Yet another school shooting in the U.S. Nineteen children and two teachers dead — plus the shooter himself.
As I write this column, authorities are still trying to fathom the teenaged shooter’s motives. Was he influenced by extremist ideologies? By prejudice? By social media?
I suggest that the terms we use, in examining motives, are themselves part of the problem. Traditional interpretations of right and left, liberal and conservative, get in the way of understanding.
We need to start again.
Try these definitions on for size.
The right worships the individual. The left worships the group.
Please don’t quote dictionary definitions at me. Dictionaries are outdated as soon as their words hit paper. They can only tell you what a word has meant in the past. But language is fluid, constantly changing. So is the world. Old labels cannot adequately describe new contexts — economic, political, religious, social…
So I say, the right believes in individual action. It endorses free enterprise.
Personal initiative. It distrusts regulations, or anything organized — other than for a short-term goal like running rustlers out of town.
American evangelists — white or black — exemplify this worship of the individual. Their goal is individual salvation. You, and you alone, get put right with Jesus, so that you and you alone can get into heaven.
No, you can’t take a buddy with you.
No evangelist has ever told a kneeling penitent, “I can’t save you until this whole social order is saved.”
Likewise, white supremacists do not form a committee to examine the demographic implications of immigration. They get a gun and do something about it.
Like the shooter in Buffalo, just 10 days before the Uvalde massacre.
Leftists, by contrast, want to work with committees. They want to build systems and structures to coordinate efforts for a common goal.
Leftists thrive on talking; rightists thrive on doing. Even if what they’re doing is just an outburst of anger, frustration, and alienation.
It does little good to ask whether a particular shooter was influenced by Karl Marx or Ayn Rand. If he uses a gun to settle grudges, he has bought into right-wing thinking.
Every act of terror since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — from Timothy McVeigh to Orlando, from Sandy Hook to Uvalde — boils down to one person deciding to take matters into his own hands.
Conversely, if someone gathers a study group, or even a subversive cell dedicated to overthrowing a racist and sexist social order, they’re leftists.
The closest thing the U.S. has had to a leftist attack in this century was Sept. 11’s simultaneous hijacking of four airliners.
Consider — that attack required extensive preparations, secrecy, and precisely coordinated group activities.
It fits my leftist model precisely.
But note — not one of those hijackers, or its behind-the-scenes planners, was American.
Indeed, Americans are so obsessed with Wyatt Earp individualism that they don’t know how to be leftist.
Democrats are not a left-wing party. They are merely not as far right as Republicans.
In politics, “right” is usually paired with conservative; “left,” with liberal, radical, or progressive.
Those labels imply that the right wants to “conserve” a golden age that has already passed. The left, on the other hand, wants to move forward into a new and unproven world.
In that scenario, conservatives have all the advantages. Supporters can imagine the kind of past the right wants to conserve — they think they’ve lived in it themselves.
But American voters apparently cannot imagine a new system, a new society, that they have never experienced. Even if it has been tried and proven elsewhere — like medicare in Canada.
Because they try to drag us in reverse, therefore, the right is always wrong.
And because they want to plunge us into an unpredictable future, the left is rarely right.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably trying to categorize me. I’m neither left nor right, I would argue, although I do try to stay far away from the far right.
If you must have a label, try somewhere between libertarian and anarchist. I resist anyone’s attempt to tell me what to do, how to think, what to believe. And I believe that true leadership arises out of chaos.
Perhaps I should be a hermit, perched in a canyon high above a rushing river, meditating on human society rushing into self-delusions.
We need new understandings to make sense of an unprecedented world. Off-the-shelf labels merely distract from what people are actually doing.
Let’s clear the mental clutter and call things as they are.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.