Mittwoch, 3. August 2011

Some Thoughts on Modern Leftism

The text below IS NOT the intellectual property of the author of this blog. The creator of this text is intentionally not named. Nevertheless, it is a text (amended slightly by the author of this blog) which deserves discussion as a challenging academic piece, regardless of the personality and/or history of its creator.

The world must have been a relatively boring place until the Industrial Revolution. Life in the middle of the 18th century was probably not all that different from life in Rome. Imagine: roughly 2 millennia with business as usual: the agricultural masses working for the aristocratic elites; wars over property and influence; luxury in the 18th century not all that different from luxury in Rome. Had Martin Luther not thrown a wrench into the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, even the philosophical landscape would have been boring for almost 2 millennia.

The Industrial Revolution with its invention of machines and its focus on the division of labor started the rat race. It was followed by further revolutions, most recently the information technology revolution. No one can predict where this process will lead to.

Most people will agree that we live in deeply troubled societies today. The financial crisis of 2008 and the current sovereign debt crisis have caused widespread fears about the future.

One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism, so a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society in general.

But what is leftism? During the first half of the 20th century leftism could have been practically identified with socialism. Today the movement is fragmented and it is not clear who can properly be called a leftist. 

This paper does not attempt to define leftism. Instead, it tries to indicate in a rough and approximate way the two psychological tendencies that are surely the main driving force of modern leftism.

The two psychological tendencies that underlie modern leftism are "feelings of inferiority" and "oversocialization." Feelings of inferiority are characteristic of modern leftism as a whole, while oversocialization is characteristic only of a certain segment of modern leftism; but this segment is highly influential. 

The "feelings of inferiority" referred to here are not inferiority feelings in the strictest sense but a whole spectrum of related traits: low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self-hatred, etc. Modern leftists tend to have such feelings (possibly more or less repressed) and these feelings are decisive in determining the direction of modern leftism.

When someone interprets as derogatory almost anything that is said about him (or about groups with whom he identifies), it indicates that he has inferiority feelings or low self-esteem. This tendency is pronounced among minority rights advocates, whether or not they belong to the minority groups whose rights they defend. They are hypersensitive about the words used to designate minorities. The terms "negro," "oriental," "handicapped" or "chick" for an African, an Asian, a disabled person or a woman originally had no derogatory connotation. "Broad" and "chick" were merely the feminine equivalents of "guy," "dude" or "fellow." The negative connotations have been attached to these terms by the activists themselves. Some animal rights advocates have gone so far as to reject the word "pet" and insist on its replacement by "animal companion." 

Those who are most sensitive about "politically incorrect" terminology are not the "underprivileged" who might be entitled to have such feelings but, instead, they are a minority of activists, many of whom do not even belong to any "oppressed" group but come from privileged strata of society.

Many leftists have an intense identification with the problems of groups that have an image of being weak (women), defeated (American Indians), repellent (homosexuals), or otherwise inferior. The leftists themselves feel that these groups are inferior. They would never admit it to themselves that they have such feelings, but it is precisely because they do see these groups as inferior that they identify with their problems.

Leftists tend to object to anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They object to America; they object to some of the principles of Western civilization; they are critical of white males; they dislike rationality. The reasons which leftists give to justify these objections clearly do not correspond with their real motives. They SAY they object to the West because it is warlike, imperialistic, sexist, ethnocentric and so forth, but where these same faults appear in socialist countries or in primitive cultures, the leftist finds excuses for them, or at best he GRUDGINGLY admits that they exist; whereas he ENTHUSIASTICALLY points out (and often greatly exaggerates) these faults where they appear in Western civilization. Thus it is clear that these faults of a "strong, good and successful society" are not the leftist's real motive for objecting to them. He objects to them because they are strong/good/successful while he feels inferior.

Expressions like "self-confidence," "self-reliance," "initiative", "enterprise," "optimism," etc. play little role in the leftist vocabulary. The leftist is anti-individualistic, pro-collectivist. He wants society to solve everyone's needs for them, take care of them. He is not the sort of person who has an inner sense of confidence in his own ability to solve his own problems and satisfy his own needs. The leftist is antagonistic to the concept of competition because, deep inside, he feels like a loser.

The leftist's feelings of inferiority are so ingrained that he cannot conceive of himself as individually strong and valuable. Hence the collectivism of the leftist. He can feel strong only as a member of a large organization or a mass movement with which he identifies himself.

Leftists may claim that their activism is motivated by compassion or by moral principle, and moral principle does play a role for the leftist of the oversocialized type. But compassion and moral principle cannot be the main motives for leftist activism. Hostility is too prominent a component of leftist behavior; so is the drive for power. Moreover, much leftist behavior is not rationally calculated to be of benefit to the people whom the leftists claim to be trying to help. For example, if one believes that affirmative action is good for minorities, does it make sense to demand affirmative action in hostile or dogmatic terms? Obviously it would be more productive to take a diplomatic and conciliatory approach that would make at least verbal and symbolic concessions to "majorities" who think that affirmative action discriminates against them. But leftist activists do not take such an approach because it would not satisfy their emotional needs. Helping minorities is not their real goal. Instead, minorities serve as an excuse for them to express their own hostility and frustrated need for power. In doing so they actually harm minorities, because the activists' hostile attitude toward the majorities tends to intensify hatred.

The leftist from a well-to-do European family travels to poor regions of Africa to explain to the poor but otherwise happy natives that they should feel miserable, and he might succeed in doing so. If our society had no social problems at all, the leftists would have to INVENT problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.

On the issue over oversocialization: psychologists use the term "socialization" to designate the process by which children are trained to think and act as society demands. A person is said to be well socialized if he believes in and obeys the moral code of his society and fits in well as a functioning part of that society. 

The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. For example, we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everyone hates somebody at some time or other, whether he admits it to himself or not. Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin. This is what is meant by the term "oversocialized" to describe such people.

Oversocialization can lead to low self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, defeatism, guilt, etc. One of the most important means by which our society socializes children is by making them feel ashamed of behavior or speech that is contrary to society's expectations. If this is overdone, or if a particular child is especially susceptible to such feelings, he ends by feeling ashamed of HIMSELF. Moreover the thought and the behavior of the oversocialized person are more restricted by society's expectations than are those of the lightly socialized person.

The oversocialized person cannot even experience, without guilt, thoughts or feelings that are contrary to the accepted morality; he cannot think "unclean" thoughts. And socialization is not just a matter of morality; we are socialized to confirm to many norms of behavior that do not fall under the heading of morality. Thus the oversocialized person is kept on a psychological leash and spends his life running on rails that society has laid down for him. In many oversocialized people this results in a sense of constraint and powerlessness that can be a severe hardship.

A very important and influential segment of the modern left is oversocialized and their oversocialization is of great importance in determining the direction of modern leftism. Leftists of the oversocialized type tend to be intellectuals or members of the upper-middle class. Notice that university intellectuals constitute the most highly socialized segment of our society and also the most left-wing segment.

The leftist of the oversocialized type tries to get off his psychological leash and assert his autonomy by rebelling. But usually he is not strong enough to rebel against the most basic values of society. Generally speaking, the goals of today's leftists are NOT in conflict with the accepted morality. On the contrary, the left takes an accepted moral principle, adopts it as its own, and then accuses mainstream society of violating that principle. Examples: racial equality, equality of the sexes, helping poor people, peace as opposed to war, nonviolence generally, freedom of expression, kindness to animals. More fundamentally, the duty of the individual to serve society and the duty of society to take care of the individual. All these have been deeply rooted values of our society (or at least of its middle and upper classes for a long time). These values are explicitly or implicitly expressed or presupposed in most of the material presented by the mainstream communications media and the educational system. Leftists, especially those of the oversocialized type, usually do not rebel against these principles but justify their hostility to society by claiming (with some degree of truth) that society is not living up to these principles.

Here is an illustration of the way in which the oversocialized leftist shows his real attachment to the conventional attitudes of our society while pretending to be in rebellion against it. Many leftists push for affirmative action, for moving minorities into high-prestige jobs, for improved education for immigrants and more money for such schools. They want to integrate the minority into the system, make the immigrant a business executive, a lawyer, a scientist just like upper-middle-class white people. The leftists will reply that the last thing they want is to make an immigrant into, say, a German; instead, they want to preserve the immigrant's culture. But in what does this preservation of immigrant culture consist? In all ESSENTIAL respects more leftists of the oversocialized type want to make the immigrant conform to white, middle-class ideals. They want to make him study technical subjects; become an executive or a scientist; spend his life climbing the status ladder to prove that immigrants are as good as nationals. They want to make immigrants "responsible". But these are exactly the values of the industrial-technological system. The system couldn't care less what kind of music a man listens to, what kind of clothes he wears or what religion he believes in as long as he studies in school, holds a respectable job, climbs the status ladder, is a "responsible" parent, is nonviolent and so forth. In effect, however much he may deny it, the oversocialized leftist wants to integrate the immigrant into the system and make him adopt its values.

The problems of the leftist are indicative of the problems of our society as a whole. Low self-esteem, depressive tendencies and defeatism are not restricted to the left. Though they are especially noticeable in the left, they are widespread in our society. And today's society tries to socialize us to a greater extent than any previous society. We are even told by experts how to eat, how to exercise, how to make love, how to raise our kids and so forth. 

The purpose of this paper is NOT to discredit leftism but, instead, to explain some facets of it. If leftists as described above could develop greater confidence in the nearly unlimited creativity and potential of the individual as the atom in the process to create a better and more affluent society, they might manage to become more social-democratic instead of leftists.

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