Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Friday, November 14, 2003

Framing Left and Right

According to George Lakoff, the left side of the political spectrum has been much less effective at putting forth arguments than the right. My fellow reactionary crackpots have been skeptical about this on the grounds that there is no shortage of left-wing media outlets. He was not referring to a shortage of left media but to a shortage of ideas on the left. He then proceeded to prove it by recommending the “same old stuff” that was rejected.

Lakoff's mistake was a matter of assuming that voters are unfamiliar with leftist frames. Conservatives are sometimes confronted with people whose idea of conservatism is very wide of the mark. That's rarer on the left. When a leftist says he is in favor of, e.g., Iraqi self determination, we know what it means and reject it. When a conservative refers to American national interest, that is frequently mistaken for mere blood-and-soil nationalism.

If we look at left-wing ideas in terms of which ideas are new, we see there is a shortage. Since the 1970s, there have been only two big ideas on the left that would have seemed unfamiliar to a McGovern campaign worker.

  1. Open-source intellectual property.
    This isn't entirely a left-wing idea since many libertarians are also in favor of it. On the other hand, the leftist frame of open source is better known than the rightist frame.
  2. Anti-globalization.
    This was a gradual development. The left used to be in favor of international anything. By the 1980s, they were starting to advocate nationalist economics as well. The current tendency to treat globalization as an enemy is only a decade old.
    It's starting to fade as they realize they can capture the UN.

There are also a handful of old ideas that the left can claim have new evidence backing them.

  1. Environmentalism (chiefly global warming).
    Global warming is the only environmental issue which is both big, plausibly dangerous, and with some actual evidence to back it up. On the other hand, it can be used by the right in the form of being pro-nuclear.
  2. Abortion (chiefly stem cells).
    Abortion is tolerated because it is currently common. As biotechnology (improved contraception, artificial wombs, raising the age of puberty) makes it obsolete, it will disappear. Several decades after the last abortion has taken place, there will be a belated and unnecessary ban. (Even an anarcho-capitalist society is likely to be transparent and those old-fashioned enough to still abort will be known and shunned.) A few decades after that, the sort of history student who second guesses historical figures (someone who regards the existence of the United States as hypocritical since many of the Founding Fathers were slave-holders) will turn the high abortion rates of the turn of the century into some kind of a scandal.
    Stem cells are a potential way of preventing that. On the other hand, a great amount of research is being published on non-embryonic stem cells. There are, after all, more of them. I also suspect that many scientists would rather avoid the morally problematic just as most doctors would rather not be abortionists.
  3. Financial regulation.
    One problem with the leftist frame is that they usually oppose excess profits. The real scandal of the dot-com era (including Enron), wasn't excess profits but the disguised lack of profits.

As far as I know, that's it.


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