The death of the left right paradigm

In short, most people see the UK’s left wing as kind, caring, interested in changing things and a little bit anti-establishment, unlike the right wing who are seen as their polar opposite. The further left or right you are the more extreme these positions are supposed to become. The theory is that this line, from left to right, is supposed to encapsulate all the different points of view which can be held by subjects of Her Majesty the Queen in the year 2013AD, hence the term “political spectrum”. To think people in years to come won’t find this a little absurd is, to me, incredible.

A paradigm is a way of thinking and, like fashions, they come and go. Recently I witnessed possibly one of the most interesting exchanges I’ve ever seen on the BBC’s Question Time programme. Big Issue founder John Bird had been advocating investment in Northern mining communities when he was questioned about his political leanings by a perplexed Johnathan Dimbleby. Bird’s answer was interrupted by the irrepressible responses it provoked and he stuttered a little under the pressure. Even so, he reminded me of a woman nervously going out on the town in a daring new dress provoking both laughter and wolf-whistles. I describe it as fully as possible here but it’s worth locating it on iPlayer and watching it in full if you can (10th Jan, 11 minutes in):
“I thought, I thought, you once said you were a Tory?” asks Dimbleby.

“I am, uh, this is so interesting, um, you get, you get, somebody quotes a little bit. I am a working class Marxist, uh, Tory with socialist,” here Bird was interrupted by titters from Dimbleby, “- uh, socialist, liberal leanings which means to say -” laughter rippled out from Dimbleby to the rest of the panel and parts of the audience but as reaction set in suddenly supportive whoops and cheers echoed back from the public audience, “I find it incredibly difficult to fit into left or right, because, like most people, they’re left on some things and right on others”.

There in its most favoured context, a broadcast studio, the left-right paradigm entered its death throes. I suspect it will continue to exist in a media context for some years hence but make no mistake few people in the real world believe it anymore. Part of me wonders if they ever did.

One way you can tell a paradigm is on its way out is when they can be apparently demolished in someone else’s mind with only a few words. Our society is evolving and this process has been dramatically speeded up by the multiple perspectives offered to people by the internet. I went online and began to tweet:

I don’t know the tweeter in question but his open mindedness is to be applauded. He now fits into the growing number of people who reject such labels, are prepared to think for themselves and will consider issues on their own merit. Furthermore, it’s not just obscure internet bloggers and tweeters who make up our number, the comedian Chris Rock puts it well:
“We all got a gang mentality. Republicans are f—ing idiots. Democrats are f—ing idiots. Conservatives are idiots and liberals are idiots. Anyone who makes up their mind before they hear the issue is a f—ing fool. Everybody, nah, nah, nah, everybody is so busy wanting to be down with a gang! I’m a conservative! I’m a liberal! I’m a conservative! It’s bull—t! Be a f—ing person. Listen. Let it swirl around your head. Then form your opinion. No normal decent person is one thing.”
– Chris Rock, 'Never Scared'
Twitter again:

That these labels have survived at all is a testament to how incredibly useful they are to people who want to herd the human cattle. Firstly, dogmatic left wing and right wing “leaders” use these terms to rally the troops without tackling the detail of an idea. As I mentioned before, those on the left identify as being more ‘caring’, this usually equates to them considering themselves to be more morally good than their enemies on the right. So, if you’re on the left, you can easily frame a debate in a moral context whereby it’s a straight fight between the goodies and baddies of your mythological childhood. In my experience the right wing are most usually pleased if you can frame the debate as being one of intelligence versus stupidity or ignorance [1]. Leaders also find the terms useful when accounting for failure, ‘the Government isn’t right wing (or left wing) enough’.

Secondly, these terms have risen to prominence, since their inception during the French revolution, in the context of the mass media. I think it’s no co-incidence that they incubated into an established paradigm alongside the notion that the media can send out messages to people which are “impartial”. What most people mean by the word “impartial” is that there is a level of balance to any particular debate and that all reasonable perspectives are represented equally. This is easily done if there are only two points of view and they are both in opposition to each other. This is a lot trickier if you reject the notion of left vs right. I suspect that’s why Dimbleby tittered, to him these ideas are probably unfamiliar and likely very threatening to his way of thinking.

On the back of my old BBC pass it says this:


TRUST is the foundation of the BBC, we are independent, impartial and honest”

I suspect that in the future our publicly funded broadcaster will have to admit that the only aspect of their promise on trust that can realistically be maintained is honesty. No one is independent of their own perspective and as a result the opinions to which they are partial will always become apparent in the things they do. It’s a significant challenge for intellects paid far more money that I ever have been but, as you will have realised, it’s only one of the immediate consequences we face as we watch the inevitable death of the left right paradigm.

Nick Margerrison.


Popular Posts