About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Ah, the elite!

Across the board, the left is often accused of being elitist. This criticism is expressed in two ways. First, there are terms like 'limousine liberal', 'champagne socialist' or 'gauche caviar' which describe politicians who claim that their political origins lie with labour and emancipatory movements but lead the luxurious lifestyle of those they criticise. Second, it attempts to paint left-wing politicians as being removed from the reality on the ground, safe in their ivory towers of academia, out of touch with what 'the people' really want.

I'll take on the latter first. In my lifetime, I can't recall an instance of hearing a mainstream left-wing politician claim to speak for 'the people' at all. Rather, it's usually the domain of populist right-wing parties. In addition, with the catastrophic breakdown of the world's banking systems and economies due to the adherence to neo-liberal policy orthodoxies and the vicious ways in which the "1%" keeps interfering with international politics, I don't think the right gets to say that the left is somehow removed from reality. What they really mean, and what a real anger is that the right can tap into, is that the left always appears as though it knows what's best for the people, even if it is against their will. That suspicion is not entirely unwarranted. But it consciously conflates the notion of a parliamentary democracy with freedom of speech with the idea that somehow, the people are always right. If that were true, homosexuality would still be illegal, women wouldn't have the right to vote and gruesome death penalties would still be normal. An avant-garde advocating piecemeal social progress and greater equality for all is not a bad thing, as long as it's kept in check.

As far as the idea goes that left-wing politicians betray their own principles by having their own drivers and leading a comfortable, wealthy life, I'm not so sure why that's a problem. Apparently, the right gets away with it - it's even expected of them. It's ridiculous to assume you must be poor to champion the cause of the less fortunate. However, that criticism does hit a very important point, and one that frequently gets overlooked. With professional politicians coming more and more from the same class, ideas stagnate and politics become more a question of clan affiliation and byzantine networking. When was the last time, in Europe, someone who truly was 'from the people' (i.e. lower middle or working class) held a position of power? Both right and left love playing up the image of the outsider, but true outsiders are extremely rare.

It's been since the '70s that new political movements broke any ground in the West, with the greens. Ever since, there have been plenty of fresh ideas to solve the challenges that we face, but precious few of them have trickled down (or rather, up) to the leading class. Why? Since the '80s, social mobility has steadily been eroding. Well-off people's life expectancy has skyrocketed, and with it, the amount of time they have to hold on to power and groom others to follow in their footsteps, often their very own sons and daughters. Some countries have introduced voting thresholds, ostensibly to keep out extremist parties, while other systems are locked in a two-party struggle that has led to unhealthy amounts of partisan bickering over non-issues.

It's painfully obvious that each time the system gets adapted, it serves the interests of the ruling caste of politicians. It's disingenious that a lot of them claim to keep speaking for the people, though not as disingenious as the media, who willingly participate in whipping up controversies where there are none, or focus on distractions. What good is freedom of speech if not every voice has a chance to be heard equally? What good is voting if perceptions get skewed by corporate-owned media with a vested interest in 'business as usual'? The left is elitist - sure, there's some merit in it. But coming from the right, it's like the West lecturing China on neo-colonialism.