There are a number of political optical illusions. I am by no means certain that I’ve identified all there are, either, nor even all the important ones. Still, let’s work with what we have, shall we, concentrating especially on the one that are obviously paired, existing on both Left and Right, in some form or other?
Here are the first five. Next week we’ll cover the rest of the important ones, such as I’ve been able to identify. Why bother? Because if some people on both sides could see the illusions to which they’re subject, it is just possible they could strain and maybe even converse, which may push off or make less likely the breakup of my country which is the whole purpose of this series of columns.
One illusion, not universal but very common, is, “I am in the reasonable political center.” Sorry, but this is rarely true. It is not true of me and it is probably not true of you. Where you probably are is in the center of your group of friends and acquaintances; that’s why they’re your group of friends and acquaintances. Indeed most people seem to exist in a hermetically sealed echo chamber, where no contrary thoughts are allowed entrance. This is how we get inane statements like Pauline Kael’s, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”1
A second illusion has to do with distance. The reader may recall that one of the defenses I gave last week for the left-right spectrum is that it enables one to get a clearer idea of where one really is based on what can or cannot be seen, and how clearly. Imagine yourself standing somewhere near the base line for the left-right spectrum. A little up or down won’t matter. (A lot up or down may mean you’re a loon, but we’ll give you benefit of the doubt for now.) Look left. Look right. Can you see the difference between a run of the mill conservative and a Nazi? No? If not, that means you’re so far left, even if you think you’re in the reasonable center, that they’re all blending together. Can you see the difference between a Leninist and a Stalinist? Yes? That also means you are pretty far to the left. Conversely, can you not see the difference between a Leninist and a Stalinist? You are probably then somewhat to the right end. Can you see the difference between Hitler and George W. Bush? Same deal.
Oh, and if you can’t see the difference between Hitler and W, that means that not only are you pretty far left, you’re also an idiot.2
Yet a third optical illusion – well, a more or less auditory phenomenon that translates into an optical illusion – concerns vociferousness. Imagine the most moderate man or women in the country. He (or she) is the exact middle of the road. Indeed, he is so middle of the road that he makes his living renting himself out as a guide to the folks who paint the stripes on highways and byways. Imagine also that he (let’s just skip the PC bullshit, from now on, shall we? He includes she.) is quite vociferous in his political moderation, detesting everyone on the right third of the spectrum and everyone on the left third separately but equally, and voicing his disgust and contempt loudly, as often as he can find an audience. How does that man look to a Leftist? How does he look to David Duke?
Easy; the Lefty sees a conservative whom, for reasons mentioned above he cannot distinguish from a Nazi, while Duke sees at best, a communist. How does that happen? I think what takes place, in effect, is that both Lefty and (pretty extreme to the point of disgusting) Righty take that vociferousness, and add it as a height above the spectrum, then lay that elevation down in the opposite direction from themselves.
That happens to me all the time, by the way. I am – as far as I can tell, both by where I place on surveys and by what I can distinguish when looking left or right – about one third of the way from true center to the right, or, in other words, just on the right edge, the cusp, between the middle third and the right third. And I am vociferous to and past the point of being obnoxious about it, too. This is why much of the extreme Right – the Right so far from them that Lefties cannot even distinguish it from conservatives – detests me as a liberal, while liberals see pure and unrepentant Nazi.3
Illusion number four is what I like to call, “the illusion of inevitable or pre-existing progress.” I cannot personally see this one all that clearly on the right, but I am pretty sure it, or its equivalent, is there. What I can see on the right, dimly and distantly, which might be the equivalent, is “the illusion of unavoidable and rapid decay.” But since it is indistinct to me, I’ll leave it to others who may see it more clearly.
I can, in any case, see it clearly enough on the left. Ever notice how an increase in funding for some liberal pet project is billed as being a cut?4 Ever notice how they shriek when stymied, as if something had been stolen from them that they already owned? Gun control is perhaps a good example of that, since it’s been little but rout for them for the last ten years, at least, and they certainly do shriek about it. “Sandy Hook!” “[Honorary White] George Zimmerman!” “Blood in the streets!”
I’m certainly willing to entertain different explanations, but I’m going to go out on a limb here, wax all Platonically lyrical, and suggest something else is going on. I suspect the Left, or most of it, sees the world as they wish it were, as if it always was and is now as they wish it were, that they’ve got a kind of Platonic sense of “ideal forms” going on here, as if the truth were there, to be seen and realized, but is covered up by illusion. That, I suspect, is why they shriek when stymied; the truth is already there, already existing, and already owned by them, and everything that covers it, or pushes it back, is a kind of personal theft. The notion that progress is inevitable, for whatever one cares to call progress, seems to fit the theory as well.
I have, too, the sense that the Left is, so to speak, somewhat unstuck in time, You can see the effect in a couple of ways, for example how a three percent increase in funding for some progressive program gets turned into a seven percent reduction. The only way you can do that, and not be a complete madman, is if you’re unstuck in time and see the ten percent, which doesn’t exist yet, as already there and already real.
The last pair of illusions I want to cover today is the illusion of the insanity of your opponents. It’s true on both extremes, and often enough true in the middle when looking at the extremes; our political opponents seem insane. We do not share concepts. We do not share values. The words we use – even when we stay away from the preposterous neologisms of the Social Justice Warrior set – don’t have the same meanings for us. We cannot communicate. We tend to see the other as subhuman, or other than human, or even demonic. We note things we see as facts that the other side does not. How can we not be insane to each other?
And maybe we are all insane. Or maybe the Right is sane and everyone from me, inclusive, all the over to the ultimate Left is insane. Or maybe the Left is sane and everyone to the Right of Kos5 is insane. I can’t say, of course, since I might be insane. What I can say, is that it seems likely that the one who can admit he might be insane is at least somewhat more likely to be sane than the ones who cannot admit the possibility.
Next week, the rest of the political optical illusions, insofar as I can see them.
2 No, I’m not a huge fan of W, but you’re still an idiot. And ignorant.
3 Nazi is a toughie for me, being an eclectic mix of various kinds of Celt, but also Ashkenazi Jew, which includes a small percentage of sub-Saharan African – oh, yes it does – Gyspy, Russian, Pole, and God alone alone knows what else. True story: whatever genes I have, I can tan like you wouldn’t believe. In 1998 I came back from about six weeks in the Kuwaiti desert. My eldest daughter took one look and screamed, “Mommy! Mommy! Daddy turned black.” She was exaggerating. A little.
5 Interestingly enough, Markos Moulitsas and I do share a connection. He was stationed at Babenhausen Barracks in Germany, and Babenhausen, just down the road from Dudenhofen, was part of my area when I was stationed at Cambrai-Fritsch, about ten or eleven years later.
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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