Friday, January 19, 2007

Why I am a Moderate

Note: A HUGE thanks to Genghis Conn for submitting this post and for linking my blog to Connecticut Local Politics. I know that he's been quite busy moving Connecticut Local Politics from one provider to another in the past couple of weeks. Readers, please be sure to check out Connecticut Local Politics to get the latest. An A+ to Genghis for the allusion to Shakespeare.

By Genghis Conn

I have had a lot of people ask just what, exactly, is wrong with me. My friends on the left tell me that they understand Republicans and hardcore conservatives, but they don't understand me. Their ideological enemies have, after all, made up their freakin' minds. I apparently have not.

If only it were that simple. However, there's a lot more to moderation than just paralyzing indecision. In fact, moderation is the ultimate freedom--which can be, in the way that freedom is, both exhilarating and scary.

Since a lot of references to Shakespeare appear on this site, I think I'll draw one to illustrate my point. Romeo and Juliet is a play about, in part, a society torn between two poles. It is only Friar Laurence, the wise old priest, who can move freely in both worlds. Here is, perhaps, a guiding philosophy:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain'd from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified. (II.ii)

He's speaking about plants, but rightly compares them to men a few lines later. The world, for Friar Laurence, is not light and dark, good and evil, absolute right and wrong, but a complex mix of all of these things. Romeo and Juliet, when they speak, give us images of light and dark, while Laurence speaks of mixes, grays. Perhaps a better way of summing up this philosophy is what Laurence says to Romeo a few moments later:
Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.

And so I live my life, and practice my politics. Terrible things can happen when we try to move too quickly, without first considering the merits of what we're doing or the possible consequences. Neither those on the far left nor the far right believe me when I say that we can't force social change, and that real, substantial change is generational and not instantaneous. But it's true.

The period we live in now is a conservative one, and a deeply conservative one at that. We may have just found the bottom of it now, with this past election. However, this conservative trend didn't come from nowhere--it was born partly because of the social and fiscal excesses of the 1960s and 1970s--which in turn came from the deep repression of the 1950s, and so on. History can sometimes seem like Newton's laws--there can be no action without an equal and opposite reaction.

If you're interested in philosophy, I think Hegel was essentially correct when he proposed the idea of the dialectic (although that term and idea was later warped by Marxists). Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. If the social revolutions of the 1960s and later were the thesis, the period we are in now is antithesis.

I work for synthesis--the combination of the two into something new and better. I believe we're starting to come into that future now, although we may not really get there until all those who bear the scars of those old social revolutions are out of power. This is why I like Barack Obama. He was too young for Vietnam.

We, too, are a sharply divided society. We segregate ourselves--associating with fewer and fewer people who have different perspectives and ideas. The internet is a good example of this. The most popular and influential sites subscribe to one ideology or the other--and they are obsessed, as is often the case with radicals, with orthodoxy within the ideology.

This is pointless. What progress is really made, except among the members of the group? Intelligent governance requires compromise and thoughtful consideration, not ideology and orthodoxy.

That's what moderation is about. Compromise and discussion. A moderate like Friar Laurence can see that everything is a mix of good and bad, and that neither ideological pole is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. I, for example, embrace a smart fiscal conservatism while at the same time championing a cautious social liberalism.

Yet a word of caution for moderates can be seen in Romeo and Juliet: Friar Laurence, when confronted with Romeo's exile, cooks up a perfectly dreadful plan that will theoretically end with no one being angry or finding out about Romeo and Juliet's marriage. He's going to have Juliet drink something that makes her appear dead, then spirit her out of Verona after the funeral. This is a dumb idea, but it's all Friar Laurence can think of. It's very complexity invites something to go wrong, which of course it does (the message never gets to Romeo). Then, worst of all, when Romeo lies dead and Juliet awakes in the tomb, Laurence is so paralyzed that he can do nothing except walk away, leaving Juliet alone with a convenient knife.

The lesson is clear. Be moderate in all things--moderation itself included. Don't be afraid to act and be bold when the situation requires it, and to seek compromise and caution in other times.

It's the ultimate freedom. I can decide and act as I like--no ideology commands me, and I'm free to make up my own mind. That, above all else, is why I am a moderate.

1 comment:

truebluect said...

Genghis, after reading your diary over at 1%, once again I am forced to ask myself, what the heck do you believe in? Anything?

Politically speaking, I believe that every working person in America should have basic health coverage. Not platinum care. But a safety net. Even if they wait tables or mop floors for $20,000/year or less. What kind of a society are we when pretend health coverage is anything but basic to the equation?

I believe Iraq is humpty-dumpty, and that no more expenditure of American lives is going to overcome the fact that our perceived occupation of an Islamic country is making America less safe, not more safe. (I have no desire to hide from this truth by sending more young Americans away from their families, with many of them never to return to their loved ones.)

I believe Global Warming is something we need to tackle NOW, not according to your tomorrow. Sure, a tipping point might not be imminent, but we are doing taking chances when it comes to the health of our planet?

I believe the very rich in this country have an utterly incredible deal at the moment. And yes, I believe they should be paying more taxes, to the benefit of the greater good. This isn't some tax-the-rich scheme as you might describe. This is basic economic fairness as against a return to the Robber Baron age. I mean have you seen the way Teresa Heinz Kerry lives? What did she do to enjoy such a life of extreme leisure?

What burns me up is that you want to discount my beliefs as "ideology". You want to pretend I am somehow commanded by rank partisanship, and not conviction. It just makes me feel sorry for you. What is your "moderation", but an excuse to sit on the sidelines? If you were ever to act boldly on any political belief, I might have more respect you. But your commitment to non-commitment is a joke.

Going back 150 years, I can safely say most of us would have been proud abolitionists. A few of our right-wingers would have argued for their property rights. And you Genghis Conn would have been moderately confused!