TCS Daily

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Borg

By Jon N. Hall - December 8, 2009 12:00 AM

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the BorgBy Jon N. HallDecember 4, 2009

The idea that there are totalitarianisms of the left as well as totalitarianisms of the right is one of the more insidious ideas of the 20th Century. It is also a lie; a lie that has infected the general population; a lie that has made it possible for the political Left to flog its opponents for decades as "rightwing fascists."

In the greatest hoax of modern history, Russia's ruling "socialist workers party," the Communists, established themselves as the polar opposites of their two socialist clones, the National Socialist German Workers Party [Nazis] and Italy's Marxist-inspired Fascisti, by branding both as "the fascists."...this spin of all spins has played [havoc] upon Western thought for the past 75 years.— from author Tom Wolfe's blurb for Liberal Fascism

Not only is this idea a lie, it's ignorant. Jonah Goldberg ably demonstrated that it's ignorant in 2008's Liberal Fascism. But beyond being ignorant, this idea is stupid. Goldberg dealt with the ignorance of the idea, and here's why it's stupid: What's politically left and right is determined by something one chooses.

There are two ways we use "left" and "right" in politics. The first and older usage is simply to denote two opposing camps. In America we have two major parties, so this usage works for them. The "opposing camps" usage is a red-state/blue-state, us-versus-them sort of thing. But it can't account for everybody. Some party members go "off the reservation" on some issues. We might find a Democrat who is pro-life, or a Republican who wants to raise taxes. Such anomolies "upset the applecart."

The second usage of "left" and "right" trys to account for these anomolies, so it's a bit more sophisticated than the first usage. Those who prefer this usage recognize that things usually don't fit neatly into two camps. So the second usage takes into account the mixes of positions people have, and their gradations. E.g., some brands of socialism are more extreme than others, so we say they're "far left." Whereas the first usage envokes the dichotomy (perhaps even some Manichaean duality), the second usage envokes the spectrum, where left flows by gradations into right.

With the "opposing camps" approach, one simply defines one's camp and the enemy camp. With the spectrum approach, one chooses a variable present in all political systems, and then puts the systems on one's spectrum according to that variable.

Whenever we see a modifier or qualifier, such as in "far left," we're getting the spectrum usage. People are always talking about the political spectrum, but many don't know what their political spectrum is based upon, nor even how a spectrum works. Although the spectrum doesn't tell us everything about political systems, it does allow us to see relationships between systems better than the dichotomy does.

The spectrum is a conceptual device, a construct, it calibrates whatever we want it to. Also, there's no reason why we can't have several political spectra, each calibrating a different aspect (or variable) of political systems.

Conservatives worry about the ever growing "size" of government; i.e., they worry about Big Government. Liberals extol the virtues of Big Government; economist Paul Krugman recently praised Big Government.

So in government, "size" is a issue. And "size" is a perfect variable for a spectrum. True, there's no way to precisely measure the size of governments so we can put them exactly where they need to be on a spectrum. But we roughly know. For example, the size of the European socialist governments is greater than the American government circa 1930. We also know that the current American government is much larger than it was in 1930. Which means the American government has gone further toward one side of a spectrum that calibrates size. One type of Big Government is...totalitarianism.

But what should the political spectrum be a calibration of?

At first, I thought the political spectrum should be based on Freedom. But I chucked that and chose something I came to feel might be even more basic to political systems: Power. Since totalitarianisms grab more Power than any other political system, they would all go at one end of my spectrum (both the commies and the fascists). However, had I based my spectrum on Freedom, or civil rights, or a variable such as the size or the intrusiveness of government, the totalitarian systems would still be clustered together, over on the end. The opposite end of my spectrum is taken up by anarchism: the absence of government and its Power.

I found this spectrum at the American Federalist Journal, and it so exactly comports with my own spectrum that I have to wonder if I saw it long ago. But if I hadn't seen it, then I have even more faith in my spectrum, as someone else derived it independently. However, I do question its color scheme; having red at both ends isn't very spectral. Red and violet would have been better. Alarm bells would go off in the brains of any sentient creature that would posit that the opposite of totalitarianism is totalitarianism. But those who comprise the radical Left are not sentient creatures; they are the Borg -- totally assimilated into a collective mind, lacking all individuality and independence of thought, and...hey, what are you DOING?, TAKE YOUR DAMN HANDS OFF ME, STOP, NO, NO, noooo...

As we Borg say: You will be assimilated. Resistence is futile.

NOTE: If you find the Borg metaphor apt, you might enjoy this video of actress Alice Krige commenting about Power vis-à-vis her role as the Borg Queen.

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.

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