the false split between The Left and The Right

there is a retreat of religion world-wide, but also a rise of rightwing extremism. how to square these, and how to find common ground between Conservatives and Liberals who treat each other like aliens. and yes, why this is a necessary thing to do.

by HA!Man / 31 August 2020

the world is split. especially America. perhaps we are split, in part, because we still take our cues from the United States, which is not so united at all.

much of the world is split between left and right. the Conservatives and the Liberals. split in a bad way, so bad, that “liberal” is a curse word for conservatives and being conservative a sign of depravity to “liberals”.

in many conservative circles – a la Fox News and its kind (and also a la my own past as a conservative white in South Africa) – liberalism represents everything that is immoral, goes wrong and emanates from a dark, hellish and evil-minded place. to attack a position or thought you do not like, just label it with “liberal” and case is closed. liberals are unhinged and will lead the world all the way to communism and godlessness. “and we all know what that looks like”. remember the Soviet Union?

in the mind of liberals, while the position is one of inclusivity, you still don’t go near tin pot dictators and religious fundamentalists – the “deplorables”, those who cling to the past and are intellectually “backward”. the “Apartheid types”.

now throw a fast spreading virus into this split-up non-mix and see what happens. the virus does not know left from right, conservative from liberal. it simply goes for humans. somehow, these differences that we experience as being of such importance, that colour our views of one another so intensely, are not picked up by Corona and its little gift of COVID-19. you fail to work together to stop its lightning spread, you court disaster. a disaster like 180 000 mostly preventable deaths. and a crashing economy that could have done rather better under the circumstances, had you had the ability to bridge the false split between left and right.

false? people stake their lives on fighting the “other side”. how can I state that this conflict is a false one?

what stimulated my thinking on this very old topic, was reading on the trends regards religious worship throughout the world. in short, religion is shrinking again. the 20th century advance of secularism have been halted since the late nineties, in reaction to crass materialism and building insecurity towards the turn of the millennium. then came 9/11 and the Bush era, giving a further boost to a return to religiosity, especially in the so called third world, with armies of Christian missionaries, backed by lots of dollars, waving in to convert large numbers of people who aspired to western life-styles.

but this wave has floundered, and over the last decade. religion, and support for it, has resumed its longer term retreat, also in poorer countries where it formerly experienced a boom.

why? in societal terms, one of the primary functions of the traditional world religions, throughout its roughly 3000 year life-span, was to prevent population numbers from falling. this was needed as it’s been a tough time for civilization – the rise of empires with all their wars and frequent famines, the inability to contain epidemics, low food quality and high rates of infant mortality. the survival and prosperity of societies under these circumstances much depended on making babies. and in order to make a lot of babies, you need women to be at home and teams of loyal men to be out and about to sustain livelihoods. in other words, you need monogamy. and you don’t need homosexuality (wasted seed). or feminism. what you need above all is strict and powerful male gods to legitimize this rather restrictive order. religion thrives when there is scarcity.

looking at the last 200 years, capitalists like to point at the material advances humanity as a whole experienced. and while capitalism also brought extreme inequality, the bottom line is true: we live easier than ever before. babies survive at a much higher rate. and the developing world has been catching up – developing indeed, especially over the last decade. the point being, that one of the main pillars of traditional religion – the subjugation of woman to focus themselves on motherhood – has less need when it becomes easy enough for babies, and everyone else, to survive, even thrive – materially, that is.

so there’s the implied link again: scarcity and religion.

what does anyone generally do when things are getting scarce? you simply start to conserve. you don’t waste. another link: scarcity and conservation. and what about the fact that wherever we see a rise in conservatism, we also see a rise in religious fervour? well, that attests to the inherent conservatism of traditional religions: it functions as a check on behaviour in times of scarcity.

conservatism – religion – scarcity.

any problem with that? well, to repeat, you would be pretty stupid not to start being conservative when things are getting scarce. and likewise, when you have plenty, you’ll be equally stupid not to become liberal by sharing more freely what you don’t need with the hungry person next to you, who might otherwise come in the night an rob you out of desperation. so, anyone who is not stupid, will know that there are times to be liberal and generous, and times to be conservative and competitive. and most times, to follow a wise mix of both these attitudes, or behavioral strategies.

since when then, did we get stuck on this thing of someone being “A liberal” or “A conservative”? a society split between “pure” Liberals and “pure” Conservatives? we did this since we started giving up the present in favour of The Past, and The Future.

OK. That’s a jump. I know. But bear with me.

Another stimulus, thinking about all of this, came from a movie about the reign of Pol Pot in Cambodia. The time of the Khmer Rouge – to me a better example of extreme leftism, than Soviet Communism. Just because it was such a localized and relatively short-lived experiment one can more easily frame. Oh man, it was bad. Millions were killed. Like with Nazism. But it was not Nazism. Nazism is extreme rightwing. What’s the difference between rightwing terror and leftwing terror? Not much, of course. But they are “right” and “left” for a reason. Here’s the thing: the Right looks to the past. And the Left looks to the future. The extreme right wants to make the Past great again. The extreme left sees a future Utopia – the “final stage of history”. The Right wants to conserve and restore what was. The Left wants to abolish what was and recreate society.

Now, in times of real scarcity, of course you won’t spend a lot of time trying to change things. You need all the stability you can get in order to focus on survival. This is why communities living in harsher or more remote areas and conditions are naturally more conservative: desert people more conservative than people living on fertile soils; farming people more conservative than townspeople; mountain people more conservative than plains people; the drier South of Europe and the US more conservative than the wetter North.

Nazism was born from Germany’s extreme scarcity following the harsh terms of the Versailles peace treaty, after WWI. It probably would have remained a fringe movement, but then the Great Depression arrived. Another scarcity. But were things so scarce as to justify the horrors that the Nazis unleashed? No. Not at all. Were resources in Cambodia so abundant to justify the horrors of an enforced utopia by that country’s communists? No. Not at all. The actual circumstances of these two countries. at the time, was not so extreme as to naturally lead people to behave in extreme and inhumane ways.

Why then?

This is where what I call the false split, comes in. Somehow, we are able to create a sense of scarcity or abundance, where it is not. And in this way lead ourselves to behave unnaturally. To pit ourselves against each other unnecessarily.

Facebook. From time to time I am hounded by conservatives who believe I am “A liberal”. No matter what I argue, with common sense, logic, backing up statements by reputable sources – the basic things one needs in order to engage in meaningful conversation. No matter. Once I am marked as “A liberal”, every word, every sentence I utter will be turned around and around until it can be twisted into the “liberal” box. And of course, once that is accomplished, no need to listen, to consider, to engage, to argue anymore. HE IS A LIBERAL. End of story.

Now, I am not “A liberal”. I am a human being who is liberal when I can, but who is also conservative when I need to be. I am very conservative when it comes to nature. Preserve nature! And money, as I don’t have much. I am liberal in creativity, because I do have a talent that feeds me with ongoing inspirations. I am more liberal towards people in a one-to-one situation. But more conservative in group environments. I am liberal as to South Africa’s past over the last century. But pretty conservative as to the deeper shared history we have in this country. I like liberally-minded people who I find being more generous than I am. I admire that. I like more conservative people who gives me a sense of continuity and a settledness that often leads to good humour. I dislike it when people who describe themselves as liberal are out to relativize everything to the hilt – age, gender, culture, race.. I “proudly conservative” people who blindly follow what they believe to be unquestionable Authority and are often unable to process new perspectives. Yes, politically speaking, I am can be more liberally-minded. I often see more abundance where others see scarcity. And in this I admit that I can sometimes be wrong. I can be over-optimistic about the character of some people and the prospects for the future. But I am not “A liberal”. Thank you very much.

The false split comes about when we do not look at each other in the present tense anymore, but as “has-beens” or “bleary-eyed idealists”. In reality, most of us are complicated mixes of both sides. A false conservatism is a conservatism that glorifies the past (or by extension, the status quo) – a past that has never been glorious by itself. A false liberalism is a liberalism that idealizes the future, that fixes the future into a state of Nirvana, while no future has ever delivered anything like that. Once you start living in either the past or future, the present gets messed with. once you falsely presume to live in conservative or liberal bubbles, a dangerous virus comes along and has a feast. Once conservatism and liberalism become ideologies, a society loses its grip on what is actually scarce and actually abundant. It loses the middle ground.

Today we witness the rise of conservatism in a number of prominent countries. This seems to go against the fact of the overall betterment of people’s lives and the resultant decline of religion. But the spread of material wealth is still not accompanied by a broadening and strengthening of meaningful political participation, especially on the global playing field of the multinational corporations. The corporate kings have run far ahead of the political kings and queens in turning the world into a global village. Through this they created a scarcity of a political nature. And so, unscrupulous leaders of dubious character have stepped in to sell a false message of a return to the so-called glories and securities of the past. They typically exploit insecurities to generate false fears, to bolster a false sense of scarcity. Fears, like the fear of immigrants, the fear of the Other, the fear of disappearing into a global melting pot. The fear of losing spiritual identity altogether. And it certainly does not help that the same capitalists who brought so much material advance, did it in a way as to exasperate inequality. Those at the bottom do have it better, but those at the top have gone through the ceiling. Their power is way out of bounds and is a major factor behind the corruption of the political sphere. The most critical problem with this inequality is that it weakens the middle. If the middle class suffers, the economic cookie crumbles. And if the centre in politics dry out, the split occurs and the extremes gain.

The communists under Pool Pot kept shouting at the people that everyone is equal. They commanded them to leave the cities, go live in the countryside and all be labourers – the “honourable” way to live. all needed to be loyal to The Party, the party that ensures that there is equality for all. they had to take their clothes and wash it in berry juice so all clothes could look the same blue-grey. truly uni-formed. and guns abounded. control control control! all for the Glorious Future. temples raised to the ground. dissidents killed. what struck me was the goofiness of these militias running around, suddenly knowing all about reality and what is best for everyone. fools. and young. (the right is old, the left is young). and make no mistake: there is joy in this, joy for those who give themselves blindly over to the foolishness of fixing the future. singing loudly together. marching steadfastly, spying on brothers and mothers, charging in battle. the silent majority hums along. the brave defects. one fine hell created by humans themselves as they try to create heaven on earth. oh, and nothing is more telling than the musical depravity of those songs they create. those songs! my my my..

Funny (not funny at all) how all of this leftwing craziness looks so much like the extreme right. both have the military, the guns, the control. the out-casting and the killing of those who dare to betray The Cause. and the songs. again! Marching Nazis and marching Commies. It is as if all that enforced neatness is sucking out the last drop of any nuanced melody and moving harmony in music. all that is left is a cocky mechanical bird, squeaking along. The difference between the two, again, is this: one for the past and the other for the future. one vertical (hierarchy) the other horizontal (equality). abstract (looking to heaven) and concrete (looking to earth). Both geared to self-destruct. Because that is the reality of any extreme: it cannot last. What lasts are the devastating consequences.

The typical Liberal-Conservative split today is not that extreme, of course. But the longer it remains split and eats away at the middle, the closer it edges to insanity. This is already evident on the streets of America. While the majority are peacefully protesting for a restoration of the middle and for a society to become present again – present to the needs of all its people and their possibilities, extremists exploit the charged atmosphere, aggravating the situation, leading to more extreme reactions and violent clampdowns.

There is only one way to restore sense and a decently operating society. It is not by the one side defeating the other side. It is for all to strengthen the middle. The political “miracle” of the Mandela era was all about this: strengthening the middle. Putting down weapons to come and sit around the table and talk. Extremists cannot talk. Oppressor and oppressed had to face each other in truth, seeking reconciliation. We strengthen the middle when we remind ourselves that no one is purely left or purely right. That we all need conservativeness and liberalness inside ourselves in measures appropriate for specific times and places. And because no one is purely this or that, we have a commonality, a shared humanity, that should show up this split as a false one.

There are leaders and societies today that shows how this can be done, and that it can be done. Where left and right do not disappear, but engage, and accepts a common destiny. Where they collaborate where needed, especially in the face of a common threat, like a pandemic. Where they serve as an effective check on each other: the more conservative holding the more liberal back in the face of actual scarcity, and the more liberal kicking the more conservative out of their comfort zones in the face of actual abundance. But you cannot collaborate with someone you do not know. And this is the trick: that we all need to recognize both sides in ourselves, so that those who are for natural reasons more conservative, does not experience the more liberal person as an alien, but as a manifestation of a tendency, a feeling, a predisposition you know and recognize within yourself too. It boils down to strengthening the middle ground within each and everyone of us.

The rise of the Right in certain powerful countries today is a call to look at where the actual scarcity lies, and what is causing it. At the same time there is also a danger that this rise can conflagrate into new Pol Pot or Nazi-like disasters. With all the challenges the world is facing today, we really do not need another powder keg to explode in our faces.

The false split is also debilitating. When it comes to our planet under distress from over-exploitation, we all need to be more conservative. And when it comes to the fact that mother earth can still carry the billions of us with food and warmth, we all need to be more liberal. A split humanity will never slow down climate change effectively, or overcome the toxic gap divide between rich and poor. The retreat of traditional religions shows the retreat of scarcities of the past. But the rise in autocratic regimes shows that we still don’t know how to share our common resources equitably.

This is a complicated issue. I don’t want to pretend to have the last word on it. I just know that no bird gets flying with a right wing or a left wing only.

Too liberal, and you will believe we can all work together in complete peace and harmony. Nope. Not gonna happen. We have never been no angels. But too conservative, you will believe that it is OK to shoot down your neighbour, arguing that if you don’t shoot first, you will be the one who gets shot – as in Winner takes All, as in Survival of the Fittest. Nope. Not gonna happen either. Humans are by nature actually more altruistic than that. The truth lies messily somewhere in between. It is in-between-ish. Truth is not a dead thing. It lives. Like an electric current, it is activated by the tensions created by opposing poles. It is not the one pole or the other. Nor is it the fusing of polarities into a neutrality. You need to keep finding truth for each changing day. The middle ground is a dynamic space. Yes, to find this middle ground and to maintain it is not easy. But lessons from a little virus might just help, so we can more clearly see where the fault lines lie.

We are not the earth. And we won’t end up in heaven. When it comes to our political battlefields, we need to seek out the birds that can fly. Those whose wings still know how to work together.

A split weakens. But the spark that gives life lies in connection.


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4 thoughts on “the false split between The Left and The Right

  1. Ah Francois this is profound. Thank you for your deep thoughts. I feel myself stepping into the vast, wide open space of the middle where I can breathe again. A frontier where we can all live together, forge new paths and share the abundant resources amongst us all. The American pioneers were extremely resourceful and would make do with whatever the earth provided. The indigenous ones everywhere have demonstrated that it is possible for humanity to live in balance with all things. In the essence of what they have always known, lies a roadmap to our freedom. Not that we will necessarily become hunter/gatherers again but let’s find our way to the deep reverence for our planet and all who live here. That is a huge shift from the mega-consumption we know and live in America, but we move that way with every shift in consciousness we make, day by day. There is plenty of room in the middle to fit the millions of us who yearn for a better way. We start with a new bottom line, Love rather than money, takes us to a new paradigm, as we regain our center.


    • Thank you for your thoughts in return, Robin! Indeed it is my hope that as a human collective we do grow to become more mature – maturity as the ability to reconcile and manage opposites. And with you i would want to believe that this is what the majority of humanity ultimately wants. Keep shining your light, as I will do mine!


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