These two terms are alternatives in the political landscape, but their meanings have become blurred. The use of the term “authoritarian” on social media has made it appear to mean “orderly,” “conservative,” and “disciplined,” while the term “liberal” is described as the exact opposite by many who persist in speaking out. We are currently witnessing a twisting of the meaning of our vocabulary and a strong sense of insecurity among the population, not least among those who aspire to academia. What does it mean for public discourse when we are not sure what we mean when we use words?
We also have a protest movement throughout the free world, painting the threats of the past on the wall and accusing authorities of using measures to control the pandemic, that are typical of communist or Nazi regimes. They claim to be silenced by the press, as if it were state controlled, all the while their concern is being reported in the press. There are people who are loudly demanding their rights while at the same time failing to distance themselves from groups, who use repressive tactics in an attempt to scare people in official positions. It should be noted that such protests are quickly and brutally silenced, and show-trials are conducted in real repressive regimes, to undermine similar protests, but we seem to be very confused.
A few years ago, before he came under criticism, Jordan Peterson tried to educate his students in Canada about the misunderstanding that occurs when an overly romantic notion of Marxism forms the basis for supposed reform movements. He also pointed out the fact that young people who claim that communism has not realized the ideals of Marxism are basically falling into the trap of using similar methods to silence opposition. At the same time, they take advantage of the freedoms given to them in a supposedly oppressive capitalist society. He pointed out that this is the main problem with Marxism, which was conceived in a Western country under privileged conditions but put into practice under the harsh conditions of Soviet Russia and Mao’s China. It led to a death toll that far exceeded even the atrocities of Nazism.
We are also heavily influenced by a discourse that is going on in America where conservatism is being weaponized. There is probably no other place in the Western world where so many weapons are hoarded, supposedly as a defence against oppression by the state – or so it is claimed. This clearly means that the January 2021 uprising was an uprising by these gun-toting conservatives and an attempt to overturn a voter decision that the militant right saw as a move by the militant left to topple Trump from the throne. The potential and the mindset are still alive today, although they are doing the opposite of what they think they are doing. They have tried, perhaps unconsciously, to establish a “strongman regime” that bears all the similarities to a monarchy from which their constitution has tried to protect them.
The bottom line of these examples shows how deeply contradictory we are. It doesn’t matter either what the subject is or the intentions we have. This seems to be connected with the choices we make, often unconsciously, and Iain McGilchrist is of the opinion, that it has to do with which brain hemisphere we employ when making those choices.
“While the left hemisphere underwrites local attention, the right hemisphere underwrites global attention, as we saw in the previous chapter – and the ability to switch between them.
This last ability is easy to pass over. But it’s not just another technical difference between the hemispheres. It inevitably makes a difference to the world we perceive. What it means is that both to perceive the form of something as a whole, and to see it differently from the way you are accustomed to see it, depends on the way of taking in the world that is underwritten by the right hemisphere of the brain. If you think and adopt the way of being of the left hemisphere world, not only will you struggle to see the overall shape, but you won’t be able so easily to switch – or even be aware that you can. If someone else tells you they see something quite different there, you might well, sincerely but wrongly, believe that they must be mistaken.” McGilchrist, Iain. The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World (S.177). Perspectiva Press. Kindle-Version. [My underlining]
The inability to see another perspective is one thing, but not to be aware that there is another perspective that one could consider, is another. If we constantly employ the perception of the left hemisphere, we will tend to have a restricted awareness of what we are observing. The danger of forming then a contradictory opinion in relation to the whole picture is then heightened. This is the connection in the subtitle of the book, “the Unmaking of the World”. It means that, because of this restriction in our perception, our ideas become damaging, which we have probably all experienced if we become angry.
The big problem, in my opinion, is that we have social media whose algorithms are designed to make us angry or at least elicit an emotional response, and we have a reactionary mindset in postmodernism that rejects the reliability of conservative structures and sees them as restrictive. As a result, the Western world we live in is split between “never change anything” and “change everything.” The truth, as with many other things, lies in the middle, but this would require of us to get things into perspective, and look at the larger picture.
The question that then arises for us is how to put ourselves in a more comfortable state of mind that allows us to weigh and consider the choices we have, rather than unconsciously perpetuating the biases we have. This requires each of us to first acknowledge the problem. Then we need to recognize the biases we have, because we all have them. It helps to recognize the situations or statements that make us uncomfortable and ask ourselves why that is. We need to recognize our positive and negative biases and talk to other people about our perceptions. This makes us aware that we all have prejudices, and we can help each other recognize them.
In the second phase, we change our prejudices, preferably in a group with the same goal, and talk about intentions, common interests, and share ideas. In particular, we must make an effort to consider ideas and perspectives we have not considered before, and even go against our instincts for a time to reconsider our point of view. If we commit to being aware of and overcoming our biases, and always try to get a better overall picture, we will make greater use of the right side of the brain and be better able to take a balanced perspective.
I think we would have fewer conspiracy theories, a better understanding of situations and the needs of others. There would be a greater willingness to compromise, make exceptions, or help those who can’t keep up on their own. We could recognize where there are influences that seek to divide society and weaken our resistance to destructive forces. I think the question of morality is a question of making a balanced and comprehensive assessment of an issue. If we make wrong assessments, we make wrong judgments.
It would then be obvious that the authoritarian approach seen in Russia, China, and North Korea, and to which certain people in the West tend, is far from our own idea of a free world, and our current disputes show that we live in a society that, perhaps within a certain limit, can allow and tolerate dissidence, even if it becomes noisy. Not so in the countries I mentioned. But even the liberal, progressive, open-minded society has limits to which it must adhere and needs rules within which it can operate. We should be aware of that.