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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cousin Vinnie--Between Past and Future

An addendum to my blog of yesterday.

Cousin Vinnie and I are the same age. Both third generation European immigrants (i.e. white), both raised Roman Catholic in big cities. He went into the Marines. I went into the Jesuit seminary. We both left those callings to enter the world of housing and community development.

For some reason we diverged in the yellow wood. I don't think it was because he grew up in California and I in Cleveland and Detroit. But we have very different values and so we see what is happening in society and the world differently. And so of course having very different descriptions of our present problem, we have very different prescriptions for its cure. Different prognoses call for different diagnoses.

Vinnie is past-oriented. He sees the best days for Church, society, and nation are over and must be restored. I on the other hand am future-oriented. I criticize the acts of repression and injustice of Church, society, and nation and am excited that newcomers are acknowledging that and trying to repair the hurt. (Reparations? Yes.) He deplores the changes that are taking place in philosophy, theology, technology, culture, politics, and science. I am excited by them.

Vinnie is a rural living, gun-toting, God-fearing, church-going, man's man who is uncomfortable with gays in the military, people speaking Spanish instead of English, young people living together, sexual freedom, and godlessness. He would rather women would stay women, i.e. taking care of the household, going to church with covered head, and stop sleeping around. He wants to go back to an idealized 50's when things were clear--strong military, cold war, freedom vs. communism, religious certainty, uninhibited free market capitalism, no hand-outs except by those who were inclined to provide charity.  "The Way We Never Were," as one author put it.

He tends to see the world going to hell and so is pessimistic. I tend to see the world working itself out and so am optimistic. He hopes in a restoration. I hope in a transformation. He feels the need for a gun to protect himself and his property from bad guys. I don't because I'm not worried about bad guys and don't care if they take my property. He fears loss. I anticipate gain. We are very different in attitude and values.

However, I do believe that we have some common values or we would not be able to talk with and enjoy each other--which we are.  And then I think that all human beings, unless they are very, very sick or very, very constrained, can discover values that they have in common with all other human beings and those values come right out of our common humanity, our intrinsic human dignity, our shared empathic capacity (whether you want to attribute that to the Fatherhood of God as the priests teach or to natural selection as the evolutionary psychologists teach).

Both Cousin Vinnie and I are between past and future.  We need to learn from and bring forward the values of the past--the classics in thought, art, history. But we also need to welcome in an unknown future and the new ideas and new people who are bringing in the future. That's hard for old, white, men like us who are used to seeing things our way and think we know what is truth, justice, and the American Way. Its hard for us to see that restoration and transformation often go hand in hand and to let go of our desire for control. But both we restorationists and we progressives need to hear each other, respect each other's fears and anxieties, know each others stories, if we are to continue to renegotiate the social contract that makes us We the People.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Conservative vs Liberal -- Again!

Pew did another poll on liberals and conservatives published in the Washington Post. The poll tries to demonstrate the continuing polarization between "red" and "blue" even in geography. (Read it by clicking on this link.)

Here are the comments I sent to the Post:

The "liberal" vs "conservative" view is too simplistic. And polls like this, while interesting, feed this simplemindedness. For example, I am very liberal, even libertarian, when it comes to cultural (religious, personal, lifestyle) concerns. And indeed I love diversity and walkable urban living. On economic concerns, I am not a liberal, but a democratic socialist (though the two are often mistakenly confused), working that all people have at least the minimum for life's necessities to be self-reliant and so not needing charity. But in the public/political realm I consider myself a republican conservative, working for the creation of publics, smaller communities whereby people organize themselves through traditional institutions to hold government, banks, Wall street, corporations, unions accountable. On the last point I can make peace and take action with many a "tea-partier."

I have a cousin whom I will call "Vinnie." I carry on a conversation with him because he identifies himself as a "true conservative" and a "tea-party Fox News follower." And I do want his opinion since he represents so many of my fellow citizens with whom I want to live and work.

I do not think he is a true conservative at least in the best of the conservative tradition beginning with Edmund Burke and containing Russell Kirk, Alexander Hamilton, John Kekes, and Barry Goldwater. Nor do I think he is a republican (as I define the word in the American Jeffersonian and DeToqueville republican tradition since he is a staunch Republican party follower and wants to purge those who are Republicans in Name Only.

He thinks that President Obama is a "socialist" who, in my estimation, is not at all, at least in the American democratic socialist tradition of Eugene Debs and Michael Harrington. Obama is more in the social democratic tradition of Roosevelt and Johnson. There are of course many variants and meanings of socialism. But, once health insurance is provided to all (and I hope that Obamacare will be corrected to do that), I too think that we have come to the limits of social democratic, big government programs. I would rather like to focus on a real overhaul of our tax and benefit system which now favors the wealthy (trickle-down economics), rather than innovation from below, and of our military-industrial complex which constantly pushes us into military conflict to protect transnational corporations. 

Also I see Vinnie as more of an anarchist or libertarian in economic matters, which he confuses with cultural values and with political strategy where he is very anti-government (though that may be because of a personal experience when he was trying to build a business through government contracts and found the rules overwhelming.) He is certainly not a libertarian in culture since he opposes any immigration reform that will provide a path to citizenship (which he calls "amnesty") and believes the country is going to hell because of changing values around women's freedom of choice (abortion), the acceptance of homosexual activity (which he considers a sin against God and nature), and the tolerance of both atheism and other religions outside Christianity (especially Islam).

Obama personifies all that to him: socialism, sexual libertarianism, Islam, breakdown of Christian values, big government, union support, restrictions on personal liberty through gun control. He quoted a church-going lady who said that Obama is "Satan." He thinks that America's problems will be solved when we get Obama and the Democrats out of office which he sees happening at the next election. (He also predicted that Harry Reid would not be elected nor would Obama at the last election.)

Cousin Vinnie, like many Americans, does not see the nuances within and between cultural values, economic systems, and political strategies. He would rather call names and affix blame or just say "no," rather than work out the complexities and compromises that are required of a post-industrial social order. I know because whenever I discuss these complexities he thinks I am word-weaseling to disguise my socialism, liberalism, progressivism and Democratic Party affiliation. For him, like a good football game, there can only be two sides and one will win and the other lose. He often refers to his side vs. my side--which of course makes no sense to me. (That apocalyptic viewpoint also is demonstrated in the Pew poll and I saw it among the lefties in relation to Bush Jr.) 

However, he is not close-minded, like many "true-believers," for he continues to read and also converse with people like me. And I am thankful for that because it forces me to resist the polarization demonstrated in the Pew poll.

Even though the founders tried to avoid political parties because of their trivialization of republicanism, parties coalesced the Hamiltonian "factions" and grew from the beginning. The Party system is our inheritance and slick marketing with new advertising skills requires big bucks. This makes the polarization complete. Because I supported Obama and campaigned for him, I get so much nonsense, e.g. "gotcha" stuff, from the Democratic Party which I simply delete.  I studiously avoid watching FOX News and MSNBC. I read both thoughtful "liberal" and "conservative" columns in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. PBS and NPR are largely my source of news, though I also read the Nation, Yes, and the Economist--and I suppose that makes me "liberal" in the eyes of "conservatives" and "conservative" in the eyes of "liberals." 

I know Vinnie gets a lot of silly stuff because he often sends it on without fact-checking it. But at least now he asks if it is true. That means he is thinking. To me that is the salvation of the nation. To think for oneself and to continually learn from others. To know that we really do not know, but are searching together for the best way, based on our highest human values evident in our very thinking human nature.  Does that make me a "progressive?" I suppose so--but that simply means to me that we can always do better together and we owe it to ourselves to do so.