For Patricia: Political Recipes

>> Saturday, May 30, 2009

Patricia asked: But, since you're asking, when considering the political perspectives of all of our citizens, what combination (if it were possible to create the perfect combination) would be best for the country? All conservatives? All liberals? All moderates? Or some other combination? I'm just curious what you might say.

I don't think I can answer that the way you intended. I don't think of people as conservatives or liberals, even if they think of themselves that way. Why? Because people are complex. And so is society. Throughout the world, there are few if any pure capitalistic societies, pure communist cultures, pure anything. Most that do exist have existed only for a short time and probably don't have much future.

Am I a liberal? I believe in responsibility, accountability and support capital punishment. I'm also pro-science, support gay marriage and equality, believe in the separation of church and state, support environmental concerns and universal health care.

The problem with labels is that they're used to take the place of individuals. Saying someone is conservative or an immigrant or Muslim or black or elderly or female or even fat--it's too easy to use the labels to think you know who someone is instead of really getting to know them.

If you listen to the news or several outlets, you could get a very skewed notion of what a "conservative" is, for example. But the difference between many "conservatives" and the rest of us may be one or two issues deep. The same for, say, Muslims. There are millions and millions of Muslims world-wide and most of them are just like the rest of us, just wanting to live happy full lives, raise their children, find satisfaction. Be safe.

It's too easy for labels to become a way to magnify our differences and keep from working together. I think most people aren't just a label, they're middle of the road in some things, extreme on some issues and others, sometimes on the opposite side. Complex. More than the labels would make them.

What would I like to see? I'd like to see more people responding to issues rather than labels. I'd like to see more people worrying less about what their neighbors believe and do and more about their own actions. More tolerance. More critical thinking. More empathy.

If we do that, I think we'll find we can all walk similar paths without having to give up all our differences - and I seriously hope our differences never entirely go away. Those differences give life spice and texture, depth and meaning.

The world is more than black and white or even shades of gray. It's a symphony of hue and light, shadow and texture, depth and warmth. I hope we never grow monochrome.

Does that count as an answer for you?


  • flit

    I think it's a brilliant answer

  • Stephanie B

    Thanks, flit.

    By the way, I got the picture from; I didn't take it.

  • Patricia Rockwell

    Well, sort of. I agree with all you say about labels, but I really was curious about basic underlying philosophies. I mean, surely there are some genuinely conservative folks as well as some genuinely liberal folks, although as you point out, most of us fall somewhere in the middle based upon our own individual views on particular issues. I remember attending a conference and hearing a speech from a woman who worked for an organization whose purpose was to bring people from opposite ends of controversial issues together. Her organization sponsored retreats for, say, groups of pro-life and pro-choice people to come together and communicate in a neutral setting with trained moderators. My feeling is we need more efforts such as this where people from one viewpoint can meet and get to know people from the opposite perspectives. So much of what we see on the media is so polarizing.

  • The Mother

    That's an impossible question, and yet you gave it a game try.

    The best of all possible political systems probably isn't a democracy, anyway. Our founding fathers understood that there are a ton of uneducated, uninformed voters out there, which is why they made it a REPRESENTATIVE democracy. Still, it's not optimal.

    Probably the optimal political system is a benevolent oligarchy of the educated elite. The problem, though, is in that "Benevolent." Power corrupts. Benevolent tends to become totalitarian and loses sight of the people that they are supposed to be protecting, and then it's not only not optimal, but truly bad.

    As a fiscal conservative and social liberal, I certainly agree with you about labels. I prefer to judge people (and their ideas) by what comes out of their mouths.

  • Stephanie B

    The problem I had answering your question is I think the terms "conservative" and "liberal" (and a host of others) are inherently polarizing. Even on a topic or an issue, people aren't black and white. People who are pro-choice, might be disturbed at late-term abortion or people who get abortion after abortion instead of using some other form of birth control. People who are "pro-life" might know of considerations where it might be acceptable.

    I think efforts like you describe are a fine idea. But more than that, I think regular people (as opposed to extremists) need to be part of the discussions. Too often, I think regular people bow out of the debates because extremists take them over, making most people uncomfortable.

    If, however, we discuss issues without worrying about labels, though, we might find common ground without the drama.

  • Stephanie B

    Mother, I agree with you. There are many potential ideologies that should, in theory work. Most like pure socialism and pure communism as well as oligarchies fail because people let power get to them and lose sight of the big picture. They're optimistic that most people are good (and I agree), but forget that people are manipulatable and that people, given power, tend to be possessive of it.

  • Tyson Chaney

    Rather than ramble too much here, I posted some thoughts on my political blog. Thanks for the idea.

  • Zach

    I have to agree and disagree with this post. The reality is that to talk about individuals would be impossible. For instance, what if every article said, "the pro-choice, anti-gay Black Republicans bordering on Libertarians due to the recent shift in Republican philosophy" support the proposal, as do the "pro-choice, anti-gay Black Republicans still firmly in the Republican camp?"

    It gets a little excessive. Labels are, to a point, necessary. The problem comes in when, rather than people or policies shaping labels, labels begin to shape people and policies. Am I a liberal because I support gay marriage, or do I support gay marriage because I am liberal?

    Parties and labels should be chosen based on policies, not the other way around.

    Moreover, the two parties need to realize that they do not define the liberal or conservative movements or sentiments.

    I'm adding your blog to both of my blogrolls, please drop by, comment, and add back if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

  • Stephanie B

    The problem is, Zach, that there are pro-choice, anti-gay black Republicans and so saying "conservatives" feel so-and-so is misleading. Some "liberals" are buy-America only, pro-Union, others are pro-free trade.

    In fact, I don't see what we buy with those labels. All conservatives don't support the extreme conservative position of the Republican party. But one could say the "pro-life community" or the creationists or the marriage fundementalists or whatever. Then we are describing how a group of people feel about a specific issue. Even that, however, doesn't mean anything. Clearly the "pro-life" crowd are against abortion's legality, the creationists object to evolution being taught as science and the marriage fundementalists want only man-woman marriages recognized as such. The descriptor makes the need to say anything superfluous.

    But is everyone who is against gay marriage isn't necessarily pro-choice or pro-big business or anti-universal healthcare. Everyone who objected to the war in Iraq and torture isn't necessarily against capital punishment. That's the problem with the labels.

    When scientists and engineers use models, they often make simplifying assumptions to make the calculations manageable. However, over simplify or make the wrong assumption and the results stop meaning anything and that's often worse than no information at all.

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