I often ponder the dynamics of right and left in politics. I think it is a false dichotomy. It is a polarity rather than a dichotomy. By that I mean that one is not right and the other wrong. Both are necessary for a balanced society. When I have a little more time I will tell you about a theory of polarities I learned in the late eighties that changed my life!
For now, I’ll comment that one essential difference I see between conservatives and liberals has to do with their view of human nature. Conservatives have a more pessimistic view of human nature. They focus on the individual and tend to locate social problems like poverty and crime in individuals. That is, there is something corrupt, evil, lazy or (add your own negative characteristic) in certain individuals and that is the problem. Solutions to problems involve changing individuals, particularly through negative means such as punishment and deterrence rather than incentives (other than profit). They tend to believe, for example, that if a person is poor it is because he or she is lazy or has some other flaw in their make-up. Social programs to help these people are seen as simply making them more lazy and dependent.
Liberals have basically an optimistic view of human nature. They believe that if they are given opportunities, education and sometimes a break, most people want to live good, healthy and productive lives. Problems like crime and poverty are seen as the result of unjust social structures and policies rather than defects in individuals. Liberals favor policies that share wealth more fairly, that provide a safety net and a leg up so that individuals can realize their natural potential. For crime, liberals emphasize treatment and rehabilitation.
So which view of human nature is correct? Well, it seems to me that there is truth in both views. There are some who commit crimes who respond very well to a second chance and to rehabilitation. For these people long, punitive sentences under harsh conditions do more damage than good and actually reduce the chances of success. But there are some who do not respond to rehabilitation efforts of any kind.
The reason I call this a false dichotomy is that the two sides stand apart and shout at each other when a constructive dialogue might produce better solutions. I am suspicious of all ideologies. Ideologies are seductive because they claim to explain everything in simple terms. Their effect is to make their adherents blind to all the realities that conflict with their simple package.
A huge part of the spiritual journey, I believe, is awareness, curiosity. Genuine wisdom seeks to understand reality in all its complexity and to orient one’s life with those realities. An ideology sets itself up as a God, an idol. Faithfulness to the cause is all important. And often great damage is done by ignoring the truth that is contained in the opposing view.
In the US today, the political process seems to have been reduced to shouting ideologies where actual listening or respectful dialogue is seen as weakness and capitulation to evil. In my own country the fight is not as extreme but the same dynamics are operating. How, oh, how can we restore a sense of civil, public dialogue about the things that matter?