Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Truth Behind Conservative Vs. Liberal

What is the difference between liberal and conservative? Why is it that we tend to polarize into one or the other? Why, when this dichotomy so handicaps us, do we insist on lobotomizing ourselves and our culture in this way? These fundamental questions are ones I’ve obsessed over as I’ve watched, with increasingly nauseous horror, the transformation of our media from one where both sides were at least prone to giving token attempts at balance to one in which one-sided media remains entrenched on one channel, or the other – Fox news and talk radio on the right, and MSNBC and Comedy Central on the left. (And isn’t it odd that there is no comedy channel devoted to making fun of liberalism!)

What it boils down to is two of our very dearest values clashing together, not because they are incompatible, but because they tend to diverge among different personality types, and our naturally handicapped, tribal, hunter/gatherer brain takes over from there. On the one side is Freedom, compassion, and fairness. In short, a desire for a utopian condition. On the other side is purity, loyalty and security, a recognition of a tragic condition. I think, at heart, both sides recognize that both utopian desire and tragic recognition are necessary for the best possible society, but because our differing personalities prefer one over the other, we polarize, and then fight with each other about shit which is ultimately about as important as a mosquito, and equally as annoying.

As such, we wrongly demonize our opponents: With liberals being a bunch of latte-drinking, hybrid-driving, granola-crunching bleeding-hearted, atheistic Marxists, and conservatives being a bunch of coffee-chugging, SUV-driving, Wall-Street-hogging, heartless, Bible-thumping Rockerfellers. But, of course, neither of these caricatures is even remotely accurate. We both want the best possible world. We just disagree on the finer points of how to get there.

Take religion vs. government, for example. Both sides agree that some form of reciprocity needs to be in place to prevent criminals and freeloaders from spoiling society. Historically, there have been two forms of this (and not always separate): religion, and government. Those who favor the liberal side favor freedom, and so want maximum opportunity while young in life. As such, they favor large-scale solutions which benefit them, and so favor government. Those who favor the conservative side favor security, and prefer small, community-based solutions which benefit them while elder in life. As such, they prefer religion, and would rather government stayed out of it, except in matters of keeping everyone safe. This explains so many dispositions between the two sides that it’s mind-boggling. It explains why conservatives prefer small government, but will nevertheless spend ridiculous amounts of money on police, the military, and prisons. It explains why liberals, desiring to maximize freedom for all sentient beings, will be vegetarian to protect the rights of fellow sentient mammals, while being pro-choice, since an early-term fetus is not yet sentient. It explains why conservatives oppose abortion and euthanasia, but are typically in favor of the death penalty. It explains why conservatives want lower taxes to better enjoy their golden years while liberals would rather have more taxes and programs to benefit them right away before old age sets in. It explains why liberals want a strong separation between religion and government, and why conservatives prefer or pretend that the wall of separation between church and state doesn’t exist. It explains why colleges and universities are rife with liberals – because science requires the questioning of one’s elders as a major tenet, and so freedom to explore is the order of the day for scientists, engineers, philosophers and sociologists. The language arts must, of necessity, be populated by cultural explorers and this sieves out all but the most ardent of moral relativists. (And this would be true even if universities didn’t receive loads of tax-dollars.) The one exception is the obligatory business school, where one department preaches VonMises, and loathes and despises the sea of liberal thought it finds itself floating in.

It also explains why liberals want big government and conservatives small government, UNLESS the subject of sex comes up, in which case conservatives want drastic, government-imposed restrictions, and liberals would prefer big government to stay out of it! This would seem like a hypocritical shift, until one sees the underlying cause. Freedom of business vs. freedom of gonads. Fascinating!

Telling is how these two sides tend to divide among the values shared by young and old. The young want to strike out, explore, be sexual, live life to the fullest. As such, they prefer the freedom aspect of the ideal society. The old prefer safety, sanctity, the recognition that life can be cruel if you’re not careful. As such, they prefer the security aspect of the ideal society. But as the young grow old, they grow increasingly more like their elders, preferring to nurse their arthritis quietly and live the stress-free lifestyle as their hormones go into remission. This is perhaps why the once biggest liberal juggernaut ever – the Baby Boomers – have gone from being pot-smoking, anti-war hippies at Woodstock who elected Bill Clinton, to being grey-haired, Tea-Party, anti-drug activists irrationally afraid of the same sort of black president they would have begged for in their youth. The only similarity between the two is their staunch willingness to get out and march in protest. How have the mighty fallen!

Young and old divide among their planning perspectives as well. The old prefer a long-term solution strategy, having lived a long time themselves, and knowing that they will not be around to see it through. The young, by contrast, see no point in waiting until the next generation or two (or three) before real solutions to injustices manifest, and so desire intervention right away to make justice more immediate. This explains why conservatives would rather minorities strive for wealth on their own, while liberals tend to prefer affirmative action programs minorities so that opportunity isn’t something only enjoyed by their grandchildren. In reality, long term solutions are always better than short-term ones, as long as there’s no racial favoritism involved.

It’s the ancient battle between constrained vs. unconstrained, change-embracing vs. change-averse. Desire for utopia clashes with the acceptance of tragic reality. Science fiction author, Nick Sagan (son of my hero, Carl Sagan), phrases it this way: It’s the battle between the primal forces of delicious and nutritious. Delicious wants to enjoy. Nutritious wants to survive. And fittingly, just as our modern world has glutted us with foods which are artificially sweet and savory, with added sugars and highly-salted poly-saturated fats, as well as artificially nutrient-bearing vitamin supplements, so also has our media given us excessively sweet, salty, or bitter content. Right now, it seems as if liberals are gorging themselves upon Oreo-cookie soft-serve, while conservatives are turning their urine blue choking down all their vitamin pills. What ever happened to meat and potatoes?

You see, in the battle for delicious vs. nutritious, it isn’t impossible to have both. Ice cream for dessert is a good thing, and a vitamin pill in the morning is healthy. In between, a balanced meal with the occasional salad is just fine. In like manner, a little bit of Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow is fine, but let’s not go overboard! Let’s get the bulk of our data from unbiased sources, shall we? How about eating foreign food once in a while (BBC or Canadian news services)? The variety does a body good.

And this balance begins with the ability to abandon the irrational hatred of our obviously bipartisan President.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How To Change The Things That Matter

When I look at the things that matter the most to the quality of our lives, and the key issues that most directly effect whose side I prefer politically, I'm amazed that two things always repeatedly come up: economics and education. Economics comes up obviously because we all want better jobs, and want to punish those politicians who aren't doing a good enough job at helping us get them. Education comes up because everything about our society ties in to it, whether it be crime, money, stability, security... Nothing doesn't go south without good, quality education. And since education affects the economy, education is the more important of the two.

Yet what do we really know about these two key factors? If we want to change the things that matter, we must be more competent about these two things than anything else. But are we? Ask yourself: what's needed to give a child a quality education. No, I mean REALLY needed. Be specific. Phonics in grades K through 4? Algebra in grade 5 instead of 6? What is the ideal class size? 15? 20? 30? Is a central teacher-in-classroom model even effective? Or is perhaps a direct-tutoring model more efficient? Perhaps a more multi-faceted model is needed, where two or three teachers handle three levels of learning, depending upon a child's needs? Perhaps boarding schools, the one form of school which has proven effective for inner-city children, should be assigned across the board?

And how about economics? Will tax cuts for the rich really work? What kind of tax cuts? How big should a corporation get? At least some regulation is necessary - as we learned the hard way - but how far should rules of regulation go? What kinds of reforms would work? Why would they work? What measures would make it fail, and why would the failure take place?

When it comes down to it, we don't know jack. ALL of us! Even the smartest people know very little about the fundamentals of both education and economics. And yet poor quality, as well as poor quality of understanding, of both these topics is a sure-fire recipe for disaster for any civilization.

And where are the most radical changes happening right now? Yeah, you follow me. And you understand why we should be concerned. We're blind, at the helm, and have no clue where to steer clear of the rocks.

I certainly don't have all the answers. I don't know how exactly education should be reformed, nor have I yet worked all the kinks out of my synthesized economic model. But I know this much, and it's a reform that both political parties can agree to, and can be implemented right away. I hope everyone writes their legislators in support of this idea. And it is simply this:

Teach economics as a required course in high school!


Monday, August 1, 2011

Debt Ceiling Bill... Compromise?

So, it seems the dual pilots of our National Airplane, Capt. Democrat and Vice-Capt. Republican, have finally decided to put their fisticuffs in the cockpit on hold long enough to jointly pull up on the joystick before the death-spiral tailspin crashes us, and everyone's globally-networked personal incomes too. And while it's refreshing to see that partisan politics can be put aside when the need is dire, it's equally disheartening to note that it took everyone's nuts being held in a vice, plus the loss of at least one testicle per legislator, before anyone finally compromised on anything. It seems that Our Trophy President, ever the Superman strategist I kept telling you fair-weather-fans he was, has hammered out a compromise with the most uncompromising of S.O.B.'s in order to literally save the whole world's ass. That's our man!

But what did we get? While Democrats are bitching that they get nothing out of this deal, pointing out how Republicans are getting everything that they demanded, some are wondering what the "compromise" actually was. And in spite of this, some in the GOP are actually complaining that it doesn't go far enough because it doesn't include a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Well, it's nice to see that there's something to piss off everyone, because that's usually the sign of a good bill. But seriously, what did Democrats get out of it at all? Taxes levied on the topmost who have most effectively taken the money supply out of circulation? No. Serious military cutbacks? Not right away. Shit, did the Dems get anything?

The answer is yes. I'll tell you what they got: They got President Obama a "Get out of jail free" card regarding our nation's economy.

You see, the two economic models at war with each other play on fundamental mechanisms of how money works. On the one hand is the idea that the money supply is kept in balance with a system of carefully levied taxes upon the uppermost, and a responsible methodology of spending upon infrastructure, medicine and education, which benefits all businesses and citizens. On the other hand is the idea that business flourishes better when it is "unfettered" (by which it is usually meant, "untaxed"), and allowed the freedom to grow. Both ideas have merit, and both are obviously incomplete - which is why a synthesis of the two is so badly needed. Unfortunately, polarized thinking has blinded many to this reality, and this debt-ceiling bill illustrates this fully.

What will likely happen as a result of this bill, I'm saddened to say, is an economic downturn - the last thing we need. Already, economists are warning of it, and the Republicans who just don't give a damn are refusing to believe it. Now, this bill has passed, and whatever happens negatively in our economy, the Republicans now have full responsibility, thanks to their sticking resolutely to their vaulted principles. Obama will no longer bear any blame, thanks to this bill - which is essentially a Republican victory. Republicans succeeded in blocking taxation upon the wealthiest in exchange for another four years of Obama. (I hope they're finally happy.)

Now, this is a test of my understanding of economics. All you who read my blog may judge my analysis with me. I've made my prediction, and put my balls out there. And while the scientist in me looks forward to the results of this real-life extro-laboratory experiment, my hypothesis can only be correct if people suffer. This is NOT the way I wish to win an argument! Such is never the preferred path to victory for people of conscience. Nevertheless, if I'm right, don't say I didn't warn you.

You know, however, this could be interesting. I've been right about a lot of things. For example, I predicted Barack Obama's victory. But I've also been wrong on this blog. In the interest of equal time: I was wrong about selling gold right away. I was wrong about Herman Cain being a serious candidate. I was also wrong about legalizing marijuana solving all our budgetary woes. (My own later analysis showed that it would make a dent, but wouldn't come close to solving everything.) So I'm certainly fallible. On the other hand, if I happen to be wrong this time, then everyone is benefiting from a healthy economy, and I'll gladly wear egg on my face for that. If so, our good economy will ensure incumbent victories, and Obama will win. If the economy goes south, Obama has a devil to blame for it in this Republican-led compromise bill. Either way, it's all Obama until 2016.

It's the oldest maxim in the world: People vote with their pocketbook. And when it feels the pinch - as I regrettably expect it will - people will simply have to put the blame at the most obvious cause. This budget fight was so big, and so well-covered by the media, that everyone, for once, knew the issues behind it. They will not forget come 2012.

Then again, experience has shown us that they just might.