Twitter, Political Labels and the Results of History

Left and Right Wing politics

Twitter is stranger than fiction.

In between the GIF reactions and tweets sponsored by random forex traders, I often try to partake in civil discourse in tweet threads. Many people find Twitter discussions demoralising which is quite understandable. The social media platform is not known for its honest discussions and users who are open to being convinced of opposite views. Despite the frustration that Twitter causes and the fact that it is in no way a reflection of real life, the platform remains a vibrant and fun platform to discuss issues with people who disagree with you.

Recently, I was invited to appear on the YouTube show of Renaldo Gouws, the DA councilor from the Nelson Mandela Bay metro. In Gouws’ tweet that linked to the YouTube livestream, a random Twitter user that I had never heard of before called me a member of “the far-right fringe”. A week earlier I was called a “traitorous liberal” because I dared say that the National Party government was just as horrible and statist as the current African National Congress government.

What struck me was not the fact that I had been called far-right or traitorously liberal. I have been wandering the murky berms of Twitter for long enough to know that these allegations should be taken for what they are worth, as a mere grouping of 280 characters of often vacuous burbling. What rather stood out was the reasons both these thoughtless Twitter users came to their respective ignorant conclusions.

On the one hand, I was labeled as far-right due to my very public positions on expropriation without compensation, the serious shortcomings of socialist policies in South Africa and my thoughts on social justice. On the other, I was classified as a traitorous liberal due to equating the NP government with that of the contemporary ANC government.

This is an anecdotal example of how using geometric axes to plot political ideology has huge limitations and how it is bootless in discussion.

There is, however, a very good and very human reason to label others as either far-right or left. Using these labels has become a way for people to stop thinking and instead, to simply pigeonhole others because this is quick and convenient when compared to actually having to engage the idea and not the person espousing the idea.

Not only are these labels an age-old dichotomy but they quite often contribute to uncertainty and vagueness. It is a human habit to try to label people. Especially in politics and philosophy but perhaps we should label in more useful ways, with fewer buzzwords, and with fewer soundbites.

In our current times, it isn’t enough to just label politics on the horizontal line of collectivism versus individualism in both the economic and cultural senses. We should rather frame the discussion as a duel between rhetoric and results.

The vast majority of people who advocate for government solutions and state-funded efforts to address societal challenges are content with reverting to rhetoric alone. To them, the government will come to the rescue, hence why they are content to merely declare their concern for the poor because the buck does not stop with them. To this group of people, it does not matter that governments all over the world have failed at addressing societal challenges. If the poor remain poor it isn’t their fault, it is government failing at its ‘job’.

People who, in contrast with the rhetoric aficionados, advocate for non-governmental solutions to our societal problems, have a sense of responsibility to progress our society that isn’t mandated by government and forced through taxation. They trust voluntary projects to advance and develop our society. They trust free people trading with each other to grow our economy.

This group of people does not necessarily solely focus on results (let’s be honest, many among our ranks love themselves some rhetoric) but they have results to back up what they are saying. Governments did not lift billions of people out of poverty and create material wealth that no generation before has ever seen.

When I am therefore simultaneously called traitorously liberal and far-right fringe, I find reassurance in the fact that the results of history are on my side. History has not absolved grossly overbearing governments but it has shown time and again how the solution to our problems are closer to home than many think.

If trusting individuals more than the state results in me being viewed as simultaneously far-right fringe and traitorously liberal then tweet away, my friends.