The Fallacy of the “Left vs. Right” Illusion

I’m going to take a break in my discussions on firearms to discuss something that affects most arguments and debates: ignorant social and political labels.

How many times have you heard someone start off a post or response with words like “liberal,” “socialist,” “Democrat,” etc.? Often this is accompanied by some denigrating generalization about the group in question, such as “just like a liberal, always <insert-random-negative-behavior>.” Maybe they even go further, using words like “libtards” and “Dumbocraps,” as they enter the realm of schoolyard name-calling.

(Yes, I know it can happen the other way with “conservitards,” “Repugs,” etc… but, as studies have shown, the behavior tends to be more prevalent among certain populations.)

I’m not sure which is worse: the fact that people label others without any knowledge of who they are… or that people use these words without a clue about what they mean. This is the worst of fallacious and ignorant thinking – using generalizations to create a fictional “us vs. them” and then throwing that onto anyone who doesn’t agree to just dismiss them.

People who do this are idiots. Here’s why…

False Dichotomies, Bulverism, and Ad Hominems

That’s a lot of fancy words, but they boil down to one thing: you’re making a logical fallacy when you label someone to dismiss them. When you make a logical fallacy, people often reject you because your argument is bullshit. It’s even worse when you make three different fallacies in one behavior.

  • The world isn’t black-and-white, and neither are the people in it. Neither people nor issues fall neatly into “Left or Right.”
  • You can’t assume someone’s argument is wrong just because you believe their (supposed) profession, party, or philosophy is wrong.
  • You can’t dismiss someone’s argument by attacking them – you must prove their reasoning is faulty, regardless of their (supposed) personal traits or affiliation.

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

If you’re going to use words, make sure you know what you’re saying. “Liberal versus Conservative” is bad enough (I’ll discuss the one-axis political spectrum in a moment), but often those using these words are ignorant of their definition.

Liberalism shouldn’t be a dirty word, although it’s not without fault. The philosophy has multiple meanings, including personal autonomy, intellectual and civil liberty, spiritual and moral freedom, and a self-regulating free market. The word has been co-opted and applied to numerous movements over the years (some accurately, some not so much) and refers to a variety of philosophies.

Now, you might say, “Well, modern American liberals are all…,” and yet you’d still be wrong. Why? As I mentioned, it has multiple meanings, and people are rarely all one thing. Someone might believe in personal autonomy but believe the free market should be partially regulated. Or maybe they believe in civil liberties, but that religious belief can only go so far. Not to mention, there’s the presumption that someone standing for something is automatically a “liberal” when they might merely share some of the same ideals.

“Well, what about generalizing conservatives?” You know what, you have a point. You shouldn’t peg people as one thing, especially given the variety of political and philosophical movements. Not all conservatives are the same, especially since many people who think they’re conservative aren’t

I will point out, however, that conservatism has a less broad definition: a philosophy of keeping things “the way they were.” The opposite of conservatism isn’t liberalism, it’s progressivism. While “progress for the sake of progress” is often a pitfall, so is maintaining the status quo just because “that’s how it’s always been.

A Huge Diversity of Political and Philosophical Beliefs

Of course, this brings up an important distinction: the political spectrum isn’t a single axis from Left to Right. You don’t find all Liberals, Socialists, Progressives on one side and all the Conservatives, Capitalists, and Traditionalists on the other. In fact, none of those groups are the same thing and the spectrum of runs not on one axis (Left-to-Right) but two or three.

Political_chart.svg.png

For example, per Pace News Unlimited famous Political Compass, people often fall anywhere from Economic Left (Socialism) to Right (Capitalism) as well as Social Bottom (Libertarian) to Top (Authoritarian). Going even further, you’ll find that the ideologies often used as labels? Don’t even fall where you think they do.

political-compass-zones

Look at what lies dead-center, between the extremes of both axes: Liberalism. In fact, Progressives fall slightly more right on the Economic spectrum, alongside Conservatives and Libertarians Also noteworthy, that Conservatives stand for bigger government (despite what their constituents think) and Libertarians are the ones who want smaller government.

All those “Leftists” that are so often grouped together, labeled, and dismissed? They constitute over 75% of the spectrum, from Centrists to Socialists, Communists to Anarchists. Yet, people still want to generalize all those different people as “them”? They really believe in a simple world where everyone is “Left” or “Right”?

Even more amusing is where the politicians fall on this whole spectrum.

PoliticalPeople

So many people talk about “Left versus Right,” “Liberal versus Conservative,” and the people they support? They fall far out of their own ideologies.

Hillary? She’s an Economic “right winger,” even more-so than actual conservatives. Clinton falls somewhere on the edge of ultra-capitalism and traditionalism. Yet, somehow “right wing” voters were convinced she’d take down the economy with her “liberal” ideals.

All of the GOP candidates? They’re even more authoritarian than their own base, with Trump and Jeb Bush outright fascists while Cruz and Rubio are skirting into fundamentalism. Yet, their constituents truly believed they’d bring about an end to big government and “drain the swamp.”

The only candidates standing close to what they claim? The independents and third-party. Sanders sits on the line of Social Democratism and Liberalism, a true Economic “Leftist” but moderate on government. Jill Stein is slightly more Libertarian and Socialist than he is, sitting in what’s known as “Left-Libertarianism.” Gary Johnson is what’s known as a “Libertarian Capitalist,” supporting an absolute free market even more extreme than your average Libertarian or Conservative.

The irony of this is, most of the people supporting these candidates, particularly the two major parties? Don’t even know what the Hell they’re supporting. They believe whatever the candidate, or their party, says, but their voting record is usually far from the mark. Then they apply that misinformation to anyone they meet, denigrating them for an illusion that they themselves fell for.

Even More Complex than Most Think

All of the above assumes that these political, philosophical, and social movements only fall on two axes. In reality, there are now theories about three (or even more) axes. The point is – nothing is as simple as you believe, and the second you start throwing around labels? The only “simple” thing is you.

So, the next time you see someone responding with “liberal,” “conservative,” “left,” “right,” etc. as an attack? Share this article. Maybe they won’t read it (which is often the mentality of those who sling these labels around). Hopefully, some do, though, and spreads the word.

Then we can get out of this “us versus them” mindset that is the real divisive behavior.

If you want to see where you fall on the political spectrum, try the two-axis Political Compass or the three-axis Vosem Chart. You might be surprised where you place or how you compare to those you’ve voted for in the past.

3 thoughts on “The Fallacy of the “Left vs. Right” Illusion

  1. Hi! I would not say that the left/right in politics is an illusion so to speak? But i will say that the real issue thats going on is that the goverment and media presents information pertaining to the right and the left to keep the public focussed on all of those issues to keep people from focussing on issues that have a way larger significance. If you want to get an idea of what i mean? Just youtube search (kevin shipp). The issues pertaining to the governmental issues and policies both right and left pale in comparison to many of the issues that he presents! But the big question is why isnt any of the main stream media mentioning those things at all? And why are they not thoroughly diving deep into all of those issues like they seem to do with everything else? Nor are they talking about the full backround of the federal reserve act and the people who created it and the backrounds of those people? That also has a way larger significance than all of the issues with the right and left! So in that way yes the right and left is an illusion! An illusion to keep people away from knowing the issues that rwally matter most! Thanks! God bless you!

    • Thanks for the response. I think, though, that misses the point of the article as there are no “right and left” policies, issues, etc. because there IS no simple “right to left” spectrum. The political and philosophical ideologies of individuals is 2- or even 3-dimensional, not to mention someone may fall somewhere on that square/cube for some issues but differ in others.

      The media, pundits, etc. do contribute to this illusion that everything neatly falls into “right” or “left” categories, but that’s what this article is about. That those categories are false generalizations that don’t really exist; they’re there to create a divide, one that people eagerly eat because the world is simple when it’s “us versus them”. In reality, a Progressive, a Liberal, a Socialist Democrat, a Socialist, and a Communist are NOT the same thing… yet, many people would have you believe they are.

      Such oversimplified categorization is dangerous and what truly leads to the ignorance and hatred that is dividing us. Not to mention, many of the politicians don’t even match the ~actual~ categories people do fall into, which means they’re being played for a fool twice.

      Thanks again for the response!

  2. I’ve been following this line of thought for a while, though seem to fall on “deaf ears” often enough, most likely because of my more idealistic approach.

    I couldn’t agree more. The continuous and prolific delusion of “Left” and “Right” positions is in fact based on ignorance of such linguistic terminology, just as you point out. Interesting how Liberalism falls under the precise middle ground, which reminds me of the term, “skeptic,” the meaning of which actually falls in to the exact same position. Popular society has changed the original meaning of the word, which is unfortunate. It actually means one who stands on the middle ground, making fair and objective judgements based on evidence or positions presented.

    I’d like to add something (and shall apologise in advance for perhaps straying off topic or hijacking this thread) that the ignorant pitting of left against right is, be it inadvertent or on purpose, an effect which distracts the population from the larger picture or more important matters. In that, I think Trump actually falls out of the entire spectrum, to a certain degree. It’s not that far of a leap to state that corruption from third parties influence government and its decisions across a broad spectrum. Trump and fed-up elements of law enforcement are trying to address this issue… head on. I won’t say much more on this as I feel the rabbit hole goes too deep and inevitably wades through much muck and cow poo (thought I’d try to not reiterate the same old profanity), but it’s not much of a stretch to agree that where big business is involved with handling excessive sums of money and capitol, and the control of such, that corruption and false dealings will inevitably ensue, regardless of any sense of morals or ethics. Our Presidents, Prime Ministers and Heads of State have often been the richest people in the world, do the math.

    Anyway, I digressed, just thought it was important to point out why this confusion may be happening or more to the point, why nothing is being done on the part of the authorities to resolve said confusion.

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