Left or Right? Neither

I have come to the conclusion that the terms "left" and "right" are so broad as to be meaningless.

Half of you are probably rejoicing that I've finally seen the light, and the other half of you are probably wondering why I would say this. After all, one of the reasons we stick with these terms is that they provide some kind of way to group some ideologies together and differentiate others.

My argument is that these labels don't even do that - and here's why.

The classic idea is that the Left argues for big government, nanny states, and the rights of the oppressed; frequently they object to capitalism. They are unwilling to go to war, either. Meanwhile, the Right argues for a small state and the power of business, and is unafraid to bomb other countries to get what they want. I'm not even going to go into liberty, because it's become such a loaded and meaningless term that both sides could justify a claim and chances are neither would actually do anything for freedom.

The trouble with this classic idea is that it's wrong; a conservative anti-abortion, anti-contraception agenda is possibly one of the most nannying and big-government things anyone could come up with, while parties that were once of the Left (Labour, I'm looking at you here) openly endorse capitalism as the only viable economic system - despite capitalism's habit of getting itself into recessions and depressions and needing to be saved by government intervention, clearly demonstrating that it isn't viable and just tends to consume mindlessly. You can also meet anarchists - who pretty much break the left-right model - through the far left. And as for supporting the oppressed and marginalised? In general, the Left has a better track record than the Right - but the recent SWP scandal shows that they're still full of pigs.

So, if these labels are too broad, why not try splitting them up into smaller groups - like socialists, communalists, communists, participists and so on? The trouble with that is you then spend time agonising over the finer points of an ideology to decide just which group you're going to identify with, when you could ditch the labels and think for yourself. And the trouble with having these labels is that they're very rigid: they ask you to do this, adhere to that and believe the other. Real life doesn't work that way - it requires pragmatism, snap decisions, chucking your ideology out of the window if it means people get hurt, and a willingness to work across the table. Ideologies and labels afford none of that by their very nature.

In the end, what I would say is that you define yourself by your actions more than you define yourself by your words. In reality, what generally happens is you apply very broad tenets to specific situations, and sometimes what you do is contradictory - and yet it's still right. That tends to work better than saying you believe this, this and this and then getting into an ideological tangle because your views change, or nothing you do works because you're too much of a purist.