Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"Top 10 Liberal Hypocrisies" Considered (1b): Definitions of "liberal" and "conservative"

One quick final comment about the labels "liberal" and "conservative": they are useless.  Utterly worthless.  They really say nothing about the one being labeled except he/she is to the right/left of the one labeling.  In other words, all they do is point out that the labeler believes that the one being labeled "conservative" seems to be to the "right" of the labeler, or that the one being labeled "liberal" is to the "left" of the labeler.  They say more about the labeler than the labeled.

And as pointed out above, the labels can be very misleading, and since they are typically used polemically, their function is mostly to stir up prejudice rather than to clarify arguments or positions.

Here's why I added this note: I've asserted my conservatism before, and some of my politically "conservative" friends have ignored it and simply responded by saying that they see nothing "conservative" in my positions.  Go figure.  Of course, I don't care.  I really don't.  I don't care where I fall on the political spectrum, or whether I'm to someone else's "right" or "left."  It's meaningless.  Why?  Because I'm a Christian.  That is my one allegiance -- both in my life and in my political, moral or philosophical arguments (not to mention theological!).

So, when politicians tout their "conservative credentials," I just have to laugh.  It's nothing more than a marketing ploy -- an emotional appeal that they hope will garner support from people who actually vote.  It's philosophically untenable and in fact dead wrong if one cares to examine the claim.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

"Top 10 Liberal Hypocrisies" Considered (1): Definitions of "liberal" and "conservative"

I'm sometimes told that I'm a "lightning rod."  I do seem to be able to create discussion ex nihilo, more or less.  I've posted Bible verses that started arguments, for crying out loud!  So, I do have my critics, and now and then some of them like to send me pieces that they think will convert me from my evil "liberal" ways to good Christian conservatism.  I read these, and I think about them.  The one I'm going to consider here in a series of posts was actually sent to me by my wife who over the years has started to consider me a little less crazy than she used to do.  (Or so I think; the truth is that I've become more "lefty" over the years.)  She saw this posted on Fb a few times so for some strange reason decided I should see it.

Now, I don't know the author, but the piece is posted on a site called "The Patriot Update: A Free Press for the Conservative Revolution."  You can read it all in one piece there if you like.  I'm going to post it in smaller chunks as I consider each of its alleged discoveries of hypocrisy in order.  This is the first installment.

Some initial clarification is in order.

First, I don't consider myself a liberal at all.  I know a lot of people see me as one, but I've written about this before.  Philosophically I'm a conservative.  I'm going to attempt a brief explanation here.

What does it mean to be a "conservative"?  It means to conserve something -- to believe that conserving this thing is important and to work to do so.  When we use the term "conservative" we're usually talking about certain traditional "values" that we think are important -- like marriage, life, honesty, etc.: "conservative values."  Why do we think these things are important?  Can we prove that they are somehow "better" than their opposites?  Can we prove that honesty, for instance, is better than dishonesty?  How would we do that?

Well, we would likely try to show all the trouble that DIShonesty can get one into, and that makes sense to me -- except that our world often rewards dishonesty, and those who are impeccably honest sometimes get, well, shafted.   While it would be nice to think that honesty always gets rewarded and that dishonest folks always "get theirs in the end," we know it just doesn't happen that way in our world.  Some dishonest folks right this moment are living lives of great luxury and laughing at all us "honest suckers."  If you're smart enough and ruthless enough, you can (as Nietzsche said we should) create your own moral standards and leave the "honesty" to those stupid enough to buy into it.

And of course we can all think of situations in which we would lie -- situations like in WWII era Holland, when some of the Dutch were hiding their Jewish neighbors.  If the Nazis came and knocked on YOUR door and asked you, "Are you hiding Jews in your house?", would you lie or tell the truth?  I'll tell you -- if I had been hiding Jews in my house, I would have lied to protect them.  No doubt.

So, why do we continue to think that honesty is better than its opposite?  We might simply claim that "everyone just knows that it is" along with the philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Problem: if everyone just knew that, why don't they do it?  Clearly some people think there is a better way.

In the end, as Christians (and this is the point of view from which I operate) we might have to fall back on a theological explanation: either that God (or scripture) has told us this is what we should do, or that we are told to be imitators of God or of Jesus, and this is they way God/Jesus is.

In other words, when other attempts at justification of honesty have failed, we're going to fall back on our Christian faith and heritage = tradition.  Why?  Because we think this is the best way to live.  Why do we think that?  It depends on how you define "best way to live."  As Christians we define that by means of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the stories of whom have been passed down in our scriptures.

So, we're going to be relying on the Christian tradition that produced our scriptures, and we have to admit that not everyone accepts our scripture as, indeed, scripture.  Other religions have their own scriptures.  And this means that we think that the Christian definition of honesty is worth preserving simply because we think it is the best definition available.  We could ask "why?" here again, but pretty soon you realize we're just like a dog chasing its tail, and this chase for a "final answer" can go on interminably if we let it.  I do think we'll finally come down to comparing Jesus to other great religious teachers, and I don't think we should be afraid of that.  But even then, we're going to have to argue that Jesus' life represents the best way of life for human beings -- and again, we're back to trying to define what we mean by that, and we have another argument on our hands.

My solution is to admit that we have a tradition that we think we can argue for, but it's still a tradition.  In reality, all thinking takes place within traditions (that's a broader point I won't try to demonstrate here).

So, I believe in conserving the Christian tradition.  That means I'm a conservative.

Now: "liberalism."  The liberal point of view was created in and along with the Enlightenment, and was indeed a rejection of tradition.  To be "enlightened," according to Kant (in his little book What is Enlightenment?) was to reject traditional morality in favor of "thinking for oneself."  More specifically, to "think for oneself" entailed a rejection of the traditional sources for morality, such as family, society, church and even the Bible!  In fact, Kant later wrote a book called Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone in which he tried to set Christianity on a purely rational basis (in my opinion it was a colossal failure).

So, as several contemporary thinkers have pointed out, America is by definition a nation of liberals.  We all (with only a few exceptions like myself) believe that we have rejected tradition (which we haven't -- but that's another argument) in favor of thinking for ourselves.  We believe that morality can be determined in a purely rational manner (but even Plato and Aristotle believed that you could not have morality without divine input!).  So even people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly are liberals.  They do not believe in conserving certain values because they are traditional, but they argue for them on (what they think is) a purely rational basis.  Further, they think that anyone who is really rational will see the truth of their positions -- which is another of the myths of the Enlightenment, i.e., that their version of "rationality" is indeed UNIVERSAL rationality = shared by ALL RATIONAL PEOPLE.

To be sure, there are in America different kinds of liberals: there are "left-leaning liberals" like Al Gore and Bill Clinton (and I really can't put Barack Obama in this category) and "right-leaning liberals" like Limbaugh and the GOP and the Tea Partiers, etc.  But they're all liberals.

And I'm a conservative.

So, if you want to argue with me, at some point you'll have to dispute my claims that certain positions deserve the label "Christian."  In other words, you'll have to argue that my positions are not "Christian," rather than that they might be bad economic or foreign policy, etc.