I don’t know whether it was a compliment or an insult but someone in the blue wastelands of Facebook called one of my posts, “a leftist rant.” Now then, I’ve been labelled for life and I must find out why and what it means. A “leftie,” moi?
I admit that when I was at the tender age of 18 or so, my opinions on the world veered dramatically from absolute zero to more than a stone’s throw from left of centre. The reasons were two-fold. Firstly, I had just realised that I actually did have opinions. The second reason was that the French president of the time, Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, was too busy testing nukes when he wasn’t buying diamonds from the African dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, to leave me unaffected by his misdemeanours and his purchases.
I’m also the guy who wants to save the animals, but only the furry and cuddly ones.
The biggest problem with present-day politics is that not only must you have opinions – “I don’t know,” is not an option – but these opinions must fit into one of two removal crates to be worthy of being taken away by insults or journeying their way to a slot on primetime television. It’s either “Right” or “Left,” and don’t you dare take up a middle ground that only exists to enable you to choose between the two antipodes.
I suppose that from a philosophical perspective, I am probably what you would loosely call, a “leftie.” You know the guy, don’t you. I’m the guy who would like to save humanity and make sure that everybody is fed and housed, but doesn’t mind sending bills for services rendered. I have accepted the system I live and work in, and try to make myself feel better with my virtual altruism. I’m also the guy who wants to save the animals, but only the furry and cuddly ones.
To honest, I really don’t know where I find myself on the political rainbow – probably by the ultraviolet and infrared, i.e. extremely invisible to the naked eye.
I would like to think that politics is all about compromise, the coming together of people, and advancement for the common cause. But that doesn’t work, does it. Compromise and middle-ground is boring, not sexy enough and finishes by annoying people. Uncommon ground is so much better. Unless, of course, the politicians who promote this middle-ground way of thinking really mean what they say and say what they mean. And that is where French president Emmanuel Macron made his biggest mistake. Having been elected by default, Macron had promised to bring the country together, a country the workings of which he pledged to radically change. “The whole world is watching us,” he chanted. But instead of showing the watching world and leading by example, implementing policies that would help everybody, what Macron did was to elevate himself above the few who voted for him and the many who didn’t, and deliver a speech in the bastion of French royalty – Versailles. In doing so, he has alienated the right, annoyed the centre, and disgusted the left. He has shown the caveats of middle-ground politics, a vision that is impossible to implement because politicians do not abide by it.
The failure of middle-ground politics goes beyond the shortcomings of main stream politicians. It is a reflection of the growing lack of tolerance, communication and willingness to debate with others whilst listening to what they have to say. You are either with me in what I say or against me, and there is absolutely no middle-ground where we can listen to each other. We are all so certain of our beliefs and convinced that we are right, that there is no room for argument. Those who are against us are our enemies. This irreconcilable dichotomy in present-day politics is nowhere better shown than in the UK where whole families, yet alone political parties, are torn apart when discussing Brexit. But all over politics, discussion is becoming more of a luxury than a necessity.
“I’m not racist, but…”
And then there are the men and women in the street. The “you’s” and “I’s” of this world. The people who don’t like be told that they may be wrong when it comes to politics, religion and above all, immigration. Those favouring immigration are more likely than not to be treated as intellectual or cosmopolitan “lefties,” whilst those against are nothing less that racists belonging to the Alt-Right. But many of those who tenaciously claim to be middle-ground do not stay on the fence for long because that is not what the fence is for. “I’m not racist, but…” The “but,” underscores the universal fact that a lot of people sitting on the fence do not sit there for long.
The Alt-Right of today shocks in the same way that the left shocked yesterday. Facebook, Twitter and the tabloids just love this irreconcilable dichotomy comprising foul language, juicy metaphors and a spice of all that’s nice about human nature. I remember when François Mitterrand came to power in 1981, bringing communism to power in a democratic country, courtesy of 4 ministers belonging to the Parti Communiste Français. The president was adamant that change was on its way. “The hope of our people is immense, and our responsibility is historic. (…) In the government, I ask for ardour and solidarity to carry out the reforms that the country expects,” Mitterrand proclaimed, only to veer sharply to the right. In later years, the late Jacques Chirac realised that the country he presided was suffering from a “social fracture,” that had to be mended, whilst at the same time mentioning the smell caused by an “overdose” of immigrants living on the same floor as you do.
Even the Netherlands, reputed for its tolerance in all matters, is not immune to the occasional loud-mouthed slinging match between those who are right and those who are not. It all started with Pim Fortuijn, the flamboyant intellectual leftie whose discourse flirted more often than not with right-wing ideologies. So much so, that Geert Wilders is seen as Fortuijn’s successor in matters of keeping Dutch society Dutch.
If you win, I lose.
Maybe the polarisation underscores the fact that we are scared of the “other,” and destabilised by difference. We are all seeking friends who can help us identify and will give us protection. The polarisation is not only limited to politics but occurs all too frequently in our daily lives.
Men opening doors for the female gender is a thing of the past and will only get disapproving looks – male chivalry is synonymous with sexism because women can open doors without the help of men. And yet, if a man does not consider the woman who is following him by holding the door open, is it not a sign that he does not care about women?
In my own driveway I get a taste of what it is like to be polarised. Asking the neighbour to move his car a couple of meters so that I can safely leave my parking space, is akin to asking him to park his car in another neighbourhood. The two extremes – blocking my driveway or leaving the neighbourhood – have no space for compromise and are out of touch with the reality of living together.
Politics is increasingly becoming a case of, “if you win, I lose,” with each side seeing itself as defending the nation. With time, of course, nobody actually wins, and extreme politics is seldom carried out. I’m probably bang in the middle of the political spectrum. It is the place to be because whereas the right sells promises it does not keep, the left sells dreams it shatters. Being in the middle-ground is probably playing it safe.