I was just thinking recently about some political conversations I’ve had over the last little while, and some thoughts came to mind. There’s a number of reasons I’m not a conservative, or a libertarian, or a liberal, really. Here are some of them.
I’m not a conservative, mainly, because I don’t believe in arbitrary authority, or in immutable tradition. Conservatives seem to believe in the need for a hierarchical social order, mediated through strong traditions and values. Without some strong and capable person (typically a male) at the top, running things, nothing productive would get done, and total chaos may soon follow.
But I don’t hold to that. First, there’s a real problem with authority. Namely, people are human. Authority or no authority, we all make mistakes. But a person with power can make mistakes that can affect multitudes of people, whereas a person without power can only make mistakes that affect their immediate self, friends, and family. This is why I can’t ever believe in a monarchy. I mean, a monarchy is great when you have a good leader, when the monarch is intelligent, mature, and happy. But monarchs are human, too, and just as likely as anyone else to be stupid, crazy, corrupt, or evil. And if they’re any one of those things, they’re going to make a mess not just for themselves and their immediate friends and family, but for the entire nation they govern, and quite likely for other nations as well. Heck, even a good ruler can have a bad day, or a bad experience, and make life miserable for the masses as a result.
The same goes for representative governments; at least those where the representatives are chosen by popular vote. Just because someone is charismatic and popular, and/or successful in law or business, does not reduce the chances that he or she is also stupid, crazy, corrupt, or evil. In fact, I’d submit that the chances are higher, because the person has sought out this position of power. It could be that they want to really change things for the better, or it could be that they simply want power for its own sake, because they like pushing other people around or feel that they can benefit personally from the position. If we really must have representative governments, they should be chosen by random lot from the entire population, terms should be limited (as should lobbying), and government (or maybe the whole populace) should have the right to vote to replace (also through random lot) any members who incompetent to the task. No campaign contributions to confuse representatives about who they serve.
The other reason I don’t believe in arbitrary authority is that I reject the idea that people are incapable of looking after themselves. Average people aren’t as stupid, crazy, corrupt, or evil as they’re normally assumed to be by believers in hierarchy. Or rather, they are, but only sometimes. Most of the time, people are pretty level-headed.
Yes, I’m well aware that this disregards a lot of history, and a lot of what you see on the news. But the fact of the matter is, the news, and the history books—all the stuff that journalists and commentators have found worth commenting on—is not an accurate picture of humanity. Watch the evening news in any major city and you’ll hear about another brutal homicide every other night. But what you won’t hear about is the millions of other people who live in that city that did not go out and murder someone that day—the millions of other people who just went out to work that morning, and came home to their families when the day was done. That’s most of humanity, under most circumstances.
Having said that, it’s important to point out that certain conditions can throw a monkey-wrench in that. Put people in a prison—you can even arbitrarily assign them to be guards or inmates—and they’ll start behaving like sadistic guards, and cowed inmates.
Likewise, people tend to listen to authority—even when the authority is telling them to do something horrifying; most people will do it, rather than stand up to that authority figure. If there is a better argument against entrenched authority, I’ve never heard one.
And finally, social hierarchies and widespread inequality are just plain bad for people, and for a nation. When there’s huge inequality in the distribution of wealth in a society, the wealthy tend to live in fear of losing what they have, and the poor tend to suffer tremendous social burdens in terms of physical and mental health, criminality, and a variety of other factors. More unequal countries are also not as innovative as more equal countries. Bottom line: huge class divisions, although Conservatives seem to favour them, are bad for everyone.
As for tradition—well, I’m not a very traditional guy, although I understand the need for it. Tradition can keep people grounded. It lets everybody know what the rules are, and in a perfect world, everybody would follow the rules and nobody would be unhappy. But it’s not a perfect world. Sometimes the rules are unrealistic, or unfair. Sometimes the rules that worked a century ago won’t work in today’s world. Life is change, after all. No matter what traditions you follow, your traditions (and laws) should come up for review every so often, and they should be changed if they get in the way of health and happiness. The rules of law and tradition were made by people. They are tools, and they’re supposed to serve humanity. Humans aren’t supposed to serve their tools.
I should note here, that this is true even if you believe that certain traditions were revealed by God. God may be perfect and limitless, but words are finite, and imperfect. So, even a prophet who encountered God still had to use imperfect words to convey that vision to other people—whether he or she wrote those words down, or used them to teach disciples. So, anything anyone might say or even think about God, or God’s law, is necessarily an incomplete and flawed facsimile of the real thing. Do not confuse the moon with the finger pointing at the moon. If the moon is God, words are the finger; and they’re not the same thing. The traditions revealed in the Bible and the Koran are words about God. They are not God him/her/itself.
This is why we must, in the end, trust our own judgement. We have free will, and we’re expected to use it.
But I digress.
Let’s talk about why I’m not a Liberal. Actually, I am more or less liberal; at least in terms of my values. But I hesitate to identify myself as such, because Liberal political parties are still part of the whole screwed up political game—they seem either too ineffectual, or too willing to maintain the status quo for my liking. I mean, they may differ considerably from Conservatives, but Liberal political parties still want to lead the people, when in fact average people need to start taking responsibility and engaging their communities themselves.
I guess that makes me (frustratedly) apolitical. I don’t believe in political parties at all, really; as if controlling the fate of nations were some prize to be won in regular contests, like the Stanley Cup for lawyers.
As for why I’m not a libertarian… Well, there’s a number of reasons for this, but let’s summarize it with two basic statements:
One, selfishness is not a valid moral position. If all you believe in is your own self-interest, then you’re acting in a moral vacuum. The word “morality” only has meaning when you’re speaking about relationships between feeling beings. I mean, if you lived all alone in your own reality, there would be nothing to tell you what you could or could not do. There’d be no need for morality, because nothing you did would have consequences for anybody but yourself. It’s only in relationship to others that morals can develop.
Now, that doesn’t mean individuals should be slaves to others. It means that a person must balance his or her own interests with the interests of the people around her, even if that occasionally means spending time or money to help out a stranger. What goes around comes around. If no one helped anyone but themselves, we’d still be single-celled organisms.
The second reason I’m not a libertarian is because generally speaking, libertarians seem to want to replace government with the market. As if somehow the aggregate of everyone’s self-interested financial transactions can actually advance the interests of all of us, and not simply the interests of the wealthy and savvy individuals and corporations who know how the market works, and can manipulate it.
I mean, it’s a curious thing in itself, because libertarians don’t generally believe in “society.” That is, they seem to believe that ideas of the common good and social interaction above the level of the individual are all just soothing fictions. And yet somehow the “invisible hand of the market” is something real and trustworthy.
But they’re wrong. I mean, if the market is the aggregate of everyone’s self-interested financial transactions, “society” is just the aggregate of all human decisions, financial or otherwise. Society includes the market, but the market does not encompass all of society. And that’s really the ultimate point here. If libertarians hate government because false authority interferes with freedom, then how can we just replace human authority with market authority? At least a human governmental official can reflect on his or her decisions. The market is just a blind process, and really can’t be trusted to be any sort of guiding force for human life, unless your only interest in this world is financial.
But finance amounts to so little in the course of a human life. It’s the relationships we have with others that have the greatest impact on us as living, feeling people; not the change in our pockets. Likewise, doing the right thing often costs money, or means losing money, or means not making as much money as you might otherwise. There are plenty of things in this world that trump money, and to pretend that something like money is all that matters is the absolute height of hubris. But that’s exactly what modern economics does.
In the end, replacing government / human authority with the market is just another way of avoiding responsibility. That’s the responsibility all human beings share; to make decisions together, through honest and patient discussion. That’s the only real way to ensure both the well-being of society, and the freedom of the individual… all of us must be willing to set aside our differences and work together on solving problems.
But that takes maturity, and courage. It takes people who can really listen, and listen without judgement. Sadly, these are traits that are all too lacking in today’s politics. I feel they’re lacking in all the major political camps, and in the populace too. And we’re paying the price with divisive rhetoric, widespread corruption, and a general sense of apathy and cynicism.
And things definitely won’t get back on track if we try to avoid the responsibility every citizen has to themselves and each other by fixating on leaders or systems which are supposed to solve all our problems for us.
There’s only one way to solve this mess, and that’s for us—you and me and everyone we know—to sit down, shut up, and really listen to what the other guy (or girl) has to say without judging him or putting him down, without being distracted by celebrity gossip or the latest fads or how much better your neighbour’s clothes are, and then to talk it out and keep talking, and keep listening, until we all understand each other. That’s the only way there is to give everyone the best chance at a healthy, happy, free life.