Friday, November 04, 2005

Cause & Effect: The Human Condition

What kind of people are liberals? For that matter, what kind are not? We run around in our daily ambits discovering who we are and with whom we can have civilized conversations. We find that conservative people either like us in spite of our liberalism, or they cannot abide our company because we are liberals. We wonder why.

A liberal is a person who, when asked if there is a solution to a societal problem, quickly says, "yes there is." By comparison, though, when you ask a true conservative they will more likely than not say "Well, there may be a solution, but I would not trust a government with the power to effect the solution."

The liberal might then respond, "Well, Conservative, what is the problem you have with government? Is it the long history of English (and other monarchs) that bothers you, or is it something intrinsic to democracy that makes you nervous?"

The conservative will probably say, "Well, yes, the history of monarchies and governments in general is the history of individual liberties being crushed by the actions of arrogant people in government, so I just don't trust governments. As for democracy, if there were such a thing, I would be afraid of it. The problem with democracies is that the poor will vote themselves money from the rich."

"Really," says the liberal, "and when did you notice the poor voting themselves into riches?"

"Have you never heard of welfare?" responds the conservative.

"Yes, but I have never heard of anyone getting rich from AFDC or any welfare program. I think your notions of welfare and democracy are in error."

"As you know, Mr. Liberal, the American form of government is a 'republic,' a 'representative democracy.' This form keeps the will of the greedy masses at one remove from legislation, administration, and the conduct of judicial proceedings. People with merit and experience are elected to 'represent' both their constituents and the nation generally. It keeps things moderate and on an even keel. That's why I am proudly a Republic-an. Get it?!"

"I understand," replied the liberal patiently. "What do you suppose is the reason there are poor people and criminals, anyway?"

"Well, those are two different questions, Mr. Liberal, but I suppose the reasons are not too far apart in many cases. The poor are lazy and/or stupid. Most of those people are born that way and it's not my job to hand them a living. As for criminals, well, some people are just bad inside. They do not care about the rights of others ... and they are too lazy to do anything the honest way ... so they lie, cheat, steal, and murder to get what they want. I suppose you think it is a problem with their environment! Hah!"

"Yes and no, Mr. Conservative. Poor people are poor because they cannot amass enough value (money, goods, or credit) to get themselves and their families past the threshold of poverty. They keep slipping back because they cannot solve the elementary problems of personal economy. They cannot earn enough to feed, clothe, and shelter their families. They typically short change their education in the process. Sometimes they are born into it, inherit it from their parents, and continue the same behaviors and poor judgement that did not serve their parents well either. (You see, of course, how it is a problem of education.) Sometimes they fall into poverty because of sickness, war, accidents, death of family members, etc. Sometimes they lose their jobs because of decisions made by people they do not even know, who did not bother to consult with them about it and plan for it. People in continuous poverty probably are depressed psychologically, too."

"Typical liberal! Always looking for outside causes instead of fastening the blame where it belongs—on the individual person!"

"Well, yes, we liberals do look for causes. We think that the long history of human life on this planet is the interplay of human will or spirit and 'causes,' some natural, some social, but always the effect you see is the result of some cause you can discover. We believe in science and the ability of humans to understand things based on evidence."

The conservative sees an argument about evolution lurking in the background and walks away still convinced that liberals are golldarned fools and spend thrifts. The idea of evidence will not sink in for another generation.

Liberals wake up in the morning believing that there are things citizens and governments can do to make life more healthy, comfortable, and rewarding for everyone. The words "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are meaningful to liberals. Liberals do not believe that people are intrinsically bad and generally not to be trusted. In fact, they believe that given trust, most people will respond positively to it. To put it another way, Liberals believe in humanity; they have a positive feeling about the potential of virtually every person. Liberals understand that occasionally a person will make big mistakes or even less often deliberately decide to violate the law and social practices and taboos. Liberals do not believe that people like these establish the rule; they are the exceptions and should be dealt with as exceptions. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that truly good people are the exception, like saints, and that society must be organized to deal with the lazy, indolent, greedy, lying, cheating, fornicating masses.

Modern society is complex. We find nearly everyone speeding in their automobiles, fibbing about being too sick to go to work, fantasizing about sex with someone already committed to another, and a whole host of minor infractions of the social compact. We call the sum of these infractions and the reasons for them the "human condition." We do not give up, though, we just understand that there is an appropriate social pressure to put on each issue. The appropriate social pressure is determined by understanding the causes and effects of the infractions. Liberals understand that if the causes and effects of infractions are outside the compass of somebody's mythology, the fault is not of the society or of liberalism, but of the mythology.

James R. Brett