What does left wing and right wing mean?

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Wed Feb 08, 2012 6:13 am UTC

liveboy21 wrote:
The issues that omgrybread mentioned are issues that show different parties wanting to use government control in different aspects of a citizen's actions and shows that the parties aren't just more government versus less government.

Presumebly for an issue, left wing and right wing just comes from more government versus less government or guidance versus freedom.
However, for parties and voters, I still find it hard to understand how people can say things like 'The Nazis are right wing' when there are obviously a lot of issues involved. (and that's not even getting into whether the Nazis are really right wing.) Perhaps in this case, the definitions come from what the 'core' beliefs are? (I feel like I'm wrong here, so feel free to rip this statement apart)



Very very basically, right and left wing boils down to hierarchy.

"Right-wing politics" is an incredibly broad umbrella of political philosophies that support a hierarchically ordered society and rejects egalitarianism. "Left-wing" refers to, again, a broad range of philosophies that support equality and reject the supremacy of certain individuals.

Nazis (and other facists) are right-wing because they involve a strong dictator and state that are nominally and practically above the citizenry. Royalism, Theocracy, traditional conservatism, and Christian democrats all obviously fit in this group as well. Classical liberalism, neo-liberalism, anarcho-capitalism, minarchism, libertarianism, and the other "liberty" style philosophies fit into the right wing as well, because they end up with a de facto hierarchy. In the most extreme example, anarcho-capitalism, the capitalists are at the top of the ladder and unskilled laborers at the bottom.
The difference between the two major groups of right-wing politics is that the "conservative" types encode the hierarchy within law, and the "liberal" types have the hierarchy only exist in the market. It's theoretically possible for their elite to lose power without altering the political structure.


Left-wing politics includes left communism and anarcho-communism at it's far end, and social liberalism at the center-left. Left-Communism, Leninism*, Maoism, worker-owned capitalism, etc, all form the "anti-capitalist" type of the left-wing, in which egalitarianism is enforced by the elimination of traditional capitalism. The other major type is the welfare-state capitalism of Progressivism and modern liberalism.

There's a major difference in the two. Both "types" of right wing politics can exist anywhere on the spectrum. Christian Democrats and theocrats are similar in style, even though one is centrist and the other is far-right. Anarcho-capitalists are far-right, and classical liberals are centrist. On the left, though, communism and it's various types are far-left, and the capitalist welfare-state philosophies are more centrist, with few exceptions to each, and those can be kind of stretched or unfeasible.


*Leninism is starred above because it's very odd. At first glance Leninism appears to have many right wing elements, and it does. Without wasting 5 pages on it, Leninism was never intended as a truly communist system of governance. It was to be a placeholder until the dictatorship of the proletariat was not needed. Obviously it didn't work.



With these new, awesome definitions, almost every political philosophy is covered! Ask yourself if it supports egalitarianism or not, and boom, there's an answer. Almost every though, because there is an extremely tricky beast (well, one I can think of right now, I'm sure there's more hard to define philosophies.) Stalinism is nominally communist, yet in practice, it's perhaps most closely related to facism. Trotskyism and Left-Communism reject Stalinism as right-wing, in fact. It's extremely hard to define, and perhaps the best answer is that Stalinism is not a political philosophy at all, but merely a government style similar to the neopatrimonialism of modern Big Man dictatorships.


Phew. That was somewhat tiring. But yeah, that's pretty much the proper, universal answer to the OP's question. It's only related to normal usage of the terms in a somewhat abstract way, though.

EDIT: Maybe I'm tired, but rereading my post, it basically makes no sense. There's a point in there if you can decode the horrible writing, but I apologize for the messiness and absurd amount of -isms. It reads like the worst kind of non-fiction writing.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Choboman » Thu Feb 09, 2012 8:51 pm UTC

From my perspective, right wing philosopy includes a generous helping of social darwinism. It starts with the idea that if the government leaves individuals alone, then the hardest working, most competent, and smartest will naturally rise to the top. That laissez faire policies encourage people to work harder to succeed (or at least to avoid failure/starvation/whatever), and that social/financial safety nets undermine people's drive to succeed by eliminating the consequences of failure, especially if they are paid via taxes against those who were successful (thereby reducing the rewards of success.)
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Thu Feb 09, 2012 10:58 pm UTC

Choboman wrote:From my perspective, right wing philosopy includes a generous helping of social darwinism. It starts with the idea that if the government leaves individuals alone, then the hardest working, most competent, and smartest will naturally rise to the top. That laissez faire policies encourage people to work harder to succeed (or at least to avoid failure/starvation/whatever), and that social/financial safety nets undermine people's drive to succeed by eliminating the consequences of failure, especially if they are paid via taxes against those who were successful (thereby reducing the rewards of success.)
One kind of right wing philosophy does. But right wing philosophies can be distinctly un-meritocratic. Monarchies are an obvious example, and an even more oppressive system is/was the Jatis of India. One was born a Bhramin or a Shudra or an untouchable, and couldn't (in theory, there likely was limited social mobility in practice) change that.

Some left wing philosophies also exclude social darwinist tendencies (Communism, obviously), while others embrace it in a radically different way than right wing philosophies. A modern progressive might tell you that the hardest working, most competent, and smartest will given equal footing naturally rise to the top. But the incredibly driven and intelligent son of a poor factory worker might just end up being a very successful drug dealer, while the somewhat driven and moderately intelligent son of a corporate lawyer will become a Fortune 500 CEO.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Byrel » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:13 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:In some respects, the Nolan Chart can add confusion and inaccuracy. Plenty of conservatives are for personal liberty (to own guns, beat children, buy wasteful lightbulbs), but so are liberals (to sleep with whomever, burn flags, buy porn). If you tell me someone is conservative, meaning the traditional American definition, I can usually pretty clearly find what liberties they want and which they don't.


Well, it is certainly arguable that some of those fall under economic liberty. Particularly, the right to purchase guns, lightbulbs and porn, would all be sacrosanct in a position with strong economic liberty. Nevertheless, those same policies might be supported under the rational of personal liberty, in a stance with a centrist (or far left) view of economic liberty. So it boils down to issues != motive. The same stance can be taken on an issue by people for very different motivations. The question I would ask the conservative and liberal in question would "Why do you support/oppose government regulation on what can be owned or done in these cases?" I think the typical view of a conservative or liberal would indicate (as you implied) that they considered all of those issues as personal liberty issues. Which is why the traditional left/right scale fits so well in the center of the personal liberty scale; your average conservative/liberal will be for personal liberty half the time and against it half the time on the issues.

Just adding axes also cannot make a political graph completely accurate, because it doesn't account for intensity of belief. The Nolan chart provides a good example. It has libertarians equidistant from the poles, yet libertarians tend to align with conservatives, because their economic beliefs tend to be more intense than their social beliefs. A libertarian may nominally support gay rights, but they are much more concerned with taxation.


I'll have to just say, as a slightly right-of-center strong libertarian, that I see the exact opposite. That libertarians frequently take left-wing economic stances on issues like trade unions, and rarely align with conservatives. And so far as intensity goes, you can add as many axes as you like, and even label some of them intensity too.

Left-wing and right-wing are valid and useful terms because they fairly accurately describe modern (especially American) politics. That's about it, though.

Isn't that fascinating? That in a space that clearly has tons of dimensions, we actually get nice correlation to a single axis (and even better to two?) It makes you suspect some underlying cultural or psychological dilemma.

nitePhyyre wrote:
Byrel wrote:In fact, any issue can be taken as an extra axis if desired, which leads to an extremely ungainly (but highly accurate!) 42-dimensional political space.
Are you referencing something in particular, or were you being hyperbolic with '42'?


Well, it is the answer to life, the universe and everything. :P No, just hyperbole.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby nitePhyyre » Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:49 am UTC

When talking about 2 axis charts, I generally use the Political Compass. It seems the same as the Nolan chart, but it hasn't fallen over the way Nolan's has.

Getting kinda off topic. The point was just that you could have used better examples :D
Spoiler:
omgryebread wrote:
nitePhyyre wrote:I'm not sure I agree or not, but buying and selling guns/lightbulbs/porn do not fall under 'personal liberty'.
Sure they do?
When they pass laws about these lightbulbs, it is never "Households must remove incandescents by this date" it is always "Stores cannot stock incandescents after this date". This makes it an economic liberty. Same thing with porn. It is illegal to sell porn to minors, but it isn't illegal for them to have. (AFAIK - I've never heard of a child having to go to jail or pay a fine cause a cop caught them with a hustler) Gun laws say who can buy and sell guns AND where and when you can carry them around. So gun laws fit into both categories.
omgryebread wrote:
nitePhyyre wrote:More importantly, it only adds confusion and inaccuracy if you are using it wrong. You seem to be conflating philosophies with issues. The charts are designed to elucidate what philosophy someone ascribes to, in general. You aren't supposed to be able to ask someone where they land on the chart and then be able to tell them where they stand on issue X. If someone has a view on an issue that is opposite to their philosophy, it isn't that the chart (or how they self-identity) is wrong, it is that humans are inconsistent.
Except the chart doesn't cover all possible philosophies, or any chart that doesn't cover an axis for every issue is bound to miss some. I'm for a progressive tax structure, for heavily regulating gun ownership, for civil rights, all those liberal things, and I'm generally against regulations. I'm not against regulations because I'm inconsistent, I'm against them and I think it falls in line perfectly well with my other beliefs.
The right-wing is generally against regulations. The fact that you are right-wing most of the time, except on things where you are extremely left-wing, IS inconsistent - if you are adhering to a simple left/right spectrum.

You are right, however, to say that it isn't inconsistent. Trying to figure out the rationale behind this type of seeming inconsistency is exactly why people came up with these alternative charts.

omgryebread wrote:
Spoiler:
No. Think of it like this. I am far left on gay rights and health care. I am center-left on energy, and centrist on military budgeting. Take two politicians. Both are far left on gay rights, and center-left on energy. One is far left on health care and far left on military budgeting. The other is far left on military budgeting but centrist on health care. They both differ from the sum total of my positions an equal amount (both agree totally on 3/4 things, and disagree the same on 1 issue.) Presumably I should not have a strong preference for either politician, but I do strongly favor the one who matches my position on health care. I care that much more about health care than military spending.
A political position graph has no way of measuring this preference. You can see real life examples quite easily. Democrats nominally support criminal justice reform, yet rarely push it, because they value other things much higher. Libertarians vote republican more than they do democrat because they value economic liberty more highly than personal liberty.
You're right, it doesn't measure that preference; it isn't supposed to. You're right, it doesn't measure which issues are politically expedient to push in a particular country at any given time; it isn't supposed to. You're wrong, being able to make the determination as to why Libertarians vote they way they do is EXACTLY why these charts exist. Making a distinction between economic and personal freedoms and assigning a value to that distinction is literally the only things these charts are for. You are about as wrong as sourmilk is in my sig.

Bringing these things up as a complaint makes me wonder if you know why these alternative charts exist or how they function.

omgryebread wrote:Except American politics does fall on a left-right spectrum. It is either left OR right. Or fine, it's "left, or right, or your-vote-doesn't-matter-because-everyone-else-is-left-or-right"
Yes this is my point. If your model pretends all data that it doesn't describe doesn't exist, it isn't terribly useful as a descriptive model.

omgryebread wrote:On a global spectrum, yes the Democratic Party is not that left-wing (they're probably best described as center-left). That's not surprising though. Maybe there are super-anarcho-capitalist aliens, so on a universal spectrum, the Republican party is center-right, because wow they support a lot of government compared to the Alpha Centaurian Corporatist Party. So describing Democrats as the left is perfectly fine within the context of American politics.
This little SciFi section got me thinking. Traditionally these charts have the economy delineated by communism on the left, and a pure free market on the right. It seems the modern right-wing is now about corporate welfare. I'm not sure there is anywhere on the charts that covers this position.

Also, the Dems can best be described as very right wing, not centre left.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:33 am UTC

That Senate graph is evidence against the political compass philosophy, at least when applied to American politics. They loudly proclaim that one axis is too simple, but even their own massaged data produces a nice line.

You could replace their 2-d graph with a single line running 45 degrees to their axes, and it would sort senators pretty much the same way. It mostly says that their definition of left and right doesn't quite fit the common use, and that the common use is more useful.

If you look at their other graphs, the same pattern pops up time and time again. The main direction of interest runs diagonally, roughly from left-bottom to right-top, and outliers from that trend are idosyncratic, like single-issue parties.

The only plot that really makes use of the 2 dimensions is the graph for the UK 2010 elections. But that's a completely bewildering graph.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby nitePhyyre » Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:59 am UTC

Hmm, good observation. It would seem then that for the single axis left/right spectrum...
me wrote:You're right, it doesn't measure which issues are politically expedient to push in a particular country at any given time; it isn't supposed to.
... I'm exactly wrong.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby liveboy21 » Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:17 pm UTC

I want to say a few things about the previous posts

omgrybread's post about right and left wing boiling down to hierarchy was a fascinating read. However, since many different things have been said about what left and right mean in this thread, I would like it if someone could point to a source for the information in that post.

Secondly, in nitePhyyre's posts, there are some Nolan charts about politicians in the United States of America. If omgrybread's definition of left and right is correct, then how would you measure whether a politician is slightly to the left or slightly to the right of someone else? What's the difference between putting President Obama 1 space right of the center versus putting him 6 spaces right of the center. Also, what is the center?

Thirdly, if someone wants to say that certain issues are correlated to a left/right wing spectrum then it'll probably be better to use a country that's not the United States of America. Using the US of A doesn't seem to make sense because there are only 2 major parties in the US of A.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Mon Feb 13, 2012 6:54 pm UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:
omgryebread wrote:You're right, it doesn't measure that preference; it isn't supposed to. You're right, it doesn't measure which issues are politically expedient to push in a particular country at any given time; it isn't supposed to. You're wrong, being able to make the determination as to why Libertarians vote they way they do is EXACTLY why these charts exist. Making a distinction between economic and personal freedoms and assigning a value to that distinction is literally the only things these charts are for. You are about as wrong as sourmilk is in my sig.
Those charts never assign value to an intensity of which those beliefs are held. A libertarian who cares more about drug policy and prison reform is more likely to vote with the Democrats than a libertarian who cares more about gun rights and financial deregulation. They could both believe in the same ideas of what drug policy and prison reform and gun rights and financial deregulation should be, but we're also interested in how much they care about each. In no way do these charts address that.


omgryebread wrote:Except American politics does fall on a left-right spectrum. It is either left OR right. Or fine, it's "left, or right, or your-vote-doesn't-matter-because-everyone-else-is-left-or-right"
Yes this is my point. If your model pretends all data that it doesn't describe doesn't exist, it isn't terribly useful as a descriptive model.
Any model that fits Barack Obama and Rick Santorum about 2 units apart on a 20x20 grid is not very useful either. Perhaps in the very broad scheme of things, they are both very similar. But describing incredibly fringe politics is not useful.

Remember that political science is a very "soft" science. In biology or physics, you'd be a terrible scientist if you marginalized data points because they didn't fit on your measurement system. In political science, you can kind of ignore the fringe points that aren't likely to describe the viewpoints of very many voters, or that describe a politician that has no impact on politics. You can put more emphasis on the comparison between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, instead of comparing them to the Ronpaul. You should put much more emphasis on the Ronpaul than Sam Webb of the American Communist Party. In harder sciences, every point of data is equally meaningful. Not so in political science.
On a global spectrum, yes the Democratic Party is not that left-wing (they're probably best described as center-left). That's not surprising though. Maybe there are super-anarcho-capitalist aliens, so on a universal spectrum, the Republican party is center-right, because wow they support a lot of government compared to the Alpha Centaurian Corporatist Party. So describing Democrats as the left is perfectly fine within the context of American politics.
This little SciFi section got me thinking. Traditionally these charts have the economy delineated by communism on the left, and a pure free market on the right. It seems the modern right-wing is now about corporate welfare. I'm not sure there is anywhere on the charts that covers this position.[/quote]It works perfectly well if you put support for hierarchy on the right and support for equality on the left. (Also greatly explains why Democrats go along with lots of corporate welfare.)

Also, the Dems can best be described as very right wing, not centre left.
Spoiler:
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Taken from: http://www.politicalcompass.org/uselection2012
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Those charts are useless. Why not just chop off most of the chart and use the part with data on it? It's like if I had a chart of countries by population and started at 1. (Even then I'd have more data on the low end, thanks Vatican City).


liveboy21 wrote:I want to say a few things about the previous posts

omgrybread's post about right and left wing boiling down to hierarchy was a fascinating read. However, since many different things have been said about what left and right mean in this thread, I would like it if someone could point to a source for the information in that post.
A political science class is where I got most of the information. If you're looking for a book, Cultures at War: Moral Conflicts in Western Democracies is supposed to be pretty good.



Thirdly, if someone wants to say that certain issues are correlated to a left/right wing spectrum then it'll probably be better to use a country that's not the United States of America. Using the US of A doesn't seem to make sense because there are only 2 major parties in the US of A.
People use the US because it's politics are so well known and important for the entire world. Except maybe in the EU, where knowing the politics of other EU countries is important, after your own, the most useful political system to know is the US. Most political scientists are probably from the US as well. Other countries do have parties that are more fun to examine though.



I don't know if anyone has actually said where the terms come from, so that might help a bit in understanding the terms. In the French Revolution, people who supported the Republic sat to the left of the President in parliament, and those supporting the nobility sat on the right. The terms stuck.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TrlstanC » Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:14 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:Any model that fits Barack Obama and Rick Santorum about 2 units apart on a 20x20 grid is not very useful either.


Unless of course the question you're trying to answer is: "is there a big difference between their views of what government should do?" It's true that the democratic and republican parties would like us to believe that the two parties offer polar opposite answers to this question, but the truth is that they agree on a vast majority of the issues. They just make the few areas where there's disagreement out to be huge important issues, or more accurately, they just never mention any topic where they agree.

If you plot various historical and current politic figures from around the world on that graph, using that scale, there will be a pretty good dispersion i.e., the scale is useful for the information. The fact that Obama and Santorum, who represent two points fairly far apart in US Left/Right wing politics fall so close together does tell us something important - that the information in this graph is fairly useless for judging who to support/elect. The entire spectrum of US politics is basically a point, plus a little noise, or an artifact of the fact that politicians have to win primaries and therefore have to move their platform away from moderate positions a bit to increase their chances of being nominated.

What's completely lacking from that graph is "are these people any good at leading or representing the constituents that elected them?" And when we look at a graph like this, and see almost no difference between any of the candidates, we shouldn't use a different scale that artificially makes it look like any difference is significant, we should move on to a different graph or a different question - one that does address "how good" they are.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:55 pm UTC

TrlstanC wrote:
omgryebread wrote:Any model that fits Barack Obama and Rick Santorum about 2 units apart on a 20x20 grid is not very useful either.


Unless of course the question you're trying to answer is: "is there a big difference between their views of what government should do?" It's true that the democratic and republican parties would like us to believe that the two parties offer polar opposite answers to this question, but the truth is that they agree on a vast majority of the issues. They just make the few areas where there's disagreement out to be huge important issues, or more accurately, they just never mention any topic where they agree.

If you plot various historical and current politic figures from around the world on that graph, using that scale, there will be a pretty good dispersion i.e., the scale is useful for the information. The fact that Obama and Santorum, who represent two points fairly far apart in US Left/Right wing politics fall so close together does tell us something important - that the information in this graph is fairly useless for judging who to support/elect. The entire spectrum of US politics is basically a point, plus a little noise, or an artifact of the fact that politicians have to win primaries and therefore have to move their platform away from moderate positions a bit to increase their chances of being nominated.

What's completely lacking from that graph is "are these people any good at leading or representing the constituents that elected them?" And when we look at a graph like this, and see almost no difference between any of the candidates, we shouldn't use a different scale that artificially makes it look like any difference is significant, we should move on to a different graph or a different question - one that does address "how good" they are.
This sentiment annoys me perhaps more than any other in political discourse. Firstly, the parties don't mention where they agree because those points are so solidified into the American political psyche. No one seriously wonders whether we should be a dictatorship of the proletariat, or whether the military should be privatized. If they do wonder that, they are so far outside the political mainstream that they don't affect it. Positions like abolishing the income tax (thankfully) and decriminalizing cocaine (sadly) are also pretty far outside the mainstream. They might affect things, but they certainly aren't going to happen anytime soon.

Admittedly, on a scale from Revolutionary Catalonia (bottom left on the chart) to modern Iran (top right), the candidates are fairly close, though I'd argue the graph still places them too close and too far right. That doesn't mean the differences are trivial things, like these graphs (and your post) imply. They are enormous, society changing things. The difference between single-payer and for-profit insurance is enormous in the scale of actual effects on people and society. The debate over gun control revolves around the role of government with regards to personal liberty. It reflects vastly different understandings of that relationship. Conservatives in that debate see the government controlling guns as directly infringing on personal liberties, whereas liberals see the government as protecting personal liberty from other individuals. Conservatives push back government to support individualism, liberals introduce government to hammer out inequalities. Restricting contraception is similar but reversed. Conservatives use government to enforce a hierarchy (religion over people, men over women) and liberals push back to protect equality.

Those aren't minor quibbles about details, they are huge differences in the very approach to government. You can see in them the motivations each side brings to the table. The left brings, at its core, a desire for equality, whereas the right is always coming from the tendency towards hierarchy. That American politicians (and modern politicians in democracies worldwide) are so similar speaks to them being moderate and in the center.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TrlstanC » Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:41 pm UTC

I do think that questions like "how involved in healthcare should government be" and "what kind of gun control should we have?" are very important. But underlying both of those questions is a very broad base of agreement: government should be involved in healthcare (even if it's just to regulate private insurance companies) and government should regulate gun ownership and use. There may be a few people who don't agree with the majority on those points, but I'd expect the vast majority do.

The problem I have is that every election the candidates, especially the incumbents, always seem to want to talk about these kinds of questions "what should government do" and almost always want to completely ignore the next step "how should government do the things we want it to?" And I understand why, there's only two ways to answer "should government be involved with this" and one of them is going to be right (at least seem right to a majority of voters). If you talk about actually solutions to actual things government is trying to do, then there's thousands of possible solutions you could try, and you're never going to pick the best one (on the first try) and probably not even a 'good' one. Talking about actually solutions to actual problems is a good way to give your opponent on the next election something to attack.

Basically, both parties would agree to something like "government should do the few things they do well, and nothing that individuals can't do better." People will have some disagreement about the details, but we've been trying out different ideas for a couple hundred years now, not to mention watching the history of every other democratic country, and the countless amount of time spent by researchers and think tanks. At some point we need to realize that we can't wait for the 'perfect' answer to the "what" questions, we can't just keep picking politicians based on politics, i.e., what they think government should do, and not on solutions, i.e., how government should solve those problems. At some point it just becomes that much more important to pick people who are good at leading, who actually come up with good ideas, and who don't seem intent on only their own political and financial gain. I'd much rather vote for someone who proposes good solution for problems we all agree we should be working on then someone who matches my personal view of the role of government 100%.

Or to put it another way, we've figured out one solution to gun control, it's probably not the best, but if the country is split pretty much 50/50 on either relaxing controls, or imposing more restrictions, we're not going to make much progress there. However, there are hundreds of areas, that aren't contentious, that could use new and improved ideas, or just making them more efficient or more responsive. But if we completely ignore any topic that there's agreement on (because then what would politicians argue about during debates) those areas will never get addressed by candidates, or anyone hoping to get re-elected.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:50 am UTC

Am I missing something? The US just had a humongous, extremely public and extremely detailed debate over health insurance reform. Where politicians launched all kinds of proposals of how they wanted government involvement in health care to look like, or how they wanted to change the proposals already on the table. The debate was so big that it regularly reached the news in other countries. And it came with containerloads of stats, graphs, reports, think tank analyses and newspaper commentaries on pretty much every vaguely relevant issue. From the waiting lists for artificial hips in Hong Kong to the salaries of managers of medicine retailers.

Do you mean that in that debate there still wasn't enough talk enough about solutions and their merits? Or that you want more topics to look like the heathcare debate?

EDIT: that sounded more aggressive than intended. It's just that I still don't see what you're geting at. For those who want to, there's an enormous amount of information about US politicians' views and decisions on many issues. Including their participation in crafting very specific bills of law and appointing specific persons to important government jobs. Those are the main ways how a member of congress works on solutions, and a lot of that is a matter of public record.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TrlstanC » Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:13 pm UTC

No, that's exactly correct. The recent healthcare reform is a great example of politicians actually getting something substantial done, and basing it (at least in part) on solid theories and data. And if I go do some research, I can see who supported what, and maybe even see why they supported/opposed parts.There definitely are people in government who are trying to change things for the better, and some of those people are even politicians.

But, there were also many politicians who approached the whole debate thinking "how can I use this to improve my chances of re-election" and that meant that we spent a good deal of time listening to 'debates' about death-panels and socialism. Basically, taking complex ideas and dumbing them down as much as possible. Then when we actually get to an election, the ideas are dumbed down even further, it's now down to two sides "I'll immediately repeal 'Obama-care" vs. "I'll defend the healthcare reform." The data is there, and I can go find it, but most politicians are going to actively avoid discussing any of the actual data or issues now, they're going to make it a simple left wing/right wing debate. Even though the ideas in the healthcare bill actually have widespread support amongst both parties, or at least used to (many of the provisions were originally part of past republican healthcare reform bills). Instead of talking about the problems that were solved, or how to improve things that weren't solved well, they're going to simplify it to something that will fit within the framework of partisan politics.

The problem is that many people are going to look at their options as either "choose a side and vote with that side" or "do my own research and come to an informed decision" and are going to choose the easy way out, just to avoid 15 minutes of research. Basically, they're going to look at that graph, see that the two dots are very close, and instead of going to find more data to make a decision, they're going to zoom in and exaggerate any little difference of politics and focus on that. There are lots of politicians who will take advantage of this, and all they'll take about is politics e.g., "look at who conservative or liberal I am!" And if enough Americans take the easy way out, the politicians campaigning on partisan politics are going to be able to dominate the discussion and the elections. I'm just hoping that some percentage of people will start to think "there have got to be people out there that would do a better job, and they're not getting a chance to be heard" and start doing a little research every election.

Edit: Just read in Gardens of Democracy* that they framed the issue as talking about 'revolution' vs 'evolution'. Right now elections are dominated by a left vs. right discussion in terms of revolution: "we're going to take back congress/government/America." or "overthrow the democrats/republicans." It's about moving the country to some other spot on the left/right wing axis. Except that I'm 90-95% happy with where we are now, and I'd guess that's true for most people, certainly a majority of moderates, and moderate democrats/republicans. We can either spend every election talking about revolutions to move that last 5-10%, or we can talk about evolving, and improving on the 90-95% we do agree on.

*A great book, it's a compelling argument, or at least the overview of a compelling argument. Plus it's short (less than 200 pages) and cheap (about $10), and has lots of great references to other contemporary books and research on the ideas of modern government. I would highly recommend it to anyone that spends any amount of time thinking about how we can do things better.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:01 pm UTC

Hmm, I have two problems with that.

First, it's not really 15 minutes, is it? I have been following the Dutch health care debates for years, and through this forum a lot of the US debates as well. I must have spend a completely silly amount of time thinking, discussing and reading up on health politics and economics. And that still makes me no more than a bumbling amateur on the topic. It's just an incredibly complicated and uncertain subject, and a little bit of information is almost as likely to make people overconfident as it is to make them better informed. That's a shame, sure, but I don't think politicians, voters or democracy are really to blame. And that's true for lots of things.

Decisions have to made (because forms of 'do nothing' are just as much a decision as the alternatives), and the people involved will not be informed enough. That dilemma might be slightly alleviated by better informed voters, but it won't go away. There will always be gross oversimplification (AKA 'executive summaries' in business) and a good system is one that functions despite that fundamental problem.

And second, health care is a really, really big topic. Even when people agree for 95%, the remaining 5% will still, without any exaggeration, determine the life and health of lots of people, and the wealth and poverty of even more. There are very real interests at stake, and yet more for government as a whole.

People are going to fight, lie, cheat, manipulate to influence such power, no matter what you do. Arguably, people would be negligent if they allowed mere decency to give such power to their opponents. The first goal of democracy is to make lying, cheating and deception the main battleground of politics, and to prevent a resort to civil war or oppression. Just look at budding democracies to see how difficult this already is, even if we take it for granted.

EDIT: you'll have to excuse me on the Gardens of democracy. Nothing deep, just a bit too US-focussed for me.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:37 pm UTC

TrlstanC wrote:The problem is that many people are going to look at their options as either "choose a side and vote with that side" or "do my own research and come to an informed decision" and are going to choose the easy way out, just to avoid 15 minutes of research. Basically, they're going to look at that graph, see that the two dots are very close, and instead of going to find more data to make a decision, they're going to zoom in and exaggerate any little difference of politics and focus on that. There are lots of politicians who will take advantage of this, and all they'll take about is politics e.g., "look at who conservative or liberal I am!" And if enough Americans take the easy way out, the politicians campaigning on partisan politics are going to be able to dominate the discussion and the elections. I'm just hoping that some percentage of people will start to think "there have got to be people out there that would do a better job, and they're not getting a chance to be heard" and start doing a little research every election.
I have the opposite fear. I worry that people look at the options as "do research and decide what side I like" or "THIS SIDE CAUSE THEY ARE RIGHT" or "Eh they're all the same, wake up sheeple!"

I worry that people look at the graph, see that most of the dots are so close, and then just vote for the Ronpaul by virtue of him being not-close. Rather than look into the incredibly important differences between Obama and Romney, they just say "they're practically the same!" You end up with people either apathetic about politics, who can then rationalize their apathy by saying all politicians are the same; or people saying "Bush and Gore are the same man, I'm voting for Nader" and giving away an election. (Or Ross Perot and Bush I, or Christine O'Donnel and Sharon Angle)
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TrlstanC » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:45 pm UTC

I'd agree with that as well, I don't think there's a lot to be gained by deciding who to vote for by consulting a simple axis of left/right (or even a two-axis graph). It's basically a filter that keeps out a lot of complicated, but useful, information.

Here's an honest question for anyone: Do political parties help me at all? I can see that they make the decision somewhat easier, I can say "I usually identify with the politicians from party X more than party Y, so if I'm not sure who to vote for, I'll just go with X." But it seems like the cost, the most explicit being that independents/moderates get ignored, isn't worth the cost. Is there any reason I should say to myself "yeah, I'm glad that we've got these parties"?
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:43 pm UTC

Parties are a necessary evil; not from the perspective of the voter, but from the perspective of the politician. Almost no person has the organization to run a campaign from scratch, and the ones that do tend to not have any other skills (I can't tell you how many people that get jobs are nothing more than professional liars). Even if you do get the political animal that both knows how to run a campaign and manage part of government, chances are said person doesn't know every little intricacy about what the government does.

Let's say we got lucky, and a MD/JD who really knows healthcare inside and out and managed to become president, but does s/he understand all the intricacies of the education system, how to operate the military, the transportation department, economics, farming and conservation, or energy? Chances are the person doesn't even know someone who does for all of those, so the president can't even assign a competent secretary. Not every surgeon-general has friends that are major-general. But the party has connections, and knows which generals, judges, economists, etc, are semi-competent (or at least spout the party line).
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:21 am UTC

From the perspective of a voter, parties can help even an informed voter in some ways. Firstly, of course, I can donate to the DCCC and help elect people to Congress I like across the country, without having to choose who in each district, since I trust Steve Israel to choose them for me. I admittedly (perhaps regrettably) don't really care enough about the position of Register of Wills to spend more than 2 seconds looking on the ballot to see which party the candidates are from. (Positions like this should be appointed, anyway.)

They also help the voters in less direct ways. It would be much harder to lobby a party, both in the traditional way and in Tea Party style grassroots (or astroturf) way. As a lobbyist, one can lobby a few key politicians in whatever party and they'll help bring the rest. A grassroots organization can make a general threat against the "party establishment," leading to their movement being able to build cross-district unity.

In addition to the benefits that CorruptUser mentioned, parties help politicians in the legislature get things done. Taking any bill, there are probably several different positions on what exactly the bill should be like in each party. If all these versions were put on the table, there could be significant confusion, and possibly the "best" bill doesn't get approved, since it would involve more strategic voting on bills. (I like your bill more than his, but I won't vote for yours because I think if yours doesn't pass, mine will. Oh no, yours would have passed if I'd voted for it, but now some people who voted for it didn't like mine and voted for his.) With parties, Nancy Pelosi can get input from all the Democrats, sit down and write a bill that mostly pleases most of them, and then take that unified bill to the floor. Jilted Democrats who don't want to vote for the party's bill get a call from Steny Hoyer who tries and whips them into line.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TrlstanC » Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:03 pm UTC

It seems like the biggest benefit of political parties is that they help politicians get stuff done. This makes sense to me. I guess my main concern is that for a lot of politicians their #1 concern is getting re-elected no matter what. Which means that while political parties can be used for a lot of things, that they mostly just get used to improve the chances of re-election campaigns.

It could come down to a game-theory situation where you have: voters, politicians who want to improve things (or at least get things done), and politicians who just want to keep their job. And depending on the balance, the same choices can have different effects. For example, when you have a largely disinterested electorate, and most of them don't even bother to vote, this probably puts "effective" politicians at a big disadvantage, and political parties are very helpful for "career" politicians. Or, if there just weren't very many career politicians, the political parties wouldn't be run in a way to solely benefit them.

Is there a way to motivate political parties to get things (besides just re-electing incumbents) done? As mentioned, there are some key platform differences between democrats and republicans (even if they don't amount to much on a larger scale), but it seems like these differences are mostly used to convince people to vote, as opposed to actually make any changes (For example, gun control and abortion rights have played a part in many elections of the last couple decades, but relatively few changes have actually been made to the laws).

One example (not necessarily a good one) might be to have parties nominate their own candidates. Right now, the parties run their nomination process as a public vote, but that's just a party decision, it's not requirement. And a public primary pretty much just forces candidates to pander to the more extreme and active wings of their party i.e., to actively move away from moderate consensus positions. If the political parties nominated candidates in an 'internal' way (similar to the way states used to choose senators), then there would be pressure to pick the candidate who represented the views of most of the electorate. As a bonus, we wouldn't have to pay to hold their elections.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TrlstanC » Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:15 pm UTC

Here's a very well researched article that digs in to polls and research about American's political affiliation and how they self describe as Conservative/Moderate/Liberal.

Why Right-Wingers (and Media Hacks) Are Totally Wrong About What Americans Believe

It includes a lot of interesting information and citations, including bits like this:

... a new paper presented last month at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology found that political polarization in the U.S. has hardly changed at all in the last 40 years—but that Americans vastly overestimate how polarized we are.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby pizzazz » Sat Feb 18, 2012 8:22 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:
liveboy21 wrote:
The issues that omgrybread mentioned are issues that show different parties wanting to use government control in different aspects of a citizen's actions and shows that the parties aren't just more government versus less government.

Presumebly for an issue, left wing and right wing just comes from more government versus less government or guidance versus freedom.
However, for parties and voters, I still find it hard to understand how people can say things like 'The Nazis are right wing' when there are obviously a lot of issues involved. (and that's not even getting into whether the Nazis are really right wing.) Perhaps in this case, the definitions come from what the 'core' beliefs are? (I feel like I'm wrong here, so feel free to rip this statement apart)



Very very basically, right and left wing boils down to hierarchy.

"Right-wing politics" is an incredibly broad umbrella of political philosophies that support a hierarchically ordered society and rejects egalitarianism. "Left-wing" refers to, again, a broad range of philosophies that support equality and reject the supremacy of certain individuals.

Nazis (and other facists) are right-wing because they involve a strong dictator and state that are nominally and practically above the citizenry. Royalism, Theocracy, traditional conservatism, and Christian democrats all obviously fit in this group as well. Classical liberalism, neo-liberalism, anarcho-capitalism, minarchism, libertarianism, and the other "liberty" style philosophies fit into the right wing as well, because they end up with a de facto hierarchy. In the most extreme example, anarcho-capitalism, the capitalists are at the top of the ladder and unskilled laborers at the bottom.
The difference between the two major groups of right-wing politics is that the "conservative" types encode the hierarchy within law, and the "liberal" types have the hierarchy only exist in the market. It's theoretically possible for their elite to lose power without altering the political structure.


Left-wing politics includes left communism and anarcho-communism at it's far end, and social liberalism at the center-left. Left-Communism, Leninism*, Maoism, worker-owned capitalism, etc, all form the "anti-capitalist" type of the left-wing, in which egalitarianism is enforced by the elimination of traditional capitalism. The other major type is the welfare-state capitalism of Progressivism and modern liberalism.


I don't think you're fairly applying your own standards here. Most of those left-wing philosophies also have a de facto hierarchy (or even a theoretical one; in Communism/Marxism, the urban workers are just assumed to be morally and economically superior to the skilled laborers, farmers, business owners, etc, and only their interests are considered). Socialism prefers the government, In fact, since it is government based, the left-hierarchy tends to be much stronger and harder to displace than any free-market "hierarchy." So I don't think you can really say that e.g. libertarianism is more "hierarchical" than e.g. socialism.
(Also, in my opinion, where classic liberalism resembles modern beliefs, it tends to resemble liberatarianism more than anything else, not the center).
conservatives push back government to support individualism, liberals introduce government to hammer out inequalities. Restricting contraception is similar but reversed. Conservatives use government to enforce a hierarchy (religion over people, men over women) and liberals push back to protect equality.

Those aren't minor quibbles about details, they are huge differences in the very approach to government. You can see in them the motivations each side brings to the table. The left brings, at its core, a desire for equality, whereas the right is always coming from the tendency towards hierarchy. That American politicians (and modern politicians in democracies worldwide) are so similar speaks to them being moderate and in the center.


In my experience, your conclusions are wrong. If we're talking about the United States, then both conservatives and leftists believe they are supporting equality, they just focus on different approaches to equality. In particular, conservatives prefer a bottom-up approach when possible, allowing people and markets to do their work, rather than applying government force. They may have any variety of reasons (fear of general government encroachment, belief the government will fuck things up worse and/or not fix the problem it's trying to fix, discomfort with the idea of government determining what ideas are valid or what groups of people are being advantaged/disadvantaged, etc.) but that's the basic motivation. Leftists prefer the top-down approach, where government takes the preferred socioeconomic ideas du jour, then spends lots of money awkwardly trying to force people to do things they don't want to do in a clusterfuck whose efficiency tends to remind me of attempts to eat bread through a straw (my bias may be showing through here).

Also, you're treating different types of systems in the same way. Monarchy is a system of choosing government that can include a rough idea of how much power the government has, analogous to Democracy, Republic, Oligarchy, etc. Libertarianism describes what the powers and rights of the people and government are, as do social progressivism and socialism. So any pairing (1 from each group) is theoretically plausible (maybe not quite, but you get the idea). We also have various theories for the optimal distribution of wealth (forms of utilitarianism and so on).

Some philosophies clearly or can encompass both: Communism, feudalism, theocracy. So grouping communism, progressive socialism, and democracy on one side and theocracy, libertarianism, and monarchy on another seems kind of useless to me.

In my opinion? Right wing and left-wing are local measures. They mean whatever they mean in context. For example, the entire mainstream (90+% of the population) left to right spectrum in the USA and Western Europe could probably fit into "constitutional democratic republic, with the government responsible to and for protecting the people, the people having certain rights the government cannot normally take away (such as life, privacy, property, etc.)" any one of which would have seemed like witchcraft in these same places just a few centuries prior. Of course these politicians are clumped on your graphs, because you're comparing a group of people with very similar fundamental beliefs to those with totally different basic beliefs.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Sat Feb 18, 2012 5:06 pm UTC

pizzazz wrote:I don't think you're fairly applying your own standards here. Most of those left-wing philosophies also have a de facto hierarchy (or even a theoretical one; in Communism/Marxism, the urban workers are just assumed to be morally and economically superior to the skilled laborers, farmers, business owners, etc, and only their interests are considered). Socialism prefers the government, In fact, since it is government based, the left-hierarchy tends to be much stronger and harder to displace than any free-market "hierarchy." So I don't think you can really say that e.g. libertarianism is more "hierarchical" than e.g. socialism.
Under Marxism, everyone is a worker. There are no business owners to discriminate against. Marxism does call for a "dictatorship of the proletariat" to temporarily exist to enforce the change to socialism. I've not read anything about urban workers being superior to other workers in Marxism, but I've not read a ton about Marxism.

"The government" is not a class. It is instead a structure. In every system of government we've ever had, the government has been captured by a certain class. (Be it the nobility, the business elite, the Party elite, the well-educated upper class, etc). Regardless, the supremacy of the government isn't contradictory with egalitarianism. In a truly equal society (which most people recognize cannot exist), everyone would have equal access to the government. Two children, one the son of a multi-millionaire lawyer who went to Yale, the other the daughter of a high school dropout, would have equal weight in the political system, would have equal opportunities for education, and would be equally capable (excluding chance things like disabilities or innate intelligence, whatever you want to mean by that) of being in government. Any hierarchy that does exist is both because the ideology is not pure leftist, and because it's imperfect. In big-government style left ideologies, the government is the mechanism by which hierarchy is diminished.

An elected and free government, with equal access to educational opportunities in theory is the most limited hierarchy obtainable without being Marxist (specifically and importantly not the "transitional" period Marx talked about, or that Marxism-Leninism embodied). A free-market hierarchy develops classes based on inheritance and differences in opportunity.

In a truly unregulated market (government only prevents violence and maybe fraud), social mobility is extremely low, because of the stratification of education and the existence of social networks. A poor kid isn't going to obtain the same education that a rich kid is, and he's not going to have the same social contacts that will get him a job, so the chances that he will rise in class are not zero, but they are small.

(Also, in my opinion, where classic liberalism resembles modern beliefs, it tends to resemble liberatarianism more than anything else, not the center).
The political libertarianism we have now is fairly centrist.

In my experience, your conclusions are wrong. If we're talking about the United States, then both conservatives and leftists believe they are supporting equality, they just focus on different approaches to equality. In particular, conservatives prefer a bottom-up approach when possible, allowing people and markets to do their work, rather than applying government force. They may have any variety of reasons (fear of general government encroachment, belief the government will fuck things up worse and/or not fix the problem it's trying to fix, discomfort with the idea of government determining what ideas are valid or what groups of people are being advantaged/disadvantaged, etc.) but that's the basic motivation. Leftists prefer the top-down approach, where government takes the preferred socioeconomic ideas du jour, then spends lots of money awkwardly trying to force people to do things they don't want to do in a clusterfuck whose efficiency tends to remind me of attempts to eat bread through a straw (my bias may be showing through here).
Except it's painfully obvious that conservatism does not produce egalitarianism. Surely even the most starry-eyed conservative that thinks that the free market can truly make people equal sees the distorting, unequal effects of inheritance and educational opportunities. Capitalism by it's very nature will produce a dynastic upper class. See the Waltons, the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, and the Bushes for examples. (Of those, only the Kennedys rose in status primarily because of the political system, and then their dynastic quality was still enabled by differences of opportunity.) And if you're really going to talk about systems forcing people to do things they don't want to do, maybe acknowledge that my inability to go to Harvard or Yale and have my parents be friends with business leaders makes it much harder for me to be a political operative like I want to.

Also, you're treating different types of systems in the same way. Monarchy is a system of choosing government that can include a rough idea of how much power the government has, analogous to Democracy, Republic, Oligarchy, etc. Libertarianism describes what the powers and rights of the people and government are, as do social progressivism and socialism. So any pairing (1 from each group) is theoretically plausible (maybe not quite, but you get the idea). We also have various theories for the optimal distribution of wealth (forms of utilitarianism and so on).
Of course. Yes, any pairing is theoretically achievable, but they are obviously interrelated. A monarchy will always promote the economic and social dominance of the monarchs! Democracy is too nebulous to really call here, but it will generally and theoretically promote the welfare of the voting public.

Some philosophies clearly or can encompass both: Communism, feudalism, theocracy. So grouping communism, progressive socialism, and democracy on one side and theocracy, libertarianism, and monarchy on another seems kind of useless to me.
Why? Communism works to eliminate hierarchy and replace it with a collective socialism*. Feudalism and theocracy specifically seek to entrench a hierarchy. Libertarianism seeks to implement a market-based hierarchy. The relatively high degree of social mobility in modern libertarianism makes it a relatively centrist position. The allowance and encouragement of capitalism makes progressivism a center-left ideology.

The free market is a largely centrist concept (there are hard-right free market ideologies in anarcho-capitalism). It's antithetical to traditional right-wing views because it directly uproots hard-coded hierarchies of religion or nobility. It's antithetical to hard-left views because it puts capital and those who own it above labor. As much as the right-wing wants to believe it is, the current debate is not over whether or not there should be a free market. The debate is over what a free market is, and how best to make one. A conservative believes that free market simply means minimal government involvement, whereas a progressive believes that a market cannot be free without the government acting as a disinterested third party (and yes, the fact that government is virtually never disinterested is recognized and treated as the foremost problem.)

*I want to point out that every Communist government we've had has not been the theoretical communism that Marx and others talked about. Lenin even acknowledged that his form of government was a transition, and that eventually the "dictatorship of the proletariat" would not be needed. The ideal society would consist of workers owning things in common and working together. The fact that every single communist government has eventually fallen apart before this has been achieved suggests to me that Communism is an impossible form of government, and that there simply can never be that ideal state that Marx wanted. It also suggests that authoritarian governments can rarely devolve well into free and equal societies. (I'm not going to say never because I can think of at least one case, that of Bhutan, in which the monarchy peacefully and voluntarily gave up it's executive powers to parliament.)
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby pizzazz » Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:26 am UTC

So I finally have enough time to respond, yay!

omgryebread wrote:
pizzazz wrote:I don't think you're fairly applying your own standards here. Most of those left-wing philosophies also have a de facto hierarchy (or even a theoretical one; in Communism/Marxism, the urban workers are just assumed to be morally and economically superior to the skilled laborers, farmers, business owners, etc, and only their interests are considered). Socialism prefers the government, In fact, since it is government based, the left-hierarchy tends to be much stronger and harder to displace than any free-market "hierarchy." So I don't think you can really say that e.g. libertarianism is more "hierarchical" than e.g. socialism.
Under Marxism, everyone is a worker. There are no business owners to discriminate against. Marxism does call for a "dictatorship of the proletariat" to temporarily exist to enforce the change to socialism. I've not read anything about urban workers being superior to other workers in Marxism, but I've not read a ton about Marxism.

It is true that under pure Marxism, there are no classes, but only because all classes but 1 have been violently destroyed: their property taken, their people forced into labor, etc.* Marx definitely has a hierarchy in his mind as he writes, putting the workers above the others to the extent that no other is worth having.
And although Marx's mentions of rural peasants (even he realized that you do need someone to produce food) are scattered and indirect, when they do appear, it's fairly apparent, at least in my opinion, that he doesn't like them as much he does the urban workers. For one, they tend to be more religious and conservative, and he thought they would resist the uprising of the workers. In fact, some of the "peasants" at that point were actually successful landowners.

"The government" is not a class. It is instead a structure. In every system of government we've ever had, the government has been captured by a certain class. (Be it the nobility, the business elite, the Party elite, the well-educated upper class, etc). Regardless, the supremacy of the government isn't contradictory with egalitarianism. In a truly equal society (which most people recognize cannot exist), everyone would have equal access to the government. Two children, one the son of a multi-millionaire lawyer who went to Yale, the other the daughter of a high school dropout, would have equal weight in the political system, would have equal opportunities for education, and would be equally capable (excluding chance things like disabilities or innate intelligence, whatever you want to mean by that) of being in government. Any hierarchy that does exist is both because the ideology is not pure leftist, and because it's imperfect. In big-government style left ideologies, the government is the mechanism by which hierarchy is diminished.

An elected and free government, with equal access to educational opportunities in theory is the most limited hierarchy obtainable without being Marxist (specifically and importantly not the "transitional" period Marx talked about, or that Marxism-Leninism embodied). A free-market hierarchy develops classes based on inheritance and differences in opportunity.

For one, I think you're still applying standards unequally. There is no theoretical requirement for free-market systems to have a "hierarchy" among private agents. It's a common result in practice, but the same is of course to be said about left ideologies.
Secondly, I believe you are applying a particular definition of what refer to as egalitarianism, and then dismissing any other possible definition. You care about equality of control of resources, largely via equality of opportunity. But what about equality of rights or treatment under the law? Clearly a government that takes from some and gives to others is not treating everyone equally. What if we don't care about terrestrial life at all, and merely want to make sure everyone is equally well-off in the afterlife, and thus must protect them from themselves in this life (which would fall under theocracy).
I'm also not sure why you say the government is a "structure" and not a "class." So the monarch in a monarchy or the priesthood in a theocracy is not a class? Why are they mutually exclusive? Why is this semantic distinction relevant, if the practical results are the same?
In a truly unregulated market (government only prevents violence and maybe fraud), social mobility is extremely low, because of the stratification of education and the existence of social networks. A poor kid isn't going to obtain the same education that a rich kid is, and he's not going to have the same social contacts that will get him a job, so the chances that he will rise in class are not zero, but they are small.

This whole paragraph is utter bullshit. The nearly unregulated market of late 19th and early 20th century America produced the greatest socioeconomic mobility that had existed anywhere in the world up until that point in time, and no big-government system has produced results anywhere near as remarkable since (currently, places like Hong Kong and Singapore are probably the best in this regard).

(I cut down on quotation to reduce the post length, so from here on my reply gets more general)
In my experience, your conclusions are wrong. If we're talking about the United States, then both conservatives and leftists believe they are supporting equality, they just focus on different approaches to equality. In particular, conservatives prefer a bottom-up approach when possible, allowing people and markets to do their work, rather than applying government force. They may have any variety of reasons (fear of general government encroachment, belief the government will fuck things up worse and/or not fix the problem it's trying to fix, discomfort with the idea of government determining what ideas are valid or what groups of people are being advantaged/disadvantaged, etc.) but that's the basic motivation. Leftists prefer the top-down approach, where government takes the preferred socioeconomic ideas du jour, then spends lots of money awkwardly trying to force people to do things they don't want to do in a clusterfuck whose efficiency tends to remind me of attempts to eat bread through a straw (my bias may be showing through here).
Except it's painfully obvious that conservatism does not produce egalitarianism. Surely even the most starry-eyed conservative that thinks that the free market can truly make people equal sees the distorting, unequal effects of inheritance and educational opportunities. Capitalism by it's very nature will produce a dynastic upper class. See the Waltons, the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, and the Bushes for examples. (Of those, only the Kennedys rose in status primarily because of the political system, and then their dynastic quality was still enabled by differences of opportunity.) And if you're really going to talk about systems forcing people to do things they don't want to do, maybe acknowledge that my inability to go to Harvard or Yale and have my parents be friends with business leaders makes it much harder for me to be a political operative like I want to.

It's also obvious that leftism does not produce egalitarianism. Such dynasties as you mention are certainly not impossible or even difficult in many leftist ideologies, and not a theoretical requirement of all conservative ones.

Of course, you keep comparing the theoretical aspect of leftism with the practical effects of conservatism, which is not valid. One at a time, please.

*And then, if we replace the preference for workers with the preference for a particular race/ethnicity/nationality, we pretty much get Fascism, which is generally considered far-right. So there's that.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby IcedT » Fri Feb 24, 2012 12:45 am UTC

I think it's interesting that the posters here who are more consistently leftist define leftism as "egalitarianism" while the more conservative ones (... okay, just CorruptUser) defines rightism as "individualism."

Also, I think it might just be easiest to think of left and right being about historical perspective. For example, the kind of laissez-faire bourgeois philosophy that was part of 18th-century liberalism is now usually a mark of conservatism. When those philosophies were first applied to politics, they were about a future of markets and industry while contemporary conservatives were mostly rentiers who favored landowning, agriculture and aristocracy. The Nazis are considered far-right because their ideology was rooted in revisionist beliefs about the past while the Stalinists were about advancing civilization to the post-capitalist stage. In modern American politics, the Democrats are on the left because they want a new level of social freedom and government involvement in the economy, and the Republicans are on the right because they generally oppose those changes, often want a regression to what they consider "the Founders' values," and they like showing up at rallies in colonial wigs. Libertarians often vote Republican because they believe that the best option is a return to first principles- they don't believe in government's power to make things better, generally speaking.

There's a million different ways to cut the contemporary left from the contemporary right, but I think the only definition that can be consistently applied across history is that the left is forward-looking and the right is backwards-looking.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Fri Feb 24, 2012 2:21 am UTC

IcedT wrote:I think it's interesting that the posters here who are more consistently leftist define leftism as "egalitarianism" while the more conservative ones (... okay, just CorruptUser) defines rightism as "individualism."


No, I defined the right as "traditionalism". The issue I had with the left-right dichotomy was that "individualism" isn't on the scale at all.

Spoiler:
CorruptUser wrote:I think it would be best to group people into 3 groups, at least for the US. Moralists, the people who believe government should be about providing maximum benefit to society. Traditionalists, people who want to do what has worked before. And Individualists, people who want to maximize freedom. It's not really right to say one is obviously superior to the others, as they all have their valid points. Traditionalists argue that change tends to hurt the people already at the bottom the most, Moralists respond that doing nothing hurts the people at the bottom permanently, and Individualists retort that Moralists have few qualms about sacrificing the few for the many so long as it's someone else taking the hit.

Obviously, they are not mutually exclusive, but it does better explain the US than the "right-left" dichotomy. The "left", Democrats are mostly moralists, while the "right", Republicans, are mostly traditionalists. Individualists are not well represented by either party, but until the Libertarians get their act together the individualists jump between parties. Currently, the Republican party caters more towards individualists than the Democrats, though that can easily change.


Also, I too agreed that leftism was about "egalitarianism".

Spoiler:
CorruptUser wrote:
liveboy21 wrote:Left wing policy means either change or policy in favour of the majority of citizens
Right wing policy means either maintaining status quo or policy in favour of the elite class


No, supporters of both sides believe that their policies are in favor of the majority, while the leaders happen to be those elites that benefit.

Anyway, in traditional politics, without trying to demean either side, 'left-wing' is about promoting egalitarianism, while 'right-wing' is more about natural law. Usually.

Basically, egalitarianism has the problem that, well, some people are more productive than others, and the problems arising from forcing everyone to have the same status/wealth despite varying abilities and work ethics are the reasons Communism has never worked on all but the smallest scales. Natural law has the problem in that sometimes, people are at the bottom of the pile because of reasons other than their own abilities or work ethic, and sometimes government can actually improve some people's lives with minimal cost (or sometimes net benefit) to everyone else in society.


And I do take issue with being called conservative. I'm in between moralism and individualism; just that I feel that in recent years the Democrats have all but given up any pretense of supporting individualism.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby IcedT » Fri Feb 24, 2012 2:29 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:
IcedT wrote:I think it's interesting that the posters here who are more consistently leftist define leftism as "egalitarianism" while the more conservative ones (... okay, just CorruptUser) defines rightism as "individualism."


No, I defined the right as "traditionalism". The issue I had with the left-right dichotomy was that "individualism" isn't on the scale at all.

Spoiler:
CorruptUser wrote:I think it would be best to group people into 3 groups, at least for the US. Moralists, the people who believe government should be about providing maximum benefit to society. Traditionalists, people who want to do what has worked before. And Individualists, people who want to maximize freedom. It's not really right to say one is obviously superior to the others, as they all have their valid points. Traditionalists argue that change tends to hurt the people already at the bottom the most, Moralists respond that doing nothing hurts the people at the bottom permanently, and Individualists retort that Moralists have few qualms about sacrificing the few for the many so long as it's someone else taking the hit.

Obviously, they are not mutually exclusive, but it does better explain the US than the "right-left" dichotomy. The "left", Democrats are mostly moralists, while the "right", Republicans, are mostly traditionalists. Individualists are not well represented by either party, but until the Libertarians get their act together the individualists jump between parties. Currently, the Republican party caters more towards individualists than the Democrats, though that can easily change.


Also, I too agreed that leftism was about "egalitarianism".

Spoiler:
CorruptUser wrote:
liveboy21 wrote:Left wing policy means either change or policy in favour of the majority of citizens
Right wing policy means either maintaining status quo or policy in favour of the elite class


No, supporters of both sides believe that their policies are in favor of the majority, while the leaders happen to be those elites that benefit.

Anyway, in traditional politics, without trying to demean either side, 'left-wing' is about promoting egalitarianism, while 'right-wing' is more about natural law. Usually.

Basically, egalitarianism has the problem that, well, some people are more productive than others, and the problems arising from forcing everyone to have the same status/wealth despite varying abilities and work ethics are the reasons Communism has never worked on all but the smallest scales. Natural law has the problem in that sometimes, people are at the bottom of the pile because of reasons other than their own abilities or work ethic, and sometimes government can actually improve some people's lives with minimal cost (or sometimes net benefit) to everyone else in society.

Sorry about that, I missed that post somehow. Didn't mean to misquote you or anything.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Fri Feb 24, 2012 3:57 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:No, I defined the right as "traditionalism". The issue I had with the left-right dichotomy was that "individualism" isn't on the scale at all.
I think both sides can claim some individualism (so yeah, not on the scale I guess.) I'm okay with traditionalism as the right. My problem in general even with calling the individualist right wing philosophies individualism is that I think they are only surface individualism. I think they invariably lead to corporatism anyway. They're always for an unregulated market, and in markets, corporations do far better. Corporations are hardly bastions of individuality, though it seems some only think the individual/group dichotomy applies to government.

And I do take issue with being called conservative. I'm in between moralism and individualism; just that I feel that in recent years the Democrats have all but given up any pretense of supporting individualism.
I think it's impossible to be individualist without respecting individuals. Individualism means freedom, right? Freedom to what? Own guns and hoard your money? Freedom for who? White men in good health from rich families? Freedom from what? GOVERNMENT?

What about freedom to love who want, or freedom to take contraception or freedom to do whatever you want with a flag? Those are all things Democrats support. What about freedom for the mentally ill, or immigrants, or those who've smoked a bit of pot? What about freedom for those who committed a crime, got out of prison and still can't vote? What about freedom from religious leaders who get abortion banned in a state or say teachers can't talk about homosexuality? What about freedom from corporations that want to dump chemicals in rivers or in the air?


Or yeah, what about freedom from poverty? What about freedom from lack of opportunity? I have a ton of freedom (thanks in large part to Democrats of the past), but what is that freedom worth if I can't afford the medicine that lets me live like a free person? It's an awfully shallow freedom Republicans are fighting for. Isn't giving a person health care giving them freedom? Isn't giving everyone a good, fair, equal, and free education giving them freedom? If telling a company they can't pollute is restricting their freedom, isn't it providing freedom for the people who live around it? If forcing companies to report on their CDS portfolios restricting their freedom, isn't it providing the freedom of the public to know those things?

It's a shallow individualism that dumps some of it's individuals alone and disadvantaged.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:34 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:What about freedom to love who want, or freedom to take contraception or freedom to do whatever you want with a flag? Those are all things Democrats support. What about freedom for the mentally ill, or immigrants, or those who've smoked a bit of pot? What about freedom for those who committed a crime, got out of prison and still can't vote? What about freedom from religious leaders who get abortion banned in a state or say teachers can't talk about homosexuality? What about freedom from corporations that want to dump chemicals in rivers or in the air?


The Democratic party is very much trying to infringe on smoking rights and what you are allowed to eat (not that I entirely disagree with that), so I don't think they really support lowering the drinking age or legalizing cannabis. Freedom for the mentally ill; last I checked Reagan gave them freedom. The Democrats also have plenty of people just as much anti-immigration as the Republicans (unions for example), and there are many Republicans that want more immigrants (hotel lobbies, etc), so immigration is not clearly right or left. Individualism can also include consequences, so the 'people' do have the right to strip criminals of their voting rights (thought for what crimes is up for debate).

As for the garbage dumping, that's harming you, which is a violation of your rights. As for the religious leaders, you (and I) may disagree with them, but do you really want a society where the state can determine what you are and are not allowed to think, no matter how crazy?

I think you need to step back a bit. I'm mainly an individualist; I believe the state exists to protect your negative rights. I'm partially moralist; I believe there are some positive rights that the state should provide (mainly, no one should ever be too poor to not be poor; i.e., too weak from starvation to even apply for a job, and yes, this applies to emergency care as well). I do not support positive rights when they heavily infringe on negative rights.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Derek » Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:33 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:I think both sides can claim some individualism (so yeah, not on the scale I guess.) I'm okay with traditionalism as the right. My problem in general even with calling the individualist right wing philosophies individualism is that I think they are only surface individualism. I think they invariably lead to corporatism anyway. They're always for an unregulated market, and in markets, corporations do far better. Corporations are hardly bastions of individuality, though it seems some only think the individual/group dichotomy applies to government.

The difference is that corporations are voluntary groups that can be joined and left at will. Governments are, for the most part, involuntary.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Feb 24, 2012 2:11 pm UTC

Derek wrote:The difference is that corporations are voluntary groups that can be joined and left at will. Governments are, for the most part, involuntary.

That's only a matter of degree. Giving up a halfway good job is not that easy. Either you face a significant drop in living standards and financial security, or you have to spend serious time and effort in finding a similarly good job.

No guarantees that you find one that's as good, you might have to move with all the complexities involved (including things like a new job for your partner), the new job might turn out less of a good match than you thought, you give up part of the experience and network you build up in your previous job, etc.

Of course, emigration is a far bigger step yet (for most people at least), but it is in many ways a larger version of the same thing. Unless your country has a wall around it of course, but in such countries you usually can't switch jobs that easily either.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Jonesthe Spy » Fri Feb 24, 2012 8:41 pm UTC

Also worth pointing out that in a democracy the citizens do have the ability to change their government but have pretty much no ability to influence huge corporations that possess massive economic and political power - EXCEPT by demanding government regulation.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Fri Feb 24, 2012 9:41 pm UTC

Jonesthe Spy wrote:Also worth pointing out that in a democracy the citizens do have the ability to change their government but have pretty much no ability to influence huge corporations that possess massive economic and political power - EXCEPT by demanding government regulation.


Corporations only have the power that citizens give them in the first place. Don't like a corporation? Don't buy the products. Less revenue means a smaller corporation, however slightly. This is more power than you usually have with politicians; whether the politician wins with 55% or 80% of the vote, it makes little difference. It also makes no difference just how much the opposing voters hate the politician; either the politician gets the vote or not.

Alternatively, buy stock and vote for different board members, and you can change the corporate strategy that way.

As for government regulation to protect you from corporations, the biggest issue is theoretically regulatory capture. In my cynical reality, I believe that half the regulations we have only exist to prevent competition. Oh sure, the FDA starts off as a great idea, but watch "Roger and Me" (yes, Michael Moore) and pay attention to the Rabbit Lady's business.

On a side note, one of the problems I see in recent decades with regards to corporations, is the problem of a diversified stock portfolio. A century ago, people would buy just 1 company, "General Motors", "General Electric", "General Mills", "General Steel", you name it. The company does well, the investor becomes wealthier. The company goes bankrupt, there goes that nest egg. After the Depression, people switched to buying a dozen or so different companies, drastically reducing volatility. The problem is, people who own 20 different companies probably can't even name one member of the board on any company they own. By owning one company, investors usually paid more attention to the board, and actually participated in voting for board members. So, now, the board is more or less independent of the minor investors, and the problem of corporate incest* has grown unabated.

*Companies A, B, C, and D have CEOs A, B, C, and D respectively. CEO A also happens to be on the board of directors at companies B, C, and D, likewise for CEOs B, C, and D. So if B, C, and D will agree to give A a nice bonus, A will vote to give them a bonus too, regardless of actual performance, and I'm sure you get the idea.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby IcedT » Sat Feb 25, 2012 3:06 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Corporations only have the power that citizens give them in the first place. Don't like a corporation? Don't buy the products. Less revenue means a smaller corporation, however slightly. This is more power than you usually have with politicians; whether the politician wins with 55% or 80% of the vote, it makes little difference. It also makes no difference just how much the opposing voters hate the politician; either the politician gets the vote or not.

Alternatively, buy stock and vote for different board members, and you can change the corporate strategy that way.
I think there's a pretty obvious distinction in that each individual gets one vote in government, but in the market the top 15% of people get to cast about 50% of the votes.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Sat Feb 25, 2012 3:23 am UTC

IcedT wrote:
CorruptUser wrote:Corporations only have the power that citizens give them in the first place. Don't like a corporation? Don't buy the products. Less revenue means a smaller corporation, however slightly. This is more power than you usually have with politicians; whether the politician wins with 55% or 80% of the vote, it makes little difference. It also makes no difference just how much the opposing voters hate the politician; either the politician gets the vote or not.

Alternatively, buy stock and vote for different board members, and you can change the corporate strategy that way.
I think there's a pretty obvious distinction in that each individual gets one vote in government, but in the market the top 15% of people get to cast about 50% of the votes.


...making corporations possibly less biased towards those with money than elections.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby IcedT » Sat Feb 25, 2012 4:03 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:
IcedT wrote:
CorruptUser wrote:Corporations only have the power that citizens give them in the first place. Don't like a corporation? Don't buy the products. Less revenue means a smaller corporation, however slightly. This is more power than you usually have with politicians; whether the politician wins with 55% or 80% of the vote, it makes little difference. It also makes no difference just how much the opposing voters hate the politician; either the politician gets the vote or not.

Alternatively, buy stock and vote for different board members, and you can change the corporate strategy that way.
I think there's a pretty obvious distinction in that each individual gets one vote in government, but in the market the top 15% of people get to cast about 50% of the votes.


...making corporations possibly less biased towards those with money than elections.

I don't follow. How can "rich people have more to spend on campaigns" be as bad or worse as "rich people have much more direct influence on outcomes in addition to better information on how to use that influence?"
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Sat Feb 25, 2012 5:11 am UTC

Because, ultimately, corporations cater to the people that buy their products. Most people who buy their products are not rich, though having some extra cash obviously helps. While the consumer doesn't decide what new product is developed, the consumer does decide which products are more successful, and more importantly, by how much more. Corporations aim to please as many people as possible, and as much as possible. Government only has to convince half the people that the people currently in power are not the worst choice, and if the rest of the voters swear a blood-vendetta, it doesn't really matter.

Also, the cynic in me thinks lobbying tends to have more influence on government than lobbying a corporation would...
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby liveboy21 » Sat Feb 25, 2012 6:13 am UTC

Corporations don't cater to the people that buy their products, they cater to the entities that pay them. It is true that in some cases, those would be the same thing but that's only the case as long as the customers win the cost benefit analysis.
Governments also don't cater to the people that voted them, they cater to the entities that allow them to retain power. It is true that in some cases...etc

Also, corporations don't usually have to please as many people as possible. Different companies have different products. Coca Cola wants many people to buy their drinks but an oil drilling company doesn't have to care about what the average xkcd forum user wants.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Jonesthe Spy » Sat Feb 25, 2012 6:51 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:
Jonesthe Spy wrote:Also worth pointing out that in a democracy the citizens do have the ability to change their government but have pretty much no ability to influence huge corporations that possess massive economic and political power - EXCEPT by demanding government regulation.


Corporations only have the power that citizens give them in the first place. Don't like a corporation? Don't buy the products. Less revenue means a smaller corporation, however slightly. This is more power than you usually have with politicians; whether the politician wins with 55% or 80% of the vote, it makes little difference. It also makes no difference just how much the opposing voters hate the politician; either the politician gets the vote or not.


Corrupt, you really oughta join us here in Camp Reality. If a refinery owned by a big oil company is spewing pollution on a few thousand nearby residents, do you really believe a boycott by said residents is going to change the company's behavior? Whereas thousands of organized, vocal people can make a huge difference in the election of a representative.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Sat Feb 25, 2012 7:38 am UTC

Last I checked, the occupy protests involved hundreds of thousands of people, and so far has accomplished jack shit. Or at least that's what the consensus in the media is.

As for the refinery, it's not the people in the area boycotting, but the people buying the products. BP took losses not just from direct punitive damages and expenses, but from people refusing to buy from BP's gas stations.

Anyway, tired, I'll argue with the disembodied strings of text on the interblag tomorrow...
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