The Left Can Go Wrong.
Imperfect thoughts about the Left on Santa Barbara’s Day.
The Left can go wrong.
Indeed, it already has: Cuba, Romania, Soviet Union.
This is a human story wrapped inside the culture of the Left.
The Left being no better or worse in terms of its ideology, values, and beliefs than any other well-intended social, political, worldview, or cultural vantage point.
Before this year is out, I wish to echo a frustration/concern voiced by many Cuban-Americans in the wake of the internationally witnessed authoritarian behavior of the Cuban government.
There was not a strong, unanimous condemnation of the government’s behavior from the American democratic left, left-to-progressive activist organizations, or liberal progressive voices.
Some did. Some did not.
“They’re doing it again,” I heard these Cuban-American voices saying. “They” being roughly “liberals to leftists” and “again” roughly being “going dictatorial.”
These groups — the American Democratic Left, Left-to-Progressive Activism, and Liberal Progressives — are not the same. We are all however often seen by outsiders and critics as the same or as broadly associated.
We being everyday, working people with bills over our head who uphold this range of beliefs. Not power players, political leaders, or extremely wealthy people.
We in this range do have a few things in common. For instance, in a *very* large sweep, we are all interested in some form of better-than-this change that revolves around alleviating the impact of bigotries, ending environmental destruction, and correcting economic unfairness.
Also — and God help us this never happens — if there were ever a complete right-wing fascist takeover, we’d all be in danger of political persecution.
We also all hold to values and worldviews that position us as — for lack for a better term — anti-right-wing.
For that reason, the warning stories of Leftist failures hold a great lesson for us all because we carry a similar Achilles Heel:
Assuming our values and beliefs somehow protect us from personally embodying and/or collectively overtaking by using the very qualities we have positioned ourselves as being against:
cruelty, oppression, bigotry, mistreatment, indifference to suffering, authoritarianism.
This is a human story wrapped in what those running from the Left-Gone-Wrong have taught me.
Anti-authoritarian beliefs, in and of themselves, do not protect us from becoming authoritarians. Holding Justice as a value does not automatically prevent us from delivering injustices. Championing Equality does not stop us from enforcing unfairness.
This is not a quality of just the Left or Activists or Liberals.
This is a quality of People.
You will see it is not dissimilar from the ways that believing in Jesus’s teachings of Love does not automatically protect Christians from hating or showing indifference to their fellow human’s suffering.
Nor has it historically protected them from forming Roman-like empires the likes of which Jesus demonstrated a way to circumvent without ever touching the politics.
It is not dissimilar from the way that, in the States, loving one’s country, serving one’s country, or believing in patriotism cannot automatically prevent one from being undemocratic or supporting something oppressive instead of freeing.
This is a human story wrapped in 1,001 cultural belief system variations.
There is no set of beliefs, intents, or values. No theology, ideology, or identity. No evidence base, rightful cause, or righteous anger that protects us from the possibility of becoming dictatorial or domineering.
This is a human story wrapped in a human characteristic that, perhaps, is rooted in a behavior older than our species.
Since our beliefs -whatever they may be- do not provide us this protection, what can?
A practice, a criterion (a guide), and an awareness is the best working answer I have. Feel free to chime in with solutions and possibilities. Here are the pieces that I see:
An Awareness: Acceptance and understanding of this fundamental truth about our human nature:
No belief system protects us from wrongdoing or from cultivating in some new cultural, political, worldview flavor the very same harmful qualities we wish to see ceased or disempowered.
A Criterion: A set of guidelines that we could use to help identify the qualities of domineering and oppressive behaviors … regardless of the cultural/political flavor they show up in. Umberto Eco’s work on how to identify fascism comes to mind as a possible starting place.
A Practice: Some sort of practice around things like listening to those we don’t agree with, a desire to understand or a practice of looking for their humanity inside the reason they hold their beliefs…
…or around occasionally reflecting on or assessing our own behaviors, examining where we have belief intolerances, cultivating curiosity around things we don’t understand…
… or around asking for feedback or a heads-up if we as individuals start to show possible signs of these behaviors. This could come from trusted loved ones or from those we have a responsibility to … especially if and when we find ourselves in a place of power or influence.
Be that place large, medium, or small.
La Florida Neighboring Cuba
on the Seminole-Miccosukee Everglades
If you are interested in hearing more on Cuba, here’s a few voices in the diaspora I tune into. If you dig into their social media posts, they all have people and deeper resources they recommend to hear Afro-Cuban voices and the voices of the people living on the island.
They all also do a wonderful job holding meaningful conversations for a community where there is a large amount of differing/oppositional beliefs and deep pain paints. Their ability to dialogue across beliefs and experiences in their community is something else I have learned a lot from.