Clint Eastwood recently plunged into the murky political pond with his statement, "Extremism is so easy. You've got your position, and that's it. It doesn't take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right, you meet the same idiots coming around from the left."
Is it easy to be an extremist, and is the political scale truly circular, so that the "far right" clasps hands with the "far left"? Does the left-right continuum serve as a constructive paradigm upon which society can be structured?
Today's "extremists" are in good company: Jesus, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Baruch Spinoza all bore this label at one time. Jan De Witt and his brother Cornelius-17th Century Dutch politicians-were hacked to death by the populace, largely due to their "radical" and "unsavory" political perspective. Their crime? They were proponents of democracy. Their body parts were displayed in storefronts all over town.
Who shall we call extreme? The vigilantes who did the lynching? The shopkeepers who showcased the body parts? Or the De Witts with their pro-democracy stance?
Do "extreme" beliefs emanate from a mechanical thought process, as Eastwood suggests, rather than an intense philosophical journey? It arguably requires reflection and hypercritical analysis to defend ones theories against the cloned, echoed and mass produced opinion of the common folk; it requires conviction to risk social ostracism and other forms of retaliation.
The "approved" or popular view is more likely to be perfunctory. Why think when one can plagiarize? Why go out on a limb when one can cling onto the tree or never climb in the first place?
Eastwood may view those on the "far right" and "far left" as moralistically shrill, as manifesting a tone level of fear and anger. Perhaps this is how the "right" and "left" overlap or come full circle in his mind. But this is a gross generalization, since the "extremes" are subjective and the political continuum fallacious.
Suppose we accept the commonly accepted paradigm of a left to right political continuum, as Eastwood offers. If we define the "left" as the group that protects the voiceless, the powerless, and the forgotten, then the natural progression would be to protect the truly voiceless ? animals and nature.
Nonhumans are excluded from our political system, without representation. They have no standing in court; yet corporations do. In fact, nonhumans are virtually omitted from the conversation in our anthropocentric and speciesist society.
A move "left" arguably means to move away from Democracy-?which is really just a rule by the elite (humans)-?to an Omniocracy (which I describe as a government of, by and for all living beings). The European Union has added nonhumans to their Constitution, as have Switzerland and Germany. New Zealand, India and Reggio Emilio, Italy have outlawed using animals in ways we normally think acceptable in the U.S. (boiling lobsters alive, keeping fish in small bowls, vivisection, etc.).
We are trailing behind other nations, but it would be difficult to sell a Constitutional amendment to our "What's the Matter With Kansas?" country at this time. It would be easier to convince certain states. You may be thinking what would stuffing a few extra words in a state Constitution really do. Well, words are a powerful tool and an important start.
Lastly, does this move to the left spit us out on right? Probably. One could argue that traditional "right" politics prompts a gap between the rich and poor, thus culminates in the rule by a few, such as corporations. To implement policies that foster the idea that nonhuman species have value "in and of themselves," a "top down" government or rule by a few (although not corporations) again seems required.
People are self-interested (as are all species) thus cannot be expected to vote against their desires. Legislators, however, are different (or should be) because they attain self-worth from helping others, being fair and inclusive, and consulting the "big picture." There will naturally be conflicts of interest between species and individuals; but government's job-in an omniocracy as in our current system-- will be to mediate and arbitrate these "disputes."
We are taught democracy is the most inclusive, just and beneficent political system in the world. It is time to re-evaluate. Successful ideas advance through three stages: first ridicule, then discussion, finally adoption. I say we begin the discussion to which Eastwood's words have provided a starting point.
The Clint Eastwood quote is posted on Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's blog and is taken from Feb 28, 2005 issue of Time Magazine. Charlotte Laws explores this topic in greater depth on the blog.
Charlotte Laws, Ph.D. is a member of the Greater Valley Glen Council and the President of the League for Earth and Animal Protection (LEAP). Her website is http://www.CharlotteLaws.org