Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Bickering Needs To Stop


Today I want to discuss the difference between "liberal" and "conservative" in the context of modern American politics. There are a lot of epithets flying in both directions, so I would like to try to dispel some of the misconceptions about both groups.

To begin with, I am not going to be dealing with the extremes at either end of the spectrum. Far-right white nationalists, far left anarchists ... these are smaller subsets of the broader "conservative" and "liberal" labels respectively, and are often so removed from mainstream thought that they deserve to be handled separately. Moving on ...

Perception

Liberals are delicate little flowers who are easily offended by ... well, everything.

Reality

The truth of the matter is that liberals are not that easily offended. If they were, they would be huddled in the fetal position the world over after the relentless attacks by many on the far right.

What liberals are concerned about in this context is accuracy of speech. It's not that they were particularly offended by the term "Indian," for example, it's just that native peoples aren't from India and the nomenclature should be adjusted to reflect this (the fact that Native Americans themselves were offended by the old term, while a very important consideration, is not germane to this argument).

Perception

Conservatives are rigid, unfeeling monsters.

Reality

Conservatives are not necessarily rigid. Most are capable of great flexibility in thought. However, they do tend to live up to the promise of the root of the label (to conserve, meaning to preserve). Often this puts them at odds with modern society ... for example, a conservative who values "traditional" marriage highly naturally is going to be concerned over allowing gay marriage.

On the other hand, a true conservative is one who hews more closely to a libertarian philosophy (boiled down, basically it means "let me live my life the way I see fit and leave me the hell alone") than the modern definition of conservatism (which, in recent years, has become more about resisting anything done by liberals).

Perception

Liberals are all looking for handouts.

Reality

Liberals do believe welfare should be used as a means of getting a leg up. However, they do not espouse welfare as a way of life. The main concern here is that everyone be given an equal opportunity to succeed, not (as many in right wing media claim) that everyone be guaranteed success.

Perception

Conservatives are racists.

Reality

There is actually some internal logical consistency to this claim. Conservatives, as a group, tend to glorify the "good old days," and to promote ideas that may seem antiquated to some. Given this tendency, and the fact that racism (while still very prevalent) has been in a more or less steady decline since the era of Jim Crow, it makes sense to make the claim that people who favor older ideas also favor racism ... after all, it is also an older idea.

The reality, though, is that many conservatives are not overtly racist. Sure, they may be covertly racist (keeping their racist views to themselves), or even subconsciously racist (not limited to conservatives, by the way ... but a topic for a different column), but by and large conservatives view racism the way most liberals do: as a sad, sordid, tragic part of our history that (unfortunately) we still need to work toward eradicating fully.

Perception

Liberals are atheists who hate Christians and love Muslims.

Reality

Relatively few liberals are atheists (I happen to count myself among that number, FYI). Of those, I have only met a couple who actively hate religion, and they were both assholes anyway. The vast majority of atheists take the view that religion is fine for some, but not for them, and as long as people respect those boundaries then everyone will get along fine.

However, the majority of liberals do affiliate with a religion, and of those most are Christians.

Perception

Conservatives are all bible-thumping zealots.

Reality

Yes, there are some intolerant religious extremists among conservatives. However, they are fairly few and far between; most of them take the same view as liberals do: I have my religion, you have yours (or lack thereof), and as long as you don't crowd me about it we'll get along fine.

The problem is that the Kim Davises and Franklin Grahams of the world are much more visible, thus fueling the perception that they represent all of conservatism instead of the far-right nutjob fringe.

Perception

Liberals are all socialists.

Reality

The truth is that liberals acknowledge that a) the United States is already very socialistic in some ways (Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, infrastructure spending, emergency services, etc.) and b) there are some aspects of socialism that can be implemented to be of benefit to all without stifling free enterprise. However, they are not, as many on the right would claim, devout Marxists who advocate marching in the streets and shrieking "Das Kapital" at the top of their lungs.

Conversely ...

Perception

Conservatives are cruelly greedy and money-hungry.

Reality

Yes, conservatives largely favor capitalism (as do liberals, for the most part). No, they do not favor unfettered capitalism, which is what we had during the Gilded Age (late 19th and early 20th centuries). Conservatives do not advocate for a return to the era of robber barons, child labor, monopolistic practices, and Tammany Hall. In actuality the conservative viewpoint on this topic is that capitalism should be left alone to innovate, but sensible regulation and oversight is needed to prevent the sort of rampant speculation and corruption that led to the Great Depression.



Both sides have their good and bad points. Both sides are guilty of distorting the statements and views of the opposing ideology as a way to score political points, and of blowing minor events out of proportion -- again, to score political points. Neither side is particularly adept at actually listening to the opposing point of view ... which is something we need to work on, and fast, if we want to get this country back on a stable footing.

We need to get to a place where conservatives can accept that kneeling during the anthem is kinda what the whole "free speech" thing is about. We need to get to a place where liberals can accept that religious objections to the moral quagmire of abortion right are as valid as scientific viewpoints in favor of them.

Above all, we need to start talking to each other, instead of yelling at each other.

I gotta lie down.

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