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And now for the bad influences …

Here’s the second element of my response to Bob, a list of five bad influences on the left.

Nostalgia I’m not at all attracted by the idea of returning to a simpler way of life.  Nostalgia might seem to have more to do with the right than the left, but there is sometimes a tendency for, say, a rational concern with environmental issues to slip into a romanticised vision of life in past centuries. In his essay on ‘Twenty-First Century Enlightenment’ (pdf) Matthew Taylor writes:

So powerful are the logics of progress that it can come as a shock to be reminded that as well as lacking all our modern comforts, citizens of pre-industrial periods also enjoyed many things we might envy: shorter working hours, more festivals and parties, stronger community and family bonds, for example.

I’m sure the festivals weren’t supplemented by five weeks or so of paid holiday, and living in a strong community can be stifling.  And Taylor skips rather too lightly over ‘modern comforts’ for my liking too.

Demonising and delegitimising Israel This hardly needs further glossing here, but I’ll briefly mention one specific element, the (over)use of the word Zionism.  Zionism is used as a term of abuse by the most zealous haters of Israel but it is also used almost as a rather random term of disapprobation by those whose views aren’t perhaps substantively different from those on the Zionist (or anti-anti-Zionist) left.  Zionism – as a word bandied about in debates about I/P –  is imprecise, (usually) superfluous and sometimes actively unhelpful and divisive.

The belief that one’s enemy’s enemy is one’s friend Again, this probably doesn’t require further comment, but I’ll just link again to Bob’s original post where he discusses the related issue of ‘Second Campism.’

Instrumentalism (in relation to education) Although it’s the coalition’s slashing of the HE budget which has dominated the headlines recently, the Left also needs to be on its guard against the tendency to see education as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.  It’s possible to agree that a marked increase in the numbers of those embarking on HE might require some rethinking of funding, rather in the same way as a marked increase in life expectancy might require the need to rethink pension provision, without concluding that education for its own sake is ‘a bit dodgy’.

Rigidity This is more a pattern of thought than an idea as such. There is a particular type of rigidity which I associate more with the left than the right – one which stems from a focus on means rather than ends, which begins by deciding what the answer to a question is (and then searches for the evidence to back that answer up) rather than examining the data dispassionately – even if the answer isn’t precisely what one had hoped for or expected.  I don’t agree with him on everything, but Nick Cohen writes well about some aspects and consequences of this rigidity in What’s Left.

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