Monday, January 17, 2005

Liberals and Conservatives

[Note: this will be a bit longer and not quite as "owned" as some of my other thoughts]

There are a handful of writers who have spurred my thinking as of late (Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Wendell Berry, N.T. Wright, Christian-Egalitarian writers) as to the meaning of "liberal" and "conservative." The denotative meaning of "conservative" coming from its root "to conserve, to keep." "Liberal" being "not-conservative, innovative, generous" (fascinating how the idea of 'liberally apply ____' is actually consistent with the idea of not-what-currently-is). These definitions do not seem all that consistent with the way the words are actually used today (at least in the U.S.). I want to suggest that their are liberal Liberals, conservative Liberals, liberal Conservatives, ... To do this will necessarily require a different working-definition of the terms. So here is what I propose.

"Liberals" start with action. MLKjr. (celebrated tomorrow in Arizona, an actual feat in Arizona's history!) did NOT start with keen ideas about equality. He started with a drive for action. As did much of what is considered "liberal" policy in this country. Brian McLaren's call to start with right action, and then formulate correct doctrines would be an example of this. General Patton fits this bill, at least in his movie. [It's fun for me to read writings from the 1700's and 1800's (and even 1900's) that speak of "that liberal democracy in the U.S.A." (i.e. a novel form of democracy). To think that Conservatives want to go back to a "liberal democracy."] I would like to propose that John and Peter were "liberal." Paul would not be...

"Conservatives" start with delineation. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and other framers (not "farmers"!!) would fit here. George Washington would not. Note now that this new definition of "conservative" is not with keeping what is, it is about delineating ideas. This is no way leans towards nor away from new ideas (except for the natural entropy of humans to not put into action what they say they believe). I think Paul would fit this, based on how long it took him to actually get around to being the "Paul" that we think him to be (and the book of Romans. and Galatians).

[more examples: Tara Malouf is a liberal, I am a conservative, most Christians in the US are conservative as demonstrated by their "Bible studies" that have no action (not because they vote Republican), Oprah is a liberal, Tom Brokaw is a conservative (his book "Greatest Generation" is simply a delineation of greatness, Peter is about grabbing swords and rebuking his Messiah (liberal), John Adams delineated a future and then attempted to enact it, Jacques Derrida is liberal even though his method is delineation (see Derrida for Beginners which has an excellent and not-disconnected biography) - see below]

Good points:

Liberals help prevent delineations that oppress. A very strong example, as far as I can tell so far, is Jacques Derrida (writer that helped push 'deconstruction' before the masses, or at least put it in their path). Derrida grew up, in oversimplified terms, an oppressed Jew in an anti-Semitic Europe. His deconstruction, from a cursory overview, is an action that destroys the power of oppressors (actually, makes them sound like fools) by deconstructing their hierarchy, their ideas, their policies, their philosophies. It was an attempt to right the wrong of ignorant oppression (specifically, his oppression - as is beautifully played out in history as he proved his genius over-and-above those who oppressed him).

Further, liberals give germination to new ideas of living. Sometimes it is new ways of thinking (e.g. Freud), sometimes a new way(s) of living (e.g. MLKjr.). Shakespeare fits this by way of both social commentary and his addition of words to the English language. It is this trait of liberals that also helps prevent blindness to the realities round about us. The contemporary ideal “court jester” was to use riddle and joke to unblind the king about the reality of the world: Nathan’s story to David about the rich man stealing the poor man’s lamb - an Old Testament jester. The generation of Social Security, the Peace Corps., etc. They are liberal creations not because of the political or philosophical statements of their founding, but by their being fully a response to the world.

And among other things, liberals see hypocrisy. Ask any Conservative Christian to honestly asses the “Liberal” critique of the church in the U.S. -- we (Conservatives) spend more time and money on Bible studies (and their materials) than we do on the children in our neighborhoods. Unless we are rich enough to move out of such neighborhoods by “God’s blessing” - do we (the rich, white people) really think that God blessed us so that we could get away from those in need?!?

Conservatives, when filling their place, help prevent the doing well of the wrong thing. I came across an article that spoke to how swiftly the poverty on this planet could be “erased” by the top income countries. If they all gave .7% of their income, we could end poverty by 2025. Does the “oil for food” scandal ring a bell? As has been pointed out, it is corruption that prevents poverty, not money. But this “delineation” comes from conservative writers. Relieving poverty is a necessary, NECESSARY aim. But not by bread alone.

Related, conservatives help prevent whimsy, often by asking an incessant number of “why” questions. Out of the field of “why”s came the renewal of being purpose-driven (no association to the incorporation of this by any given writer, group, church, or publication). A good example is Jim Collins as well as some of the work being done by the Gallup organization. These folks are trying to prevent whimsical decisions, decisions that may seem good but do not have enough sharpening by “why” questions. My time at Home Depot (during the transition from the original owners to the current CEO) gives good reason for the above organizations to exist. The reporting, merit, and management structures are destroying the people and the company. Not enough “why” questions.

. . . . Granted, conservatives often ask “why” infinitely. There is a time for action, and it takes some serious intuition to know when to start, which will inevitably be with many “why” questions still unanswered. Dialogue with liberal teammates is usually helpful!

[now would be a good time to inject my wife’s wisdom - NOBODY is distinct from the circumstance (history, relationships, setting, etc.). She believes that no author should be read, no pastor listened to, and no philosophy taken without knowing their background. In fact, it is this very thought of hers that led to my delineation between liberal and conservative. This does not diminish the delineation, but rather identifies that isolation (of thought or of person) is a misconception. Also, I do not believe that this confirms non-absolutes, but rather confirms the need for dialogue.]

Last in this list is that conservatives see the big picture more naturally. Liberals can often see the last chapter, the current chapter, and the next chapter with amazing clarity. But conservatives are most often the ones that the broadest scope. Too often this has been used to undermine the truth raised/enacted by the liberals, to the detriment of all. But without conservatives, we are doomed to swing pendulums as the liberal truth of today becomes yesterday’s oppression. I have very much enjoyed the difficulty of Derrida, but I find myself giggling at the assumptions. They work quite truly in/against my life. But they are often powerless with my wife. Her life as outflow sits in a place that is unaffected by the discussion and battle in deconstruction. The reaction of Derrida did NOT take into account people like my wife.

An example from Physics: one learns that two forces that are at perfect, 90-degree angles have NO impact on the other. [Assume the earth is flat for a moment] Imagine two bullets. One is to be shot from a gun that is lying perfectly flat on a table while the other (equal mass, etc.) will be dropped from the edge of the table. If the bullet that is dropped at the exact moment the other bullet exits the gun, then both bullets will hit the ground at the exact same time. Even though one is traveling horizontally at a ridiculous speed. The force of the gun is perpendicular to gravity (the vertical force in this example). Whether the bullet is traveling horizontally or not, the effect of gravity is the same. Reading Derrida to my wife is interesting, but perpendicular. Conservatives are the ones (rather are to BE the ones) who should see that very seldom is life a pendulum or a one-scale spectrum . . .

. . . . Scott Nelson (a friend and president of File Express / Trax Technologies) told me that most people think they are thinking, when all they are doing is rearranging prejudices. In theory, this is what a conservative helps prevent by seeing the big picture.

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