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.


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