If you on a general level agree with the old established Left and happily vote for any of the socialist or social democratic parties or their liberal equivalents in the US (yes, that includes Bernie Sanders) then you’re probably not Alt-Left. If you instead see the political identity based movements in all their diverse glory, whether that’s feminism, multiculturalism and what not as the only way forward, then you’re probably not Alt-Left either. If you self-identify as Alt-Left but merely repackage the same old thoughts that have been available for the past 30 years or more, then you’re per definition not Alt-Left. But if you find that the following describes your opinions and way of thought, then you’re probably Alt-Left. Here goes:
“Your solution is thus not to abolish, but to outcompete, capitalism”
1) The market
You have a critical stance towards the forces of the market, yet knowing that it’s extremely unwise to play against them or refraining from taking the hard logic of capital into serious consideration in our highly globalized market economy. You have no illusions about planned economies and are acutely aware of the dangers of ending up as a new Venezuela. However, you likewise have no illusions about the idea of a so called free market; you know it’s just a construct made up of rules that humans have devised themselves, rules that can be changed to produce different outcomes. You know that no such thing as a “free” market could exist even in theory as the rules themselves are what constitute a market. You have never committed the fallacy of seeing the market as a natural God-given constant that therefore only generates good results (you are a leftie after all). But still you acknowledge that the chaos and widely disruptive effects of capitalism somehow, in midst of all the calamity, in some strange fashion also bring about the progress of the world – which is, after all, necessary for humanity to survive and prosper.
You are as appalled with the old established Left’s sell-out attitude and resignation towards the forces of capitalism as you are dismissive of the naive “game denial” of the more rebellious postmodern challengers in regard to the hard undeniable logic of capital. You understand that capitalism can’t be abolished, and if someone tries it always has more negative consequences than positive ones. Your solution is thus not to abolish, but to outcompete, capitalism – with superior means of coordinating people’s combined economic actions while reducing the importance of monetary exchanges in society. Exchange of money capital is by definition capitalist. Only by strengthening other means of coordinating human labor and activity, can we go beyond capitalism.
And no, your solution is not just more state to balance out the market. You know that state and capital are merely two sides of the same coin; and no, no, no, fighting the patriarchy and racism won’t make away with capitalism either. A new way of thinking about economics that in a competitive manner goes beyond monetary exchanges is the only way to counter the dominance of capitalism.
“It’s not so much a moral question, a matter of priding yourself with the correct opinions, but more a practical one that concerns you: whether immigration may inhibit or foster progressive global developments altogether.”
2) Immigration, refugees and multiculturalism
Your solidarity naturally extends to all people on the planet, but you understand that open borders and unregulated immigration currently are a socially unsustainable endeavor in our highly unequal world. Abolishing all travel restrictions may be a long term goal, but it’s not feasible to sustain such policies in the near future as it causes unnecessary social and political instability, such as integration problems, cultural alienation and pressures to the wages of the working class which all in all may lead to fascist, populist and other reactionary uprisings.
It’s not so much a moral question, a matter of priding yourself with the correct opinions, but more a practical one that concerns you: whether immigration may inhibit or foster progressive global developments altogether. You are against the national based socialism of protecting the privileged status of workers in rich countries, but at the same time you understand that such concerns cannot be neglected completely. Immigration policies that are perceived as win-win situations should be favored over zero-sum ones.
You have a critical stance towards how the issue of refugees is handled today, but you consider both the restrictive hardliners of the Right and the open-for-all position of the Left too irresponsible and lacking in adequate understandings of the problem. Yet you don’t see the middle ground as the best position either; in fact, the current compromise on the issue is itself the greatest problem.
The idealism of granting everyone the right to seek asylum – and the cynicism of making sure that, in practice, they don’t – is causing a great deal of suffering and don’t help the ones who need it the most (because the weakest don’t have the means to travel). As we have seen lately, it has become obvious that the self-interest of nations works against the idealism of the international laws regarding asylum, which has resulted in much suffering. In short, the current system, which can be summed up as: telling people in poor and war-torn countries that they might have a chance at gaining a secure and well-off western lifestyle (because that’s just how morally good we are) – if – they have the money for a human smuggler (because we have effectively stopped all legal travel to the rich countries), survive the dangerous trip across the ocean and are deemed eligible for asylum by a slow incomprehensible bureaucratic system while living in miserable camps (where the hosts are hoping that they go back). This is, needless to say, an altogether unsustainable and morally irresponsible way of tackling the issue. Instead an alternative, more utilitarian, system that goes beyond the cynicism and unachievable idealism should be devised to maximize the positive effects with the currently available resources while minimizing overall suffering.
Likewise you don’t have any illusions about the blessings of multiculturalism. You understand that diversity, despite its merits, is not just universally good but also causes conflicts, misunderstandings and challenges the social coherence of society. And that the moral superiority of subscribing to multiculturalism on a personal level doesn’t seem to tackle those negative effects adequately.
The multicultural tendency towards seeing cultures as rigid constants and given categories is also something you reject. Instead of multiculturalism you are more inclined towards transculturalism, the idea that cultures are ever-evolving non-static entities that reach the most beneficial outcomes when they are challenged, opened up for outside influences, transgressed and fused with other cultural elements. You understand that cultures and other identities are merely sliding semantic categories, changing over time, overlapping and interacting with other sociological variables in a myriad of ways and that the best way to go about this is to refrain from seeing cultures as sacred entities that should be respected and preserved no matter what. You find the multiculturalist way of only emphasizing the communication part, attempting to bridge differences and conflicts across cultures by intercultural dialog alone, as highly inadequate. Of equal importance are deliberate, but sensitive, attempts to change and shape cultures so as to foster more optimal conditions for peaceful co-existence and productive collaboration. It goes without saying that that includes majority as well as minority cultures.
“The most urgent problem of our time is not that people in the developed world have too low incomes, but that lacking psychological well-being and dysfunctional social relations, often in combination, greatly lower the quality of life and cause all kinds of problems in society at large.”
3) Psychological development
You know that focusing on economic and legal structures alone doesn’t suffice to change society in a more just, sustainable and equal direction, and that the various identity policies and cultural critics don’t address the most crucial aspects of society either. Instead you stress the importance of psychological development and understand the greater societal consequences of supporting policies that foster greater psychological well-being, acceptance and emotional intelligence.
You clearly see how many of the so called wicked problem such as crime, psychological distress and integration could be solved if policies addressed the inner workings of human psychology in a more deliberate and effective manner. The most urgent problem of our time is not that people in the developed world have too low incomes, but that lacking psychological well-being and dysfunctional social relations, often in combination, greatly lower the quality of life and cause all kinds of problems in society at large. Implementing policies that adequately address these issues would, in the long run, be more effective for solving people’s problems than is economic redistribution.
You see equality as being about more than just money. It’s just as important to ensure that psychological well-being, feelings of acceptance and self-esteem are more equally distributed in the population. All in all you are more concerned about life satisfaction, or “happiness”, than where exactly people are positioned in the hierarchies of power or how much money they have vis-à-vis others. Even though it’s just as utopian to achieve a situation where everybody is equal in terms of well-being, self-esteem and social acceptance as it is to create one where everybody are economically equal, you do believe that a society that strives towards psychological equality is inherently better than one that only strives towards economic equality.
“Your ideals are not an identity project, it’s not important that you’re perceived as the “good guy” in other people’s eyes. All that matters to you are getting results – because the state of the planet is at stake and we’re running out of time.”
4) Idealism and Machiavellianism
You see yourself as a staunch idealist while simultaneously acting like a fierce Machiavellian – without making any compromises between the two. Being a realist does not mean accepting things as they are. And your idealism is not a matter of moral purity, but of finding the ideal practical solutions to make reality of your ideals. If political ideals don’t hold up to practical reality, the ideals have already disqualified themselves as worth striving towards.
You are not afraid of getting your hands dirty. You know you can’t make everybody happy; you can’t give everything to everybody. And if you tried, you would betray your own ideals since trying to please everybody would hinder you from achieving your goals. You somewhat disdain those progressives who embrace moral purity while sacrificing practical results. Your ideals are not an identity project, it’s not important that you’re perceived as the “good guy” in other people’s eyes. All that matters to you are getting results – because the state of the planet is at stake and we’re running out of time.
However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have any moral integrity in the things you do. You will avoid hurting people, even it requires additional efforts. In fact, causing pain and harm to the world, even if it helps achieving some goals, often defeats the very purpose of your actions in the long run. You always seek the optimal synthesis between idealism and Machiavellianism and avoid any compromises between the two.
“If you’re Alt-Left you’re probably more inclined towards organizing smaller networks together with other ‘hackers, hipsters and hippies’ than trying to organizing mass movements with simple taglines.”
5) The Avant-garde
And finally. You don’t have time to wait for everybody else. You understand the strengths of popular movements, but also their inherent weaknesses. Accordingly you emphasize the importance of supplementing progressive movements with a more elitist approach. As an Alt-Left person you’re thinking more metamodern than your surroundings and hence seek to create the necessary leeway for yourself to move ahead of others so as not to let them hinder your progress. You understand that small groups of far-sighted individuals with the right means can accomplish great things by hacking the fabric of society and recoding parts of its DNA – without needing to ask everyone’s permission first. You therefore abide to avant-garde tendencies by forming smaller networks with other likeminded persons.
You know that the working class is not going to bring about a revolution, otherwise they would have done it a long time ago, and that they are too preoccupied with their own narrow interests to bring about substantial progressive changes to society. In fact, it is usually too conservative and often stands in the way for the changes you find the most urgent. You have noticed that the workers’ movement hasn’t really come up with any new thoughts for the past 100 years, and that many of the progressive developments that have occurred, for example the women’s and gay movements, did so independently of the workers.
Instead you’re more focused on the interests of the creative class, who are often the driving force behind the most progressive developments, because they have the means to develop many of the needed solutions for a more sustainable society. These interests are often shared by the growing precariat, who are sometimes in direct opposition to the working class. There are a growing number of people who lead insecure lives between the creative class and the precariat itself.
If you’re Alt-Left you’re probably more inclined towards organizing smaller networks together with other “hackers, hipsters and hippies” than trying to organizing mass movements with simple taglines.
If you’re Alt-Left you may have pondered that if the old established Left could have transformed the world in a more progressive direction, it already would have. If the labor movement could have taken over production and turned it into democratic cooperatives, it already would have. If it could have abolished capitalism, it would have. After all, it has had 100 years to do so.
You may also have noticed that, despite its early internationalist proclamations, the old established Left hasn’t fostered any greater international solidarity. You understand that it has failed at these tasks because it didn’t have feasible solutions or sound analyses of how the world actually works and therefore never will succeed in its current form ever. It seems as if the old established Left has reached the end of the road, the limits of its analytical power, and currently only seems to be preoccupied with keeping the boat from rocking too much.
And in the current transition to a globalized information society, to which it lacks answers, you see how hopelessly outdated the old Marxism of the Left appears and that many of its positions have become unsustainable, irrelevant or downright counterproductive.
If the above seems to describe you, then you might be Alt-Left, and if that is the case, then you might also be metamodern. Here are five things that make you metamodern.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.