The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, March 14, 2005

Conservatives and Liberals

Because it always generates a certain amount of controversy (and also because I'm addressing the power and emotional chakras), I thought it might be interesting to pause and look at the question of the Liberal/Conservative split. One of the problems, of course, is one of definition. The Conservatives have been so successful at defining Liberalism in purely negative terms that Liberals have started calling themselves "Progressives." But what do these terms mean? My guess is that Reasonable members of both camps have very different definitions from those who are radical on either side. I thought it would be interesting to open the floor and allow readers of whatever stripe to define these terms for us, just to see what comes up.
My personal thoughts on it (and I've addressed some of this before. ) I think that the political schism is actually not political at all--it's spiritual. That it is actually a secular version of the "Nature-Nurture" argument, or even more basically, the "Does Essence precede existence, or does existence precede essence" argument that has been raging in Western philosophical circles for about three thousand years.I'm going to try to define what I see as the differences without coming down on one side or the other--meaning that I'l try to be balanced in terms of what I see as the positive and negative aspects of each.
1) Conservatives. The Right seems to lean toward the "Nature over Nurture, essence precedes existence" position. The soul exists in a relatively mature form before entering this world. Our inner nature determines our actions more than our environments. Thus, abortion is seen as the murder of a human being, and the death penalty is seen as an appropriate punishment: the criminal has displayed his essential nature, is responsible for his actions, and must be punished accordingly. The punishment is sometimes seen as ultimately good for the soul. Social programs for the alliviation of poverty are seen to be of limited benifit--the poor and criminal classes are displaying their innate characteristics, and no external conditioning will have much effect.
2)Liberals. The Left seems to lean toward the "Nurture over Nature, existence precedes essence" position. Our souls are amorphous and unformed (at best) before we enter this world, and the conditions of our upbringing create us. Thus, abortion is the elimination of a bit of tissue that MIGHT turn into a human being, but currently is not. The death penalty is seen as unfair because society and conditioning are partially responsible for the behaviors. Social programming can and does modify negative behavior, and alliviate poverty.
1) The Right tends to be more "Masculine"--protective, differentiating, wall-building, armoring, us-themism, heirarchical. More religious (although not necessarily more spiritual). In times of war and national stress, almost any society shifts toward the right--it is a survival response, and those who don't have it, didn't survive unless they were living in the marginal areas of the world: atop mountains, in deserts, on islands, etc. Tends to be symbol-based. Believes that wealth tends to accumulate in the hands of the blessed and brilliant. A negative: 90% of the racists I've ever known had right-wing politics. This, I think, is a factor of the heirarchical thought patterns--X is better than Y is better than Z. Talks about the "golden days" of America when there was more freedom--almost always unconsciously refering to a period when there was more freedom...for white males. They often don't even think about the fact that the "golden days" often included lack of voting for women, slaughter of native Americans, slavery of blacks. Ah, well...
2) The Left tends to be more "Feminine"--embracing all, centering rather than armoring, "we're all one family," cultural relativism, spirituality not necessarily linked to religion, little-guy over big-guy, wealth accumulates in the hands of the greedy and corrupt. Talks about a "golden period" of America yet to come--where all are "equal" (but, of course, some animals are more equal than others...) but often subliminally women are considered superior. Tends toward re-distribution of wealth through government pressure. Anarchists, communists, and such hang out in this part of the spectrum.
I have seen no monopoly on intelligence, courage, patriotism, or honesty on either side. The right tends to lable too much--the Left tends to lable too little. The Right indulges in more general name-caling (Liberalism itself turned into a dirty word: liberals are "Traitors, idiots, mentally deranged. Bumper stickers say: If they take our guns, how will we shoot the Liberals." Etc. ) In comparison, Liberals tend to attack individual ideas and persons on the Right, but I don't hear as much blanket condemnation of the entire idea of Conservatisim.
There are two competing views of the world, and the future and past of America. I don't think either side loves our country more, but I think the Right thinks it does. I don't think either side has a monopoly on compassion, but the Left thinks it does.
The litmus test. #1: One overhears the following conversation: "My sister is marrying a nigger. What's this country coming to?" You have to bet the mortgage. Quick: what is this person's likely political leaning?
#2: You overhear this conversation: "America is the worst country in the world. Our so-called leaders are idiots, and so is anyone who voted for them." Quick: what is this person's likely political leaning?
And don't try to tell me you don't know what I'm talking about.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. Yours?


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