How to be a progressive thinker in the 21st century

Suppose we live in an ideologically polarised world – let’s call it ‘left’ v. ‘right’ – where free speech is the norm. The ‘left’ people are basically about humans changing their default ways of being. The ‘right’ people are basically about humans sticking to their default ways of being. Which scenario do you think will result in a better world? (a) Let the right make outrageous claims that the left corrects, or (b) Let the left make outrageous claims that the right corrects? The answer based on my reading on history is pretty clear: (b).

Let me put the point more bluntly: The value-added for the left from the free expression of ideological differences comes precisely from the right spontaneously doing the left’s copy-editing and fact-checking. But it doesn’t work the other way round. Whenever people on the left attack right-wing ideas and policies, they all too often fall back on opprobrium – bad faith, bad motives, etc. This is pretty useless to the right and its supporters, and so not surprisingly most left-wing criticism falls on deaf ears. As long as people continue tolerate how things have been, that by itself provides support for the right. In contrast, whenever people on the right attack left-wing ideas and policies, they usually bring up so-called ‘facts’—which, of course, may be incorrect or misleading — but nevertheless serve as an incentive for leftists to smarten up their act.

We on the left need to learn that the right serves a very useful function, namely, to keep us ‘honest’ in the sense required by politics. That is, it forces us to take seriously that people may disagree with us for reasons other than their not having heard the message sufficiently often (or, worse, are simply too stupid or self-interested to understand it).

From this standpoint, the larger background fact that the left-right divide is dissolving as the main points on the political compass should be a source of significant concern to those interested in a future rational politics. Who will be checking whom?


Categories: Rethinking The World

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1 reply »

  1. There’s lots of good fact-checking that goes on by left-wing academics. And the old left-right dissolving stuff is a bit old no? Even Ed Miliband’s soft populism with continued neoliberal economics has opened up a slight gap between the two main parties even if it will have little effect on the general economic direction of the country. Sorry but I don’t really understand the point of this article…

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