I think that if there is anything positive about the outcome of the last election it is that a lot of people have seen how divided the country is, and have started to ask why that is the case. I’ve been enjoying — no that isn’t the right word — I’ve been appreciative of Dave Shearon’s attempts to thresh out and articulate those differences. It’s interesting because I get really angry when I read some of his stuff, but manage (I hope) to let that go somewhat when I write about it. If we were to have this conversation in person, I am sure we would move quickly on to things that we agree upon more. You can no longer afford to have political discussions in the workplace, because if and when they degenerate, they end up ruining working and personal relationships. I don’t know Mr. Shearon, and so this is something I have to worry about less.
Part of his effort, over several recent entries, is to tease out the basic differences between a liberal and conservative worldview. I don’t think this is an effective project, because I have serious doubts about those two categories. This scale is a little better because the authority/autonomy division is especially important, I think. My views on gun ownership, drug legalization, gay marriage, taxation, and a range of other issues appear all over the liberal/conservative map, but tend to group much more clearly on the authority/autonomy scale.
Take, for example, the issue of abortion. I sympathize greatly for those who are against abortion. I myself am against abortion — in most cases I don’t think it is an ethical act — even if I am not particularly religious. Our difference is that I don’t think the government should be in the position of acting on this particular moral opinion. I very much think that what people do, as long as it does not infringe on the health or liberty of others, should not be the concern of government. Of course, by breathing and charging rent and driving a SUV we tread on the health and liberty of others; it’s just a question of where we are willing to draw that line.
Part of the problem here is that I do not weigh each person’s opinion equally when it comes to public issues. I am not likely to value someone’s opinion when it is based on the authority of God — or more exactly, his interpreters — rather than on reason. It turns out that many of the moral conclusions that we reach will be similar to those taken as faith by the religious (perhaps that is why we are blessed with reason), but this is not always the case. And I will admit to having a very strong favoritism toward reason and against accepted authority. Or perhaps, what I mean to say, is that I trust distributed authority more than I do concentrated authority.
That is not to say, to use Mr. Shearon’s words, that God’s guidance can’t be implemented socially through democratic institutions, it’s just the “through” part that I think we differ on. I think that it is necessary for those who wish to see Judeo-Christian values reflected in American government to translate this into the universal language of reason for them to be accepted. I don’t think anyone holds Mr. Bush’s faith against him, any more than they hold Mr. Kerry’s faith against him. But they do expect each of them to reflect on their personal faith, and represent their morals in a reasoned way. “Because the bible says so,” is not good enough to guide policy, as far as I am concerned.
Mr. Shearon also suggests that “Liberals seek egalitarian outcomes; conservatives seek fair systems.” I’ve already commented on this on his blog, but my personal feeling is not this. The dictum “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs,” is not something that I am particularly devoted to. On the other hand, because I see capitalism as a basically unfair system (mainly because it affords unfair advantages to those born with a silver spoon), I do support egalitarian outcomes within particular basic human needs. I think all Americans should receive basic healthcare, food, shelter, and education. I think the costs of not providing these basic needs to all of our people is substantial. Beyond basic sustenance, I see no reason why there should not be those willing to take risks and work for more comfortable lives.
One of the reasons I felt so ambivalent about the two presidential candidates this year is that I didn’t think either of them represented my view that we should increase personal freedom. Both were in favor of big government and big business, and I think that these two forces (along with big religion) are antagonistic to the small beauty that makes up America.
The other side of this is that, at least personally, Bush rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps his public persona is very different from his private persona, but I doubt it. He seems uninterested in knowing more about the world around him, and doesn’t appear to be accepting of ideas that he does not already own. On the few issues on which he has “flip-flopped” (including gay marriage), he doesn’t appear to have changed his mind guided by a reasoned, ethical decision, but rather in order to pander to a powerful voting block. His communicative style makes me think he is someone who doesn’t like to have real conversations, who does not like to be challenged. In this, I think he differs from his father. While I did not like the senior Bush, I also did not have the personal antagonism that I feel toward “W.”