On a libertarian-leaning blog, a usually rational and interesting poster made this comment:
It’s all so pointless. We will never convince the majority of people to embrace liberty, instead of looking to government to be Mommy. At least not until government fails so badly that its incompetence is made clearly manifest. And even if that happens, I suspect that the majority of the electorate will look for a man on a white horse, rather than freedom, and the responsibility for their own lives. There’ll always be a cohort that thinks government could do everything for everyone if only the right people were running it. And, it seems, quite a lot of people will listen to them.
Arguing with progressives is pointless, too. It’s like arguing with people in a movie theater who won’t stop texting. It’s a waste of time to say anything to them, because if they had a shred of civility or decency, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you’re a Progressive, I just assume at this point that you’re too abysmally stupid to waste time with on reason or debate.
There are some breathtaking assertions there. Progressives are abysmally stupid, don’t use reason, have no shred of civility or decency…all because they have a progressive political perspective. That means, according to this blogger, that progressives refuse to embrace liberty, want government to be mommy, and don’t want to take responsibility for their own lives.
Wow. If people on the right or libertarian side of the isle really believe that about progressives, no wonder they hate us so! Any one who knows me or reads my blog knows that I am a firm believer of people taking responsibility for their lives and choices – students hear that mantra from me all the time – your future is up to you, you can’t blame anyone else. I’m also for liberty – human liberation from all forms of oppression so we can live as freely as possible – as my primary value.
My biggest critique of government programs is that they can create a psychology of dependency which harms those receiving that aid. I don’t think the answer is to cut people off – often when children are involved that would be cruel. But rather right and left should create more effective social welfare programs which are built around community action. Community organizers should be the hub, and those who can should contribute to building community in order to get aid.
I daresay I’m not abysmally stupid either. Yet I’d describe myself as a progressive.
Why are we at a point in this country where the political sides can believe such caricatured images of the other side? I have no doubt that the poster, while perhaps recognizing that he is being a bit over the top and venting, truly believes that progressives oppose freedom and want the government to do everything.
And its not just progressives who get caricatured, the right is often portrayed as heartless, emotion driven nationalists who don’t care about the destruction caused by war, who would love to see the poor suffer, don’t care about pollution in our rivers, or the potential damage caused by global warming. They just want what they can get, selfishly consuming with no regard for others. I know lots of conservatives, and that caricature doesn’t fit any of them.
But how to get past this kind of rhetoric? One way is to think of the concept of freedom. I submit that both right and left generally have freedom as a primary value. Neither has it as the only value, otherwise they’d oppose all laws. For each having a stable and effective community is also important. So perhaps part of the difference is how they draw that line. Both might agree that a police force is necessary to maintain order, but they might disagree on health care.
From the left: not having health care denies the poor (nearly 50 million) true freedom because they are more likely to avoid seeking health care and may die or suffer, they are vulnerable to health cost bankruptcies, and their children are less likely to receive quality care, and thus do not have equal opportunity. Universal health care enhances freedom.
From the right: having guaranteed health care denies the wealthier true freedom by taking their tax dollars, and mandatory insurance does not allow them to opt out. Universal health care harms freedom.
OK, you know what – there are ways to understand where both sides are coming from. Yet the two sides usually shout at each other (I think the right shouts and ridicules the left far more than the reverse, but I understand that could be a biased perception) and don’t stop to think that their disagreement is not about core values, but how the system functions.
The left tends to view freedom in two ways: 1) negative freedom or freedom from external; and 2) positive freedom, or the possession of the resources and power to fulfill ones goals. Poverty, lack of education, lack of health care, structural barriers hindering the capacity to achieve ones goals (racism, etc.) all limit freedom. Often these limits come from the way society is structured, whereby the wealthy elite achieve more positive freedom at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged.
The right tends to view liberty as simply not being hindered by laws or external restraint. Maximum freedom is when external constraint is non-existent. Because people are not angels, you have to have some laws to prevent overt exploitation, but while the left sees structural exploitation as the problem, the right (or libertarians) tend to focus purely on actual physical violence. The religious right also sees a role for laws to protect basic traditions and customs.
Again, there are solid arguments for each. The right has an agent-based view of human relations – society is the result of individual choices that each actor is responsible for. The left has a structure-based view: society is structured in a way that empowers some and disadvantages others.
The fact is that neither extreme view can be correct. No one can deny that structure matters – it takes a lot more effort to make it out of rural poverty or a ghetto to be successful than it does from a wealthy suburban family. Even though its possible for both, one is more likely to be successful than the other. But it is possible for both – structure doesn’t determine everything, one can make choices to rise from poverty to become successful.
So reality is somewhere in the middle – and that means that disagreements on the nature of freedom are legitimate, one doesn’t have to dismiss the other side as opposing liberty. It’s too bad that as a society we’re more likely to ridicule the other side and caricature them than actually discuss these issues. Because frankly, the US is facing numerous problems and neither side has the power to simply implement their “solution.” We either sink or swim together.