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©2015 Herbert Snorrason

Chirality as a Fundamental Phenomenon


2012-06-27

“Chirality” is a fancy way of saying “handedness”. It describes something that, when mirrored, can’t be made to fit with itself. Like so many other inordinately precise terms for everyday things, it springs from mathematics. The easiest example to name – indeed, the example that gives it its name – is your hands. Left and right, almost the same, but not exactly.

A friend of mine recently used the phrase “post-chiral politics”. It arose out of annoyance with the difficulty some people seem to have placing the Pirate Parties on the traditional political spectrum. The argument made is that the Pirate Parties cannot be understood in terms of left and right because they represent a strike beyond the politics of industrial society.

I beg to differ.

The point that anarchism is the logical conclusion of both liberalism and socialism has been put forward by others far more eloquently than I can.1 It is a point that has been made quite strongly for over a hundred years now. The fact of the matter is that we have not transcended anything; we are not confronted by any kind of new reality previously unthinkable. We have simply reached a point where ideas formerly beyond the pale have become possible to express again. It is our enemies who have chanced upon new vistas, and in the face of a new enclosure movement, the idea of property – this time in ideas – can be questioned. Once questioned, it can be dismissed. The arguments remain the same, as do the conclusions. There have long been movements, ideologies even, which have had no place on the one-dimensional chart of left and right.

But then, we should not forget that the original “men of the left” were liberals advocating for the abolition of noble privilege and economic protection. Their arguments revolved around the nature of monarchy, and against divine right. Left and right, as political terms, started out as a description of pre-industrial politics. Capitalism first took root in that same political environment, which only gradually and over almost a century gave way to the environment we recognise today as “traditional politics”. So left and right represent something other than a set of policies; something other than particular ideologies. But what?

I believe the most sensible way to think of it is in terms of interests. The left represents the general interests, the ideas that would make the majority better off; the right represents the particular interests, the ideas that most benefit the dominant elite. This would explain how the free marketers and liberals who formerly formed the core of the left could become the very definition of what is of the right. It would also explain why they abandoned their ideals but held on to their policies (if only in name, most of the time). But it would also mean that virtually all politics today is of the right.

Around the time our current political system was forming, and quite contrary to what most schoolbooks will tell you, the supreme champions of individual rights and political freedom in the western world were the unions, the socialist parties, and the communists. They were the left; holding the torch of the enlightenment, attempting to burn away the fetters on society. Their descendants, clinging on to policies (in name only, usually) but throwing away ideals at every opportunity, have become a key part of the right. The torch of the enlightenment has been passed on. The pirates have it now. Will they, in turn, cling on to policies and lose sight of ideals?

I am an anarchist, not a pirate. My alignment is with ideals and not policies. But for the moment, that puts me in agreement with the pirates. Hopefully that’ll last for a while.


  1. Worthy of note are Noam Chomsky, Government in the Future and Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism.

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