Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Right on Left on Right

One of the most provocative (to me, anyway) topics in the blogosphere has been the attempt by the Right to understand why the Left demonizes us. Two important contributions have been offered today by ShrinkWrapped and neo-neocon. I will add a few observations:

1) I believe that part of the explanation is to be found at the sociological level. Within the intellectual class, the Left is the overwhelming majority, and acts like a bully because it can. It is far easier to demonize than to be challenged by an equal, and many on the left have had the luxury of never having to accept the challenge. So, they demonize because they can (the same excuse Clinton offered for his treatment of that woman, Miss Lewinsky). While not an admirable trait, it is very human.

2) Further, many on the left might not even recognize a conservative argument if they saw one (like Pauline Kael, who was baffled that Nixon could have won the 1972 election, since "nobody I know voted for him). By contrast, all conservative intellectuals have had long years of toughening themselves against best the Left has to offer; many even had been liberals or leftists before. (Notice that there are vanishingly few neo-liberals or neo-leftists -- almost everyone who migrates, migrates rightward).

3) The combined result of 1 & 2 might lead a liberal to quickly feel very threatened when forced to confront a conservative, or when confronting the reality of their own lack of power in the larger society. Shrinkwrapped put it well: "People have powerful emotional investments in their political arguments and often react with fury when they are on the losing end. We can see everyday in the arguments of many on the left that losing power is not easily and gracefully negotiated."

4) To the extent that there is a fundamental (as opposed to reactive) psychological component to the Left's demonization, I think that Dr. Sanity was on the right track with her Narcissism and Society series. Please read the whole series, but one aspect in particular is captured in this quote from Part II:
Narcissistic Idealism is a compensatory mechanism (usually later in the child's development) when an idealized person (such as the Parent) fails to live up to expectations (which inevitably occurs).Not able to adequately deal with this truth, the Self immediately transfers its idealization to a new SelfObject. Rage is kept at bay by focusing on the new person/SelfObject who now receives the excessive awe or admiration withdrawn from the previous Object.
My take is that the Left, which accuses conservatives of Manicheanism in our approach to the War on Terror ("Only a Sith deals in absolutes!"), actually has a complementary Manicheanism, based on this narcissistic rage at the imperfect Parent. Here, the rage is displaced onto the US Government, which takes on the role of the imperfect parent ("You didn't protect the Iraqi museums!") or even the abusive parent (Gitmo). The compensatory Narcissistic idealization is then directed outward towards the enemies of the US (Castro, Che, Ho Chi Minh, Michael Moore's "Minutemen", etc). This process is on Technicolor display in today's column by Ted Rall.

5) A related psychological phenomenon is envy, which has often been attributed to the Left. Again, we can see that envy is both displaced (from parent onto US gov't) and projected (from self onto Terrorists or other "Others"). Michael McCanles, a frequent commenter at the Belmont Club, had this to say:
The left's dominant narrative--what one might call "narrative template"--is the unfolding of the logic of envy: "whatever someone possesses that I don't possess has been taken away from me and is owed me. When the possessors are dispossessed and I get what I don't possess, then 'social justice' has been done." "Fear of envy" (i.e., the "evil eye") is for anthropologists a major embodiment of this narrative's central obsession. Thus: Islam must hate us because "we" have robbed them of something that they want: thus the incongruous overlay of the marxoid group-conflict model on top of terrorist motivations. The nice thing about this narratival explanation is that it allows the teller a hidden modicum of control. If we can say "they are attacking us because of something that we have done, then all we have to do is correct it by giving them what they want, and all will be well. Thus we control the situation because our actions are the root of the evil being done us." This is why leftists are so dedicated to scapegoating and fingerpointing.
6) Finally, I want to emphasize that even these psychological observations are not meant to be taken as pathologizing individuals on the Left. I actually am inclined to see points 4&5 as a sociological phenomenon that is analogous to the psychological concepts of narcissism and envy, or that calls upon the fundamental narcissism and envy that is part of all of us. (I think Dr. Sanity also stated a similar caveat). I am not attempting to argue that there is on average a greater level of psychopathology in liberals relative to conservatives.

Most of all, I am trying (very hard) not to engage in the very kind of demonization I am seeking to explain. I hope that I have at least been successful in that attempt.


Blogger Goesh said...

You are succeeding in not demonizing the Left. Too often I find myself getting caught up in the same mind-set displayed by the extreme elements of the Left. My favorite Sociology Professor gave me the best advice I have ever had. He was a hard-corps Liberal, mind you, and he told me never to deny an opponent his or her humanity. This is not always easy for me to do. Well thought out commentary as yours and others, such as Neo's work and that of Shrinkwrapped to cite a few examples, nudge some folks to the middle ground at worse, but aptly sustain and defend the Right's logic and reasoning. I suspect this ability comes as much from your academic backgrounds as personal history. Keep up the good work.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a nice blog to discover.

But would you quit calling us the conservatives and the other jerks 'liberals'?

We are the "classic liberals", and they are the "kitsch left". I like to call them the "reactionary left".

Lets settle on this 'historic' nomenclature which is more in line with European terminology.


1:34 AM  
Blogger ex-democrat said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:41 AM  
Blogger ex-democrat said...

McCanles' point may also explain the lack of urgency among the left, who seem to believe that 'because we have the ace card we can always play it later, before things go too far.'

7:42 AM  

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