You might be like me. I’m a millennial living in the US, worried about being a good person and surviving. I was raised to think that politics was mostly just a mess that should be ignored, and that being “into politics” meant you were always pushing your own agenda. I thought politics was working right when Obama was in the White House and I could ignore it. I didn’t like the results in 2016, but, at the time, I thought the US was still a fundamentally fair and decent country.
In 2020 though, I started to realize how fundamental messed up the United States and its history really is. I started studying racial and class politics and history. I knew that I wanted the world to be more equitable, more fair, but I couldn’t understand why that had been so hard to get to. Where were all these greedy people that I’d never met? Then, I started to realize that a lot of lowkey, normal things that were a part of my life were at least partially contributing to how unjust the world was. When I thought about them carefully, a lot of things that I’d believed in my whole life were just fundamentally at odds with the kind of just world I want to live in.
Eventually, I arrived at the left. Not the nice cozy centrist-liberalism that I’d grown into in my 20s, but like the “get rid of capitalism” lefty left. Some of the leftist ideas make a lot of sense to me, and some of them will still take time for me to understand. But as I’ve explored, I’ve already seen a big problem with the way people on the left deal with people who are just in the “little bit leftward of center” region of the political spectrum.
And I’m starting to suspect that this problem is at least part of the reason that the world seems to keep getting less equitable over time.
I’ll set the scene. It’s Friday night, I have some free time, and I want to learn more and get better acquianted with a new idea. I browse a leftist subreddit or drop into a Twitter thread. I read an article that makes me think. Then, when I’m done with the article, I scroll down and read the comments. Twitter, reddit, personal blogs, the comments all look about the same.
“Yes, I agree with you, BUT have you instead considered my particular form of idiosyncratic means to reach a similar but perhaps slightly different end.”
“That isn’t real progressivism though.”
“Lets just eat the rich instead.”
And then there’s the comments on those comments, deriding someone for misreading something. Everyone telling everyone else that they are arguing in bad faith. The ones between Democrats and Republicans are understandable since there’s longstanding partisanship there. But the strange part is when I see a Green Party person arguing with a Bernie bro.
Now debate is no problem. After all, liberals and leftists in general likes complex ideas and have some attitude, so we’re always going to want to debate things. But why the rancor between people who basically agree in the grand scheme of things?
I think the discourse is emotionally pitting people against each other who are really pretty much aligned. I think part of this is that we’ve all been trained by algorithms to beef with each other because that garners attention, but that is a subject for another article. Whatever the cause, nowadays every momentary interaction leaves you with your defenses up at all times. And this diminishes the solidarity and connectedness of humans that is the whole point of being a leftist in the first place.
And there’s a reason this is a big problem. A lot of people (like me) don’t think we know exactly which heterodox economic policy is going to solve everything. We just know that what we have now is bad and that we should add more things that just give more to people who have less. So a silent population that could be more active stays in the dark because we are uncomfortable trying to advocate for things when we are constantly being berated from both sides on everything.
Now, I’m not proposing to diminish all the nuances in any way. At some point, we may need to make some distinctions between different brands of leftist and liberal politics. But for a lot of the really radical ideas, we are a long way from reaching them. And people need changes in the right direction today. So I’m trying to advocate for directional radicalism. It’s a common sense stance that doesn’t try to look ahead to distant ideals about the way society should function. Instead, it just suggests that you move, even in small ways, in the same direction as others who are looking for a radical transformation toward equality.
To help with this, I’m trying to create a broadly defined political label: leftwardist. A leftwardist is a person who works in solidarity with other people to move the world greater equality compared with where it is today. I’m going to be exploring what it means to be a leftwardist in this newsletter, but it starts with a recognition that being a leftwardist doesn’t have to conflict with more particular beliefs as long as you agree that the world has too much inequity today. This means you can call your self a leftwardist without diminishing your allegiance to any of the myriad other socio-economic-political ideologies out there. The label just suggests that you are open to accepting the commonalities that run all the way from full blown communism to just left of center liberalism.
The fundamental question is this. Do you think that the world should be any little tiny bit more equitable in any way than it is now?
Should one more poor person be able to afford healthcare? Should Jeff Bezos have to give one more dollar in taxes to help pay for the public roads that his company benefits from? Should one more person get the right to vote in the democracy that governs them?
If so, you might be a leftwardist.