Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?
Three People Identified Themselves as Right-Wing, I'd Love to Chat
Jess Mabel Jones - 29 January 2017
WHO WAS THERE
On the 21st of January 2017, the first day in office of the 45th president of the United States of America, a huge march involving women from all over the US took place in Washington DC. It was called the Women's March and was organised by a hodgepodge of grassroots feminist activists, most of whom hadn't met each other before forming the alliance over email.
In the run up to the event left-wing social media went a little crazy over the addition of the Texan-based group New Wave Feminists to the Women's March list of partners. New Wave Feminists are pro-life/anti-choice and some pro-choice/… anti-life?… oh Jesus…I'm disappearing down the rhetoric rabbit-hole. Ahem.
New Wave Feminists are anti-abortion and some pro-abortion feminists criticised the Women's March on their decision to partner with them. Subsequently New Wave Feminists were removed from the list of some 450+ partners.
At D&D12 a brilliant data capture had been organised on one of the venue's walls. You could, with little coloured stickers, mark your ethnicity, what kind of artist you are, how you gender identify and amongst other things where you fall on the political spectrum. It showed that the attendees were overwhelmingly (unsurprisingly) left-leaning, yet three little red dots pitched themselves on the right of the paper. “Ooh! I wonder who they are!”, gleefully squealed sticker-wielders as they pressed their marks into the über-socialist margin, “I bet one's a critic for the Telegraph!”.
Max and I had come up to Bristol from London early that morning on the National Express and the coach's heating hadn't been working so on top of the hatchet-job that was 2016 we were both feeling nihilistic. I decided to call a session entitled ‘Three people have identified themselves as right-wing. I’d love to chat.' The room knowingly chuckled and so I thought I should clarify: “No, not like that- in an open way.” Then petulantly, “Otherwise what's the point!”. Afterwards I felt a bit sweaty, ate some really tasty food (big up the caterers), caught up with friends and moped about until it was my session. I suppose sometimes D&D is about being grumpy amongst good people, if that's what you need. I'm telling you all this mostly because I'm avoiding writing the report but also because context is important.
Three people have identified themselves as right-wing. I'd love to chat.
4:55pm It's just me and Max still.
5:00pm Ok, some people have joined us now. No one has yet proclaimed themselves as an out-and-out xenophobe.
5:04pm All sitting expectantly.
5:07pm Yeah, they're not coming. Or they don't exist.
Is anyone here right-wing? Even a bit?? Max suggests the session should have been: 'Three people have identified themselves as centrist. I'd love to chat.'- he suspects we set the bar too high. I say, “Maybe someone put the stickers on the right so a genuine right-winger wouldn't fret about being the first.” God, that's so left-wing.
But, nah. No one legitimately right-wing showed up so we instead had a natter about where we individually placed ourselves. We talked about what it meant to be right or left-wing and tried to find statements to categorise them:
“The Left is morally right, the Right is morally wrong.”
“The Left believes in state intervention, the Right leaves things to the markets.”
“The Left believe in progress, the Right in keeping up tradition.”
But none were accurate.
It was proposed that rather than using the political left to right horizontal spectrum, the Political Compass would be a more precise way of delineating our political leanings. In the Political Compass a perpendicular line runs from ‘N’ to ‘S’ and a horizontal line from ‘W’ to ‘E’ thereby making four quadrants. At ‘N’, ‘Authoritarian’ is situated, with ‘Libertarian’ at ‘S’ and economic ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are at ‘W’ and ‘E’ respectively.
Pictured here are two compasses copied from the website. The first shows where big-time names such as Thatcher(!) and Hitler(!) are positioned. Thatcher sits at about 2pm and Hitler at noon. ('Hitler at Noon' sounds like cockney rhyming slang for ‘spoon’.)
The second compass shows where the UK's main political parties were situated during the 2015 general election. As was pointed out at the session, all except Green are in the top right quadrant of the compass. Since, with Corbyn as leader, Labour have moved significantly to the economic Left and (despite his pro-nationalisation reputation) away from the Authoritarian north.
(The www.politicalcompass.org site is charmingly basic and so word-processor 2001 but its where-do-you-fall test is detailed and I found the ‘Iconochasms’ quiz illuminating- wow! Gandhi was a dick! I've included my placement result on the second compass; unfortunately I land very near Gandhi.)
The majority of the session group had taken the popular online multiple choice questionnaire, ‘Vote for Policies’, in the run up to the 2015 election. ‘Vote for Policies’ allowed participants to respond unbiased to policies, as it presented them without affiliation to pertaining parties. Individuals’ pie-chart results would regularly include multiple parties and participants were often surprised by outcomes.
Two quotes from our session:
“Sometimes, when I didn't know they were Conservative, they sounded like good policies.”
“Policies are complicated- you have to decide what to focus on.”
I suppose I called this session because I was excited at the prospect of getting to meet a real-life political opposite, to have the chance to talk in a supportive and casual environment, to move beyond narrow-minded expectations of them and to find common ground. Last year hit the left hard, and we became acutely aware of SOUNDBITE ALERT inhabiting an echo chamber in a post-truth society. We know, because we all saw the Adam Curtis documentary, that we need to venture beyond our comforting, reflective algorithms to see what the other half of the world think. But it's so hard because clearly our enemy is irrational, malicious and above all, wrong.
When I think about the Left I imagine how we love to talk about non-binary and shit being on a spectrum but I'm pretty sure we don't always afford the same complexities to our political opposites. Yeah, yeah, I know there are some really terrifying dudes in the world because I've read some Naomi Klein and I know that there are bellends beyond rehabilitation because I read comment sections, but I think we on the left have got to be smarter and fuck it, craftier, when we set out to galvanise change.
Max said, “When the left talk politics they can agree on 90% of their beliefs but fall out because of a conflict of opinions of the remaining 10. On the other hand, the right can fundamentally disagree on the majority of their convictions yet say to each other, ”Ok. But what do we align on?“”
We need to find where our beliefs overlap; the sweet-spot in the Venn diagram. Rebecca Solnit has loads of positive things to say about collaborating with our perceived adversaries in her book ‘Hope in the Dark’, but I don't have it on me right now so you'll have to take my word for it. Or buy it. It's brilliant and it'll do your heart good.
But how can we engage with people so different from us? Said the left-winger.
But how can we engage with people so different from us? Said the racist.
Alright I'm being facetious but can't both statements be classified as out-grouping? Problems are nuanced, people are nuanced, we are our brains and our brains are a cocktail of nature and nurture. Context is paramount.
In the US the religious are more likely to be anti-abortion than the religiously unaffiliated.
In the US the religiously unaffiliated are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican.
Democrats support the right to religious freedom. This seems sticky to me…
In the US if you are college-educated or higher you are more likely to be pro-abortion than your non-college-educated or higher counterparts.
For instance, I support equal access to quality schooling and higher education. And I acknowledge that not everyone currently has equal access. If school quality and level influence how a person might view abortion it would be hypocritical for me to condemn an individual's view on abortion, right?
In regards to our Women's March, both the pro-abortion groups and the anti-abortion groups are mobilised women, which is a good thing. They are both feminists, which is a good thing. Their philosophies differ but both could argue that they are focused on making things better for others. The pro-abortionists believe that a woman should be able to choose what she does with her body, perhaps the anti-abortionists are trying to save us from eternal damnation. I dunno, I'm an atheist. Neither are evil, only their contexts are different. Their respective standpoints would almost certainly change if their contexts were swapped.
At our session there was a woman who identified herself as religious. She said that she rarely does so fearing that people will dismiss what she says or make incorrect assumptions about her. She was, as far as I could ascertain, pro-abortion.
The majority of non-religiously affiliated people are pro-abortion but, of course, there's also a huge group of religiously affiliated who are too. I don't want to be guilty of out-group homogenisation* now.
Above, in the abortion bit, I've used opinion polls from 2016 & 2012. The polls are of US citizens. I don't know how reputable Pew is as a polling source. I don't know who conducted the poll and what their political stance was. I don't know how many people the poll captured data from. Ultimately I don't know how reliable any of my evidence presented here is.
Looking stuff up is a minefield.** Ive just started reading ‘Bad Pharma’ so I'm endeavouring to support the things I think I know with evidence before stating them here. But it's nigh-on impossible to find empirical evidence for anything. Opinion polls are, by their very nature, subjective, and beliefs questioned in them can alter from day to day, minute to minute, depending whether you've had lunch yet, slept well, or caught the tube with Gwyneth Paltrow. Then, even if the results are at all reliable, so many polls fall between the 40-60% margin that whatever you believe half the world disagrees with you anyway. Also doesn't the fact that I am a ‘college’ educated pro-abortionist roughly connecting a lack of education and a view I disagree with smack at pretty condescending?
But actually, how dare I, as a woman who has the privilege of choice when it comes to abortion, so easily excuse an opinion that greatly restricts a woman's rights over her own body?! *Sigh* So what the hell do we do?
The religious woman, who's opinion I would regularly dismiss***, said the most useful, interesting and objective thing at our session. She gave an example of a time her mind had been changed about something she'd had a strong opinion on. But it wasn't a political conversation that did it, it had been when had someone simply told her a story about their life.****
We lament that our political opposites base opinions on anecdotes over facts but perhaps in that tendency is where our power to change minds lies too. If people are not naturally inclined to respond to hollow facts then we should tell more stories- stories that are true to us, of course, but that primarily support our political beliefs. I’m suggesting we start to fight dirty. That we become more calculated. And if we want to talk to people who don't think like us we have to concede that they wont be showing up in our theatres any time soon. We have to, as unappealing as it sounds, go to them. We’ve got to Trojan Horse the shit out of this.*****
I set everyone in the session a task because, as much as we'd love it to be the case, people who think differently to us don't come to D&D, they don't come to our shows, and family gatherings are bad enough without having a plucky conversation with our Tory uncle. Instead, I set us the challenge of going to an event focused on politics we don't ascribe to. Maybe it'll be fucking horrible and we'll all feel the worse for it, but maybe it might help the “enemy” seem less overwhelming than it feels right now.
Infiltrate, inseminate, obliterate.******
*I had to look up how to spell ‘homogenisation’ and google came up with this definition: A process by which the fat droplets from milk are emulsified and the cream does not separate. : /
**Before I chose to focus on abortion I was going to discuss China's one-child policy. Talk about how state-enforced restriction to an individual's freedom to procreate is an awful thing resulting in forced abortions and compulsory sterilisations. How it causes greater class division, gender-selected abortions, subsequent gender imbalance, abandoned children and a growing elderly population with fewer young to support them, then tear it all down by shocking you with the predicted figure of China's population had they not implemented the one-child policy, highlighting that context is imperative when dismissing seemingly draconian measures to stunt population growth, prevent a resource crises and hold off catastrophic environmental damage. Could opinions change when the preservation of the natural world for all was pitched against a case for an isolated individual's freedom? But when I looked for that number I found the evaluation that actually had China simply continued with its existing education initiative in 1979 - Late, Long, Few- which promoted having children later in life and leaving long gaps between pregnancies, the population of China would be pretty much the same as it is now, potentially with the benefit of a society less emotionally damaged, less gender imbalanced and better educated in the benefits of smaller families. So there you go.
*** I’m being a dickhead on purpose here because I definitely have made assumptions about people with religious and spiritual beliefs that are incorrect, unhelpful and damaging. I’m going to try to not do that from now on.
**** The case in point here is that I was more receptive to her observation about storytelling because of her earlier story about being discredited for being religious.
***** Trojan Horsing can't happen if we un-invite people to our marches.
****** I’m weirded out.
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