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The left brain talking to itself

September 26th, 2002

Just about the whole of left-brain Oz plogdom has weighed in to the intertwining threads started by Ken Parish and me yesterday. There are lengthy posts from Jason Soon and Tim Dunlop, as well as comments from Scott Wickstein (politically on the right, but definitely a left-brain thinker). Gareth Parker(another rightish left-brainer) is away at the footy so we’re missing his thoughts.

On the other hand, even though I started out by pointing out that Mark Steyn, a favorite of right-brain blogdom, is a serial plagiarist (as Don Arthur puts it, a blogger without the links) and prone to historical howlers, none of our leading right-brain bloggers has bothered to respond, let alone to acknowledge error. As the dominant group in blogdom, they seem to have adopted the attitude they attribute to the ‘lefty mass media’ – namely that criticism from bloggers can safely be ignored.

Jason raises the issue of labelling and is inclined to deplore it, particularly when it’s pejorative. I think labelling is an inevitable consequence of the way our brains are wired – they are basically categorizing machines. This in turn reflects the fact that we evolved in a world where it was more useful to see discrete categories than continuous variables. For example, plants are safe or dangerous to eat, animals are predators or prey and so on.

In political terms category labels like ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are still useful, even though they are necessarily oversimplifications and therefore dangerous if misused. People use them as identifiers for their own side, as well as to label opponents. For example, both ‘economic rationalist‘ and ‘warblogger’ started out as in-group labels, although they are now also (mostly?) used in a pejorative sense.

It’s also true that political processes tend to convert a continuum of opinion into a few discrete groups. On Iraq, for example, you can class pretty much everyone into one of three groups
(i) those who want war, with or without UN approval
(ii) those who want Saddam disarmed, and are prepared to support a UN-backed war if he tries to stop inspections
(iii) those who are unconditionally against war
Each of these groups contains many shades of opinion. For example, some of group (i) would prefer to have UN and NATO backing, while others would much rather not. But at least for the moment, most members of any of the groups regard all fellow-members as allies, and members of other groups as opponents.

PS: For those who missed it, Ken Parish links to this Hemispheric Dominance Test. I turned out to be evenly balanced, basically because my physical existence is as chaotic as my mental existence is linear.

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