The left-right political division: most of the hate and division arises because we fail to understand others the way they understand themselves. Many of us are guilty of projecting our prejudices on those we disagree with.
How the Left identifies itself
Everyone who identify themselves as belonging to the liberal Left cares for the poor and downtrodden. It sees itself as embodying progressive and liberal values. It sees the government as a tool to better society. Many also have an agenda to address societal issues at the global level, rather than at a local level. Left-wingers tend to identify the inequality caused by capitalism as an evil outcome that needs to be addressed, by curbing the greed of the wealthy, and by providing a generous welfare system for the poorest in society.
Liberal Left-wingers are willing to discard societal traditions because they believe that traditions are cultural baggage that hinder progress. They believe in liberalising cultural norms and dispelling cultural taboos that result in segregation and discrimination. They believe that everyone should be given equal treatment, and some even believe that the affirmative action should be taken to rectify past oppression.
In summary: Left-wingers are progressive when it comes to social values, and interventionist when it comes to the role of the state.
How the Left sees the Right
Therefore, this is how many on the Left interprets the Right: as being in opposition to every ideal the Left stands for. Many Left-wingers think that Right-wingers are authoritarian, regressive, and selfish. They see the Right as only being interested in personal wealth rather than societal well-being. They think that conservatives only manipulate the government for personal interest, as opposed to societal interest. Many even interpret the nationalistic agenda of some conservatives as indication of the backward selfishness endemic to the Right.
How the Right actually identifies itself
However, Left-wingers very rarely ask: How do Right-wingers identify themselves?
Conservative Right-wingers believe society has come this far because of the traditional values which have guided them in the past. Thus they believe in making incremental changes rather than revolutionary changes, to minimise the unintended consequences arising from implementing societal changes too rapidly. They also believe in small government because they value the liberty of individual choice, over more interventionist forms of government because of the danger of oppression. Thus many conservatives believe in voluntary charity rather than state-enforced charity.
Capitalist Right-wingers believe in freedom of choice for economic reasons. They see free-market capitalism as the best way to incentivise innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and wealth generation. They believe that the real socio-economic problem is actual poverty rather than inequality, and that wealth creation will improve the life of even the poorest of society. Many believe that the poor should be given incentive to improve their lives, even if it results in short-term pain.
In summary: Right-wingers are conservative when it comes to social values, and libertarian when it comes to the role of the state.
How the Right sees the Left
Right-wingers believe in small government. The converse, they believe, is that Left-wingers believe in big government. Most right-wingers oppose what they perceive to be the Left’s attempt to encroach upon individual liberties, such as the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of choice… They believe that left-wingers want to use the force of the state to impose their ways on society.
Comparing the Left and the Right
Both the Left and the Right believe in the role of government. Both the Left and the Right desire the best for society. The differences are disagreement over how this can be achieved. Here are some of the similarities and differences…
1) Both the Left and the Right believe in compassion and helping people.
The Left believes in helping the poor directly, whilst the Right believes in incentivising them to achieve this themselves. The Left believes that the government should intervene wherever people are in danger of making poor choices, whilst the Right believes that individuals are best placed to make their own decisions. The Right believes that generous welfare provides an economic incentive toward poverty and unemployment, whilst the Left believe that generous welfare is necessary to prevent poverty.
2) Both the Left and the Right believe in fairness.
The Right believes in equal rights and starting points, whilst the Left believes that inequality of outcome is usually a result of inequality of opportunity. The Left believes that a fair taxation system means heavier taxation on the rich, whilst the Right believes that fair taxation means taxing everyone the same rate.
3) Both the Left and the Right believe in prosperity.
The Left believes that unfettered market forces have potential to do great harm, whilst the Right believes that market forces are more efficient than centralised decision-making. The Right believes that the profit motive incentivises operators to improve efficiency, whilst the Left believes that profit margins reduce efficiency. The Left believe that the rich attain their wealth by exploiting the labour of the poor, whilst the Right believes that wealth is not a finite resource and that it is created every time productivity improves via human innovation.
4) Both the Left and the Right believe in the value of liberty and oppose authoritarian oppression.
The Right believes that increasing government power reduces individual liberty and increases the scope and danger of government oppression, whilst the Left believes that gaining power and representation in government is the best way to oppose government oppression. The Left believes that the state has a duty to actively promote liberal ideals, whilst the Right believes that government intervention on social issues is illiberal and oppressive.
5) Both the Left and the Right care about the environment.
The Left believes that the environment needs active protection and that proactive government policy is required to drive through progress on improving environmental protections, whilst the Right believes that the environment is very resilient and that human intervention on a massive scale has the potential to cause even more environmental damage than it purports to solve. The Right believes that progress of technological innovation naturally leads to improved environmental standards, whilst the Left believes that market-driven progress is not only too slow, it often goes in the wrong direction to increase environmental damage.
6) Both the Left and the Right believe in human rights.
The Right believes that rights are acknowledged by the government, to recognise individuals’ rights to self-determination, whilst the Left believes that rights are given by the government, to sanction actions and statuses. In practice, this means that the Left wants their standards of human rights to be enforced by the government, whilst the Right does not want the government to stop individuals acting according to their conscience.
7) Both the Left and the Right oppose monopolies.
The Left believes that capitalism inevitably leads to monopolies and that government intervention is required to either break-up the monopoly or nationalise the industry to prevent the abuse of that monopoly. The Right believes that monopolies can only survive by relying on government support (whether political or financial), because abusive monopolies is unable to survive competition from the free market.
8) Both the Left and the Right believe in peace and national security.
Some believe that strengthening a nation’s internal security and border checks are the best way of improving national security. Others believe that interventions in foreign conflict are necessary to quell the violence that would otherwise spread to other countries. There is disagreement over which position is Left-wing and which position is Right-wing. (For example, here is a left-wing article arguing against left-wingers who are opposed to foreign intervention: https://leftfootforward.org/2013/06/why-the-arguments-against-intervention-in-syria-are-wrong/)
Much of our disagreement and division arises from our refusal to see what the other side actually has to say for themselves, what motivates them, and the reasoning behind their beliefs. But the Left does not want to steal from the rich. And the Right does not want to oppress the poor.
Neither the Right or the Left are evil. There are selfish career politicians and self-interested players on either side, just as there are well-intentioned but misinformed activists on both sides, but neither movement is intrinsically evil.
How do I identify myself?
I do not identify closely with either the Left or the Right. But I am willing to use a few labels to describe my beliefs. These labels describe my position, not my motivation. I explain why I hold to these positions below…
I am progressive: I am not concerned about preserving traditions or conservation of cultural values. I believe traditions should be discarded if they prove to be a hindrance to social improvement, but should otherwise be retained in order to avoid unintended consequences. I believe cultural values have a role to play in holding society together, but understand that not all cultural values are equally beneficial, and that some may in fact be harmful.
I am a capitalist: Because the profit motive incentivises innovation and rewards success, and because every instance of socialism has demonstrably failed by destroying the economy whilst to doing little to improve the circumstances of the poor. I believe the free market is the far from perfect, but it is still the best way of fostering economic development and prosperity.
I am libertarian: I want individuals to take more responsibility for their own actions, so that they can take credit for their successes and learn from their failures, rather than disparage themselves for their successes and blame others for their failures. I would prefer to educate people so that they can make up their own mind, even if it is evidently a bad decision, rather than force a decision upon them.
I am a pragmatist: I have no ideological commitments to any of the above labels. I care only about producing results. I will change my position on any of the above labels if they can be demonstrated to be inferior to its alternative. In short, I am a centrist.