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Today’s political landscape is confusing, to say the least. The old framework of left and right seems to be crumbling before our eyes. In the USA, the suffering working class voted overwhelmingly for a multi-billionaire dedicated to cutting taxes for the rich and cutting medical cover for the poor. In the UK, the extreme right worked hand-in-hand with the extreme left to force Brexit on a badly informed public on the basis of xenophobia. In Greece, the population put their faith in the “extreme” left, only to find themselves betrayed by their apparently helpless leaders and shackled to even crueller and more degrading fiscal punishment. The panorama is different in each country, but the confusion of left vs right is endemic.
So what is it that characterises left and right?
This is the point; there is no real solid definition because the priorities and political conditions are different in every place. For some the right is characterised by, a belief in the economic dogma of “free markets”, competition as an economic driver, recognition of the importance of capital as a generator of social progress, unlimited personal freedom, undying patriotism, etc. In this framework left is a belief in government-regulation of the economy, cooperation as an economic driver, recognition of the importance of labour as a generator of social progress, social responsibility and solidarity with the weakest, human rights, etc.
There are many more issues including; immigration, abortion, gay marriage, nuclear weapons, the environment, which can all be seen from left and right-wing points of view. And politics comes down to the creation of a programme based on what a party thinks is a set of proposals that will most strongly resonate with the electorate through the filter of the media. So a party can present a manifesto with a few left-wing proposals, a few right wing proposals and a few from a more “centrist” view. The result is that there is almost no purely left and no purely right and in fact as in Brexit extreme right wing views sometimes resonate with extreme left wing views.
The social, cultural and historical landscape
It has to be understood that politics develops in a social, cultural and historical landscape, a background in which certain beliefs and paradigms go unquestioned because they are deemed to be obvious and immovable. In previous eras such unquestioned beliefs included; the divine right of kings, the flatness of the Earth, the blind faith in God and a belief that women were inferior to men. Over time, most of this has been revised, and new landscapes have taken their place.
One part of our landscape that has grown in prominence over the years, as financial power has taken more and more control of our lives, is the belief in money as an entity that “naturally” has the ability to grow overnight when deposited in a bank; usury. This is not questioned in today’s politics. It’s a part of the landscape that we hardly see, like the blue of the sky. It’s there but we don’t question it.
To all intents and purposes, money has become the most important value in our society. If we consider other values such as knowledge, health, security, family or freedom, it is clear that money is the most important value because if you have money you can access all the others. Regardless of what our personal values may be, society’s highest value is money, and the human race in all latitudes now finds itself in the permanent search for it.
But this system of values, like the clothes we wore as a teenager, no longer fits us. It is ripping at the seams and is no longer suitable for our purposes as a human race.
And to clarify, the problem isn’t the money in itself, because a currency for exchanging goods and services has been required by human beings since almost for ever in order to advance as a species. This system allows some to dedicate their time to growing food in the fields with passion, while others are able to dedicate their time to performing heart surgery equally passionately. Neither the surgeon without food, nor the farmer with heart disease, would last very long without the other. No, the problem isn’t the money, it’s the magically accruing interest that is threatening to destroy our current landscape.
In addition to this mythical property of money to spontaneously grow overnight, there has been added a concept of “market”, which also has magical properties. The “market” decides that Greece pays 10 times more in interest rates than Germany, for instance. It’s as if there weren’t human beings there making decisions about what a country should or shouldn’t pay! Just in the moment when you need help with repayments on a personal loan or on a credit card bill, or your country’s national debt, the bank comes along and kicks you even more with higher interest rates because it is driven by a “market”.
But the power of these two apparently fixed components of our landscape which appear to have been so helpful for the development of western society until now, namely markets and usury, are now starting to get out of control and are destroying us.
A new political axis can emerge
In this context and this moment of global crisis when important components of our social, cultural and historical landscape are starting to fall apart and reveal themselves to be obsolete, we should take a moment to re-evaluate the political axis that has tried to divide us neatly along left and right and ask if it really reflects our profoundly held values.
If a segment of society, which is the de facto heirs of the landowners, kings and bankers of times past, has imposed its markets and usury onto human society to the point where human society believes them to be part of nature – something given that can’t be changed – then today, political movements such as DiEM25, have the chance to question what is natural and work together with others to construct a new landscape based on a new system of values.
Humanism vs Anti-humanism
If left and right no longer work as concepts in a political system because the line has curved back on itself to the point where extreme-left and extreme-right are able to shake hands and work together thereby forming a circular flat plane with an x and y-axis on which a set of different subjects can be seen from a left and right point of view, then today progressive movements can travel along a third axis: the z-axis.
And what is the characteristic of this z-axis? We can label it on one end humanism and on the other end anti-humanism. And what is humanism? Well for our purposes it is putting human life as the central value; all lives, everywhere, not only Western lives, all lives.
This future landscape will be characterised not only by a fair economic system which allows for goods and services to be fairly exchanged around the world, it will be characterised by a respect for the environment and a recognition that we only have one planet and that it has to serve us for a further million generations of human life, or more. It will be characterised by human rights even more profound than those outlined in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It will be characterised by good quality and free-at-the-point-of-delivery education and healthcare services. It will be characterised by everyone being able to participate in the world of labour with equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities and receiving a fair compensation for the efforts made to improve the lives of those around them. It will be characterised by the freedom to pursue one’s happiness wherever it may take them without the need of a passport. It will be characterised by cooperation among human groups and not by competition for survival. Ultimately it will be characterised as Democratic, where people participate in really democratic processes not just in the formal democratic processes we are tricked into supporting today.
But more than all of these goals, the humanism that will drive humanity forward will be characterised by a growing understanding that violence is what causes human pain and suffering and its forms are not just physical but also economic, psychological, sexual, moral and so on. This is a sensibility that is increasingly present in new generations. New movements, whether they recognise it or not are part of a new non-violent sensibility that is emerging, and they reject violence as a way of resolving conflicts.
In this way all their policies can be seen through a new lens.
Why do they promote a new economic model? Because the current economic system is characterised by violence and creates human suffering.
Why do they care about Real Democracy? Because imposition of the will of a minority on the vast majority is violence and causes human suffering.
Why do they care about the environment? Because we only have one planet to live on and we have to make it last and to destroy it causes human suffering, etc.
In this way we can even expand our vision to include; human rights, education, healthcare, defence and security, and many more that will be required when movements start to converge towards a universal human nation. If we see everything along this new z-axis where human life is valued, it makes defining policy much clearer, because we immediately discard any policy that means that violence from some human beings is imposed on others. By necessity it also means that we look beyond our own borders and see not only how to promote democracy in Europe, for example, but a democracy worldwide which extends the same humanist values to all other peoples of the world.
So we can see that new political movements are moving in the z-axis with many other organisations and networks going in the same direction working in different fields: environmental campaigns, anti-war campaigns, refugee-support campaigns, women’s rights, LGBT rights, anti-poverty campaigns, and many more, all are travelling in this new z direction because they are all feeling that human beings are treated terribly and suffer the effects of violence in its various forms in a system that doesn’t value them.
And all of them are expressions of humanism and are the essence of this golden rule as it has appeared in countless cultures, religions, and historical moments when human life was newly valued: treat other people as you want to be treated.
So a new sensibility is appearing and it is starting to repaint the landscape in several interesting areas, and if it is to really transform the political landscape, single-issue movements will have to reach out to other movements going in the same direction but working in different fields.
And in this cooperation and working together, in this convergence of diversity, the question will stop being whether you are left or right; the question will then be, are you humanist or anti-humanist?