Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The creation of a "liberal"


Point one: I'm not a "liberal," really. I'm philosophically and morally conservative.

Point two: I get called "liberal" because I don't accept the arguments about the alleged "good" of capitalism. Of course, even "liberal Democrats" in America accept those arguments. Strange world we live in.

The root issue, it seems to me, is that I really believe that we as a society have an obligation to take care of our weakest members -- those who cannot take care of themselves. And I believe that capitalism resembles the card game we used to play: "Poverty," a game in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The game is rigged to the advantage of those who are already winning. It is VERY difficult for a person who has been dealt a bad hand to EVER rise to the top of the heap.

And that's what capitalism seems to do: those of us who grew up in privilege -- in good, American middle class homes -- have lots of advantages. I'm grateful that I received a good education, that I had enough motivation (just barely!) to work hard enough in college to succeed; that my Christian parents and my church instilled in me not only a half-way decent work ethic, but the values that made me want to do "something meaningful" with my life.

But what about the people who didn't have those advantages? Unfortunately, I've seen people -- kids from areas of New York City and Philadelphia that didn't readily welcome white people -- who couldn't see college or a successful career as a real possibility for them. Of course, when working with those kids, we tried to tell them they could be and do anything they really wanted to be or do. Many times they just didn't believe us. We could not make the possibilities we took for granted seem like real options for them. All they could see, much of the time, was a future of poverty and welfare, or crime and an early death.

What made their vision so limited? I don't know all the factors, but it just seemed to them like going to college would be like, well, hitting the lottery. Sure, it could happen. But what are the odds? So, these kids needed help in reshaping their view of the world so that they might actually attempt something we would take for granted. The world they lived in had so conditioned their view of reality and of our society that they could not see my "obvious possibilities" as real for them. The "system" of our society disadvantaged them.

And then we could talk about racism. Most of the kids I'm thinking about were black. A few were Hispanic. They were certain that college was for rich white kids. So, even if we told them that racism didn't really exist in college admissions, they weren't likely to believe it. Even if we told them that racism wouldn't keep them from getting a good job after college, they would be very skeptical. They'd seen examples. Can't argue with history, right?

So, like it or not, I came to believe that some people just really do need a "boost" of some kind, and that some of those "boosts" would have to be in the form of social programs. Not just "giving a handout," but in really trying to help people better their lives, better themselves.

But, I believe it is necessary to do this because, as a Christian, I believe we have an obligation to the poor. We have an obligation to help them help themselves, and if necessary to see to it that they have sufficient food, shelter, and even health care. Does that make me a "liberal"? Whatever. What I'm talking about is conserving a long Christian tradition of taking care of the poor and helping them help themselves. I say that makes me a conservative.