Friday, 22 May 2015

Why I don't speak on behalf of the collective left

As a political writer, one of the things that I find really frustrating is the fact that so many people tend to simply dismiss my views by crudely labeling them as those of an enemy ideology.

By far the most common label that people tend to use to dismiss my work is "leftie" (usually combined with a smattering of crude insults, fallacious arguments and lazy assumptions) but many others have also tried to condemn me by labeling me as a "communist", "Marxist", "socialist" "anti-capitalist" and many other things, without ever having tried to justify their assertions with facts, evidence or analysis.

The idea that I somehow represent any of these political viewpoints is completely wrongheaded, and the tactic of labeling me as such and then attacking the label is an extremely weak debating strategy indeed.

I'm just a guy

The views that I express in my work are my own. I don't speak on behalf of any organisation or ideology whatever. People are free to agree with me or disagree with me as they please, in fact I actively encourage people to try to find something I've said that they disagree with, because I'm just a guy from Yorkshire, and nobody should be 100% agreeing with everything I say.

I'm not a member of any political party and I never have been, however there is obviously some overlap between my views and those of particular political groups. A few examples of this kind of overlap include Positive Money, The Green Party, Common Weal, Unlock Democracy, Basic Income Europe and Rethinking Economics, but I don't endorse everything that these groups say, and I certainly don't speak on their behalf.

I don't speak on anyone's behalf but my own. If people agree with what I've said, they're absolutely free to share my articles and infographics, to quote me or to borrow my arguments for their own use. They can do this without the act of borrowing a specific veiwpoint of mine being a blanket endorsement of everything I've ever said.


The tendency for human beings to put simple labels on things is perfectly natural. The world would be impossibly complicated if we had to consider the incredibly complex detail of everything we experience, rather than just labeling things "tree", "cloud", "person", "blogger", "left-winger" or whatever.

The act of putting simple labels on things is a normal and necessary part of human existence, but there's still a strong distinction to be made between people who understand concepts like heuristics and confirmation bias, and recognise within themselves that they often use simple labels to reduce the incredible complexity of things to a manageable level, and those of us who don't, and tend to think rigidly within the limits of the simplistic labels they've applied to things.

I'm not trying to be judgmental or anything, or to say that some people are more inherently aware than others, because as far as I'm concerned it's within almost anybodies grasp to understand stuff like confirmation bias and heuristics if they have the opportunity and inclination to learn about them.

Labeling things

I am always very hesitant to label my beliefs, especially because so many political and economic words have become so layered with meanings that go so far beyond the original intended senses, that in many people's minds they mean something completely different to the actual definition.

I'm pretty sure that most of the people who tend to use words like "leftie" and "socialist" as insults to hurl at people actually have very little idea of what the words actually mean. While someone who self-identifies as a socialist believes that the means of production should be owned socially and run cooperatively for the benefit of all sectors of society, the person who has only ever read about the perils of socialism in the Murdoch press or the Daily Mail is likely to be using some kind of simplistic short-hand platitude like "spending other people's money" or "jealous of success" as their definition of what socialism means. Thus, to self-identify as a socialist is to give many people a convenient label with which to immediately dismiss your views as ridiculous.

I'm not saying that socialism is right or wrong. There are so many different branches of it that any such simplification would be an exercise in lazy absolutism. What I will say is that I strongly agree with some socialists about some things, I strongly disagree with other socialists about other things, and that the vast majority of my views on socialism fall somewhere between the two extremes.

My reluctance to pigeonhole myself by labeling my views with specific words is summed up by one of my favourite (and most easily memorable) existentialist quotes:

"Once you label me, you negate me" - Søren Kierkegaard


One of the very few labels I have ever allowed myself to self-apply is left-libertarian because the term simply doesn't carry the layers upon layers of (often bizarrely warped) political baggage in the same way as so many other terms like socialist, capitalist, communist, anti-capitalist, anarchist etc.

In reality my political and economic views are too complex to be constrained by a term like left-libertarian, but I am prepared to wear the label because it should be reasonably self-evident that a left-libertarian is concerned with promoting social justice and maximising freedom, and even if it's not self-evident, people would either have to think a while about what it means or go and look it up (both of which are good outcomes). They certainly wouldn't be able to use it as a convenient label to dismiss my views as, and to hurl at me as an insult, because "you left-libertarian bastard" and other such potential insults just don't parse.
The divided left

When people try to dismiss my work by labeling it "leftie" they often make the mistake of talking about "the left" as if all left-wing people are some kind of hive mind, and as if generalistic criticism of anything that is claimed to be left-wing carries the same weight as actually reading what's been said and addressing any of the specific points that have been raised. It's easy to spot these kinds of collective criticisms because they often refer to "the left" as if everyone who is not as right-wing as they are is part of one homogeneous blob that can be generalised about and dismissed.

Anyone who knows anything about left-wing politics (or has seen The Life of Brian) must be familiar with the problem of factionalisation. One of the most bitterly frustrating things about left-wing people is that so many of them seem to have more determination to attack other left-wing people for promoting the wrong shade of left-wingness, than they have to actually criticise the real enemies of the left like powerful 
right-wing media barons, entrenched establishment interests, tax-dodging multinational corporations, the pushers of neoclassical pseudo-economic dogma and the crony capitalist political elites.

It is easily apparent that "the left" is so divided and factionised that anyone who makes sweeping generalisations about "the left" clearly doesn't actually know anything much about it at all.

Not all "lefties" agree with me

Some of the strongest and most heartfelt criticisms of my work come from other people on the left who think that I'm doing it wrong. Other strong criticisms come from the libertarian-right.

I think the reason that the strongest criticisms of my work tend to come from people with whom I have something in common is that they are capable of actually engaging with what I've said, rather than simply labeling it as "leftie bollocks" and hurling a sequence of insults and logical fallacies at me.

It's obviously a lot easier to build a coherent counter argument to something if you actually read what has been written and set out your specific objections to the parts you disagree with, as opposed to simply dismissing the whole thing as "leftie bollocks".

It does seem like a strange phenomenon, but my experience bears it out. The most coherent criticisms of my work almost always come from people who occupy the green and yellow segments (see diagram), whilst the vast majority of insult and logical fallacy laden "critiques" of my work see to come from supporters of political parties that occupy the red quadrant.

The idea that I somehow represent all "lefties", or all libertarians for that matter, is nonsense, especially given that the most coherent criticisms of my work almost invariably come from other "lefties" and other libertarians.

Why I don't speak on behalf of the collective left

I don't speak on behalf of the collective left because I'm just a bloke sharing my opinions. I don't represent any political parties or protest groups, and neither do I claim to speak on behalf of people who follow my Facebook page or share my work. I speak on my own behalf, and if other people choose to agree or disagree with any of the things I've said, that's entirely their own prerogative.

People who try to dismiss what I'm saying by making generalised criticisms of "the left" as if I'm some kind of spokesman for the "leftie" hive mind, or by hurling political words at me as if they are insults (rather than technical terms with specific definitions), are basically demeaning themselves by publicly demonstrating the fact that they don't actually have a meanigful argument against what I'm saying, and that they're incapable of even understanding that what they've said doesn't even remotely constitute a coherent counter argument.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.

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Why are so many right-wingers still fighting the ideological battles of the past?