July 24th, 2009 10:08 EST
Why is the Left, Wrong?
Political discourse is ill served by references to the right and left, because the inference is that people with certain convictions are to the left of being right.
The left is traditionally the side (bar) sinister, the wrong side, the evil side. This line of thought is rooted in history. Even before medieval heraldry, which made clear the left`s association with bastardy and evil, left-handedness was associated with a propensity for wrongdoing.
It`s difficult not to conclude that political references to the left and right derive from conservative efforts to paint progressives as wrongheaded and even sinister. This may or may not be true, but there can be little doubt that a subconscious bias associates the left with something wrong.
Language is a measure of historical change. For example, members of my generation, particularly journalists, think of a kill box as a wooden box into which lead type "letters set by linotypists "are chucked for meltdown and recycling, but today when you search the web you find mentions of kill boxes only as software to protect files or military jargon for kill zones.
The wooden kill box has vanished and now the newspapers that once used it are vanishing with it.
But we persist in calling some people leftists and others rightists, or left-wingers and right-wingers. It`s code, and it saves us the task of delineating what they really believe. The resulting effect is polarizing, which is why it serves public discourse so poorly.
Lefty at the plate
The usage, moreover, is clearly biased in favor of those who disagree with progressive views, simply because they enjoy the status of being right, the word right carrying the connotation of correctitude if not rectitude. Everyone else, by comparison, is left of that. Linguistically, this is comparable to conducting a baseball game without a home plate. It tilts discussion before it gets underway.
Poets and creative writers whose work depends on the quality of its specificity are often disconcerted by news accounts that rely heavily on such labels as left, right, liberal and conservative. These are buzz words for assumptions readers and listeners are presumed to have. It`s talking about one thing when you mean another thing. It devolves linguistically into using words and terms as pawns.
For example, urban crime becomes a euphemism for crime supposedly committed by African-Americans. The immigration problem " is a dolled-up way to express alarm at the growth of our Hispanic population.
We don`t want to be caught saying exactly what we mean because we seek to avoid being labeled as bigots. On the other hand, we contrive to spread the underlying message of bigotry through the use of agreed-upon substitute language. Thus, latent racism becomes The Southern Strategy and family values in actuality is a protest against live-and-let-live proponents.
This abuse of language plays into the hands of people who wish to manipulate public opinion instead of informing it. For example, there is an array of issues about which Libertarians, who are usually thought of as conservative, and liberals agree "a fact usually lost in public debate because journalists and politicians speak headlinese and sloganese.
Left and right are not only antiquated slogans but also convey the historic bias inherent in the word left. This bias is found across the cultural spectrum everywhere except perhaps in baseball where lefties are prized. (Still, the familiar baseball expression about coming out of left field bears the connotation that something is awry.)
Public discourse in the United States has been virtually derailed by associating ideas that might improve the human condition with leftist politics and therefore socialism and communism. This tendency is perhaps not surprising in a country that has managed with a smarmy facility to overlook the similarity between Karl Marx`s ideas of sharing the common weal with the startlingly similar idea expressed in the Acts of the Apostles.
Poets and storytellers who use language so poorly are bad writers. They fail to convey nuance and subtlety. But it`s more than a language problem. The possibility of arriving at a consensus, the possibility of agreement, resides in nuance and subtlety.
Journalism thrives on tension and polarity, a tendency that along with time constraints, nurtures the use of polarizing and misleading terms. Public discourse becomes tabloid discourse, coarsened and cheapened. Worse, ideas fall between the cracks, and the cracks themselves are despised. The result is intractable polarization.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
The pioneering Online Originals (U.K.), the only online publisher to receive a Booker nomination, published his novella, Alice Miller`s Room, in 1999. Recent fiction appeared in Prima Materia (Woodstock, NY), vols. I and IV, and Breakfast All Day (London, U.K.).In his younger days his poetry was published in literary journals including Solstice (England) and Beyond Baroque and Phantasm (California). Recent poems appear in Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review (www.arabesquespress.org), Perpetua Mobile (Baltimore), and Attic (Baltimore). He is the English language editor of Arabesques Literary and Cultural Journal (www.arabesquespress.org).
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.