I’ve been absent from the blogging world (or blogosphere, or blogodrome) for a while now, due almost entirely to having spent the better part of two weeks moving myself and my partner to a new city to begin the penultimate phase of my education. The move was rather stressful; I am not, by nature, a nomadic person. I enjoy stability and order, and moving – and everything it entails – disturbs that order.
In addition to attending a new school, I have also begun a new job as a TA for a first-year sociology course. I’ve also been assigned to a new cohort of graduate students – most of whom are easily as liberal as I am – and that always involves a period of getting to know the new folks, and letting them get to know me. Part of that ‘getting to know’ process inevitably involves learning about each other’s political/social positions and during the course of this process; I’ve discovered something about myself that I apparently didn’t know: I’m not ‘really’ a leftist.
Let me rephrase that: I’m not really a leftist according to some of the people I’ve met. To me, being situated on the left-hand side of the political spectrum has normally come about as a result of my political and economic beliefs; I align myself rather closely with the philosophies behind social democracy, and I generally have a ‘live and let live’ attitude about other people and their beliefs. But apparently that isn’t enough to establish my leftist bona fides – at least in the eyes of some.
This isn’t unique to where I’m at currently; pretty much anywhere I go in social justice circles, conferences, workshops, etc., I find people who feel that since I don’t support their particular pet-passion, I ought to be disqualified from the group of people who generally inhabit the orange part of the political spectrum. Basically what I’m implying is that just as the right wing has its ‘purity tests’ to determine a person’s level of conservatism or republicanism, so too does the ideological left.
I point this out only because it’s become something of a favourite past-time of many of us who call ourselves progressive, to mock or ridicule movements like the Tea Party who while claiming to be all about fiscal libertarianism, often employ litmus tests as a way of ensuring the ‘correct’ level of ideological purity. I’m talking about litmus tests, and they’re lurking everywhere even among those of us on the progressive end of the spectrum. I know that for many of you who are reading this blog, this is something of a broadcast from planet obvious, but I am often surprised at how many people never really stop to think about it.
But what kinds of things do some people feel need to be attached to a leftist orientation? Well, the most obvious ones that come to mind are the distrust of the medical establishment and ‘Big Pharma’ more generally. There is also the environmentalist-born assertion that GMOs are bad – even if there’s not a lot of research to indicate that this is so (or without a handy definition of what ‘bad’ means to them) – or the insistence that farming organically and buying locally are the ‘appropriate’ ways for a person to ‘live ethically’. Those concepts of course, are rife with their own problems.
So what if we don’t agree with these positions? What if we’re not bothered by Wi-fi? What if we happen to think that vaccinations ought to be mandatory – and that they’re pretty good things to get, actually. What if we happen to think that chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths and homeopaths are bloody fools at best, dangerous snake-oil peddlers at worst? What if I enjoy eating meat or am an advocate of increased reliance on nuclear power as opposed to fossil fuels? Is it truly the case that unless I embrace that other, additional suite of social, moral, or political views, I cannot rightly call myself a leftist?
Of course not. Being a leftist doesn’t mean that I must forego the use of showers, toiletry supplies, and shoes (although if you want to, well that’s cool too just stay downwind of me, please), it means being able to think both deeply and empathetically about the society we live in. It means thinking about how to order society beyond simply asking how it might be ordered to best service me. I don`t need to be a vegetarian or an anti-science conspiracist or a level five laser-lotus or whatever in order to be a part of the social/political left; I just have to think that the institutions of society can be made to work for the betterment of all, not just for the betterment of me.
(EDIT 22/09/12 9:51PST) Changed the direction of the wind.