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Left or right?

By Colin James - posted Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A bloke called Baron de Gauville was a deputy in the French National Assembly back in in 1789. This was when Hugh Jackman and others were singing at the barricades as the French Revolution was in full swing, and full voice. You may even hear the people sing to this day.

The French government of the time, like all parliaments or houses of governance, did not have uniform agreement on policy and direction. There were those who supported the King, Louis XVI (who still sported a head at this stage) and, naturally, those who supported the revolution. Debate was a noise fest until someone had an idea.

Our friend, Baron de Gauville, explained it thus: "Those who supported the King and were loyal to religion sat to the Presidents right and those who held an opposing view (challenging the status quo and supporting the rights for all) sat to the left." Hence those wanting to conserve the traditions of the status quo are seen as right wing (conservative) and those wanting to liberate the oppressed (liberals) are described at the left.


Unsurprisingly and achingly predictably the Right opposed the seating arrangement because they believed that deputies should support private or general interests but should not form factions or political parties. Quelle surprise.

This binary metaphor of left and right has endured, largely driven by the fourth estate, as it provides a convenient way of clustering pools of thought. We are now left with descriptive dregs for those who inhabit either side of the divide. For example the right reaches for the supposed pejorative 'do-gooders' to describe some of the 'radical' left. Someone whose intention is to 'do good' is seen as some 'naïve, anti-progress, anti-commercial bludger' whilst those on the right are seen as 'fossilized, heartless, self-serving pettifogging throwbacks'. Or something like that.

It is time to rethink the compartmentalization of thought or political orientation to these two sides? After all conservatives and conservationists, normally in opposition, share the same etymological Latin root conservare"to keep, preserve, keep intact, guard" thereby sharing the same instincts to protect what is deemed important.

Going for something centrist still bows to this divide so the need for language that is a product of this technologically enabled, globalized, time-shrunk age. An age where a radical thinker such as Christopher Hitchens could rail against the gross inhumanity of sanctioned torture (waterboarding) whilst fully supporting massive ordinance drops on cities full of innocent civilians in the Iraq war. Here was a man who lauded capitalism whilst describing himself as a conservative Marxist.

So where do go in defining political or social leanings or orientation? Are there terms that better encapsulate the current complexities we are all facing into? Despite their clumsiness I proffer 'Adaptive' and 'Generative' as conversation starters. Adaptive referring to the requirement to adapt to social, political, economic, environmental and cultural complexity in the present moment with Generative signifying an innovative, challenging, provocative inclination to test and improve our world. This is of course not as neat (and as simplistic) as left or right however allows for individuals to be adaptive on some issues and generative on others.

I am personally adaptive on the rise of Islam and the Islamification agenda of the fundamentalist extremists in that religion. I'm generative in considering the role of Australia in the Asia Pacific Region.


So, whilst the suggestion here is not simply to skew towards supporting the King and the Revolution but to nudge our thinking towards an appreciation of complexity and a move away from historical labels that have no real meaning or value in todays massively complicated world.

Another layer to the 'Adaptive' – 'Generative' concept is the relationship to time. Adaptation implies the need for adjustment, refinement and restructuring and therefore requires time or duration. Generative implies something that can almost be spontaneous or rapidly generated.

Nanjing Technology Park in China has, as part of its operations, a 'Generative Unit' who take ideas from concept to prototype in 4 days. 4 days! When we say prototype this includes production readiness. This is an outcome of generative thinking. And China is leading the way here to an astonishing degree. What level of thinking does it take to build a 30 story building in 15 days

China is of course not bound by the messiness of democratic conventions and has avoided the ideological polarization witnessed in established democracies, which, as we see currently in the USA, is causing extraordinary disruption to the both the adaptive and generative shifts to accommodate globalization and technological advancement.

Foxnews and MSNBC networks exemplify the retardation of thought and advancement that allows the Chinese system to flourish extraordinarily. Naturally I'm cognizant of the human rights violations, pollution crises and other factors at play in that particular geography however there are lessons to be learned from the adaptation/generative approach taken by China and others.

Adapt or generate? Adapt and generate? This forces us out of the stasis of simplistic left or right. Right?

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About the Author

Colin James is one of Australia's principal Corporate Trainers. He conducts training in Asia Pacific and US. His corporate clients include Exxon Mobil, Oracle, Bankers Trust, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ Bank, Telstra, Optus, CSL, AT&T, Merck Sharp and Dohme, Roche Products, Estee Lauder, Clinique, among others. In addition, Colin works extensively with the Commonwealth and several State Governments as well as providing reduced cost services to select non-government organisations.

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