Sunday, February 26, 2012

An odd mix I am (for an American)

Time for some navel gazing.

So I got caught up in a political conversation the other day and it had me thinking.

One of the most striking differences, it seems to me, between liberals and conservatives is their understanding of how individuals and their societies interact and affect each other. Liberals instinctually tend to believe that individuals, their actions and their thoughts, are heavily influenced by the societies and material circumstances they inhabit and consequently if you seek to change an individual’s behavior you need to work at the societal and economic level.

Conservatives instinctually tend to believe that societal problems are the cumulative result of poor choices by individuals. Consequently if you want to change behavior you need to lay out a clear moral code and then hold individuals accountable to it.

In practice most people, whether instinctually conservative or liberal, however believe the other side’s argument to some extent. This is a good thing. Most liberals still believe that individuals cannot entirely blame society or their poverty when they make poor choices. And most conservatives recognize that economics and societal pressures do, whether they like it or not, affect individual’s choices.

Another common difference between liberals and conservatives is the former’s tendency to have a more inclusive, malleable, and pragmatic ethical worldview and the later to have a more traditional, legalistic, and theoretical one.

I confess that I find my personal worldview mixes this all up however. While generally having a conservative tendency to focus on individual agency I also have a pretty liberal ethical worldview.

This gets me in trouble with liberals because they sense I lack their enthusiasm for fighting against socio-economic injustices and it makes me personally uncomfortable to associate with conservatives who I find to be dogmatic and intellectually lazy.

You might call me socially liberal and fiscally conservative but that doesn’t quite do me justice. I’m not just fiscally conservative ( though I am), I am also socially conservative to the extent that I tend to be believe that people have a lot more agency than liberals give them credit for and yet I also believe that ethical rules are heavily culturally and socially constructed, and in fact should be.

Luckily however the liberal and conservative paradigms as I have outlined them above are really only appropriate for the USA and possibly Europe. Here in Africa and also in Asia the picture is not the same. Liberals and even conservatives don’t really exist and the West’s inability to recognize this has got us into a lot of problems I think. But that’s the topic for a different blog post.


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