Bob From Brockley asked about what I (among others) thought were the most influential left-wing ideas, as a follow-on from what I thought was a dispiriting discussion about influential left-wing individuals.
People report they are finding this difficult. Without a doubt it’s harder to examine the influence of ideas on populations of individuals than the influence of prominant (or perhaps more often, dominant) individuals on populations. But ‘vector’, the metaphor for infection or pollination which is now widely used to talk about the spread of ideas, is a good metaphor because a vector isn’t a single organism with intent, but a phenomenon in a context.
The good influences mentioned so far include (Bob’s) social justice; internationalism; the one-state solution; open source; strangers into citizens and (Sarah’s) statism; LGCT rights; minimum wage; secularism; the blogosphere.
Mine follow. They’re scant I’m afraid. There’s some overlap with Bob, but at least one interesting point of departure.
Internationalism. The kind of coordination of effort and redistribution of resources and know-how which holds that tackling climate change is important because some people, whose lives are as important as ours, reside in low-lying Bangladesh. This depends on a sense that “that could be me”, and empathy, which I think of as an essentially left-wing disposition. The kind of coordination which sends international peace-keeping forces to underwrite Ivory Coast democracy and peace in the Balkans. And at the grass-roots, organisations like Fairtrade, Labour Behind the Label and the rainforest preservation initiatives whose idea of sustainability includes the wellbeing of local human communities.
Equality. It’s good that talk of social mobility, which implies decline as well as gain, has been replaced to some extent by a commitment to arrest and reverse the gap between the middle and the poor. Wilkinson and Pickett’s ‘The Spirit Level’ has changed the political right and recalibrated the left by claiming that inequality harms the wealthy as well as the poor. On the other hand, the Equality Act (now threatened by the Coalition on the pretext of removing burdens on business) was conceived to support equality of opportunity by outlawing discrimination.
Openness. Open government: the Freedom of Information Act. Open source: Moodle not BlackBoard; OpenOffice not Microsoft Office; Ubuntu not Mac OS; Audacity not GarageBand. The open web: Twitter not Facebook; Gutenberg and CreativeCommons, not Amazon.
The following two are on a different scale from the three above. Better to think of them as initiatives rather than ideas.
Mutualism and cooperatives. Workers’ stake in decision-making about the businesses which employ them. N.b. I (and I think Bob too) mean for the commercial sector, rather than this weird New Labour and latterly Conservative mutualisation of what were formerly state-run public services.
The nanny state. I know that the smoking ban passed through the legistature on an employment law technicality, but for many, smokers and non-smokers alike, it’s a good thing if we are supported to overcome the parts of us which a) hurt us, and b) draw heavily on a shared NHS pot. The nanny state also belongs in the ‘not influential enough’ section below. I hope for more nannying over our diets and physical activity. I also hope for a better name for this, and feel ambivalent about its alternative, libertarian paternalism.
Not influential enough
Conservation. Conservation is the un-self-interested investment in unknown future others. It stands against consumption, against individualism and for kindness. It cares, preserves, doesn’t take for granted, doesn’t squander, and hands over in good order. It treats the world as an inheritance. Sound left-wing to you? Me neither – even though it should be a principal tenet of the left. This is why I remain, despite their many and troubling failings, more Green than Labour.
Opposing the consumption of animal. In recent decades, the desire for cheap animal protein in a capitalist system has precipitated a race to the bottom in terms of animal welfare. As a general rule, animals are bred to maximise feed conversion at the expense of their health, pumped with pharmaceuticals at the expense of our health. Their deaths are never good, often not achieved quickly, and the sick ones are rarely euthanased because it’s too expensive. The animals’ shit makes us ill. Animal farming is for the most part environmentally degrading and takes up an enormous amount of land at the expense of other food crops – i.e. we do not need to eat animal to thrive. The most acute and prevalent suffering in the world is that of farmed animals. There can be no left-wing position that supports this disgusting, self-harming state of affairs.
Related to openness, the free flow of ideas embodied in the open access movement, enabled by CreativeCommons which fractured the binary all or nothing approach to authors’ rights, and allowed them to decide how they wanted to make their work available. There is a growing number of reputable non-commercial publication channels such as the Open Humanities Press (another major vector of left-wing thinking and amplifying some of the individuals I know Bob feels have too much influence on the left – but, those individuals aside, a model of how academic publishing should be). Now there is nothing to stop the world’s scholars publishing gratis and libre open access, and offering their ideas to a hungry world. However most continue to publish commercially for readers of means, often without self-archiving.
I’m beginning to become resentful (I think it may be partly due to a bout of inter-festive dejection) so let us proceed to:
Initiatives I appreciate when I’m feeling realist in a right-wing world
- Regulation of the money markets
All for now – thanks Bob. Like him I doubt I can rouse anybody to this, but I’d be very interested to hear from Stroppy, Papanomicron, Barkingside21 and let’s bother Mod some more. And, remembering that Marko did this last year in a fashion, I read his again.
Update: here’s Weggis – think observation rather than aspiration.