An example of what I was talking about in my last column has cropped up in the national media; very kind of them. The euthanasia debate has centred around rights – the right to life versus the right to choose to end it. The pro-euthanasia side, mostly on the Left, has been sounding very much like the right on this one, talking about the individual right to make one’s own decisions. The Right, meanwhile, has been... not so much sounding like the Left, but certainly putting societal interests ahead of individual. They do it for different reasons: in the case of the right, it is fear of what the change will bring and traditional concern for the sanctity of human life.
In a perfect illustration of why the ‘the Left cares about society, the Right cares about the individual’ meme is wrong, we see the Right putting forward slippery slope arguments (on The Drum (20/9), Tom Switzer used that term no fewer than three times in fifteen minutes) leading inevitably to the downfall of society. (Make no mistake, slippery slope arguments have their place; but that place is when outcomes are indicated by evidence such as historical trends, not simply as ‘if this happens, this other thing might happen!’)
Further, the arguments of the more-or-less Left show that indeed, the Left is concerned about the individuals; it’s just which rights they’re concerned about vary from the Right. Nor is it purely about government intervention: in this case, the government is already intervening and the Greens bill is trying to get them to stop. It’s a complete inversion of the conflict set up by the meme, extreme enough to be the exception that disproves, rather than the exception that proves.
This is because it is not an abandonment of principles by either party; the Right, which in Australia is actually genuinely conservative to some degree, is opposed to change, while the Left seeks a more just society, in which we do not force people to live who do not want to, at least in particular circumstances (a cancer patient in the final stages of the disease is a very different case than a teenager who is convinced that her life is over). These are the true colours of each side of politics; the ‘individual vs society’ meme is a cover for social conservatism and tyranny of property, not the actual motivating factor.