Left Wing/Right Wing: One Wish for for Today, anyway

“If you want truth to stand clear before you, never be “for” or “against.” The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.”
—Sent-ts’an (?-606)

Or even earlier:

“And why go on about the sliver that’s in your brother’s eye but not consider the beam in your own eye?”
—Matthew 7:3

And granted, in the real world, or with real politik, clearly you have to stand for something, even if it’s your financial backers.

Nonetheless, I was asked to do an interview a while back, with the question: ‘What five things would you change, if you could, to make the world a better place?’ It’s a great question, and requires a lot of thought to offer something with a little teeth and love.

First of all, whatever I think might be right, I can’t guarantee for certain it is right. But I was reminded of one possibility recently while reading a newspaper editorial on line, and then trolling through the hundreds of reader comments that followed. On cue, lines were divided between Left and Right ideologies. Comments from both sides were—and are—predictably and invariably pugilistic: self-righteous, cruel, degrading or verbally abusive. They are almost never humble, let alone reconciling.

So if I could—although I actually want people to be who they are—I would miraculously know how to inspire fellow citizens on the so-called Left and Right to see beyond the differences on the tip of the iceberg of our lives—differences we are so aggressively sure matter more than anything else. And from there, maybe we would begin to also see the colossal underwater aspect of that iceberg, the massive part that is our essential and undeniable commonality—and then maybe give that some importance, too.

In their strongest knee-jerk reactions, the Right (whatever that really is) claim the Left (whatever that really is) are communists, Stalinists, atheists, and haters of freedom and the West etc. The Left claim the Right are Fascist, Nazis, religious morons and lovers of a police state, and haters of both the poor and/or people of colour etc. With a relishing hatred, they criticize the others’ capacity for hate. The absurdities within all the above seem to me self-evident.

And putting violent extremists momentarily aside (because I don’t personally know any), I can tell you unequivocally that I have learned to be a better person from the great integrity, care and compassion I have witnessed and received from friends and scholars who are conservative, liberal, libertarian, anarchist, socialist, atheist and theist, and mixtures of the above—and some who are apolitical by instinct, and just sweet people. Doesn’t everybody have that experience? I’ll take a kind Republican over a mean-spirited Left Wing social activist any day, and vice versa.


I’m generalizing, but in Canada and the States, and in much of the West, I think the mass of average citizens are torn between two strange truths: one, we have this remarkable amount of free speech, relative to most of the world. It is a wondrous, fluid reality about which we should all be vigilant, for it took vigilance and solidarity for centuries to achieve this degree of free speech in the first place.

Two, despite such a relatively high degree of free speech, the truth is, individually, we actually have very little power or even opportunity to change the way things are run (or change another person’s beliefs!). This is not just about oppression by, say, state Power or extremists or Left Wingers or Right Wingers or multinationals or Unions and so on. It’s about one’s essential nature, or instinct, as well as the fact that this is a big, big world built on hundreds of thousands of years of the human journey.

Still, I believe this combination of freedom and powerlessness contributes greatly to the distorted debate between Right and Left, both in print media and on line. The unconscious result is, to me, endlessly fractious, jingoistic, cruel, divisive and, most importantly, virtually void of heartfelt wisdom. Our lack of power has led us to believe that degrading each other is free speech, a constitutional right and so on—and of course on one level I guess it is. But the powerless person is fooled into believing that the right to degrade the other without consequence is freedom. But we do this, I think, at our own peril. For where are the seeds for mob violence, scapegoating and genocide planted, if not in our minds and our words? By definition, are not bitter harvests more likely reaped when economic conditions are strained?


Recent research (see for example Jonathan Haidt) has shown the self-labelled right winger to be instinctively more inclined towards so-called ‘traditional values,’ and the left winger generally more inclined towards so-called ‘openness to experience.’ An inability to communicate prevents us from hearing the aspects of those ‘values’ that actually appeal deeply to, and are supported by, both sides of the so-called spectrum.

Research has also shown that neither side in the Left/Right dilemma is effectively able to accurately describe what the other side actually believes. Supposedly the Left or liberal side is actually better at this than the Right. I’m not sure why. I would guess the Right is better at well-focused organization, not unlike a mother bear when her cubs are threatened. Those two strengths truly working together in a democracy, and against despots and competitors, would likely be unbeatable in so many moral and creative ways. But either way, it is suggested by research that cloistering too tightly with one’s ‘team’ or ‘tribe’ or ‘ideology’ actually decreases freedom of thinking.

The fact is, almost all non-deranged human beings generally want the same things: greater freedom, community, security, togetherness, and a greater future for our children and perhaps a greater understanding of how the world really works.

Harry Browne put it this way:

Left-wing politicians take away your liberty in the name of children and of fighting poverty, while right-wing politicians do it in the name of family values and fighting drugs. Either way, government gets bigger and you become less free.

And either way, we are in this journey together—economically, spiritually, materialistically, environmentally. It has always been this way. And it will remain so long after the words Left and Right have ceased to suggest anything close to their present day and ever-changing meaning.

We cling onto an ideology as if it is us. But is it? Personally, I have conservative tendencies in the true sense of the word—an affection for traditional values, I’m fiscally conservative, I’m environmentally conservative. At the same time I hope to be liberal-minded—open to ideas outside my own ‘group,’ progressive in my thinking—important, in my opinion, in an ever-changing world (as is, surely, holding to the core of intelligent, traditional values). I like the idea of ‘the commons’ and community, and looking out for others. I have libertarian tendencies towards personal freedom and a small state. The autonomy of anarchism offers lucidity in who we are and how we are conditioned and so on. This mixture of ideas, it would seem to me, is standard for human complexity (for more ideas see also Thomas Sowell).


And of course tip-of-the-iceberg differences are important. They help fine tune our discernment. But why let them limit us? Degrading one who thinks differently on an issue? Will it matter in a week? A year? Maybe it will. I’m not sure. How about when we are no longer here—seeing that death is common to the entire species?

Choosing to listen, by our own will, without simply losing what we call our core values, with discernment, reaches out to the remarkable potential that commitment to free speech can really offer. Could listening be the flip side of the same brilliant coin—with a greatness that so many in the world have yet to experience? Is it even possible? I ask simply this: if free speech for all people—in law and in spirit—becomes greater, inhibited by neither fear of violence nor libel law, will real listening become more likely?

And the question is, Is that even important? And even if it is domestically useful for everyday quality of life, would it have any intelligent effect in the world of real politik and invasion, occupation, pre-emptive strike and so on?

I don’t know.


But let me dream “Yes,” if only for a moment, and ask this: If the Left and Right citizenry in a relatively free country could somehow increase mutual understanding, and combine that enthusiasm with ever-more accessible global communication technology, could those two forces not then be used to build bridges—modern-day ‘underground railroads‘ even—with those countries and their vibrant and young middle classes who despise their despotic leaders? Hey, that relationship is a truism with Iran, whose youth for the most part undeniably want Western freedoms (while maintaining control of their oil). And surely the utterly brutalized peoples living in, say, the hell of Orwellian North Korea, or most in Burma, Zimbabwe, Pakistan or even censored China, long for tangible solidarity and hope with anything tasting of freedom of speech.

Okay, perhaps that is a deluded pipe dream. But at the very least, imagine, domestically what a deeper understanding of our commonality would do to our understanding of the environment. The relationship is obvious, yet suffering. The Copenhagen Conference demonstrated the current disease.

Either way, my friends, no matter how powerless we actually are (and that’s debatable), or how crudely and aggressively we insult each other, the massive expanse of our similarities remain undeniable, hopeful, invigorating, expansive and even exciting—and overshadow and outweigh the differences. Do we forget this truth at our own peril—as a species, as community, and at the shrinking of our own individual potential of learning, growth and deeper freedom?

I wish I knew.

But yes, if I had the ability, the right words, the way—which of course I don’t—I would give more of my best self to inspire a way of seeing our massive commonality while re-examining our differences. Maybe then we could think far bigger and deeper than Left and Right, and realize how amazing and fortunate we are to possibly work with the full spectrum of what free speech could be—which at its most refined would include, like an equal and opposite reaction, not only the freedom, but a deeper desire to listen.

Further to this, within and far beyond definitions of these Left and Right worldviews, it is certain there are more subtle, yet undefinable processes going on. One could choose expansive kindness, gratitude, joy, even undeniable unity, in the immediate moment. One could attempt to think long term—generations, millennia. Where are we headed? In short, the relentless, tight-fisted cacophony of Left and Right wing threats and warnings is actually extremely narrow and shallow—and self-limiting.

So if I had one wish, at least tonight, it would be to see our innate and profound similarities before all else, while really hearing and understanding our differences, real and perceived, and from that stance then make our “free speech” comments. And before we attack the other, I’d hope we recall the fact of our powerlessness, too. My apologies if you don’t like that truth—but it is a big truth. That we are attacking one who is actually in the same boat. Maybe then greater amounts of desperate energy disguised as freedom—our words and beliefs—would manifest as a more intelligent energy, and help the species to engage in more interesting, humble and sustainable ways—ways as of yet we can barely imagine.

Or maybe not. Because don’t get me wrong: on some level, the tension between the deeper natures of so-called Left and Right thinking is perhaps both necessary and/or inevitable, given the current state of the world. But let’s talk it out in kindness.

Lots of love to you, my dear, dear fellow friends. Thanks for your kindness,

Pete xox


One Response to “Left Wing/Right Wing: One Wish for for Today, anyway”

  1. [...] the blog a few back here, about Left and Right arguments. Just look at your stream of consciousness when you are thinking about a politician you dislike, or [...]

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