Left and Right – once more

In one of Woody Allen’s more casual movies, Everyone Says I Love You, a New York liberal, played by Alan Alda (of course), has a teenage son with reactionary republican ideas, driving his father wild. In a short scene late in the film, almost as slapstick, it’s revealed that the son had an innate illness affecting his brain, and when cured from that he’s converted into a normal liberal, to everyone’s happiness.

Woody Allen is in my view one of the American gifts to the world. In the many of his movies I’ve watched there were, to my recollection, scarcely any outright political themes. So when he in this movie, as script writer, deliberately equates right wing politics with brain injury, it seems as if he just want to state that some kind of liberalism is obvious for “normal” people.

The rift between left and right, liberals and conservatives, workers and bourgeoisie propagates around the globe. It’s like two different worlds each with its own cognition, logic and ethics, making intelligent communication difficult, if not impossible. A recent illustration was given in the reactions to the Greek financial problems and their solutions.

On those articles on the subject in the New York Times where the comment’s section was opened, the readers’ comments where divided into two distinct groups. Around half of the entries pointed (sometimes fiercely) at the Greek’s bad habit too live beyond their means, their governments granting them too generous pensions and allowances, their notorious tax evasions and other misdemeanors. The usual conclusion in those posts was that the Greek had to pay their debts, and if they happened to suffer it was their own fault.

The other group of readers focused instead on the role of the banks that had poured loans over a country that everyone knew was in bad economic shape, and that capitalism requires that banks, like other companies, bear the consequences of their risk-taking, for which they are paid interest. One could often read that the much debated bailouts in fact were the European governments (primarily the German) making their tax payers save their own countries’ banks from losses on Greek loans, and that very little of the bailout money really helped the afflicted Greeks. This group found it unreasonable that the fairly innocent Greek people should be forced to bear the burden of problems caused by others, who enjoyed impunity.

Right and Left are obviously two entirely different ways of viewing human beings and society, naturally based on material interest, social heritage and other such environmental factors, but in part going deeper, so that the divide also has to do with morality and the way we look at other people, factors that probably are engraved in more fundamental biological structures.

Right-wing thinking entails disregarding others, more or less blatantly. It’s everyone for himself, in full compliance with the egoism and even narcissism that is considered a basis for human nature in these circles. Sophisticated studies of things like reciprocal altruism don’t appeal to this group. (It’s not surprising that we often find a capability of utter contempt for human life among right-wing extremists.)

But why care about other people? Noam Chomsky was once asked why he had sacrificed even greater scientific achievements, plus a peaceful family life, to man the barricades in the fight for a better world. He answered that on the day he died he wanted to be able to answer the question: Why did I bother living for at all?

We dwell in a world where right-wing policies has ruined the conditions for the life of millions of people, kept surviving poor in a miserable state, upheld the threat of total destruction through either nuclear weapons or environmental breakdown. There are all reasons in the world to oppose these forces and to fight for human decency aiming at solidarity with others. It’s as simple as that, as I see it.

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