This week, as promised, we’re exploring how to deepen our values, and embrace the real conflicts instead of right-wing drama.
As I wrote last week, arguments with the Right are fatally flawed for the left-wing, because rhetoric is a right-wing game. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read that post here.
Now I’m going to explore what our alternatives are, and how we can reach the genuine conflicts in a genuine left-wing approach.
First, lets explore some mistakes that are easy to make when trying to engage in conversation with a political opposite.
1. Using knowledge to score points
Why it doesn’t work: Because knowledge is subjective
Even if we share the same information, we can still come to different conclusions. An article I love can easily be an article you ridicule, based on surface-level differences.
Values matter more than facts in convincing people to care. If my opponent strongly values law and order, then my facts about refugees drowning in the English channel, or someone murdered in cold blood will always miss their mark no matter how convincing I found them.
This is why so many people repeat the mantra that “I am not here to educate you” – it’s not laziness or hostility, it’s a realisation of what’s effective. You’ll learn more in good faith, outside of wanting to win an argument. This is especially true if your aim is explicitly to be hostile, and “defeat” your opponent through exasperation and rhetoric.
Educating yourself is a great thing, and can inform your beliefs, but it can’t be used to change someone else’s beliefs unless they choose it themselves.
2. Shaming as a corrective measure
Why it doesn’t work: Shaming is taken as an attack and can fuel retaliation.
Shame makes people embarrassed at best, and insulted and defensive at worse.
Digging my heels in and shaming my callous opponent won’t help, and feeds into the myth of the “holier than thou” leftist. You might genuinely believe you’re a better person, but unlike someone who is right-wing individualistic, it won’t make you happier. The ultimate goal is to agree, not to win at moral point-scoring.
In reponse, the other person is likely to take the opportunity to shame you in return, and defend their beliefs against yours. Once you’re in conflict, you’ve been drawn in and any small amount of discomfort or embarassment you caused the other person is likely to be undone by their defense.
In the best case scenario, you might be able to shame someone into appearing Left, but unless they find a positive reason to stay left-wing, their views will return once the shame dies down.
3. Creating a False Peace by Agreeing to Compromise
Why it doesn’t work: Because abandoning your morals to make friends with the enemy isn’t the same as reaching true peace.
This doesn’t need to be explained, but it’s why people are distrusting of “centrists” – this middle ground is political “no man’s land”. It’s still part of a battle field and isn’t a true solution.
4. The True Option – Empathy
This leaves only one option – learn and feel.
We must accept that there are different point of views, without embracing them or scorning them. Views on their own are not harmful – it’s actions surrounding these views that cause trouble.
Micro-aggressions towards people based on ethnicity, voting for exclusionary politics, supporting corrupt companies – these make a difference.
If however, we do chose to listen, we need to truly listen to the individual – both their words and their experiences.
People love to talk about themselves. Once we get past opposing the view, what else do they have to say? Perhaps it’s a sad story about a family member, neglected by the NHS. Perhaps they’re a minority, who fear their legitimacy being taken away. Perhaps it’s a story about feeling betrayed by people who follow different moral codes. Not all views or feelings are easy to find sympathy for.
For most people, if we’re willing, we can find genuine feelings causing their views. Some people don’t know their real feelings or problems beyond mass-media headlines. They wouldn’t be alone. Our beliefs can unwittingly be shaped by our environment – a perfect example of this is the “boomer” generation becoming conservative as they age and become richer.
Note: It’s worth mentioning that not all people get less progressive as they age, and not everyone gets more secure or wealthy. Being part of a marginalised group is generally associated with worse life expectancies, and lower incomes. This deserves more time than I can give here.
Sympathy isn’t endorsement, and it isn’t weak
We get scared of showing compassion. It’s easy to be manipulated into viewing compassion as a weakness, by people who prefer to fight aggressively. However deepening compassion and empathy should be the priority of the left, rather than trying to be morally superior or just more informed.
Empathy allows individuals to find their own way to what is kind, and is a different journey for everyone. By contrast, being right is a battle of wills, and is a zero-sum game. If you believe in multiple stories, it needs to include difficult stories, from people who aren’t always sympathetic.
Being informed helps widen our perspective, but doesn’t give us use-able ammunition. We need to increase trust and care, not challenge each other and create drama.
Next week, join me as I explore more about why increasing trust and sympathy is the next radical move the Left needs to take, even towards people who think they’re our enemies.
I hope you enjoyed this third part of this ongoing series of mine as much as I’m enjoying writing it. I really feel like I’ve found a vein of political thought that hasn’t had it’s fair share of representation, and I hope I’m doing people justice with what I’m writing. If you want to support my work, please consider becoming an email subscriber or following me on Facebook, for weekly posts about politics and philosophy, and a better way forward.