OK, I know the title is provocative, especially because most people would consider me a liberal. I do hang out with a lot of liberals, and I agree with them on many issues. But in the United States the labels “liberal” and “conservative” are no longer useful, and the Democrats and Republicans no longer stand for coherent ideologies.
Those terms represent teams. We even talk about blue states and red states, like the blue and red teams at a summer camp. And most of us think like team players: What’s the best next move I can make so my team “wins.” That’s what’s wrong with liberals. It’s probably what’s wrong with conservatives, too, but I’ll stick with what I know best.
In fact, it no longer feels like games we’re playing – more like a war. We no longer recognize the humanity of the other side. We fail to see how “their” belief system can be anything other than selfish or stupid.
The clearest example, perhaps, is the abortion divide. I believe in a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, a position consistent with my Unitarian Universalism religion. I don’t see any right as absolute and paramount, but that’s another discussion. My point here is that many of my liberal friends – religiously as well as politically liberal – would condemn anyone who believes that life begins at conception, and that taking life is simply wrong.
Both sides of this issue have a deep-seated moral code, one based on individual liberty (a woman’s right to control what happens to her body) and the other based on community values (what contributes most to the gene pool). In yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned a book by a brilliant social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which explains in far more detail why each side is speaking from strong values and each side has so much trouble hearing the other.
I found another example recently in this campaign video about Social Security from Bernie Sanders. Someone posted it on a Unitarian Universalist Facebook page that I read, saying that even though it’s a political video, he thinks it reflects UU values. I wondered which values fit the video—probably the Second Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
I find Sanders a generally honest man, and I have no objection to the conclusions in this video, but I think he misled along the way, leading us to feel that only his proposals promoted justice, equity and compassion in human relations. The misleading part was what caused what he called the “retirement crisis.” He pins the blame on actions by big corporations, banks and the very rich.
The corporations and banks do share some of the blame, but Sanders surely also knows that our personal saving rate in the U.S. has for many years been far lower than that of many other countries. Some corporate greediness from the 1990s on did contribute to the retirement problem, but the baby boomers’ (me included) failure to save adequately is a far more pervasive cause of the “crisis.”
And, according to Dr. Haidt, conservatives care deeply about justice, equity and compassion in human relations. They believe especially in equity, and they simply don’t think it’s fair to take from us all, including those who did put away enough money, to support those who did not.
Besides, don’t we UUs believe also in the interdependent web of all existence? If only we did away with our wasteful, self-indulgent lifestyles the globe would be a greener, more equitable place and we’d all be able to afford to save more.
I’m not asking my U.S. liberal friends to become pro-lifers or economic conservatives. I am asking them to listen more compassionately to the other side, to remember that those on all sides have dignity and worth.
Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine