Friday, September 28, 2012

Dualisms we live by part 1: right and left

Since moving to France, I haven't had very much time for blogging, which is a shame, because it was always a mental exercise I really enjoyed. A friend here asked me why I would spend so much time on it, particularly on political posts which may or may not convince anyone. I think I've said it elsewhere on this blog, but I think it's more of a condition than it is a commitment. I just can't help but write down my thoughts somewhere sometimes. It might as well be in a place where other people can see, right?

I decided to start a series of short posts so that I won't get overworked trying to write them down. Rather than write one long post explaining a problem I see with society, it might help to get straight to those pertinent examples which are particularly fascinating and irritating.

One of the things I do here to try to improve my French is listen to podcasts. Pretty nerdy stuff mostly, like podcasts I find on France Culture. This morning I was listening to a discussion about "la droite" i.e. "the right" in French and more generally Western politics. The whole discussion is spent trying to figure out what "the right" means. Which leads me to the first dualism we live by, or rather try to live by but can't.

Right and left. Droite et gauche. These are very useful for journalists who need to quickly derive a story about who is up against whom. The right/left spectrum is a neat way to divide every controversy in two. The most immediate problem is that no complex issue has just two sides to it. A more fundamental problem is that when people are fixated on the fight between the two perceived "major parties" of political thought, they completely neglect thinking about the more radical changes that need to be made in society. Political discussion becomes more a question of which party is more to blame for the problems of the past decade or so, rather than trying to develop a coherent strategy for moving forward. Tug of war, rather than higher ideals, dictates our political movements.

Thus, when intellectuals get together to discuss the right or the left, they have to spend the whole time nuancing their way out of talking about the right or the left. After all, both sides "evolve" over time, or maybe it's simply "a question of definitions." All of which really means: these two categories are useless, unless you really need an efficient way to win political points. And, after all, I suppose efficiency is the larger part of what makes us act the way we do.