The ideas of Karl Marx and his ideological descendants are not and should not be the sole foundation for left-wing political thought. They’re certainly not the sole foundation of mine. I am not a Marxist. I have never been a Marxist. This is not the same as saying that Marx was wholly wrong; I think his ideas about worker alienation, for example, are useful in describing people’s relationship to their labour. I do not, however, care very much for his predilection for teleological explanations. Is it necessarily true that workers will eventually rebel against their capitalist overlords and establish a workers’ paradise, or is it merely your ardent desire that they do so? Is and ought are two different phenomena. The problem with prognostications like Marx’s inevitable dictatorship of the proletariat is that there’s no proof that the proposed events will in fact happen. I do consider myself left-wing, though, since I am largely egalitarian.
The following ideas, presented in bullet-point format, are an attempt to articulate my particular flavour of leftism.
- People do not have identical abilities, backgrounds or proclivities; however, these differences do not require anti-egalitarian policies to maintain social equilibrium. Anti-egalitarianism based on group characteristics requires adopting a number of a priori assumptions that can be disproved easily with one or two social interactions. If you do deal with people categorically in a way that under- or overestimates them, then you may incur negative consequences from that erroneous assumption. It’s therefore optimal to adopt a politically egalitarian strategy to avoid fucking this up. There are some good explanations from game theory that show egalitarian or cooperative strategies to be better evolutionary strategies than adhering to a version of “nature, red in tooth and claw.”
- I am a staunch individualist. That doesn’t mean I’m a libertarian or a fan of laissez-faire capitalism. I believe that each person has their own needs and characteristics that are distinct from those around them. An individual’s traits should not be subsumed by group characteristics if the characteristics associated with the group are inapt to describe that individual.
- I value cooperation and humane social policy.
- I am not immune to bias. You are not immune to bias. There is no such thing as total neutrality. We as a species have irrational tendencies deeply embedded in our lizard-brains. Bias is unavoidable, but you can question it. And by all means, you should.
- Rights are, or should be, granted or rescinded based on the potential to materially harm another person’s existence. Allowing a same-gender couple to marry does not materially affect heterosexual couples’ existence; the latter can still marry and enjoy the same benefits they did before same-gender couples’ relationships were granted legal parity. Murder, rape and child abuse, however, are forms of material harm. Note that I include direct psychological harm as a form of material harm; I don’t find Cartesian dualism useful here. Emotional abusers inflict real, long-lasting effects on their victims.
- I don’t think “natural rights” exist in an absolute sense. Humans created them. That’s not to say that human rights aren’t important, but that societies had a role in determining what those rights should be. We do not need to use Platonic forms to define what we believe is right.
- I am vehemently anti-authoritarian. And no, expanding the rights of one designated group to match those of a group that has always had rights is not a form of authoritarianism.
- I am pro-women, anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ, anti-disablist and anti-xenophobic because of my individualism, not in spite of it. “Mexicans are rapists” is a ridiculous generalisation. “Black people aren’t very intelligent” is an invidious and poorly substantiated claim.
- I’ve become convinced that ontological debates about people’s identities are useless parlour games in the broader scheme of things. Debating the validity of someone’s gender identity, for example, is not particularly productive when more powerful people threaten people’s material existence. Let’s spend less time on how trans people will hypothetically destroy womanhood and more time on how authoritarian conservative politicians are hell-bent on abrogating women’s rights to control their own bodies. Even if we use a favourite reductio ad absurdum argument, like “I identify as an attack helicopter,” who cares? Does Attack Helicopter pose a direct threat to you by virtue of their identity?
- I see the utility of group-based strategies to stop people from lumping people together and judging them categorically without knowing their individual circumstances. Strategies like affirmative action/positive discrimination, diversity recruiting and sensitivity trainings should be aimed at ultimately creating a society in which people are treated as unique individuals, not members of a stereotyped conglomerate. To stop unwarranted stereotyping, you have to recognise that said stereotyping actually exists. Ignoring it won’t lead to real change. That said, however, I am uncomfortable with the tendency towards elevating group identities over individual ones. This applies both to the left and to the right, though I obviously find the right-wing variety far worse. Certain conservatives, reactionaries and libertarians may protest that they care more about individuals than groups, but these very same people will complain that they’re not allowed to make claims about women’s unsuitability to work outside the home, black people’s low intelligence or the International Jewish Conspiracy. People like Richard Spencer and other blatant white supremacists may be the most nauseating of the lot, but at least they’re intellectually honest about their use of crude categories to unfairly stereotype people. I also believe that negative categorical stereotypes can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies that create positive feedback loops that continue inexorably until people have enough sense to disaggregate the people unfairly lumped together.
- I do not think that privilege or oppression are static categories. I don’t believe in the eternal battle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, white people versus “people of colour,” or God and Satan. Rather, I see these relationships as fluid, spatially and temporally bound phenomena. (Yes, I put “people of colour” in dick quotes this time. I use it out of convenience, but it is not my favourite term. Since language intended for others should be understandable, I’m often stuck using words I’d rather not use instead of inventing my own.)
- When people talk about “opposing capitalism,” they should be clear about what they actually mean. What we understand as capitalism contains a number of different concatenated ideas. Creating for-profit businesses does not require enslavement or worker exploitation; the idea that maximising profit before other concerns can very well lead to those human-rights abuses. If, however, economic policy is connected with the idea that people are entitled to full and fair participation within a given society, then it stands to reason that slavery and labour-rights abuses are inherently unacceptable. Neoliberalism is an even vaguer term; for some people, it appears to have developed the meaning of “thing I don’t like.” I’m hardly a supporter of laissez-faire capitalism, but I’m not a communist, either. I’m not against profit-making or the exchange of money for goods, but I am opposed to the idea that rampant social inequality should be acceptable. “That’s just the way it is” is a terrible defence. Yeah, that may be the way it is, but is that how it should be? Sometimes you really want the ought in an is/ought problem.
- We exist within overlapping, often mutually reinforcing contexts; there is no one objectivity, but the confluence of several observed and experienced objectivities and subjectivities. We don’t know if an entity exists outside the known universe that defines reality, rather like the distinction between positive and negative space in art. (In this case, the known universe would be the positive space, while the reality-definer would be the negative space.) There’s no proof that one exists. I’ll agree that there is a consensus reality, since there are observations that have been corroborated over and over again across time. This is why I believe in the existence of natural phenomena like gravity, evolution and global warming. If I talk about objective reality, I’m technically referring to the consensus reality whose characteristics have been uncovered through empirical findings.
Are these definitive statements? Hardly; I’m hesitant to make declarations that may or may not hold true in the face of new, controverting evidence. Anti-authoritarianism, egalitarianism and individualism are the closest things I have to core beliefs, but otherwise, they’re subject to change and refinement over time. I find that I can’t keep myself trapped in a thought-loop without wanting to break out of it.