One of the biggest divides I’ve seen on the Left is not knowing whether to focus on social issues or economic issues, or believing one is vastly more important and the other is irrelevant. However, I posit that they are interconnected and equally important for the creation of a more perfect union. Put simply, they complement each other. We can’t achieve our goals without fighting on both fronts. Therefore, it is important that we learn to work together instead of fighting each other.
I’ve observed that our social issues all basically revolve around a single concept. From little quibbles between individuals over superficial things to war-inducing national conflicts, the strand that ties many of these things together is the “I’m better than you” mentality. Whether it be my music tastes, my religion, my skin color, or my nation of origin, it all comes down to me thinking that I am better than you. This is why racism is, and will continue to be, such a huge issue in this country. Until we can figure out a way to stop people from assuming their wholesale superiority to others, we’ll never be able to eliminate it completely.
The whys for this are better left to philosophers and psychologists, but something I’ve come to understand in my journey for knowledge is the point that we are all, in a manner, trapped within our own minds. There are ways to mitigate this (actively cultivating empathy, learning how brains function, seeking spiritual enlightenment, or using psychotropic drugs) but, outside those exceptions, I can’t see the world from any viewpoint other than my own.
My perception of the world is the only one I’ll ever perceive, and because my brain is a creature of habit it will reinforce this perspective to the point of assuming that anything outside of itself and its experiences is wrong. Researchers have shown that something which counters your current beliefs actually elicits the fight or flight response in your brain, so it doesn’t take a leap of logic to see how your brain would, on the opposite end, glorify its own thinking.
Think about it. People will get into fights over music tastes, sports teams, or other minor things (and yes, my characterization of them as “minor” stems from my perspective that fixing the country/world is a bigger priority). I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who’ve said something along the lines of, “I listen to lots of music, but I would never listen to country.” Unless you live in a bubble, it’s pretty clear people will sit around and judge other people for something as trivial as their taste in music. This goes back to the idea that “what I like must be best,” and because people don’t question this in themselves, they go through life just assuming it’s true.
Music taste is just an example of how even superficial things are affected by this mindset. The inability to understand that the universe doesn’t revolve around you, on a subconscious level, permeates all conflict at all levels of society. And if we’re going to fix society so it functions in a manner that works as best as possible for everyone, then we need to combat this underlying cause of social discord.
As for economics, the interesting thing is the rationalizations for certain stances seem to come from the same place. When some conservatives talk about their stances on economic issues it essentially comes across as saying people who are struggling deserve to be struggling in some way, shape or form because they are “lesser.” Even when they are struggling themselves, they’ll frame it as, “well that’s not my fault. I’m struggling because of x, y or z outside force, but for everyone else it’s because they’re lazy or stupid, etc. If they’d just work harder, they wouldn’t be in this mess.” Things like that are still framing it as “I’m better than them, so if I get ahead it’s because I’m smart and talented, but if they can’t get ahead it’s their own fault.” It completely ignores systemic problems.
When discussing ideology, the Right’s capitalist framework comes from an individualistic point of view. Capitalism’s resulting exploitation and oppression of others could not exist if the people in charge actually gave a shit about the people beneath them. If they could understand the destruction they have wrought in a way that connects them empathetically with those they hurt, it would be much harder to continue hurting them. This includes the class struggle, which also comes down to people identifying as “upper” class and, thus, thinking they are better than others. They think they deserve what they have and those beneath them deserve to have less.
Regardless of the underlying causes or mindsets that cause economic inequality, what those focused on economics point out is that these are real issues for real people that can be fixed right now if we can just get the right policies in place. The current policies coming from Washington, D.C. and similar governments around the world are mostly more of the same. Very little of what they’re trying to do actually helps people. But we can change this.
Social and economic problems are two sides of the same coin. They can’t be separated because they represent two aspects of the same revolution. For those focused on fixing society, that is the long view. We can’t achieve lasting progress if we don’t address the issue of unwarranted superiority. We have the tools to do it, as noted earlier, it just becomes a matter of utilizing those tools on a large enough scale, which will take time. For those of us fighting for economic change, that is the more immediate view. We can make people’s lives better right now if we can get these economic policies in place.
Both views are equally important. If we ignore the economics, then we may eventually reach the point of fixing society. That milestone, presumably, would then be followed by economic improvement, but that could take many decades while people are suffering now. Conversely, if we ignore societal problems, like racism, then we may be able to make some positive economic changes for the short term that will help people live better lives. Class-conscious people may claim this would result in the ability of people to unite more easily, but there’s no guarantee because, as I’ve been saying, we divide ourselves from others in so many ways that the temporary improvements in our economic situations could be taken away from us down the line if we don’t build the societal supports to maintain them.
So what’s the answer? Individually, we must learn to recognize that which runs through all of these problems and work to not let it take hold in our minds. Fight to understand that you and your opinions aren’t inherently better. As a movement, we must learn to support each other. We must learn to take that knowledge of self to the next level, learn from each other, and stand with each other. The economics pushers must recognize the need for intersectional understanding of social problems and support the social revolution. Those fighting society’s deeper issues must recognize that the people pushing economics are trying to get certain things done right now that will help us all and aren’t necessarily ignoring the other issues. If we can fix the economics now while still working for societal change, it may help move things along more quickly. There are millions of people who would do more if they weren’t so bogged down in just trying to get by. If we can’t unite, then we can’t win. However, if we do unite, then we can’t lose.