There’s no way around it. I always knew that in the back of my mind. Every leftist idea challenges a bit of status quo, the current state. Changing is always scary. But how scary?
I found two videos online. This and that. While the second is scary in a way not related to what I’m writing about, the first tries to make sense a bit about the actual difference between left and right as they appear out of daily conversations. At the end, it becomes much clear about what exact are the fundamental differences between left and right, even though both want what’s good for people — well, radical versions not included.
When the right ridicules leftist ideas, there’s an amount of fear involved. “Your egalitarian ideas are a fantasy, it makes no sense to even try it”. There’s an unreal world at the end of that path that, even though it may sound good, it’s actually bad so we shouldn’t try it. But why?
Let’s take a step back. Where do left and right come from? To some extent, I assume curious people already know that the terminology was coined following the first French National Assembly gathering following the French Revolution. Before that, France was governed via representatives in a Estates General, where each “Estate” (nobility, clergy and commoners) had one vote (even though the Commons Estate was by far the largest). When they had to redraft the Constitution (1789), due to a deadlock, the Commons Estate pressed to have a proportional distribution of votes. Obviously nobody was in a sharing mood but after the Commons Estate threatened to take matters in their own hands, the clergy eventually joined (while called “commoners”, some of their leaders were in fact nobles as well as clergymen). When the nobility eventually joined, the Estates were reorganised in the National Assembly. Soon after, the French Revolution struck and the next time the National Assembly gathered formally in 1791, informal seating arrangements led to progressive anti-monarchists seating to the left of the presiding bench while the conservative pro-monarchists sat on the right.
Interestingly enough, there’s a small logical error on the descriptive Wikipedia page: the seating arrangement of left/right did not happen during the Estates General mostly because the Estate General were seated as per Estate group, with deputies backed by their respective groups. Also, the Montagnards were named and formed as such during the French Revolution which began the same year but appeared as a group during the National Assembly of 1791 rather than the last Estates General of 1789.
In any case, the conservatives (right-wing) got their name mostly due to the desire to conserve the state of things. The hierarchy of the nobility (including the monarchy) seemed like a natural God-given order. Traditions and religions were at the origin of the better (well, for them) world that made France and similar systems into colonising world powers that embodied civilisation.
The progressives (left-wing) represented undeserving lower-classes that had no business upsetting said order. They were for equality (throwing away titles and positions), democracy (electing rather than hereditary passing on state leadership) and secularity (religion had no business leading state affairs).
While many of these things are now considered “normal”, progress inherently requires upsetting some realities.
Today, that can be expressed by the uncertainty of changing a system that has benefitted people. Preserving the way the system worked during the age of my parents means that I can use their knowledge and build on it so that I can take better advantage of the system and do better for myself that they were able to.
Should the system change, the knowledge transferred is less valuable and less usable and by the time I’ve adapted, there would be fewer things working in my favour and I’d need to learn the new system fresh. There was order, a hierarchy to climb, some comfort in that if the people at the top seem to be ‘like us’, they would work for us (a subset of all the people helped by the inherent privilege of sharing some superficial qualities).
It is scary. There’s lots of advantages to keeping a status quo. You have more time to learn the system, to use it. Changing the system feels like ‘cheating’ to some extent.
But progress should be scary. We’re looking forward to the unknown. What worked 50 years ago (for some, at least), definitely won’t work now. We must be more inclusive, we need more educated people to find solutions for the problems of tomorrow. We need more people to focus on making things better for everyone, not on whether they’ll have food tomorrow.