Left versus Right -- barking up the wrong tree

This resonates with me:



This might interest you. A discussion of how political beliefs become assigned to the “Left” or to the “Right”. The most fascinating thing is that it was written 2014 and starts by trying to figure out why pandemic restrictions due to the Ebola virus are favored by the Right, while arguments against the restrictions are favored by the Left. In other words, the exact opposite of where the Left/Right divide would land just 6 years later.

One day I woke up and they had politicized Ebola. …

On the Right, there is condemnation of the CDC’s opposition to quarantines as globalist gibberish, fourteen questions that will never be asked about Ebola centering on why there aren’t more quarantine measures in place, and arguments on right-leaning biology blogs for why the people opposing quarantines are dishonest or incompetent. Top Republicans call for travel bans and a presenter on Fox, proportionate as always, demands quarantine centers in every US city.

On the Left (and token libertarian) sides, the New Yorker has been publishing articles on how involuntary quarantines violate civil liberties and “embody class and racial biases”, Reason makes fun of “dumb Republican calls for a travel ban”, Vox has a clickbaity article on how “This One Paragraph Perfectly Sums Up America’s Overreaction To Ebola”, and MSNBC notes that to talk about travel bans is “borderline racism”.

How did this happen? How did both major political tribes decide, within a month of the virus becoming widely known in the States, not only exactly what their position should be but what insults they should call the other tribe for not agreeing with their position?

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Maybe folks on the Right are simply better at risk-assessment. Ebola was a vastly more virulent pathogen than COVID-19. “Zero-Ebola” policies were therefore warranted.

“Zero-COVID” policies? Not so much. See “China, Permanent Rotating Mega-City Lockdowns” impacting tens of millions.


It is possible I suppose. However I find that hard to square with how the Right has generally assessed the risks of COVID as ridiculously low , while vastly overestimating the risk of the vaccines.

Thanks for the link, that was fucking marvelous. I’m going to save it and read it again. Not that one can really rationalize any of this but perhaps the thing with Ebola was that it was linked to Blackness and so a quarantine would be Racist.

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What a great piece! I started off expecting not to think much of it because they skipped what hits me as the fundamental reason for thinking left vs right is a meaningless distinction (both sides just want power and use ideas and issues in order to galvanize support). But it morphed into a discussion of openness, the absence of coherence across ideas supposedly essential to each side and strategies for how one could improve research and analysis.

I think the biggest weakness of the piece is not engaging the deeper question of why this is happening. I don’t mean this as any sort of conspiracy theory. More just that the ways in which the leadership of both parties engineer the supposed polarization for power, control, support and favor giving explains a big part of why this is happening. War time thinking is a much stronger framework for galvanizing support, forcing people into responsive, energetic stances and asking them for almost blind obedience (soldiers don’t question orders!).

over time, of course, that changed. We brought in more issues. It started in the McCarthyite era. It started with McCarthyism. Then in the 60s, we started to get social issues, civil rights, all these other things. And as those came online, then politics got more complicated than just big or small government. But the problem is we kept the same model. Politics had become multidimensional, but kept pretending it was unidimensional. The landscape has changed but our map stayed the same, and that’s the problem of where we are now.

If politics had become multi-dimensional as in many other countries, the parties would have lost their total control over the political landscape. Finding ways to coerce people into two camps has kept the parties in political control. I would go so far as to say the parties both need each other as foil and bogeyman, to have something to organize against and to keep the argument simple (us vs. them). When there are multiple parties it becomes too easy to start thinking of how each group has different positions across different issues and how coalitions help accomplish specific goals rather than wartime, us vs. them, good vs, bad, right vs. wrong and give us all your money and support and we’ll take care of it.


If there’s one single change that might help it’s ranked ballot. They do that in Alaska and it kept Sarah P out, that’s no small victory for sanity.

In economic terms the right see wealth creation as the key to a prosperous society, the left see wealth distribution as the key.
In terms of freedom that’s mostly about a different political axis, right and left can be pro-authoritarian or pro-liberty, usually in self-serving terms.

I think that’s fair. Maybe that is the ‘constant’. There is no universe where Bernie and AOC are righties is there? Whatever other positions might change, that does not.

But I think the author’s point is that being a righty or a lefty doesn’t necessarily bring everything else with it. So you can be right or left on wealth creation/distribution, but believe something different about climate change, abortion, global economy, immigration, etc. Almost all of the major issues are independent and specific enough to allow for a wide range of ideas/opinions that have nothing to do with one’s starting premise on wealth creation or distribution.

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Yeah. How does the idea that wealth creation should take precedence over distribution automatically indicate that one is pro-life? Perhaps the author should have admitted to that one constant in the left-right label and then pointed out, as you say, that all the rest is arbitrary.

The more I’ve been thinking about it, I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say there’s no connection or its arbitrary between all the issues. Wealth creation requires a strong rule of law, freer enterprise, at least moderation on taxation, so it’s not unreasonable to have those connected. Wealth distribution leads to higher taxation, government management of social services and a significant amount of government tinkering to support more equitable outcomes.

But the issue of big government gets complicated. On one hand running a huge court system and prison system to enforce strict rules requires a type of big government. If we want to sell our goods globally and need to protect our interests overseas, a huge military/industrial complex is a form of massive government. But somehow the right often get called small government folks because there are places where they don’t want government (or want less government) whereas the left seems to see a role for government in every aspect of life (even if it’s enforcing people’s rights to do whatever they want).

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Too bad you couldn’t write a rebuttal to the original article Rick, I think your points are bang on. Yeah, the central issue does have outlying ideological consequences for peripheral or supporting issues. But as the ideological dominoes fall, one might say that their essential connection with the central idea becomes weaker. As you say, is the right always opposed to big government? Not necessarily. The right is for individual enterprise, and individual rights, but does that mean we’d support the ‘right to chose’ or the ‘right to life’? It’s not automatic. A conversation between yourself and the original author would be educational, you’ve swayed me quite a bit.

Sadly, I think the elephant in the room is how voters are getting yanked around by the parties as part of power plays on both sides. Extremism leads to energy, voter turnout and donations donations donations. Mix in some fear, some outrage and you’ve got perfect conditions for tribalism. The degree to which you can couch every issue in terms of life or death, survival or destruction and good folks fighting for the right vs those who want to harm you and do evil, it creates the worst possible environment for decision making.

People who think in terms of left-wing and right-wing are far more filled with animosity, are less fact-based, are less able to make accurate predictions, and are less cognitively able. There are hundreds and hundreds of studies that show that when people are bound by ideology and thinking, in terms of the left-right framework, they are — let’s put it as bluntly as we can: It makes them stupid and evil.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes them stupid and evil, but people operating under these conditions are way more prone to make stupid and/or evil decisions and do stupid and/or evil things. And, when the folks leading them are intentionally pushing things in this direction, the options available become stupider and more evil. Which allows leaders of one side to point to the other side doing stupid extreme things and scream warning, danger! At the exact same time, leaders on the other side are screaming the same thing, just about different issues. It’s nuts.

And the dollar amounts involved and circulating behind all of this are astronomical and more than enough to keep it all going.

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