We all have different personalities, parents, backgrounds, educations, and experiences. Consequently we don’t view the world through from same lenses so it is not at all surprising that what we perceive is at least slightly different for all us. However we have a tendency to group people into categories and when it comes to political thinking, two large categories have evolved – conservatives and liberals. (Now I realize that after many years of slander conservatives have managed to make “liberal” into a dirty word in some quarters. Consequently many with liberal tendencies now prefer to call themselves “progressives”. However, the word “liberal” is a proud term and I will use it here.)
Of course since we all have different perspectives none of us view the world in exactly the same way, so all of us fall somewhere on a continuum between extreme conservatism and extreme liberalism with moderates falling somewhere in the middle. We can also occupy different positions on that continuum depending on what we considering. For instance individuals may more be more liberal or conservative on say the minimum wage issue than on the gay marriage issue. If the truth be known each of us probably occupies a different location the conservative/liberal continuum for any issue you can name. However, for most of us our views are fairly consist within each of two major groups of issues, social issues and economic issues. For instance some people may be much more conservative on economic issues and more liberal on social issues, but their stances on issues within each those two major categories are usually at least relatively consistent.
I am going to leave a discussion the economic conservative/liberal continuum for a different day (in part II of this discussion) and explore something that has always fascinated me, the difference those who are social conservatives and those who are social liberals.
In my view the main element which separates social conservatives and social liberals is how they deal with the differences among us. If all Americans came from the same cultural backgrounds, if all had similar economic backgrounds and circumstances, if we all had more or less the same spiritual beliefs, if we had the same basic type and extent of education, if we all had similar personalities, and if we all had very similar aspirations, there would be no need to have this discussion. It is the differences among us and specifically how we deal with those differences which help classify us as conservatives or liberals in the social arena.
One of the main contrasts between social liberals and conservatives is how they view and react to the vast differences in economic backgrounds and circumstances which exist side by side in this country. In the extreme economic circumstance can range from the homeless living on the street to billionaires living in absolute luxury. On a more common level those circumstances may differ between the under educated working poor who struggle to keep their families fed, clothed and sheltered to the upper middle class who can not only afford most luxuries, but can also afford to educate their children at the finest universities. It is in particular it how we view those in lower economic situations than ourselves which separate us into social conservatives and social liberals.
Social conservatives seem to have a strong tendency to take very literally the mantra “In this country everyone can live the American dream if they just try hard enough”. Consequently they also have a strong tendency to view anyone who occupies an economic station lower than themselves as deserving of their fate. They also have a strong tendency view those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder as lazy people who will not work hard to get ahead in life and who want others to support them. They also like to point to the individuals who have managed to fight their way up the economic ladder as examples of what every poor person could do it they just tried hard enough. Conservatives do not seem to be unhappy with or simply ignore the wide gaps in this country between rich and poor as long as they are on the winning side. They usually believe that they fought worked hard for the money that they have earned and they are certainly not inclined to let the government use their tax dollars to support the efforts others of less fortunate then themselves. You can almost hear conservatives say below their breath, “I’ve got mine, it’s up to them get theirs”.
On the other hand social liberals have a tendency to believe that not everyone is born into the same circumstances and that some people are at huge economic disadvantage from the moment of their birth. They understand that children born of parents who do not have the money or education to provide decent environments will struggle to escape the bounds of poverty and a poor education unless they provided with outside assistance from a young age. They know that it is only the very exceptional child who is also exceptionally fortunate who can break through the never ending cycle of extreme poverty and fight his or her way to a better life. Social liberals also understand while it is true that many people have worked hard to attain their economic status, it was their early environment put them on right path. In fact, the children of the very affluent often have so many early advantages it is unusual for such child to fail to have a good life. When considering people in poorer economic circumstances than themselves, social liberals often say, “There but for the grace of God go I”.
Of course people in this country differ in many other ways aside from economical and educational circumstances. People come from different cultures and different ethnic and racial backgrounds, they have different religions and/or spiritual beliefs, they may differ on moral questions, and they may even have different sexual orientations. Social liberals and social conservatives deviate on how they regard and deal these differences.
On matters of religious and spiritual beliefs and moral questions, conservatives have a tendency to believe that they have all of the right answers and that anyone who believes differently from themselves is just flat wrong. For example, there are any number of small conservative religions whose practitioners firmly believe that anyone who is not a member of their sect is going straight to hell, and they obviously can’t all be right. Conservatives, whether they are Christians, Jewish, Muslims, or whatever, also have a strong tendency interpret their religious texts quite literally and when this produces internal conflicts they have the tendency to support the harshest interpretation. For instance while some conservatives place great emphasis on their Christianity, they are more likely to reference harsh quotes from Old Testament rather than more loving examples from the life of Christ. The same is true for very conservative Muslins as we have learned from groups of terrorists who consider any and all who are not of their brand of Islam to be enemies who must be eliminated. What is most disturbing is that far too often conservatives seem to be quite comfortable trying to impose their religious, spiritual and moral beliefs on others, often by trying to incorporate them into our legal system. Examples include laws conservatives attempt to enact in this country to limit women’s control of their reproductive systems and to deny the right to same sex marriage. I think that is interesting that conservative Christians in this country who attempt to enact such laws would certainly object to attempts to by conservative Muslims to impose Sharia Law in some predominately Muslim countries. It’s a shame that they will never admit to the similarities in their actions.
By contrast, while social liberals hold their own religious, spiritual and moral beliefs they are not at all inclined to believe that theirs are the only ones that might be valid and they are therefore they more tolerant of the beliefs of others. Social liberals are usually not inclined to interpret their religious text literally. Liberals, be they Christians, Jews, Muslims or any other religions prefer interpretations of their sacred texts which are more forgiving and tolerant of others. And most importantly, social liberals do not seek to impose their religious, spiritual and moral beliefs on others in any manner.
We could also spend a great deal more time discussing how social liberals and social conservatives also differ in their attitudes and approaches to other differences found in the human condition, but suffice it to say that social liberals are a good deal more tolerant and accepting of people who are different from themselves. By and large social liberals are more accepting of people of different social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds than are social conservatives. Also social liberals are more likely to be generally tolerant and accepting of people of different racial backgrounds and sexual orientation because they are simply more accepting and tolerant of other people in general.
Through out human history social liberals have been more much more likely than social conservatives to accept and embrace new scientific discoveries which challenge societal and religious norms. From Copernicus’ theory that the earth is round and not the center of the universe, to Darwin’s theory of evolution, to the modern day theory of global warming, social conservatives have always chosen the path of denial until the evidence is so over whelming that even they can deny no longer. Even then we could probably find a few “flat earthers” somewhere in world if we looked hard enough. (I explored this subject in depth in my May 22, 2014 post: Global Warming Deniers.)
You obviously don’t have to be a very astute reader to know that I favor social liberals over social conservatives. Nor do you have to be particularly discerning to conclude that I consider myself a social liberal as well. However, for me it is an easy choice. Social liberals have a strong tendency to show concern for others who are less fortunate than themselves, including those that they don’t even know. on the other hand social conservatives demonstrate strong tendencies to be concerned only about themselves, their families and their circle of friends. Social liberals on the other hand want to see everyone given an equal chance to grow and prosper while their conservative opposites are only concerned about their own path to a better life. Social liberals respect the religious and spiritual beliefs of others, while conservatives would often seek to impose their beliefs on others. And the list goes on and on.
So it is not a difficult choice at all to determine which of these is the more likeable group of people.. Think of all the traits to which we generally attributed to good human beings and you will see what I mean. While there are notable exceptions, I don’t think it is any accident that the better educated people are, the more liberal they are likely to be in their thinking.
While generally social liberals are more open and tolerant of others, there is one lesson we need to learn, and it is a hard one. We need to be more tolerant of our conservative friends and associates. After all, they are also products of their upbringings and environments and therefore they are probably not in total control of what they have become.