Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Liberals and conservatives need to "see" into the gift of the other

Listening to the endless chatter of the political class in the United States, mostly on MSNBC, but also on CNN, CBC and CTV, I am struck by the lines being drawn around the current definitions of conservatives and liberals.
Of course, there are the obvious:
conservatives support:
  • big corporations,
  • low taxes,
  • small government,
  • large military and security operations,
  • the right to bear arms
  • prayer in schools
while conservatives oppose:    
  • government action against climate change and global warming     
  • abortion
  • gun control
  • government hand-outs like food stamps,welfare
  • government regulations especially of business
  • unions in both the public and private sector
On the other hand, liberals support:
  • the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively
  • a woman's right to choose
  • government action to regulate the financial service sector and the market
  • gun control legislation
  • government programs for the most needy
  • access to a full education for all
  • government initiatives to limit global warming and climate change
And liberals oppose:
  • the widening income gap
  • the demise of the middle class
  • the emasculation of the labour movement
  • The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United
No doubt there are other both significant and subtle differences.
What strikes me is that these views are based on different assumptions.
In the case of the conservatives, the individual is paramount, and should be free to rise or fall depending on his/her own merits, decisions, aptitudes, intelligence, connections, wealth, courage, discipline, ambition, and "values", of course based on a cloning of those values from others of like mind.
The liberals, on the other hand, consider the society, the collective, the community and the nation, the gestalt, or the zeitgeist first, and how that supports or blocks the development of the individual. They believe that a 'rising tide raises all boats,' and their job is to enhance the tide with that rise always in view.
In another time, when there were few, if any, government programs, individuals had to 'make it on their own' and there are legions of stories about pioneers who fought the elements, wild animals, and poor land to scratch enough harvest to feed their families. As pioneers, most of them believed in some God, worshipped that God in some formal manner, usually with others from the adjacent farms. And as 'believers' they undoubtedly heard homilies dedicated to the various 'sacred' dates on the calendar, to the principle of helping those less fortunate when in need, and to the principle of hard work and family loyalty. They also probably read, or heard about laws from such documents as the decalogue, common known as the Ten Commandments, about not taking another's life, or another's wife, or about honouring fathers and mothers, and not coveting another's goods, wealth or circumstances. And, many may even have believed the world was flat, or that the sun revolved around the earth, or that, through their own hard work and discipline, they would be rewarded, after death, with a life in some form of heaven.
There is a certain assuredness, a certainty in this world about what is right and what is wrong, about how to live and how to die. It is that certainty, that confidence that still appeals to many, especially in a very much more complicated world. People who want and need to know what the rules are, where they stand in relation to those rules, how they relate to authority, how they are measured by that authority, and how they 'compete' with their neighbours on whatever scale of competition is considered appropriate and relevant are generally going to fall to the side of the conservative mind-set. Such a mind-set adores and seeks order, it needs and establishes the rules of the game, often relying on a kind of certain scholarship that has been held the longest, as part of the foundation for that mind-set. In order to support their belief, they are also confident that God is on their side, without much, if any, doubt in their mind.
These people are often interested in keeping score, keeping accounts, keeping records, keeping boundaries, keeping traditions, keeping routines and disciplines that have served them and their forebearers for generations. History, for many of them, verges on the sacred. The future, by comparison, is less certain, more tenuous and much more frightening. For these people, they find success in learning and following a disciplined profession, a calling, a skill-based exercise, some of them more complicated than others. They have a perception of coherence to their world view, that keeps their life thoughts, actions, perceptions and beliefs focussed. And while they explore both new thoughts, places, practices and ideas, they do so with scepticism, hesitation, doubt and even, in some cases, fear. The rely heavily on 'authority' figures that have their respect because they have, through their demonstrated expertise, earned respect. So they find expert advice in books, in learned periodicals, in scholarly journals, and in movies and entertainment crafted by the best writers, actors, directors and producers.
They also, in many cases, prefer the best brands, as part of their hold on "value" as part of their identity. And if this value can be demonstrated, and secure them new rungs on the ladder of social esteem, so much the better.
Back to the original land-owners, the pioneers. Among them, were those who rebelled against the routines, against the authorities whether they were parents, or school teachers, or sheriffs, or rich people, or priests or pastors. They preferred to explore, to question, to find excitement in uncertainty, to find challenge in new experiments, in new ideas, in new people, in new groups, dances, music, drama, poetry, and in a stance that could be termed, "unknowing" and thereby continuously searching. Since they were not sure, they could and usually did say, "I don't know" and "I want to discover." God was their exploration leader, who never gave them a map, and who never offered a clear and non-negotiable position to anything, including the most troubling questions like, "Why am I here?" or "Why did the pharmacist take his own life in the basement of his own store?" or "Why did the baby die before he was born?" or "Why did the robber pick our house to plunder?" or "Why does God permit so much pain and slaughter, if He is a God of love and forgiveness?"
While these members of the pioneering community attended school, they held the experience, the teacher, the principal and even the principles up for scrutiny...before they surrendered any part of their belief system to conform with any of it. They held out on the rules, subverted them most often if they could or even if they risked, and they drew pictures, or sang songs, or wrote songs about what they saw going on around them. These were the people who considered the big questions first, without fear of not knowing the answers, because not knowing the answers was at the heart of their world view. They picked up pieces of answers along the way, some from their own deduction or induction, some from their own excessive curiosity and play, some from their many questions to anyone who would stop long enough to listen, some from the occasional book they might read, if they found it lying around, and occasionally, they found that when they most needed answers, they just could not and did not find any that really satisfied.
As an experiment, a journey of discovery, a pilgrimmage into the unknown, for these people, all that stuff about "getting it right" was only ok when they were actually doing something like milking the cow, and even after they had learned the skill from a human, they still had to learn the unique peculiarities of each animal if they were going to be really successful. However, for them complexity and uncertainty were part of every experience, every person, every book and every encounter and they wanted that perception and "value" normalized so that they might consider themselves 'normal' knowing that they would not and could not and did not find comfort with those who had the answers.
Now the question is, can the first group and the second group see, really see into the lives, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and experiences of the other group and see that, while there may be more than two groups, (there always are!) the gap between these two groups, while these generalizations are not complete nor completely accurate, seem to have hardened into a kind of ideological conflict that does not permit the perception of the fullness or the full value of the other...and if we cannot or will not agree to see the other, for what and who he is, then we will not solve the 'fiscal cliff' or the 'two state solution for Palestine and Israel,' or the climate change/global warming conundrum, or the....because we cannot look fully into the eyes/heart/mind/spirit of the other...blinded by our own
grasp of our own insecurity.
It is the community, stupid!...not the specifics of any file, but how we open and resolve the disputes between us...and that starts with fully embracing the totality of the other's differences as gift, and not as threat.

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