Nov 3, 2006

Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives. Where do YOU Fit in?

The Nature of Our Polity. (Part 1)

The Republican levies have broken and it seems there will be a flood next Tuesday. Just six months ago, the margins between the two parties and the seats in play today (both in the House & Senate) would have been unthinkable. I don't believe the country is becoming more Democratic but rather it's the corruption and the incompetence exhibited by the party who has controlled the Congress and the White House that will result in such a reversal of political fortunes. We are far from being in an Age of Enlightenment, but this can be an Enlightenment Age for our country. We have to turn America from the Dark Ages back to a progressive path and into the future.


It matters a great deal who is in charge, who holds the megaphone and sets the national agenda. Politics reflect the people involved and our elected representatives reflect our common attitude. We have to learn to be more sophisticated in our political expressions--no more picking people because they appear to be nice, photogenic, or because we'd like to have a beer with them! We should examine the important issues and be willing to expend some effort in doing so. The days before an election should not be a period of learning about the issues. You can't possibly expect to be educated by watching political ads or even the "debates"--which are more like press conferences. Usually, there are too many people who--even if they're presented with two different choices, like in 2004--can't seem to make up their minds and they end up voting without serious consideration. Again, negative ads and void-of-substance ads exist because they work on impressionable minds

I often find people who are frustrated by politics because of the corruption and the cynicism. But endemic corruption happens when we hire idiots & crooks to manage our affairs, and when we stop paying attention. Politics can be frustrating because they can be disappointing--I know, I've been there many times. That's because we're a huge country and we have a plurality of strong preferences. As I say in the classroom politics is like ordering and dividing a pizza pie; the group has to compromise if its members are going to eat!

I also understand that gradualism isn't very attractive. A person shouldn't give up his idealism or stop trying to get to the ..promised land, but since we have to move collectively, progress can be painfully slow at times. If we lived around the Civil War era, for example, freeing the slaves would definitely
have been a good thing to do. Right? But, we'd die before we could see blacks emerging from racial segregation and achieving equal status in American society. Yet, even though many millions of people didn't get full rights as Americans, escaping bondage was surely a progressive step. And progressive steps we must take today, the faster the pace the better.

Yet, why are so many people averse to change? What is it to be conservative? What's to conserve? Are most humans conservative by nature? I think so. First, the view a person has about himself and others has to do with what he thinks human nature is. Human beings are imperfect, but the question is, what is their potential. Most conservatives believe that humans are marked by original sin--in some sense, theological or psychological. The story of Adam & Eve reveals something fundamental about human nature, literally or symbolically.

The conservatives think that human beings are not as good or as intelligent as we think we are, and that we can't govern by the light of reason since we, for the most part, are weak and impotent, unable to control our passions. Which brings us to innovation... Change is risky, change is tiring, change presents a threat to the status quo and to the "known devil." Conservatives since Edmund Burke have argued that "every new generation is a wave of savages who must be civilized by their families, schools, and churches." It's no surprise that modern conservatives (especially the ones infused with religious fervor) speak of the need to "promote the moral fitness of America" and speak of "known truths"--absolutism! E.J. Dionne once observed, a liberal democratic society presents a certain challenge to the religious people, because they believe, fundamentally, that they have the truth with a capital T.

The conservative disposition is rooted in human nature, and I think it has correctly identified a large segment of American society. The reality of the frontier is long gone, and along with it the spirited people who, as Alexis De Tocqueville observed, established democracy in America from the bottom up because they got involved in the affairs of their village, town, state, country. Many people are more prone to being lazy than energetic. If they find an acceptable situation that get things done and the world still goes on, they are not going to be looking for trouble! They are reluctant innovators and when they accept change it's because it's inevitable!

We progressives are facing a huge challenge in pulling our country forward. I think we have an obligation to get involved and articulate our progressive values and show the rest of our fellow countrymen that liberal democracy is the best system for it's self-correcting and affords the individual the best chances for reaching his full potential. The blue states have a tradition of promoting the "three Tees": Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. Changes in these three spheres demonstrate to the conservative red states the benefits of progress. For example, the commonwealth of Massachusetts didn't collapse after it recognized same-sex marriage. This state has the lowest divorce rate and a lower rate of teenage pregnancies, and abortions than the Bible-belt states!

What makes certain persons to want to question, to re-evaluate the past & the present, explore new horizons? I maintain that change requires forethought, inquiry, imagination, courage to step forward and courage to admit your own mistakes. The courage to think for yourself and not defer judgment and responsibility to a "decider", or Big Brother. Liberals appreciate the conditions of freedom because we have the courage to break the chains of perpetual (and childish) dependency. Exploring new ideas, evaluating competing arguments, challenging the "true & tried" is not harmful but it is what an enlightened and sophisticated mind does.

I understand that identity is an important component in the psychological makeup of a person and it has a very high value--so much that people go to extremes to maintain & reinforce their sense of identity. The group, culture, their "true & tried" ways provide comfort. The more things a person accepts without critical thinking, the less likely to be tolerant of challenging views, less adventurous, and more conservative!

Progressives place a premium on science and the scientific method--the best tool of inquiry we have. We liberals accept responsibility and can handle the truth, even if it's unpleasant at times. We like being adults and we demand to be treated as such by our leaders. Yes, we are all imperfect--and we don't want to see a forceful attempt to remake human nature--but we have a positive attitude in that we believe in the potential we humans have to be compassionate, create greatness, blaze new paths, and promote & enhance life.

I know, this long essay may not be on the menu of the fast-food consumption of politics these days, but I think you come here because you appreciate some intellectual stimulation. I opened up the comments section--though all have to be approved by the moderator--because no trolls are allowed here. (Part 2 in a couple days.)

12 comments:

Samantha said...

I had to come back twice to read this because these days I'm reading lots of blogs and I wasn't prepared for spending several minutes not only reading your post but also reflecting on your ideas. I'm glad I came back. Thanks.

Mizka said...

Are we then to dispair because most Americans are by nature conservative? Or, lazy?

Kelly said...

What choice do we have but to do whatever we can to make our country & the world a better place to be?...

Of course there always going to be people who only appreciate a very rigid society because the known (even in not very good) is better to the unknown. Like Andros said, the sense of identity is very important, so any perceivable threat is not welcome. So, people fight the different!

arthur said...

Interesting observations. I consider myself an Independent because both parties piss me off, so I do move from party to party when election time comes. I agree many people start paying attention only in the last few weeks before voting, but we need the "floaters" otherwise the parties would see no need to change.

flintstone said...

The country has moved to the conservative side in the last 10 years because of Republican control of the Congress. The new center is more concervative and the "left" is where the old center used to be!

RD said...

Though I don't think all progressives are so "enlightened" I do think those who are a bit more politically sophisticated tend to be liberals.

drew said...

Nice treatment of some of the differences between Cons and Libs. Of course the psychological makeup and how a person views the world affects his/her politics.

I like EJ Dionne btw.

Anderson said...

Ah, I know where I fit. Obviously I want to think and know and not be treated like a child by Big Brother or by the frat boy who never grew up...

Sign me up.

Burke said...

Nice ..theory. Many of us vote Republican not because we're immature or lazy thinkers but because we like the ideas and policies of GOP

adams said...

Sure, it's about economics too, not just all philosophical abstracts...

N said...

Well, Andros has a point (we've discussed this on occasion) that even if you take out the ideology and the policy and the ..incompetence of the CONs, just examine their arguments, see what they say about their opponents, and the quality of their reasoning...

Pretty pathetic if you ask me...

Mill said...

This thoughtful post also explains why most people are followers and not leaders.