WORD DUSTBIN 2: ‘LEFT’ AND ‘RIGHT’
In every newspaper and website the political squabbling drags on, and two words are largely guilty of miring it in the muck. In every newspaper and website the political squabbling drags on, and two words are largely guilty of miring it in the muck.
The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ are infamously the most meaningless terms in the universe. As useful as ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ are in outer space. They refer to nothing but themselves, and anything else they describe becomes just as meaningless. This makes them supremely unsuitable as political language, where clarity is critical.
Almost any terms are clearer. They only serve to prevent clear political analysis. Nobody can explain the difference between their ‘left’ and ‘right’ hands, let alone identify marker-posts on the modern political spectrum. Not to mention erasing the millennia of emotive associations which they have acquired, since the Last Supper – at least.
They are useful merely as names for the two ends of a false, bilaterally-symmetrical spectrum. One which conveniently equates fascism with socialism. But politics is not symmetrical. ‘Reactionary’ and ‘Progressive’ are at least real words which make an attempt at description.
It is possible for political debate to focus on the real political divide between ‘progressive’ and ‘reactionary’ values. The line is still fairly clear between those who believe in the distribution of power and wealth, and those who believe in its centralisation. Between equality and privilege. By these relatively objective standards, ‘Left’ and ‘right’ are pure gibberish. A childish anthropomorphic fantasy of a political world which can be balanced symmetrically in either hand. In which fascism is conveniently just the same as socialism, and Stalin is a socialist.
The origins of the terms in the French Revolution have been blurred by the requirement that socialism and fascism be depicted as embodying the same values, dedicated to the same goals. The effects of this delusion are everywhere from the pages of the Telegraph to the humblest blog.
As a species, we do like symmetry, especially when it revolves around us. The medieval geocentric universe reflected this need, and just like the ‘Left – Right’ political model, was obsolete, absurd, misleading and a shackle on free thought and discussion.
It is merely co-incidental, I suppose, that ‘Right’ also happens to mean ‘correct’. Its disciples are literally more ‘adroit’. And that ‘left’ is ‘sinister’, ‘gauche’, ‘cackhanded’ and very wrong. The direction of the Damned in all Christian iconography. Christ sits on God’s Right Hand. Judas sat on Christ’s left. The penitent thief was crucified on Christ’s right hand. The list is endless.
So even the argument that symmetry = objectivity does not hold water. Belief in the desirability of the egalitarian possibilities of technological advance is demonised; whereas the morbid, neurotic need to use the past as validation for an existing hierarchy is made normal.
At times like these, we should know what the words we use mean and do.
See other negative associations:
‘left behind’. ‘left-over’.