Saturday, March 03, 2007

Are you a left-wing extremist?

Joe Klein at's Swampland blog helpfully provides a checklist to determine whether one is, or is not, a left-wing extremist. Let's see how I measure up:
A left-wing extremist exhibits many, but not necessarily all, of the following attributes:

--believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world

Mmm... What does he mean by 'fundamentally'? If an extremist believes that the US is always, necessarily, a negative force in the world than I'm afraid I don't meet that standard. The US is at the moment a very negative force in the world, in part because of our terribly wasteful use of resources, in larger part because of the stupid, stupid people currently in charge of the government. The US could be a very powerful force for good in the world, and I hope it will be soon.
--believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.
The primary cause? Maybe not, but it's not an easy call. Certainly US policies in the Middle East have been a huge factor. The Bush gang has made things a lot worse than I thought they could ever be, but US presidents back to Wilson can all share some of the blame.
--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.
There he is again with that word 'fundamental.' I'd guess I'd have to say both. The war in Iraq was a case of stupidity, but it was hardly individual stupidity. The collective stupidity of our political leadership and their best buds in the 4th estate got us into the Iraq mess. And the set of beliefs that allowed Bush's stupidity to become US policy is certainly related to the long history of US imperialism in the Middle East (see above).
--tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.
The United States (which is not really the same as 'America,' Joe), does bear responsibility for the failures of diplomacy, planning and execution that have made many of our allies leery of throwing more resources at an important, but badly managed endeavor.
--doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.
Definitely not. It's not a bad idea, necessarily, but I'm not going to join Klein in kneeling before its altar. I think the idea of inalienable human rights is much better; and democracy is pretty cool, too.
--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).
Fundamentally again? Jeez. No, the US is not fundamentally unfair, in the sense that it is and always will be unfair. But it is and always has been unfair, and after some real progress toward a fairer society in the decades between 1930 and 1980, it's become a lot less fair.
--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.
Why are those 'eternal problems'? Crime will always be with us, I imagine, but if we had more people who were really committed to doing something about the problem of poverty, crime would be less of a problem. And it's important to note that crime really is not a big problem for me and most people of my socio-economic status. The poor are disproportionately hurt by crime, not the relatively well off.
--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.
It's a republic, and a pretty good one. But more and better democracy would certainly be welcome.
--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.
Evil is a strong word, but I do think that any large hierarchical organization, such as a corporation, that does not derive its power from the freely-given consent of the people whose lives it governs is bad.
--believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.
Sure, I'll sign onto that. It's not a conspiracy in the sense that there's a boardroom somewhere where corporate executives and the Queen of England decide among themselves who will be the next president of the US, but there is a community of interest among those at the top of political and corporate hierarchies around the world, and that community acts in ways (sometimes consciously coordinate, sometimes not) that help keep the rich rich and powerful, and the poor poor and weak.
--is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.
I'm not intolerant of good ideas, whatever their source. But I certainly would be especially careful these days before accepting anything from the ranks of the modern conservative movement. It's not intolerance, but a learned mistrust.
--dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
I don't dismissively mock people of faith, and even have some sympathy with abortion opponents. But I don't understand why the ideas of 'people of faith' are automatically deserving of respect, either. Are they so much more sensitive than atheists? And if proponents of forcing women to have unwanted children and anti-gay bigots do and say ridiculous things, why should they not be mocked?
--regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.
I don't as a matter of course use a lot of profanity or harsh language, but that's more a reflection of my personality than of the level of scorn I have for many moderates and conservatives. And if someone wants to use profanity, what's the big deal? Why should lefties--who in the US have been ridiculed and vilified in the starkest terms for going on thrity years--be censured for finally responding in kind?

On the whole, I think I qualify! Thanks, Joe!


placebo said...

--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.

This is the one I don't get. "The fault of society"? We would never let our undergraduates get away with such a vague formulation in their argumentative essays. But I gather what he means is that in his opinion, individual criminals and poor people bear the sole responsibility for crime and poverty. They commit crimes because they want to and are poor because they deserve to be. Furthermore, these problems being "eternal," government and communities can have no effect on them. Are moderates really this defeatist?

Ambivalent_Maybe said...

Really shockingly smug, the more I think about it. Anyone who is not Ronald Reagan is a left-wing extremist.

Rob said...

Joe Klein is inspid. He always makes these generalizations about the Left but doesn't cite examples. I'm on the Left and believe society should value work over wealth, educate the young, care for the elderly and make war as a last resort. If that's being an extremist then put me away.

Oh, and Mr. Klein: us crazy leftwing extremists were right about the Iraq War from the beginning and your crowd was wrong.