Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sunnis and Shiites... A Young Person's Guide to America's Cultural War

Conservatives and liberals in current day America have grossly disparate views on almost all moral and ethical topics and the debate is rather fascinating in its severity. Each side accuses the other of hypocrisy and dogma. When an argument gets to the point where each side thinks the other is hypocritical, that's an ugly fight... one that probably has no reconciliation in sight. But that's what we've got now. It's almost identical to the differences between Sunnis and Shiites... only it's right here in the Good 'Ol US of A!

I thought that I might write this article with the pretense that it was unbiased, since the original premise was to lay out for my children the main political issues facing Americans. But who's kidding whom? If there's a nice conservative provacateur out there who would like to write the story from the other side, that's probably more valuable.

The key disputes in 21st century America that are defining our social fabric are:

  1. Global Warming (no, not 'climate change" or even precisely "the environment")
  2. Liberals believe that it's likely we are seriously damaging the world and we should do something without waiting for incontrovertible proof. Conservatives don't know what incontrovertible means. Or at least their entire reaction to this issue seems to be one of anti-science, its-not-for-real, head-in-the-oil-sands denial.

  3. The Environment (fooled you, eh?)
  4. Liberals believe that we are already "paying" for damage to the environment and 1) making everyone share the cost is simply a matter of survival, never mind that it's fair; 2) Adding the long-term cost of environmental damage to immediate prices of all energy consumption is simply a smart adjustment to supply-and-demand; 3) environment-enhancing activity doesn't decrease business growth proportionately, it increases it geometrically. We hear over and over that conservatives think environmentalist causes are laughable impediments to economic growth.

  5. Guns
  6. Liberals believe that American gun laws are based on a time long-since past, when the fear of tyranny was perfectly justified. Although the prospect of tyranny is still conceivable, it is not as substantive as the fact that guns have proven, in inner cities in particular, to make homicide so easy that children do it... and even our founding fathers would acknowledge when it's time to change the constitution.

    Conservatives think that guns have nothing to do with the problem and we can solve the problem by just putting all the gun abusers in jail.

  7. Abortion
  8. Conservatives think there's some cosmic moral imperative that lets them decide what other people should do with their bodies.

    Liberals believe that abortion might be ugly but it's not your body. This sort of ugliness happens countless millions of times a day in the natural world, human and animal alike. The fact that we would like to think of ourselves as better than animals is nice but has nothing to do with this issue. Making the abortion issue part of American politics is a totally selfish, pointless, and misdirected position. We have desperately important issues to deal with where our neigbors' business IS our business. Abortion is not one of them.

  9. Welfare
  10. Conservatives think that lazy, cheating, ignorant people are ruining the country and that all government spending encourages the cycle of laziness and corruption.

    Liberals think that there are lazy, cheating, ignorant people in the upper and lower classes in roughly equal proportions. Managing progressive programs requires good work no matter how much or little cheating there is.

  11. Capitalism and Socialism
  12. This is the oft-unspoken undercurrent upon which much of the debate rides. Liberals believe that competition alone does not solve all problems. Capitalism left entirely to its own devices will not react quickly enough to save the environment, and will continue to concentrate wealth in fewer people. And that government spending, while it might require a constant battle against corruption, and a balancing act between entitlement and self-sufficiency, is our strongest tool for improving society. I personally think that the US Government---despite all the jokes about its inefficiency---is the most accomplished organization in the history of the world, welfare notwithstanding.

    Conservatives are simply scared by the word socialism. Not a thought is running through their minds other than repeating over and over again that all socialist regimes fail. They don't happen to understand that the highways they drive their Hummers and pickup trucks on are our "socialist" goods... and that managing where to draw the line is a never-ending choice, not a black-and-white issue.

  13. Immigration
  14. This is one of the trickier issues. I don't know if the diametric extreme points of view represent liberals or conservatives accurately. Liberals believe that we should try to let people from other countries into America as much as possible since so many Americans are themselves immigrants. All but "native" Americans are immigrants. Conservatives think immigration is out of hand. But I think you'll find a lot of liberals, who think as I do that our borders should be completely controlled... especially now that the world has gotten it into the lack-of-security state it has. And if our society is based on taxation to support our social infrastructure, then clearly all immigrants should be working in the tax system. One thing's clear: it's hypocritical to have tolerated the entry of millions of immigrants and let employers hire them with impunity, and now act as if it's the immigrants' fault.

  15. The Death Penalty
  16. When you can figure out how to make the legal process infallible, let's talk. Until then there's no issue here. (My personal position is this: I'm not totally against the death penalty. I think that the criteria for it should be stronger than "reasonable doubt." There should be three components corresponding to "past, present, and future" criteria: a past life dominated by crime, a present crime of "inconceivable doubt," and a future marked by little potential for contributing to society.)

  17. Homsexuality
  18. Everything that was stated about abortion is exactly the same for homosexuality. No matter how much it might offend you, it is not important. If you want to live in a country where such matters are state policy, go to a fascist regime. The real issue is that the government should get out of the business of providing tax incentives or legislating insurance technicalities based on marriage. People should be able to declare their benficiaries and guardians irrespective of marital laws. Tax incentives, if any should be based on declaring others as dependents; nothing else.

  19. Drugs

    There have always been and will always be intoxicants and people to complain about them. Get over it. What matters is whether our society offers its people enough alternatives to a life of drug sales and addiction.

That's it. When we're not aghast at the barbarity perpetrated by Sunnis and Shiites against one another, we mock them for the seeming monstrosity of their entrenched differences. But we're quickly on our way to such a rift ourselves. Are you a Sunni or a Shiite?


Owen said...

I agree with you on every issue. It's nice to hear I am not the only one thinking this way. And great to hear you expand on them.

However, I don't see that liberals and conservatives are like sunnis and shiites.

I heard Steven Pinker on radio a couple years ago say he was working on a book about our political thinking and the brain or something like that. He touches on this topic in his book "Blank Slate".

I think there must be concrete explanations for why some people are wired liberal and others conservative.

Unfortunately I have not heard anything from him on this topic since.

Owen said...

Followup on my previous post:

What do you know.

A google on "Pinker liberal" led
me to his awesome article
"The Moral Instinct" in the Jan 13,
2008 New York Times Magazine.

Extract from fifth page of eight:

"The ranking and placement of moral spheres also divides the cultures of liberals and conservatives in the United States. Many bones of contention, like homosexuality, atheism and one-parent families from the right, or racial imbalances, sweatshops and executive pay from the left, reflect different weightings of the spheres. In a large Web survey, Haidt found that liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five."

I don't want to be too quick to let conservatives "off the hook", but I know not all are "bad" and I think this line of thinking is worth pursuing.