‘Right’ versus ‘left’: not a telling distinction

Many people are having a difficult time deciding how to vote, because it seems like we are having to decide between bad and worse….a discouraging proposition at best.  We see the ‘left’ as wanting to raise taxes and we can see how this will cripple the economy – and make us poorer.  We see the ‘right’ as ‘in bed’ with big business, not concerned with the well-being of the little guy, namely us.  And the ‘middle’ – we have seen the corruption there and it turns our stomachs…

What to do?

Big part of the problem is that we have been lookning at ‘politics’ as ‘left’ and ‘right’.  But, that only captures one aspect of the political spectrum, and not a very good one at that.

We need to re-define the way we view political party platforms and policies, but according to a different set of criteria.  Namely:  individualism versus collectivism. 

Collectivism is correct in recognizing that together, we can achieve more that each one of us could alone.  We should pool all our resources, and ‘the collective’ decides how we use them together in the best way. 

Of course, this is true – to a degree. 

The problem is that when ‘everything’ is decided by the collective, there is no longer such a thing as an individual – only ‘member of the collective’.  Thus, the good of the collective is placed above the good of any member.  The voice of the collective is placed above the voice of any member.  The will of the collective is placed above the will of any member.

The difficulty with this is obvious. 

There is an old saying that the ‘collective intelligence’ of any group of people is defined by the average intelligence of each person in the group – divided by two

‘Collective decisions’ are usually stupid – there is no denying it.  And in a setup where individuals are not heard, nobody can sound a warning against stupid decisions or doing counterproductive things.  To the contrary – anyone attempting to sound a warning will be perceived as opposing the collective and mercilessly torn to bits by a collective which transforms itself into the mob it inevitably becomes.

Individualism is correct in recognizing that every single one of us has a will and the ability to use it.  It places the individual as the ‘responsible’ ‘decision-making’ unit.  Sometimes, individuals may come together to pool their efforts and resources, but these are all voluntary arrangements and any individual has the right to opt out of them at any time.  In other words, there is no coersion to pool one’s resources with others.

Again, there is an obvious difficulty with ‘total individualism’.

We do not live in isolation.  We may be a group of individuals, but we are still a group and, as such, need the means of acting as a group.

We are a nation, a political entity – we need to pool our resources to protect ourselves and maintain order, etc.  And if most of us contribute towards maintaing order which all enjoy, those who ‘opt out of contributing’ are getting ‘free ride’.  This sets up a bad precedent and a bad dynamic.  Eventually, the ‘free loaders’ become resented… and could become just as torn to bits as the ‘member of the collective who speaks up’ in the ‘collectivism’ example, but this time by a bunch of individuals who ‘voluntarily’ form a ‘temporary mob’.

So, what we need to do is find a balance:  to form a sufficient collective to allow us to pool our resources and achieve those things we need to do ‘together’, but still retain enough individualism to not get lost in the process.  Achieving this balance is the difficult part. 

Before you protest that these are the same distinctions as ‘right’ and ‘left’, take a moment to look at history.  Yes, it is true that traditionally, ‘left wing’ idealizes ‘collectivism’.  But, just as having a ‘red square’ does not mean that a ‘circle’ must be ‘blue’, ‘right wing’ parties can – and often do – also embody the principles of ‘collectivism’:  Nacism, for example, is perceived as being ‘right wing’ – but it is very much ‘collectivism’.   It’s long name is ‘national socialism‘ – and socialism is a form of collectivism.

Similarly, George W. Bush’s policies are more collectivist than individualist – yet he is perceived as ‘right wing’!

This was the difference between the Canadian ‘right wing’ parties:  ‘Reform Party/Canadian Alliance’ were no more ‘right wing’ than the ‘Progressive Conservative Party’.  But where Progressive Conservatives were collectivists, the Reformers were fiercely individualist.  After the parties merged, the resulting party is somewhere in between…

Yet that is the difference between the current Conervatives in Canada and the current conservatives in the US – despite the US emphasis on the individual, it is the Canadian Conservatives who are actually (and very slowly) returning some of the decisionmaking to the individuals.  THAT is why the current financial crisis sweeping the US is not nearly as bad up in Canada – there simply aren’t enough individuals who had made as bad choices as some of the groups south of the border.

OK, this IS an oversimplification – and an intentional hyperbole.  But the principle meant to be demonstrated by it is the correct one – and ONE of the factors in this. 

So, if the ‘individualist’ ways are so much better, why are most successful political parties ‘collectivist’? 

In order to succeed in the political arena, a party has to present a unified image, stand for one thing that voters across the country can recognize and identify with.  A ‘Party Brand’, if you will.  This is easily achieved with a group of people who believe their individual voices are nowhere near as important as the voice of the collective.

If you have a group of people who are fiercly individualist, this becomes much more difficult.  The term ‘herding cats’ comes to mind!  The individualist will not hesitate to speak up when the party’s policy does not reflect their personal view of something.  That is what makes them individualists!

And that is what makes the ‘individualis’ parties look disorganized, not ‘together’.  That is why it is difficult for people to figure out what they stand for. 

And THAT is why most parties that value ‘individualism’ tend to be less successful than parties made up of collectivists. 

So, when you go to vote this time around – and if you are not sure whom to pick – take a look at the policies and ideas from this, slightly different point of view:  who will allow you the most individual freedom?  Who will respect you as an individual?  Is it the right ‘balance’ you seek – or as close to it as you’d like?

Perhaps if you do, you may arrive at a decision you will be happy with.