A Liberal/Conservative Misunderstanding - Island of Sanity

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Liberals & Conservatives

A Liberal/Conservative Misunderstanding

Some disagreements come about because people have fundamentally different goals, or radically different views of the world. Disagreements like this often lead to conflict, even violence, because the parties don't see any way to resolve the problem except by forcing the other side to surrender. But other disagreements are simply misunderstandings, and perhaps could be solved if people just talked to each other and tried to comprehend the other's point of view.

For example, lately liberals are repeatedly sounding the alarm that the Christian Right is planning to censor or oppress them. For example, I recently came across an editorial in World Magazine that referred to a recent book, The Baptizing of America, by James Rudin:

According to Rudin, once we Christians get into power, "All government employees—federal, state and local—would be required to participate in weekly Bible classes in the workplace, as well as compulsory daily prayer sessions." We would issue everyone a national ID card giving everybody's religious beliefs or lack thereof, and "such cards would provide Christocrats with preferential treatment in many areas of life, including home ownership, student loans, employment and education." Religious censors would control all speech, political dissent would be outlawed, and freedom would be eliminated.

I apologize for the second-hand reference, but it was too good a quote to pass up.

As a member of the Christian Right, I find this warning not just inaccurate, but laugable. I have never heard any Christian political activist call for anything remotely resembling such an agenda, in public or private. I suppose that if you searched long and hard enough you could find some extremist somewhere who would say such a thing. Just like you can find environmentalists like the Unabomber who call for murdering pollutors.

You certainly would have a hard time finding any public statement from a Christian Right leader that sounded anything like this. So where did this idea even come from? If we heard such a warning from just one person, we might just say he has paranoid delusions. But coming from so many, that's not an adequate explanation.

I believe that the problem comes from differences in the assumptions, the thinking processes, of liberals and conservatives. This results in liberals and conservatives using the same or similar words, but attaching very different meanings to them. It's as if a conservative said, "Here is a bat", and he is picturing a wooden implement used to play baseball while the liberal is picturing a nocturnal flying mammal.

Namely, when a conservative says, "I believe that X is a bad thing", the logical action that he assumes follows from this is something like, "Therefore I will not do X" and probably "I will tell my children not to do X". Whether he concludes that any other actions are appropriate is a subject for analysis and debate. He might conclude that he should seek to convince others not to do X also, or he might decide that it's just not important enough or that what others do in this regard is none of his business.

But when a liberal says, "I believe that X is a bad thing", the logical action that he immediately assumes is, "Therefore the government should make X illegal and a new government agency should be formed to fight X in every possible way. Adequate funding must be provided with tax dollars."

For example, when it became clear that smoking was bad for your health: Conservatives concluded, "Therefore I should quit smoking and I will forbid my children from smoking". Liberals concluded, "Therefore I will sue the tobacco companies and pass laws to restrict and ultimately outlaw smoking." Conservatives who are concerned about obesity say, "Therefore I should go on a diet and watch what I feed my children". Liberals say, "Let's pass laws forcing fast food restaurants to stop using transfats and to make smaller hamburgers."

Oh, occasionally conservatives have sought laws banning things that disturbed them. The Republican party was founded on the principle of ending slavery, and today a major conservative effort is to ban the killing of unborn babies. But these things are the exception, generally resorted to only when the conservative concludes that someone is being harmed without having been a willing party to the transaction. Liberals sometimes say that laws against a certain action are inappropriate and this should be left to individual choice -- like when they oppose laws against abortion, to take the flip side of the above example. But this is generally because they don't believe that there is anything wrong with the targeted action to begin with. I'm hard pressed to think of a case where liberals say, "We agree that X is a serious moral evil, but nevertheless it should be left to individual choice." Rather, when they oppose a restrictive law, they usually say, "You say X is a serious moral evil, but I really don't see anything wrong with it, and so it should be left to individual choice." Of course if you see nothing wrong with an action, you will see no reason to make it illegal. The simple proof of this is that in such cases, liberals sometimes go so far as to say that calling it evil should be a crime, like when they pass "hate crime" laws to forbid criticizing homosexuality.

So when a conservative says, "I think that spending time in prayer and Bible study make me a better person", the liberal assumes that the conservative draws the same implications that the liberal would if he was making such a statement. Namely, the liberal just takes it for granted that the conservative is thinking, "Therefore prayer and Bible study should be required by law". If a conservative says, "I believe that homosexuality is morally wrong and ultimately self-destructive", to the liberal this sounds like he is saying, "Homosexuals should be hunted down and thrown into concentration camps."

Thus, I believe the solution to this problem is to simply foster greater dialog and understanding between liberals and conservatives. If conservatives could understand how inflammatory some of their statements sound to liberals, perhaps they could learn to be more careful in their wording. If liberals could understand that conservatives do not see the world in the absolute terms that liberals do, where every action should either be forbidden or mandatory, with no middle ground for individual responsibility, perhaps they would be less afraid that every statement conservatives make about morality or public affairs is the beginning of a campaign of censorship and tyranny.

An irrelevant but possibly amusing side note: I'm not much of an expert at graphic manipulation. Is it obvious that the picture at the top of this article is a total fake? It just seemed appropriate for this article to have a picture of two people discussing politics while writing on a blackboard. I looked through stock photos I had available and found one of two people writing about chemistry on a blackboard. So I digitally removed all of the chemical diagrams and wrote in political words, which I tried to make look like chalk writing. I tried to make it look like the woman was just finishing writing one of my faked-in words, and fit words around the people and their shadows. I had to tinker with the eraser marks to make them look consistent across both the removed text and added text. And just for fun, I changed the woman's clothes from white to pink and the man's from gray to blueish to give a Republican/Democrat red/blue coloring.

© 2007 by Jay Johansen


Nuzlvke Jul 23, 2014

Health care reform will not occur witohut addressing underlying causes of progressive cost increases and reduced availability. Obamacare only increases redistribution, which even in the short term is unsustainable. It's ironic that his recent offer of amnesty actually serves to exacerbate a principal cause of these issues.I vote to press on. There has to be someone with the courage to speak plainly and lead honestly.

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