to-side) axis in a one-dimensional model. Congratulations, your political will and your government just became one of two pickup trucks. So, go grab your showgirl mudflaps, and let’s head to the ballot box, Uncle Daddy. Or not. If you’re like me, you might prefer your decisions to have a modicum more choice than that of a turn signal. Maybe we could do better for ourselves if we adopted the model the Founders used when considering how the world worked as they set about crafting the Constitution. It’s just a thought.
The Founders’ Spectrum
It’s worth underscoring that while the idea of “left-wing” and “right-wing” were in use in the Founder’s time (the twin terms originating from European parliamentary seating positions where the left was occupied by radical communistic parties and the right by militant/fascistic ones), the definitions of their respective “liberal” and “conservative” counterpart labels have been a moving target over time and, in modern usage, the words have become so vague as to make them increasingly meaningless, if not utterly useless. Instead, the Founders viewed everything pertaining to government, the law, the powers of elected officials and the execution, thereof, as existing along an axis of liberty to tyranny. In this model, less government = greater liberty, the caveat being that, taken to the extreme, a total lack of government leads to total anarchy. Conversely, more government = less liberty and, in its extreme, total tyranny ultimately follows.
This is not to say that left-right issues were of no concern whatsoever, but the question of liberty vs. tyranny was demonstrably the more important dimension. Applying both dimensions, the reality is that the political spectrum is, at the very least, a two-dimensional, bi-axial model. Using a two axis approach, the model becomes a circular spectrum of four equal quadrants, intersected by both axes – creating a field in which philosophies and ideologies can be positioned. The diagram below borrows extensively from two related diagrams I encountered online and combines several other sources, showing an interpretation of the bi-axial model with several ideologies applied (click to enlarge):
The Founders understood the liberty-centric model of government to address a most important truth which they held concerning their fellow man: The natural state of the individual is one of being free and self-determined. Collectively, when any type of institutional organization or government is applied to a society, both the corrupt and even the well-meaning will tend to subjugate others, rise to the top of the system, and concentrate in positions of power. Their goal, therefore, was not merely to manage the sway between the social flavors of the day, but to guard and maximize the essential liberties of the individual, while minimizing the potential for the gravity of tyranny to take hold and its tendency towards totalitarianism. The balancing point between all four poles was considered to be well nearer the liberty end of the central axis and very near center on the left-right axis, so that only the minimum required government ever be permitted to act upon otherwise sovereign persons. This view is expressed in no more a succinct way than in Thomas Paine’s belief, “That government is best which governs least.” On this key principle, they judged all things.
Goals vs. Methods
This is a good spot to draw attention to a key difference between the two axes and, consequently, why they ought to never be confused, used singularly, or in place of the other. The liberty-tyranny axis defines a goal or result of government. The left-right axis describes a type of method or device in achieving the former. Our current system has created nothing less than a huge majority of our population of 307 million people all arguing over the how part of the equation (albeit, using only a two-choice solution), and rendered largely blind to the what and where of the matter. Stated differently, we’ve all embarked on a road trip together and are emphatically shouting whether to take the highway or the country road, but have forgotten to inquire as to the destination. And because so many of us are not attuned to the destination – be it liberty or tyranny – our leaders can take us anywhere and seldom will we notice the difference. And in this fugue state, we become utterly unable to recognize the near-naked continuity of agenda between the left and right when, despite all the hype about “liberal this” and “conservative that”, the system moves as a whole in a steady direction – a fact that, when noticed, ought to clue us into the falsehood of the paradigm to begin with. More on the topic of continuity of agenda in an upcoming post… or several.
Many modern political scientists assert that an even more robust, multi-variate model of the spectrum which includes political, economic, and social dimensions should be adopted, and a simple internet search yields numerous illustrations of these alternatives to tickle your political brains. While I would encourage everyone to consider some of these models insofar as we need to be aware of the “other” dimensions of gravitas, I’d equally caution against those seemingly “socially aware” models which use complexity to simply draw the spectrum right back into the same old, tired, left-right rut. I would argue that for the purposes of escaping this paradigm trap, the liberty-tyranny model serves as the best set of bolt-cutters we can hope for. In my mind, there’s plenty of time to tackle real left-right issues and their social implications after we get our heads screwed on straight with regard to liberty. Let’s get the oxygen mask pumping air into the lungs of the Republic before we start rescue breathing on every societal ill that plagues us.
I’m Feeling Flushed
One last “ah-ha” feature of the model is to illustrate that a deviation too far in either direction along the left-right axis – be it fully left toward Socialism or fully right toward Corporatism – will catch the same sweeping current towards tyranny. This subtle aspect of the traditional left-right paradigm is no less true for ultra-left neoliberals than it is for ultra-right neoconservatives and, in fact, the closer the two descend toward the tyranny end of the axis, the closer they are in proximity and the more blurred the substantive distinction between them becomes. If we’re being flushed down the same toilet to tyranny, does it really matter if we circle the bowl predominantly on the left as opposed to the right side? Given gravity’s universal effect, I’d rather spend my time eliminating my turd status than arguing over the quality of the porcelain beneath me.
It All Falls Apart
With increasing frequency, however, we see examples when the false system fails and its best efforts come up short in creating the pre-fab Boolean reality it so desperately seeks to propagate. Countless examples abound (and I intend to cover more of them in future installments), so I’ll merely cite one example which has always been obvious to me – that being the mainstream media’s coverage of anything relating to the 9/11 Truth movement. Regardless of your opinion on this topic, even a five year old could recognize the discontinuity and double-think emanating from the squawk box, just as the child from the famous tale could recognize that the Emperor was wearing no clothes. Tune into “conservative” news sources like Fox News, Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh and they’ll tell you that 9/11 Truthers are a “left-wing fringe element”. Tune into “liberal” media outlets like MSNBC, with talking heads ranging from Chris Matthews to Rachel Maddow, and they claim that this same cadre of activists are “right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists”. Well, which is it guys? Help me out here, Dave Grohl: “One of these things is not like the other… ”
At the very least, this system is a manipulative and mind-numbing one, truncating discourse to neatly fit into Box A or Box B, with nary a dangling chad. This force-fitting of ideas and limiting of our conversation in the face of so many complexities which demand to be parsed out is really a surreptitious denial of our choice as much as it is our speech because, as Orwell reckons it in 1984 (via Winston Smith’s reading of Goldstein’s Book of The Brotherhood), “There is no way for discontent to become articulate.” So long as we buy into the paradigm served up by the system and its lap dog media hounds, we become useful idiots who perpetuate the very lie that keeps us servile and distracted from truly bringing change to the system.