Who is the Bigger Threat: the Right or the Left?

Here in the United States, the so-called “Red Wave” that was supposed to have crashed over our legislature and state offices on November 8, 2022 failed to transpire. Prior to the midterm election, grim warnings of rising fascism abounded. “Democracy itself”, we were repeatedly admonished, was going to be strangled by rightwing fanatics before it could die its natural death. Pair this with the dour tidings of Elon Musk purchasing Twitter and Kanye West spouting more of his increasingly deranged brand of asinine attention seeking, and the rhetoric from the left almost painted a picture of the U.S. teetering on the brink of madness, like Germany of 1933.

On the other side of the ledger, prognostications warning of the gathering whirlwind of Woke-ism and Marxism grew ever more vociferous. Schools and universities, we are warned, have been mutated and twisted into Marxist reeducation camps where children are corrupted and groomed by depraved deviants and insidious ideologues, all while leftwing censorious indignation furiously proliferates in every corner of the internet. The “Red Wave” was supposed to be a last-ditch bulwark against the rising red tide of Neo-Marxist totalitarianism. If these dire omens were to be believed, then one might be convinced that the U.S. is in the same precarious position as China in 1966.

But which of these grim narratives is true?

I envy those who can buy into the simple narrative of being the plucky good guy standing stalwart against the overwhelming darkness. It seems such a clean, simplified way of viewing the world, and one with the benefit of cloaking oneself in the righteousness of their cause. Yet, as I talked about in my pre-election post, I can’t help but plainly see how both sides are right about their ideological opponents. I read and consume content by people all over the ideological spectrum, I’ve lived in both left-leaning parts of the country (Boulder, Colorado) and right-leaning areas (southwest Michigan), my dad’s side of the family is left-leaning and my mom’s three brothers are about as conservative Christian as they come, and so I get a Rashomon effect when it comes to the political right and left here in the U.S. (probably not an impartial view of things, but at least a variegated one). From this perspective, I’ve seen people on both sides freely admit that “sure there are bad people and bad ideas on our side, but they pale in comparison to how nefarious and pernicious our enemies are.” This dire warning is meant to caution one against being too critical of one’s own side, lest they lend legitimacy to their ideological enemies, who have to be wrong even if they are right.

And so, this begs the question: I might see the ugliness of both “sides” of this political polarization, but which side is the ugliest? Surely one side is still preferable to the other, right? The lesser of two evils? Perhaps before making a verdict, it might help to point out some of the warts afflicting either side.

The Left

First, the left. I have been quite critical of the left on this blog over the years. In doing so, I’ve only touched on some of their faults. Things like cancel culture (which the left doesn’t have a monopoly on, but they certainly have the biggest market share), knee-jerk censoriousness, opposition to meritocracy, and their corruption of science are probably the faults of the left that stick out the most to me. Cancel culture and censoriousness are stifling of free thinking in their demand for strict adherence to leftwing orthodoxy. Meritocracy, while far from optimally employed, should not be jettisoned, lest we accept a lowering of standards and having rewards distributed arbitrarily or though a new paradigm of privileges (i.e., meritocracy was in reaction to the system of nobility and gentry wherein people had certain privileges based on names and bloodlines, rather than earning positions due to merit). And to me, perhaps because of my bias as a scientist, the corruption of science seems particularly perverse.

Here is the thing, though: I’m not a social conservative. I’m an atheist. I think gay people and transgender people are deserving of rights, respect, and recognition. I’m fine with sex positivity. I think prostitution and drugs ought to be legalized. I think white privilege is a real phenomenon to a certain extent. I think there is room for some amount of taking “lived experience” into account in hiring practices (how much it should matter is open to debate, but it certainly shouldn’t be the end all be all). I think climate change is real and that humans are major contributors to it (though I have strong doubts that we can do anything about it). I abhor imperialism.

The point is, I sympathize with a lot of the traditionally left-leaning causes. But I think the way they are going about their program is wrongheaded and, in the long run, damaging to their stated goals. As I’ve said in my posts about Dave Chappelle and transgender people, the way they went after him showed (A) they hadn’t even watched the whole thing, indicating that facts and nuance don’t matter to them, and (B) by attacking him they are only hurting their cause, since his special “The Closer” was a great example of someone talking about how they came around to accepting transgender people, which is something that could have spoken to a lot of people who are confused or on the fence about the issue. By attacking him, they only showed that they’re vindictive radicals who will brook nothing except immediate submission to their orthodoxy (one is not allowed to evolve in the right direction at their own pace, they are mandated to just already be at the destination; this seems to go hand-in-hand with their presentism).

On the left, a lot of people seem to be either taken in by the critical theories (CRT, queer theory, etc.), or they ignore it or deny that it’s real (or at least deny that it’s a real threat). This capitulation by the moderate left to the extremes of the left does not bode well for old school liberalism (in the U.S. sense of the term) or civil liberties. The anti-rationality and celebration of tribalism rampant within critical theories is destructive and only likely to make things worse for everyone (including those the critical theorist types purport to speak for).

The left, and the Democratic party here in the U.S. in particular, largely as a result of their Trump Derangement Syndrome, have also fully embraced war hawks and intelligence community spooks. I’ve made no secret that in 2004 I voted for John Kerry and in 2008 I voted for Barack Obama. The reason I did was because back then it was the Republican party who were cozy with the war hawks and intelligence community spooks. It amazed me how fast the Democrats lost their anti-war and pro-civil liberties stances when Obama was elected, and then how fast they ran into the arms of the hawks and spooks when Trump ran for office. They sold out principles for political expediency. And now any talk about the deep state is seen as making someone a kook, even though it’s clear for anyone to see that the intelligence community is full of self-interested liars (something the Democrats seemed to know about in the late aughts when no WMDs were actually found) who “leak” and speak to the press with information that has an obvious political bent, or their willingness to open investigations on people for political reasons. The QAnon conspiracy goes too far in the other direction (more on that below), but the newfound trust the left has for the intelligence community is quite disturbing.

The Right

Now on to the faults of the right. I’ve been critical of the right on this blog and elsewhere, though admittedly not as much as the left. This isn’t because I have any particular love for the right. The Trumpkins are clearly members of a cult of personality and are willing to go to extremes to further their ludicrous creed. The QAnon conspiracy is barking mad, and the fact that anyone takes it seriously is a dismal indictment on the depths of human irrationality.

The reason I don’t talk about the right as much is because they have no philosophy to speak of. It’s a personality cult. As such, there isn’t as much content there to really examine and evaluate. Without an at least somewhat coherent philosophy, we are left with only two fundamental things that the right can be rightly criticized for: their people and their methods. Their people are absurd, and talking about Donald Trump is boring and counterproductive. And their methods are old school political shenanigans (gerrymandering, election denial, etc.), as opposed to the left’s long march through the institutions. There just isn’t that much to say about it besides pointing to instances of people being wrong and methods being abused, and those kinds of things are already talked about ad nauseum elsewhere. Another aspect, too, is that I am in favor of maintaining religious freedom, so a lot of the hot button issues where conservative Christianity butts head with leftwing sensibilities, I often (though not always) prefer to err on the side of maintaining religious freedom (in the sense that a church or private business should be allowed to associate with whom they wish, though I don’t think there ought to be laws against gay marriage or anything like that; in other words, I still take the libertarian position on religious freedom issues).

Part of the narrative the right likes to tell themselves is that their extremism is simply a reaction to leftwing extremism. When the left is getting as bad as it is, they argue, it should be expected that a rightward push would occur. As such, those on the right are less culpable for their actions, since it is done purely out of self-preservation. Thus, to fix the problem of rightwing extremism, we must focus on leftwing extremism, because if we can get that under control then rightwing extremism will wither away. There might be something to the argument (if we buy into the narrative that rightwing extremism is primarily a response to leftwing extremism), but it doesn’t absolve rightwing conspiracy theorists and extremists. If someone kills your sibling and you hunt that person down and kill them back, you are still culpable for the crime of murder, even if you can justify it. Fighting extremism with another form of extremism will only make things worse and drags you down to the level of your opposition.

As I said above, the right lacks any meaningful content. They’re correct inasmuch as they spend most of their time reacting and responding to the left. This is why the word reactionary is appropriate, because those right of center have turned to contrarianism as opposed to putting forth new ideas for navigating our modern world. (Those places on the right that do have a positive philosophy, it’s usually something regressive and unworkable, like integralism). The right is defined more by what they’re against than what they’re for.

The right is traditionally tribal, viewing things as a conflict between the in-group and the out-group. This is because they value the moral foundations of authority, loyalty, and sanctity higher than fairness or and care. Thus, they deem something false if it comes from the left (the out-group) and something true if it comes from the right (the in-group), regardless of veracity. The left is certainly not innocent of this, but it’s on the right where I observe the greatest amount of distrust and suspicion of the out-group.

Thinkers I used to respect (to certain degrees) like Bret Weinstein, James Lindsay, and Dave Rubin (although Rubin I always thought a little dimwitted, he at least used to be open minded and curious), have all bought into a lot of nonsense simply because it’s contrary to the left’s orthodoxy. While I still think James Lindsay at least offers something of value to the conversation (Weinstein and Rubin went completely off the rails), his podcasts are sounding more and more shrill and unhinged all the time. I understand that many of his accusations about CRT and queer theory and so forth are true, and urgent, but some of the things he buys into now (COVID and climate change skepticism, as well as buying into more of the rightwing propaganda) is disheartening.

The Problem of Trust

One thing that is a common problem on both sides is the age old problem of testimony. Our large scale, even globalized, civilization requires that we trust what other people have to say. No one person can know all the relevant information on every subject, and so we depend on professionals and experts who know a lot about a particular thing to give us the best available information on those things. We need to trust doctors to give us the best medical advice, we need to trust electricians to give us the best way to wire a building, we need to trust regulators to tell us when a business is derelict in adhering to consumer protection policies, we need to trust scientists when they tell us about climate change or disease or what foods are bad for us, we need to trust journalists to tell us the truth about politics, the economy, and various abuses of power, and so on.

The problem is that we now live in an era where someone is believed only when they tell us those things we want to hear. People no longer have the stomach for uncomfortable truths that might not comport to their view of the world. I’ve discussed this subject on this blog, in video (see below), and elsewhere.

Of course, much of this can be lain at the feet of these experts, who squandered their good will, as well as the various algorithms that incentivize outrage and polarization within echo chambers tailored to our base emotions. But it’s not the kind of problem that has just a single cause (as is the case with most problems, contrary to what many might think). Indeed, in a way the algorithms merely take in human nature and reflect it back at us with some amplification, resulting in a positive feedback loop of extremism. All this tends to bring out the worst in all sides.

The problem is that with the loss of trust all discourse breaks down. If people can’t even agree on basic facts, or whether rationality is practicable (i.e., what epistemological framework we ought to use), or when context is applicable, or if it’s better to win an argument than to be factually correct, then there is little hope of halting the political balkanization.

The Verdict

And so, what of the question that prompted this post? Who is worse? The political left or the political right? There is definitely an apples and oranges issue in making this comparison. Both sides are bad in their own unique ways. The right is rife with myriad conspiracy theories and cults of personality and politically tend to be much more unified and focused than the left, but the left’s long-game strategy of taking over cultural institutions (education, news media, Hollywood, talent agencies, HR departments), all while gaslighting people into thinking it’s not happening, is as cunning as it is pernicious. When it comes down to it, I don’t want either side to win. And it’s not one of those things where I’d be more loath to let one side win than the other, because either way it will make things terrible for a great many people. Choosing the lesser of two evils still means choosing evil. I’d prefer a third way (or a fourth way, or a fifth way). But, gun to my head, I think the left is more frightening just insofar as they are more likely to win in the long run (i.e., not because I find their brand of terribleness more egregious than the political right). Barring some kind of catastrophe, like a civil war or economic/climate disaster of epic proportions or a full on successful rightwing putsch (perhaps a military coup?) I’d put my money on the left coming out victorious in the long run. For that reason alone I find the extreme left more frightening.