Saturday, September 04, 2004The Politics Of Division
I have to make an admission: I don't actually give a shit about politics.
Yes, it's true; in spite of everything I've written here (much of it for the sole purpose of needling my lovely-but-Republican mother), politics ranks very, very low in my list of personal priorities. Scattered around this planet are the ruined remains of civilizations, each of which had their own political issues and tensions; no doubt the politics of their day seemed vitally important, even end-of-the-world decisive, to them at the time, but to us they are simply the subject of passing interest, perhaps the topic of a few paragraphs in a mind-numbingly dull text somewhere. My point being, while the world can waver between peace and conflict, stability and chaos, better- and worse-off, at the end of the day, none of this actually means anything. The art, religion, and philosophy of those times has, more often than not, lasted far longer than the politics; if any human endeavor is worth staking your life on, it's those, and not their bastard cousin, politics.
But it's so hard not to get wrapped up, even if to become so is ultimately a destructive process. I do not hate Republicans -- what a stupid thing that would be -- I merely disagree with them. We'd be much better off if we could discuss our differences like adults; we'd likely discover, I suspect, that we have a great deal in common. The problem is, we all recognize that if those who best represent our views don't fight back against every meaningless, petty, stupid little criticism now, we'll never get an opportunity to put some of our principles into action.
But what are those principles? My liberalism is based in some pretty simple ideas, and contrary to popular belief, those ideas are not solely altruistic. What I believe, essentially, is this:
Every person has a fundamental right to education, for as long as he or she is willing to put the work into their intellectual advancement. Education should be free -- or at least very low-cost -- to everyone from childhood through their advanced degree. Schools should be well-funded and teachers respected; society should recognize that education is the literal foundation of our future wellbeing. This is not only about the individual's benefit; a society of educated, thoughtful, skilled people is good for everyone, and over time everyone will share in the cultural and economic benefits of a well-educated, literate population.
Every person has a fundamental right to health care throughout their lives. This is based in a belief that every person has a contribution to make, but can only make that contribution if they are healthy and well. The medical community has a right to pursue any research and treatment options they deem worthwhile; decisions should be made only by the patient and their doctor. We can make even advanced medicine more affordable for everyone if we do so as a community, and ultimately universal healthcare -- by whatever means -- is of benefit to everyone.
Every person has a fundamental right to complete and absolute freedom of thought and expression. Ideas are never, in and of themselves, harmful; the supression of even odious ideas, on the other hand, is the beginning of a relativism that can ultimately put worthy ideas in jeopardy. A stable, thoughtful society should have no reason to feel threatened by any challenging idea.
Every person has a fundamental right to dignity and equal rights in every respect. A disapproval of how another person lives their life is not reason to withhold or restrict their rights. Nobody has a right to make any decision regarding another person's choices in life.
Corporations should be free to do business as they see fit, but like every member of a community, also bear a responsibility not to do harm, whether physical or economic, to other bodies or individuals.
Society does have an obligation to look after the basic needs of their weakest and poorest. Again, this is not simply altruistic; a society in which people are assured that they will not be entirely abandoned is a stable society, and everyone benefits from a stable society.
Everyone should be free to follow any faith freely, or to follow no faith at all.
Our country must remain mindful of its place in the greater world, and realize that the greater good also extends beyond our nation's borders. The abuse of natural resources and the environment will eventually hurt everyone; the protection of the same will be of benefit to future generations. We have an obligation to think of their needs as far as we're able, as well as those of our neighbors.
The communal good -- local, regional, national, and international -- is as important and valuable as personal interest; compromise and balance between the sometimes-opposing values should be possible in all issues.
Notice what's not included here: I don't condemn capitalism, I don't want to push atheism on anyone, I don't want to take anyone's guns away. I agree that in some respects, well-meaning liberals have gone unnecessarily far where behavior and personal restriction are concerned. And I doubt, really, that many conservatives will have serious objections to any of these... the last item, about the communal good, might perhaps raise some hackles, but I would remind anyone who dislikes it of this point: I, as an individual, will be much more comfortable with your personal gain if I feel reasonably well-assured that it will not infringe on my own wellbeing. This isn't about carrying the load for anyone, it's about respecting your neighbors.
At the same time, it seems that a good deal of this has resonance in the ideas that conservatives have embraced as their own: personal responsibility, not infringing on the personal rights of others, and the economic wellbeing of the people. It would just be nice to hear a conservative agree that these ideas aren't crazy, aren't foolish, and that we liberals and progressives might be making some good points. I also invite any conservatives reading this to make their own lists of basic principles, so that perhaps we can find the commonalities between them.
That would be cool, right? |