Monday, June 16, 2014

When Being Right is Wrong

What is it about right wing politics that seems to attract such abrasive, self-righteous, know-it-all personalities? I’m not saying that everyone on the right of politics fits this description. Nor am I claiming that you won’t find this type of personality on the left of politics. Nevertheless, there seems to be a disproportionate number of prominent people with this personality type on the right of politics, at least in Australia.

This observation is brought on by the episode of Q&A on the ABC last night. On the panel last night there was a particularly obnoxious man, professor of something, somewhere or other. He happened to be Canadian, although an Australian citizen as far as I could tell. Arrogant, loud, opinionated and humourless—all the characteristics to which I am referring. Naturally, he represented the right wing of the political spectrum.

The type to which I am referring includes, in Australia, the ‘shock jocks’, such as Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, whom I have no hesitation in naming, as well of a bunch of others, slightly less well known, but who aspire to similar ‘importance’ and notoriety. Are there any such prominent media personalities with this same abrasive personality on the left of the spectrum in Australia? Possibly there are, but I struggle to name them. Most of the more obviously left-leaning people I can think of tend to have one thing that is sorely lacking in these abrasive people: a sense of humour.

Any claim or generalisation of the kind I am making here is, of course, open to dispute. I want to re-iterate that I am by no means suggesting that all people on the right of politics exhibit this personality trait, or that these traits are absent among people on the left of politics. Nevertheless, at least anecdotally, many of the noisiest, best known and more popular right wing spokespersons do fit the profile. And, conversely, many of the most abrasive personalities among political commentators are found on the right of politics.

I am wondering if this has its origins in the Social Darwinism in which right wing politics has its roots. Social Darwinism transfers (inappropriately some would argue) biological Darwinism’s notion of the survival of the fittest in the natural world to the human social world. Can we not hear this in recent right wing rhetoric in Australia: talk about the ‘leaners’ and ‘lifters’, about pulling one’s weight and sharing the burden; in popular talk about lazy dole-bludgers; is it not present in the ‘American Dream’ that anyone can rise to the top? The right wing of politics is all about competition (both economic and social), about victory and ‘the cream’ rising to the top; all of which (in some unexplained way) is supposed to benefit society. The left wing of politics, it seems to me, is more about fairness, about helping those who are down, and not apportioning blame to those who are struggling. Whereas the right wing of politics is about the effort of the individual, who seems to be omnipotent in this model, the left wing recognises that we are social animals, in this together; that circumstances can, and often do, stand in the way of the American (or Australian) dream; that not everyone has the same opportunities; and, perhaps most importantly, that this is not their fault. It is not because of weakness or lack of effort on their part; and if there is weakness and lack of effort, this is in part, at least, due to circumstances that are beyond the purview of the individual.

Perhaps the arrogance and aggression that I see on the right wing of politics arises out of this. Perhaps it is because the right wing of politics sees life in society as a competition, if not a war. A war requires soldiers, it demands aggression, it abhors weakness. A war also requires an authoritative hierarchy that ‘knows best’, that sees the ‘big picture’. A war divides people into leaders and (blind) followers. Leaders in this war are proud of their boldness in making the ‘tough decisions’; they are willing to accept collateral damage. Perhaps it is also because some of these abrasive, arrogant and aggressive personalities already see themselves as the victors, and as the fittest, in evolutionary terms. They are the cream.

People like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and Professor something-or-other on Q&A last night represent the logical extreme of right wing thinking. What, I wonder, would be the logical extreme of left-wing thinking? Would it be a bunch of stoned hippies, hugging trees and living in communes? Which of these extremes, do you suppose, is capable of the most harm? I know which I would prefer to know (and to be).

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