I kind of hate "the left" these days
The recent massive polarization of political discourse has brought out the worst in people I usually side with. The idea of a political spectrum consisting of two directions, a left and a right, where all ideology is given a point between along one axis is pretty stupid. And only gets stupider when people try to account for complexity by adding more axis of world view. The attempt to create a visualization of the multidiemsional reality of all human thought is reductive, and I don't want to play, but that's a whole other discussion.
I bring it up now only because as much as I hate the concept that politics is spatially relative, it's nonetheless a fact that some people self identify as "left" or "right," either willing to accept or blissfully unaware of all the imposed baggage that comes with the terms. Most of the people I consider friends would probably self identify as "on the left." These people like to think of themselves as "progressive," forward thinking, and in favour of egalitarian social justice. Ugh... the words "social justice" themselves have become politically loaded, terms of derision for the opposition.
Anyway, these all sound like good things, but it's all bullshit hypocrisy, because, with the rise of President Trump, the left has shown that as a collective ideology, they are no less self aggrandizing, derisive of their opposition, and in favour of silencing dissent. My Facebook feed has been pockmarked with ugly accusations that Trump supporters are stupid, hostile, backwards people who exhibit all the worst traits of bigotry, be it racism, homophobia, misogyny, or whatever worldview should have been eradicated by movements of the past already. I mean, come on, there are still such a thing as Nazis? Didn't we literally bomb them all to death in 1945 in a glorious war that won out against despotism and horrific racism gone amok?
No, of course not. Most German soldiers that got shot probably couldn't care one way or the other about the racist ideology of their politicians, and Fascism was and is a greater movement that arguably became stronger. The dumb asses running around breeding confederate flags with swastikas are just the disenfranchised angry poor who wield little or no power. The real Fascists, the ones you should be concerned about, wear nice suits and have actual influence. You can only catch glimpses of their real world view, like when, for example, they go out of their way to identify "Hitlerism" as a separate thing from Fascism. Because, you see, Hitler took a good thing and made it bad, so you have to give it a different name. The same way all communists will tell you that Stalinism is not communism.
I've been told that places like America are more dangerous now because the truly ugly fraction of people who represent the unarguably socially cancerous viewpoints of bigotry are more emboldened. The President won't call out self identified Nazis for the stain on society that they are, and that gives them leeway to speak up. Maybe. I don't know if a minority is any more or less safe at night if a car full Klan members drive by in silent resentment or lean out the window to shout epithets. At least in one scenario you know who the enemy is and where they are.
But, getting this train back on the rails, I don't think Trump won because of the votes of the extremists. As much as they draw the media like flies to shit, there's no way they represent a large enough voting block to move the election. Was it a massive silent block of people who are sexist enough to hate the option of a female president at all costs, even the cost of an obvious kleptocrat? Is it a larger backlash against perceived erosion of privilege? Maybe even the somewhat reasonable, in my view, recognition that voting in the spouse of a previous president when the other party often offers fathers and sons represents a bipartisan spearhead of an oligarchy? If you want to feel like you're a complicated thinker, you can imagine a Venn diagram to your liking with a multifaceted explanation for why people voted against their own interests.
Which is the problem at the core of the question itself. The idea that there are objectively better things for people, and "we" on the left, "know," and the people on the right are dumbfucks who don't. Much leftist thinking, inflamed by the frustration of seeing the rise of the uneducated ruin everything for everyone, starts with the axiom that the other side is wrong, and so the only question going forward is how to deal with them. As abused children who need to be guided into healthier thinking about themselves? As the enemy with selfish agendas who need to be fought?
The main axis of difference that I perceive between the self identified left and self identified right is that the right judges people on a scale of morality, and leftists judge everyone on a scale of intelligence. In both cases, the degree of morality or intelligence is measured in distance from one's own.
"But," my strawman leftist would say, "two plus two does not equal five, it equals four, and you know it or don't. Intelligence is an objectively determined quantity. Issues like, maybe, euthanasia or the death penalty have no data points and are by definition subjective. It is possible to place one on a scale of understanding when it comes to intelligence in a way that is not possible with morality."
Intelligence is measurable if you construct the questions of measurement, but, if the questions are insane, then no rationality can be achieved by anyone. Dan Carlin, in his awesome podcast on the morality of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, posits that the whole debate about whether it was a "good" or "bad" thing to do is based on a flawed premise that in war you could tease out the factors that separate one from the other. The reality is that war presents you with endless Sophie's choices, where the choices are all bad and the results are hearbreaking either way.
It's easy to create unanswerable moral conundrums in wartime, but the same steamroller of collective actions that go beyond an individual's ability to cope exists just as much in peacetime. The fact is that society is a big complicated machine that no one is running that we are either taken for a ride or crushed under. We are not evolved for the decision making that we have to make. We were evolved for a world in which if you were hungry, you went and foraged for some berries, or maybe wrestled an animal to death. We all knew exactly what to do to survive. We never had jobs or job security or health insurance or long term economic slowdowns to think about. Modern society is so large that none of us can account for all of its potential effects on our lives, and any of us thinking we ultimately know how it all works is engaging in self deception.
I'm just as much a paramecium in the petris dish of society as anyone else, subject to the same stimulus and response. Luckily, I was born in the petris dish that I'm in now, which is pretty comfortable. But, what if I had been born in a different petris dish?
What if I were a person who lived in a coal mining town, and I had a child. Let's say I've sat down and gone over spreadsheets of all my costs of living. I've worked out that it takes 10 dollars a day to provide for my child. It's a simplistic model, but what it actually costs to raise a child isn't the point. It's what I feel and believe are the consequences of my circumstance, and we all believe we know our own circumstances more than anyone else. I don't know if my child will literally die of malnutrition, but to what degree of any amount of my child's suffering am I willing to accept? Go ask any parent.
The problem is that the coal plant I work at is closing down, so I might not be able to maintain the base levels I believe are critical for my child's well being. And when the intellectual part of my brain presents the facts to the emotive part of my brain, the deeper motivations inside of me don't look at the problem with much nuance. Child might die. Must save child.
If at this point in my hypothesis you simply deny that anyone could hit that point, then you're exhibiting privilege. The modern definition is that you are so unaware of the problems of others that they're invisible and inconceivable to you. If you can't imagine running out of money to a point where your life falls apart, then maybe you've never been close enough to that edge. Enjoy.
But, even if you find it hard to imagine that someone living in a rich country could face that kind of precipice, hopefully you could at least imagine someone believing they are facing that precipice. People get especially crazy when it comes to the health and safety of their kids, and we generally exalt that kind of mad protectionism as the hallmark of a loving parent.
Anyway, come election time, one party says hey, we've got a great plan for you. We're going to help you with your money problems. We're going to give everyone five dollars a day to help support their kid. I might think, great, but, I'm still 5 dollars short, my kid is still going to die. Also, don't I pay taxes too? Isn't that money just cycling around to me? How does all this work? The other party comes along and says, great news, we're going to get the coal mine back up again. I might think, isn't that kind of out of everyone's control, what with jobs slowly fading away into automation and the world turning to green energy? Sounds good, though, because if it happens, my kid is safe.
Which do I take, the unsatisfying half measure or the gamble on hope? It's an insane question, and answers are only written from a place of bias. If I choose against hope, the right accuses me of being lazy and wanting hand outs instead of work. If I choose against the half measure, the left accuses me of going against my interests. After all, 5 dollars is objectively more than zero, it is clearly in my interest to take the money, except for the fact that my kid still dies.
I've had a few points in my life where I was completely out of work, my bank account completely drained, and I remember distinctly walking down a street past shops selling cheap food items and feeling crushed because I couldn't afford any of them. And I wasn't even that bad off, because I have support systems, friends and family, a few levels more of safety net down from where I was, and I wasn't taking them because of pride. Nonetheless, I get the desire for hope, for things to get "back" on track. I pursued jobs and projects that I hoped so hard for that I believed they would work out and make everything better than okay. Because I wanted to stop drowning, and when you're sinking, you want to fly, not float closer to the surface.
That's the situation I imagine so many Trump voters, Brexit supporters, and other disenfranchised people to be in when they vote "against their interests." Britain as a country benefits from being in the EU, but does every citizen? Many people look around their lives and see no particular upside. They live in a burning house and the intellectual left says they'll all get a cup of water if they stop acting so stupid and stay in the EU. If that we're me, I'd rather have everyone come inside and burn to the ground with me.
People don't vote against their interests. They vote against yours. Believing that disagreement is unintelligence is ugly elitism.