What Is Left? Rebecca Solnit on the Perennial Divisions of the American Left: “It should be a modest request to ask that ‘left’ not mean supporters of authoritarian regimes.” (Rebecca Solnit, February 23, 2024, LitHub)

In late 1936 George Orwell, like so many young idealists from Europe and the USA, went off to fight fascism in Spain. By the spring of 1937 he realized he was in a war with not two but three sides. The USSR was holding back a full Spanish revolution while attacking the socialists and anarchists outside its control.

Facing prison and possible execution himself, not from the fascists, but the Soviet-allied forces, Orwell fled Spain. His immediate commander, Georges Kopp, was imprisoned, and the leader of his militia unit, Andres Nin, was tortured and assassinated by an agent of Stalin’s secret police. Orwell would spend the rest of his life trying to clarify that in his time the left meant both idealists committed to human rights, equality, and justice and supporters of a Stalinism that was the antithesis of all those things.

He wrote after he got back to England:

When I left Barcelona in June the jails were bulging… But the point to notice is that the people who are in prison now are not Fascists but revolutionaries; they are there not because their opinions are too much to the Right, but because they are too much to the Left. And the people responsible for putting them there are… the communists.

Some of the pro-Stalin left believed the sunny propaganda about the USSR and some of them knew better but went with the Stalinist notion that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, that the gulags and lies and mass executions were the price of the ticket to some form of utopia that would soon arrive after everything else had been quashed. There are similar rifts in the left of our time, which is both obvious and seldom addressed outright.

All ideologies are ultimately utopian and, therefore, anti-human. Unable to destroy human nature ideologues end by destroying the humans who disappoint them.


PODCAST: Samuel Wilkinson — What Evolution and Human Nature Imply About the Meaning of Our Existence (Skeptic, 3/04/24)

With respect to our evolution, nature seems to have endowed us with competing dispositions, what Wilkinson calls the dual potential of human nature. We are pulled in different directions: selfishness and altruism, aggression and cooperation, lust and love.

By using principles from a variety of scientific disciplines, Yale Professor Samuel Wilkinson provides a framework for human evolution that reveals an overarching purpose to our existence.

Wilkinson claims that this purpose, at least one of them, is to choose between the good and evil impulses that nature has created within us. Our life is a test. This is a truth, as old as history it seems, that has been espoused by so many of the world’s religions. From a certain framework, Wilkinson believes that these aspects of human nature—including how evolution shaped us—are evidence for the existence of a God, not against it.