So Can (some variations on) Left and (some variations on) Right Work Together?

There's a really good debate going on in the combox of my Khaki Markets Post on an issue that I've been meaning to write about for a while - to what extent is it possible for people who are seeking the same social ends to work together when they use different political means. In the comboxes the discussion is mostly over whether Progressives and Libertarians can work together on local food systems, but this strikes me as a larger - and deeply critical question.

It isn't just the libertarians and the progressives who have common ground on food systems, after all. The socialists and the distributists, whose overarching philosophies are very different, often find themselves on surprisingly common ground. Round up the groups of breastfeeding, do it yourself, garden growing, organic Moms, and while plenty of them are likely to be second generation hippies, there are plenty of political moderates and conservative Christians.

I have more to say abuot this, but I've got a plumbing crisis to deal with first, but I'm curious about my reader's thoughts - to what extent do you think different political belief systems can come together for the same objectives? My own take on this is that we simply have to figure this out - I've been watching left and right fight scorched earth battles for my entire lifetime, quite literally (my first political act was to campaign for George McGovern in a backpack on my father's back at 2 months old in 1972, worked my own first political campaign and did my first activism in my early teens, etc...) and if there's one thing we don't need, it is more scorched earth - climate change has the covered.

That doesn't make this easy - do you give in on issues you believe are fundamental, compromise in places to get other things done? This is critical question for the peak oil movement, especially - peak oil, unlike climate change or other environmental issues, doesn't have a strong association with any political side in the US (unlike in Britain, where the BNP has made it a centerpiece). Peak oil is associated with hippies, in the joke that calls it "The liberal left-behind movement" but the Congressional peak oil caucus is truly bipartisan and its leader, Roscoe Bartlett is a rather conservative Republican. The loudest voices on this subject have often come from the US military, which is concerned with fuel supply issues, and from DOE reports commissioned under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Sooner or later, peak oil and resource depletion will simply be issues too pressing to ignore, and they will gain strong political associations. To my mind, this temporary open-endedness is an opportunity - it represents the possibility of shaping a wider political support for peak oil responses. That doesn't mean that's easy, or even likely, but it is possible, and in a world where an increasing number of useful responses aren't even available to us anymore, you've got to take what you can get.

So what do you think? Do you think left and right, in some or all variations can work together? To what extent are political ends enough, and to what extent are the means and underlying enlightenment philosophies critical?



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They can. I know, I've done it. You need two things; a strong common goal; and the establishment from the outset of an institutional culture of "we don't talk about THAT here; we just work on what we all love."

Not that it's easy; but in fact, it generates deep friendships that will then survive discussions on perilous subjects outside the original contexts. Very much worth doing.

We can, and we must. In the US our politics have become so polarized that the average person (and the not-so-average) has been bullied into this thinking that we want different things. Sometimes, that's true, but mostly we have the same goals, only our solutions and approaches differ.

It has been my experience that at the grassroots, community level, political leanings tend to become irrelevant. Like Greenpa says, sometimes it becomes a subject one very pointedly does not discuss, but having a variety of points of view is beneficial to both help find better solutions and also to help find better acceptance in the larger community.

I don't know how we bring that attitude of joint cooperation to the state and national level, but we sorely need it.

I'm afraid I'm not as optimistic as Greenpa. I'm very doubtful that the Left and Right in the USA can ever work together for any sustained period of time. I think the polarization has just gone too deep.

This is not to say that neighbors cannot be friendly across political divides: of course they can. But I don't think working for any serious goal can be sustained across those divides. The desired ends are just too different. And yes, I think the underlying philosophy does matter - a lot. I'm sure it's worth doing; that doesn't mean that I think it will happen or even can happen.

In fact, my view is that the best thing the USA could do - for its own sake and for the sake of the Rest of the World - is to break apart into four or more separate countries which could then go their different ways. And none of them would constitute the threat to the Rest of the World now posed by American Imperialism.

Pat (not in an optimistic mood today!)

By Pat Meadows (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

I think it takes a common local goal -- one of the factors in the polarization is the overall abstractness of it. Trying to make national policy means you dont' get to see 98% of the results! I have seen diverse groups join to solve local problems, and I think once things get more dire on the local level, there will be more of it. In fact, a sign that it's not so bad is that folks still have the "luxury" of holding a political position that shuts them off from neighbors.

It's very possible that the national (let alone global!) arena has become too polarized - people have stopped seeing the others as human (and I'm part of that - I find it impossible to accept the actions of some Republicans as "human" and compassionate)... I am pessimistic in the sense that the system seems to me to be too complex to survive without a crash down to more local levels... then we'll pick up the pieces, as people have always done.

Absolutely. It takes self-discipline, not stepping on other people's toes, not picking on single-issue stuff that divides, accepting that some people are religious and some are not and it is just part of how we are as people, and so on. Another aspect of it is... learning how to recognize divisive trolls and neutralizing them. :-)

Go Sharon!

Perhaps we can work together toward some small goals, but facts remain facts. The right insists on magical thinking and a rejection of science. That makes it a lot harder to grapple with the big problems. But our best chance to change minds is by the gentle persuasion that comes with working together. We are in a position to lead by example. Let's do it right!

With food science denialism rampant on the left (pushers of organic quackery) and climate science denialism rampant on the right (adamantly opposed to any science that suggests a larger role for government), I highly doubt there is much room for compromise since each side has its own blinders towards certain facts and science.

I gotta say no. Of course it CAN happen in isolated instances and even on large scales occasionally, but I believe that, as resources like energy, water, food, arable land, etc. become more scarce, the differences we experience regarding foreign policy, distribution of resources, security, the role of deluded superstition... er, I mean religion... will only deepen, and serve to highlight FUNDAMENTAL differences in our worldviews (such as why do some people have much less than others, and what should be done about it)..

Do you think left and right, in some or all variations can work together?

Absolutely. When lack of oil gets to the point where it's cutting into oil company profits, you'll see a totally bipartisan push to expedite shale gas production and coal gasification, with massive subsidies to enable oil companies to convert their installed base to use the new feedstocks and antitrust exemptions to keep regulation from getting in the way of efforts to deal with the crisis.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

I'm depressed to see other commenters saying no.

I'm part of a generation that often is accused of being politically apathetic. That's true if you mean politics as currently played out on a national level: Not only am I not an activist, I actually don't want to know what is going on in either major party. The power plays and strategies are repulsive to me. But I am passionate about certain issues and I believe others in my generation are too. I think I'm not the only one who is utterly bored of "politics" and would like to see some calm, reasonable, cooperation to get actual things done.

How this can happen, I don't know. If we could keep out the political strategists and just us apathetic non-politicians work together... but that's not going to work long-term.

By Katharine (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

While listening to music, what I wanted to say came on the playlist:

The Gulf War Song by Moxy Fruvous

We got a call to write a song about the war in the Gulf,
But we shouldn't hurt anyone's feelings.
So we tried, and gave up, cuz there was no such song,
But the trying was very revealing:

What makes a person so poisonous righteous,
That they'd think less of anyone, who just disagrees?
She's just a pacifist, he's just a patriot.
If I said you were crazy, would you have to fight me?

Fighters for liberty,
Fighters for power,
Fighters for longer turns in the shower.

Don't tell me I can't fight 'cause I'll punch out your lights
And history seems to agree
That I would fight you for me.

So we read, and we watched
All the specially selected news,
And we learned so much more about the good guys.

"Won't you stand by the flag?"
Was the question unasked,
"Won't you join in and fight with the allies?"

What could we say? We're only 25 years old,
With 25 sweet summers, and hot fires in the cold.
This kind of life makes that violence unthinkable.
We'd like to play hockey, have kids and grow old.

Fighters for Texaco,
Fighters for power,
Fighters for longer turns in the shower.

Don't tell me I can't fight 'cause I'll punch out your lights,
And history seems to agree
That I would fight you for me,
That us would fight them for we.

He's just a peacenik,
And she's just a war-hawk.
That's where the beach was,
That's where the sea.

What could we say? We're only 25 years old,
And history seems to agree that I would fight you for me,
That us would fight them for we.
Is that how it always will be?

The broad picture (at least from a UK view) is that the right believe in low regulation and private services where as the left believes in more regulation and public services. This tends to mean they find it hard to get started on solutions.

However, the coalition government supports localism and community ownership which seems like a positive step forward both sides agree on (but the Big Society idea has generated a LOT of sceptisism due to the lack of real support and excessive regulation).

I guess I am a bit too old - my recollection of political strife is my wearing Adlai Stevenson buttons while a lot of my fellow grade schoolers wore I Like Ike. The mock election predicted the national one rather well. But, that was a time in which parties focused on platforms instead of personalities, issues instead of mudslinging, and printed word instead of sound bites. Politics, like religion, were mostly differences to be respected, not opinions to be attacked. Roll forward a couple of generations and we have managed campaigns in which issues take a distant third to campaign funding, astroturfing, and ideological deal making.

I think issues of raising your own food, saving energy, cutting living costs, good safe local food, and preventive health offer us an opportunity to join together and rally behind improving our lives. If we persist in allowing divisions to separate us from our brothers and sisters we will be fodder for whatever uses the powerful in our society find for us.

There is a principle here - the liberal, hippie, socialist, survivalist, conservative, or conspiracy theorist who brings his tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes to trade for some of your broccoli, cabbage, or squash is likely to be remembered fondly and repeatedly around the dinner table. And so you, too, will be remembered.

For the common man there is a lot of available common ground with neighbors regardless of political orientation. Most people share a diffuse sense of dread for what is coming. Manipulated by the powerful, it is but another tool for dividing us. Acknowledged and used to energize action, it can be a means to unite us. Media and the rest of the oligarchy have managed to divide people to their own ends and if we can mend the tear then society might return to function. I think if we avoid peak oil and the climate in return for others avoiding topics of weaponry, the New World Order, and a few others, it will be possible to return to a world where the deplorable lack of rain, or the current hot spell can be discussed over the back fence like neighbors.

I think reskilling, community pot luck dinners, gardening, community gardens, legalizing urban chickens, seed exchanges, car pooling, and community time bartering represent activities that can unite the community. People can learn to avoid divisive topics while vigorously sharing in other areas. Then, after a while, maybe hot button issues can become discussion topics. It will take an effort to begin the process but the payoff is potentially huge. And, if it works, the oligarchs have lost. Totally.

So, not wearing our ideology on our sleeve all the time can help us unite with others who might also be willing to do the same. Even in the idealized '50s communities had Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Unions, and Right to Work supporters. Those divisions did not stop people from cooperating. Only after the oligarchs decided to take over the electorate by "divide and conquer" did the really corrosive divisions arise between people. After people are actually talking to each other at all, maybe they can talk about the divisive issues that mean a lot to them, and maybe the other people can listen. Even if nobody changes his/her mind, a bit of understanding and empathy never hurt anything.

With a little bit of empathy it is just possible that neighbor might stand beside neighbor helping to overcome the consequences of peak oil and climate change, which, for all our efforts, will not be avoided ... only mitigated.

If I was really able to do that sort of work, I could. I mean, I do it at my real job every day. There are some limits, of course. I'd find it hard to be a part of a group if gay people were mocked or excluded

Oops, I'm really clumsy with computer mice these days. :(. Here's my full comment:

If I was really able to do that sort of work, I could work with people of different idealogies. I mean, I do it at my real job every day. There are some limits, of course. I'd find it hard to be a part of a group if queer people were mocked or excluded or if I had to keep my atheism hidden and pretend to pray or people thought that commenting on my appearance was ok. I'd be willing to ignore all that stuff to work on a common goal, if the other sides were as well.

However, I don't think that could happen anywhere much beyond the local level. It's become too strange.


Yes, left and right can work together if they both want to.

But my suspicion is that the right will refuse (because they can; it's their choice) + will start a campaign of blame, anger and hate - while the rich hole up in gated communities with spas, food, private security and the last cars with gas. Meanwhile, everyone else goes to hell.

A common enemy is needed for unity. Common cause is alas - not common.

It seems to me that the base problem is that America is not actually one country; well, not in terms of one people. Too many different experiences, attitudes, norms and expectations of the future. For many, vehement belief hides the everyday world - it'll be difficult even to get agreement on what is happening, let alone on what to do.

Expect arguments and BAU till past the last moment. Is that what happened with "the trees are being used up!" debate on Easter island? :(

The point of all conservatism is to establish, enrich, and maintain an aristocracy. The peak oil situation is seen as a way of buying low a commodity that will, inevitably, rise in price. The assumption is, and always has been, that wealth will mean if there is any oil remaining they get first-refusal on it and their money and power will protect the wealthy from any hard knocks and smooth their transition to any other system.

Inconvenience, and taxes, are for little people. Little people who, as befits those with less clout, are expected to willingly and graciously strive, struggle and sacrifice to make sure the wealthy don't have to. It also has to be noted that promised made to the wealthy are chiseled in stone. Whereas promises made to the poor carry the weight of a light breeze.

Keeping that underlying reality in mind you may go forth and negotiate and compromise.

From my point of view it is no longer about the left, right, conservative, liberal, republican, democrat, libertarian, or any other political, religious or philosophical spectrum you care to mention. It is about money...who has it and who doesn't. I think that the people with the money will use any and every scrap of divisivness they can find to ensure that they protect what they have and accumulate more. Money will always tempt some poor sucker, of whatever stripe, to throw a wrench into whatever is working toward anything that bids fair to reduce the power of the rich to get richer.

I think that, at some level, we are all running scared. And the scared-er we get, the more we look for ways to ensure our survival. The top 1% (who control, what is it, more than 50% of the wealth in this country) have a big head start.

From my point of view it is no longer about the left, right, conservative, liberal, republican, democrat, libertarian, or any other political, religious or philosophical spectrum you care to mention. It is about money...who has it and who doesn't. I think that the people with the money will use any and every scrap of divisivness they can find to ensure that they protect what they have and accumulate more. Money will always tempt some poor sucker, of whatever stripe, to throw a wrench into whatever is working toward anything that bids fair to reduce the power of the rich to get richer.

I think that, at some level, we are all running scared. And the scared-er we get, the more we look for ways to ensure our survival. The top 1% (who control, what is it, more than 50% of the wealth in this country) have a big head start.

I think that the localization of politics would bring more unified yet diversified community into play. Division is primarily an issue of aggregation, in my opinion - where people are glommed into larger and larger sets that have fewer and fewer points in common, to the point of red state blue state with no shades of purple, no sense of the thousands of ways we have so much in common.

I think localization also brings into play a truer sense of "public service", returning to an earlier model of service: "moderating one's opinions in order to achieve a large consensus that will ensure domestic tranquility" (from a NYTimes op-ed called "The Politics of Solipsism"). Although I'm getting more involved in local government, and it's pretty badly infected with power-hunger and political dysfunction, too. Primarily I think because people like you and me aren't involved on a regular basis, instead letting career politicians take the lead.

So as with our local food, local industry, etc. movements, we need to make (create out of thin air LOL) the time to be involved in local government in order to achieve real change.

By Christina (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

Just a note on the situation from the UK perspective. The BNP did talk about Peak Oil for a bit, but it was never a very major part of their message, and I think they may have dropped it now. The public perception of them is as a right-wing racist party, and they're currently struggling to survive after infighting.

If Peak Oil is seen as a political issue at all here (and most people have barely heard of it) it's definitely associated with the environmental movement and the left, not the right.

By Colin Bell (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

It's never easier, but it's more do-able at the community level. Neighbors can set a practical goal and work to achieve it without shouting ideological slogans at each other. Government inevitably introduces politics, which brings in ideology and money interests. How feasible is it to think that "neighbor" groups could be formed at the county, state and national level? Could participants agree to a few ground rules for discussion and fund-raising to keep things focused on getting work done and not being sidetracked by arguments over beliefs?

I've thought about community projects before and have seen groups of mixed political beliefs in my philosophy classes work together when given a specific, concrete problem, but the notion of a larger "neighbor" group only occurred to me as I was writing this comment. I wonder what others think of the idea.

In my limited experience, trying to work with the farish Right (including my own brother) is that they have a very basic lack of repect for people who try to meet them in the middle becuase they see us a "lacking in conviction" and being "wishy-washy about [our] morals."

I think MEA has an excellent point. I would say, don't compromise. Start with the points you agree on, however tiny they are, and work together on those. That will help build the trust you need to form a concensus on other more difficult points. Compromise can come way down the list if you manage to get that far.

I find it eerie that both my optimistic and pessimistic moods are reflected in the comments about. I believe both -- that we CAN work together, but I doubt that we will. White bunkers seem like a perfectly plausible development, but the weak point of bunkers is that they always hire guards from the have-nots.

I think in order to work together we all need some thick skin. I'm a conservative Christian who is registered as an Independent but I'll give you three guesses which party I usually vote for. I think that being a good steward of the resources I have is important. I think that treating others with respect is important, regardless of whether I agree with their beliefs, opinions, or choices.

Working together is definitely possible. I just don't think it's probable.


I think this is a troubling question. It is possible that politics, and leaving nationally important choices and decisions to politicians, is an artifact of cheap energy and cheap affluence derived from expending cheap energy.

That is -- before much of this is resolved, the 'big men' of Dmitry Orlov's third stage of collapse will take matters into their own hands, and the political discussion will be ignored or suppressed.

A significant, acknowledged and agreed upon enemy can unite peoples, by replacing political process and political aspirations with more primitive survival-related priorities.

Paying heed to any political platform is whistling in the dark, and diverting attention and resources away from the actual issues. Whether you consider yourself conservative or liberal, socialist or capitalist, the issues of who is allowed or empowered to raise what food, who manages what is produced, and who gets to eat and who doesn't, boil down to matters of who has the authority or power to enforce their wishes.

I don't think we dare posit that rule of law, as we know it today, will persist as we lose access to cheap energy, as the food supply is variously threatened by political incompetence, by tampering for corporate short-term profits, and by loss of historic weather patterns as climate continues changing. Indeed President Obama and the Supreme Court even now demonstrate government in despite of the Constitution of the US.

At the risk of starting a completely unnecessary confrontation, I feel the need to ask you about your views. I am an atheist/pagan far left socialist/anarchist (yes, that is possible). I will preface my questions by saying I have no intention of disrespecting your point of view or political or spiritual beliefs, or even to convince you of anything. As someone who is more aware of Peak Oil than 98% of Americans (since you are reading and commenting on this blog), what makes you a conservative? Is it just on social issues, or economic ones as well? I really am not picking a fight, I just get very few chances to pose these questions to conservatives, and I am genuinely curious about your answers.

That is a really good question. I haven't ever been asked to verbalize (or write out) my thoughts on conservatism before. I know this is going to be rather unpopular here, but I am a social conservative. I'm also a fiscal conservative.

If you want more specific answers or examples you'll have to ask more specific questions.

Like several commenters, I think it is more likely for common people of different political backgrounds to work together than it is for national leaders and movements to cooperate. The sad fact is that it is so often more politically and financially profitable to vilify opponents than to search for common ground, especially when people who do try to put differences aside are merely taken advantage of. I have hope, though, because the small and little-noticed acts of ordinary neighbors working together over time have more power than the top of the establishment. Whether or not public or political cooperation is possible, we should not be discouraged from building community among those with whom we disagree.