“Iona is no leftist,” a Twitter acquaintance recently asserted. It’s left me pensive as to what it means to be on the left (or not) and why so many of us lifelong left-leaning voters find ourselves described by our fellow lefties as, bafflingly, “right-wing.”
I think of myself as left-leaning primarily because of my belief in a strong welfare state. Communism is a failed ideology, incompatible with human nature, which can only be maintained by the most severe and inhumane forms of authoritarianism. But, while I am therefore a reluctant capitalist, I feel we have a duty of care towards the weakest members of our society. I believe in free-at-point-of-use healthcare and education at all levels. I favor a robust welfare state and am far less concerned about possible abuses of hand-outs than I am about the many deserving but less successful people who slip through the cracks. I would like to see far greater support for single mothers and more affordable childcare for all who need it; I’d like drug users to be treated with compassion, not criminalized; I’d like us to provide a dignified life for the elderly, ill and disabled. As far as possible, I’d like to see everyone given equal opportunities to thrive, whatever their background and I do not want us to abandon anyone to misery. And I can see no place for religious dogmatism of any kind in government which must remain completely secular and uninfluenced by politicians’ personal faiths. These are not right-wing views.
But, increasingly, I find myself at odds with the left because of other aspects of my political and ethical convictions. I am a firm believer in free speech, including speech which might be deemed offensive or hateful. I believe in equal opportunities for men and women, but I see no reason why this should necessarily lead to equal representation of men and women in all spheres of life.
I believe in equality between people of all races and skin colors, but I think we should strive to achieve that by making skin color and ethnic origin as irrelevant as possible in every important social and professional situation. No one should be either praised or blamed for the color of their skin or the content of their knickers. I think we should offer assistance to those who are struggling, but this should be on the basis of their personal circumstances, on whether or not they have access to food, shelter, education, health. Not on the basis of their melanin levels alone. I think we should right injustices, but not make a virtue out of victimhood or anxiously seek out imagined slights. And, while I think we must vigilantly protect women from rape, sexual assault and harassment, I do not believe we need to be sheltered from awkward flirting, lewd jokes, unwanted (but not coerced) advances, sexy video game characters or T-shirts with bare-breasted women on them.
My ethics is also not dependent on science. Questions such as whether there are two sexes or more, whether gender dysphoria is real, whether women on average prefer careers which prioritize dealing with people to jobs in engineering or tech and even whether African-Americans have a lower average IQ than Asians are matters for scientists to decide. I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on them. But, in any case, none of these speculations about averages and statistical tendencies need affect our moral views. No matter what characteristics any group may or may not display on average, each person is an individual. And every individual must be treated on a case-by-case basis, without prejudgements. Not viewed as black or white, man or woman, but as a unique fellow human being. We need not deny, manipulate or distort science to know this.
I’ve recently witnessed many people on the left “called out,” harshly critiqued, even demonized for sharing the views I’ve outlined here. Scorned, shunned and ostracized by the left, they’ve often sought out the sympathetic ears of media personalities, interviewers, talk show and podcast hosts who are right-leaning. Some of the more unsavory elements of the right have been behaving like ambulance chasers, waiting to cash in on the latest victims of the left’s woke-on-woke purity pogroms. We have only ourselves to blame for this. If we don’t want so many people to fall into the clutches of these self-interested faux-Samaritans, we shouldn’t leave them battered and bleeding by the roadside to begin with.
We on the left have the responsibility to build a broader consensus. To define and defend our core values and welcome all who share them, even if we disagree on details. Those values — equal opportunities, welfare provision, compassion for the poor, social responsibility — are too important to abandon. Yes, I’m a leftist. And there should be room for me on the left. And for others like me. Many others.
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