Following the reactions to the 2020 election, I posted a short thread on my Twitter about how I could no longer call myself a Leftist for a variety of reasons. A couple highlights:
My frustrations with the current options in the political landscape rose again with the recent “sex work discourse” on Twitter. Observing the responses on each side, I do want to point out two major problems that I think both sides share:
No Substantive Moral Vision:
Neither the Left nor Right appears capable of articulating a substantive moral vision (“what should I do”, “what is a good life?”, “what does it mean for me to have ‘dignity’”, “what goods truly matter/should I pursue?”, etc.) that both: A) extends meaningfully beyond Liberalism, and B) is not simply a retvrn to a previous historical state with all the contradictions that implied. The few segments of the Right that pass A, almost uniformly fail B. Everyone else on the “Right” appears incapable of grasping that conservatism is the abused and battered wife of capitalism, and that “liberty” is not a substantive moral vision. And perhaps the single most damning argument against the Left (broadly speaking) is its inability to articulate a positive moral vision of the future besides what amounts to Red Liberalism.
No Compelling Aesthetic Vision:
This goes hand in hand with a lack of a moral vision (Charles Taylor calls these both “strong evaluations”), but fundamentally, there is little compelling about these visions beyond vague, hand-waving niceties. Honestly, this is significantly more of a problem for the Left than the Right. The Right at least possesses some elements that produce highly compelling aesthetic visions, with a focus on family, community, architecture, etc. The Left…well…let’s just say “luxury gay space communism” is not a compelling aesthetic vision for anyone who graduated high school. It’s a meme (and that’s fine).
So why am I explaining this? Fundamentally, I desire for more people to present serious alternative moral and aesthetic visions of the future. Not just what should be done but why I should care about your ideas.
If you want to begin to convince people of your position, you need both a serious positive aesthetic *and* moral vision. You cannot continue to define yourselves solely negatively, railing against the oppressive/evil Other. You can rail against the oppressive Other all you want, but eventually people will ask what your alternative is AND (more importantly) WHY THEY SHOULD BELIEVE IN IT. Far too few "radicals" possess serious answers to this question.
At its core, changing peoples opinions comes from appealing to their values, not their ideology. At the core of our experience of the world, is a question that we must necessarily grapple with: what makes life worth living? In his work Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor describes this experience:
“To know who I am is to know where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose.”
If you cannot provide an answer to the question of “what makes life worth living” or if your proposed system does not provide a better opportunity of having that kind of fulfilling life than the current system in place, you will convince nobody. It is time to re-evaluate our worldviews, and articulate what our values are, so that we may better understand our selves, and be prepared to be more empathetic to others.
And so when we come to discussions like the latest nonsense about sex work, we see a problem of asking “what makes life worth living?” Is prostitution (or other forms of sex work) a meaningful life? What makes life worth living? Choice itself? Pleasure? Tradition? Family? Community? Independence? These are serious questions, and quite honestly, the one thing that was pushing me away from the Left prior to the reaction to the election was the fact that the Left’s answers to these questions have been, broadly, repulsive. And I do not use that word lightly. Now, that isn’t to say the Right is much better. But I think it is fair to say that the Right has at least done somewhat of a better job than the Left here:
If your response to “dismantle the family” is anything other than laughing, I’m not sure what to tell you bud. But the Right has its own serious issues with aesthetics, good lord.
What I want to say here is that, rather than defining yourself as leftist or right wing, define yourself by those things that keep you going each day. Those things that make life worth living. And maybe we’ll be able to start building serious alternative institutions that can help us achieve those goals.
We’re all going to die, but I would like the opportunity to live first. Some of you are dead and you don’t even know it. It’s time for a resurrection. Focus on what makes life truly worth living, and pursue those things for as long as you can.