Friday, October 29, 2004

Patriotism, Liberals, Conservatives and Bigotry

Conversations About the New Revolution

As a young person, my politics were derived from two fronts: my parents were Democrats and social conscience. My first election, I believe I voted Democrat because that was what my parents voted and I really didn't know anything about the candidates. I knew that we had hit a period of prosperity during President Reagan's time. He spoke at the Berlin Wall: "Mr. Gorbechav, tear down this wall." We had the beginnings of Glasnost. We lost the space shuttle Columbia. I watched it live on TV in my advanced World History class.

My family was "lower middle class". Just above the poverty line. Keeping a family of five on a police officer's salary is no mean feat.

I think back to the things that my parents taught me and look around and see that it's not being taught to many young people today. Respect was one thing. My folks were sticklers about saying "sir" and "ma'am" when we were talking to them or anyone "older". "Thank you", "you're welcome", "please". Honor, integrity, loyalty and patriotism.

Funny thing that last word, it scares the hell out of some people. Go on to the inner sanctum for further conversations about patriotism, conservatives, liberals and bigotry.

I was recently having a discussion with someone I would refer to as a "moderate liberal" on this subject. For context, the word "liberal" doesn't necessary mean that they believe in liberty in the strictest sense of the word, like a "libertarian". Frankly, the difference is stark. I'm not sure how to word it, but to me, a modern day "liberal" means they are liberal with your tax money. I'm not even sure "liberal" should be used in regards to these folks. But I decided to look it up before I went on with the rest of my discussion:

lib·er·al ( P ) Pronunciation Key (lbr-l, lbrl)

a)Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b)Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
c)Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
d)Liberal Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

Funny about (D), in Canada and Great Britain, a liberal is more like the American libertarian. But I read this and thought, "yeah, I know some folks that fit that description". Except maybe the bigotry part, but that plays into my discussion later. The funny thing about bigotry, when you disclaim somebody else's ideas or attitudes and call them "Nazis" or "fascists" or "fundamental Christians", doesn't that go against the "liberal" doctrine?

Strangely, I would believe myself a bit of a liberal. People may have their own religion, be an atheist for all I care, don't comply with the "orthodox" view of society. You want to pierce your nose 20 times and each eyebrow 10? Go for it. I'm not planning to do it myself. Then again, maybe that makes me a conformist or a conservative? Unfortunately, I think when I look back, even at my youth, I was probably more of a "conservative" with a "bleeding heart liberal" anxiety about society and tolerance. I'm not sure I've totally gotten over that.

But, I digress. What I found most interesting was the second description of the word:

Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.

I think that is where I have some of my problems with the words and thoughts of a "liberal". While being open and progressive and tolerant of other's ideas, the second half of the liberal mind set "to give freely" is where my liberal heart dies and my conservative mind takes over. I think some folks are a little too free with my money. I've come to that opinion more of late and I guess that means that my "liberal" credentials will be stripped away.

The last definition, is "obsolete" supposedly but seems utterly to apply in a number of people I've run across from the "liberal" side of the sphere:

Morally unrestrained; licentious.

I don't want to use this as too wide of a brush to paint with. Not every liberal I've ever had the pleasure to meet would I call "morally unrestrained", but let's face it, there are some folks riding around on the liberal train who have taken this concept to heart: anything goes. And they don't even apply the rule "as long as no one gets hurt." It's kind of a "use and abuse" situation. Like miniature Marquis de Sades running around, doing whatever they want.

And, if any of my "liberal" associates object to this description, let me assure you, ten years ago (which isn't that damn long ago) I knew some people that fit just that description. Screwed anything that moved, drank 'til they puked, popped pills, snorted, smoked an amazing array of products, stayed out all night, went to work bleary eyed and started all over again at 6pm, soon as they clocked out. Some didn't even work. The only day of rest wasn't even Sunday. Sunday's still had beer specials at the local tavern. Monday, that was the day of rest. No beer or shot specials. It wasn't "ladies" night. You had to do laundry and sleep some time.

It wasn't long before I realized that I might not belong to the nihilist, self destruct part of society. The parents voices were still in the back of my head. Telling me about courtesy, moderation, blah, blah, blah. That's what I thought for the first year. Although, while I will admit to spending a few nights in a moshe pit and drinking myself into a coma, I never could do the drug scene. Those people seemed a little too f-d up if you know what I mean. And frankly, I was still a country girl in the big city and my latent morals kept me from joining into any freak show of the bedrooms.

So...What does that mean? I was just a conservative dancing on the fringes of the morally bankrupt? I suppose that means that I thought I was "bad" and could never be that bad. Getting my vicarious thrill. Not long after that, I was probably converting to conservatism, but just didn't recognize it. And when I think about it, my parents weren't liberal Democrats. They were conservative Democrats. They believed in hardwork, taking care of your own, courtesy and religion.

And honestly, they weren't too damn tolerant of other people. Still not today although I am working on them. I suppose that bit of tolerance is my left over liberal self reminding me that I am not the only person walking around on the face of this planet. Liberals are good for something, if nothing else than to remind you that you are not perfect. By a long shot. And they take extra pride in reminding you. Like that little niggling conscience that tells you to stop staring just because the guy is wearing a Nehru jacket and a turban in the middle of Kansas City (which is a pretty odd occurrence, frankly, we don't have many Sikhs in the mid west). Fortunately, I did spend some time away from the farm and it broadened my experience enough that I don't totally fall into a stuttering, gaping mouth episode when I see a guy in drag or daisy duke leather shorts with matching suspenders and a pair of roller skates as his only clothing (alright, I still stare. I can't help it).

Come on, I know you've done it too and don't tell me about tolerance and acceptance, I know plenty of my so called "liberal" friends who are all about gay rights and marriage and still get grossed out when they see two men or two women kissing each other. And, yeah, me, too. I can't help it. Does that make me a bigot? Whatever. If I say it's "not natural", am I now some crazy, witch burning Christian fundamentalist? Hey, I don't really care what people do to themselves or with themselves as long as it doesn't hurt anyone, cause death or destruction. And now I will do my little poser liberal, qualifying statement and say I have some gay friends. What the hell, maybe I'm a soft bigot after all.

So, I'm having this conversation with a liberal guy on a blog commenting section. Generally, he's a moderate, but he does get on his high horse about some things. His particular issue lately is the morality of war in general as it causes civilian casualties and the apparent unfeeling behavior of some commenters on the blog who appear to be "cheer leaders" for the war and "Bush Fanatics" who are brainwashed. Mind you, he supports the liberation of Iraq, but he can't seem to swallow how war is prosecuted. Torn you could say. Anyone that says that the war was "good" he jumps on like a rabid dog smelling fresh blood. Some how, I have the impression he thinks that people that say this don't have any feelings for the innocent victims caught in the cross fire or accidentally killed by errant bombs.

Just typing that, I'm sure, if he read that statement, he would be pretty sure that I go to bed at night praying to God to deliver the blood of the "infidel children" to me in a goblet to drink. Because I did not give the issue it's due deference.

My point to him was that a) he was mistaking patriotism for blood thirsty, brutish insensitivity and b)he doesn't really know much about any one posters belief because it's just a narrow comment section with a finite limit to characters, a finite subject matter (Iraq) and their is no inflection to be found in the printed word unless you actually type something like: I AM VERY ANGRY; and c) he was painting a really wide swath with the brush he often gives the conservatives crap over.

His answers were a) patriotism is bigotry (could have knocked me over with a feather); b) People are really blunt on the comment section and say what they mean (so true, but it's a wonder if he could find any comment section that literally says "It's good to bomb Iraqi children and drink their blood"); c) he was doing the painting with a wide brush because the conservatives on the blog kept talking about "lefties" like they were criminals (totally your own perspective of course) and painting with just a wide brush so he was doing it in self defense.

The conversation went on for probably two hours, believe it or not. Basically, they were discussions about morality. For instance, how can one claim to have the moral high ground in a war when the war you are committing has civilian casualties, particularly women and children? Well, a very good question, but my theory is that not prosecuting a war at all against somebody who is already a mass murdering megalomaniac is even more morally reprehensible as you don't even try to stop the murders he was committing, en masse. It's moral relevatism. But it's also the conscience. One should be reminded that war has consequences beyond blowing up tanks. It does kill people. So it should never be undertaken lightly.

I was reading Thomas Paine, Common Sense, The Crisis, The Rights of Man, etc. And I read his words and understand that a man over 230 years ago understood it just as well:

'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever" to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other

If you understand what he is saying, he once felt as my friend did, that war is murder. But should he stand by and do nothing about the threats to himself, his property or his people? Does it matter who commits the crime against him? And lastly, but most importantly he tells us exactly why moral relevatism doesn't really work. "If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference". When you cut that out by itself, it makes perfect sense. If you look at both sides of the Warring parties and drill down to the "root cause" you could find some reason why both parties are equally bad and war then has no reason. "neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other". Thomas Paine was actually a bit of a pacifist, by no means a warmongering patriot of the American Revolution.

As a matter of fact, if you read the letters of the Crisis, you understand that several of his letters are appeals, as a patriot, for General Howe to leave off the war. Of course, the letters probably pissed off General Howe (the British General) because they also told Howe that he could not defeat them (the colonial rebels) because he did not have the enough men to occupy the vast lands of the colonies. But, we understood well that there was a moral to the issue after all:

There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one. There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both
The Crisis 1777

In other words, there are worse things than committing war and that is to do nothing and hope that the enemy will be merciful. And to trust to that is to allow the worst sort of fate and ignomy.

So, what about "bigotry". My friend insists that, to insist that your type of government or your way of life is better than another's, is bigotry. For instance, the "neo-con" plan to spread freedom and liberty around the globe is bigotry. Particularly, assuming that people everywhere want to live free, regardless of their culture or religion. Unfortunately, my friend went that extra step and insisted that it was also "racial" bigotry because we are inflicting this cause on other countries where the people are not "white".

The reasons I was so flabbergasted by that last statement was because, to me, it seems the height of bigotry to insist that men who are not "white" would not long to be free and he makes that assumption. Of course, the other assumption that America is "white" (and so is he by the way) it is the reason that we wish to impose our government on our "little brown brothers" or whatever the newest term is. Of course, this totally negates the entire premise of the United States as being a melting pot that has nearly 50% population as "non-white". What then can we say about the "non-white" people that believe that this government and this country are the best?

So, while applying the term "liberal" to himself and making the connection that he is "open minded" about other people's ideas, it seems also so close minded to believe that, based on people's race, religion or historical culture that they do NOT want to be free. In essence, if they are living in slavery and oppression, maybe they like it and we shouldn't interfere? And if they don't like it, they will rise up and solve their own problems.

The major problem with that assumption is that any citizenry can rise up against their oppressive government and defeat it even if they do not have the ability to match that government force in weapons. This isn't the revolutionary war when the greatest weapons advancement was the musket and the cannon and the people could obtain the same weapons capability. We're talking about governments (like Iraq) that have helicopters and tanks and the common citizenry, unless they can convince an armed unit to defect to their side, does not have access to equalizing weapons.

In short, one must either convince the military (like in Russia or Lithuania) to side with the citizenry en masse (and risk the military committing a coup in the name of the people, like Pakistan, and inserting their own person) or obtain assistance from outside that would have similar capabilities as the government that the people wish to overthrow. And, remembering history and reading Thomas Paine, we did just that ourselves, requesting the French to loan us some foot soldiers, but mainly, to provide us assistance on the sea. Mr. Paine points out in "Common Sense" that the colonies, without a sufficient navy, could not hope to compete with Britain. In a sense, that we could kick the British out of the continent, but then we would be crushed economically because the British men of war could blockade shipments of materials to and from the colonies, destroying the economy and, basically, destroying the nascent independent colonial government. That was the appeal of the colonials to the French. Provide us with assistance on the sea. Recall if you will, Jean Paul Lafayette, one of the great heroes of the Revolutionary War was not even a citizen of the colonies.

In short, it seems an awkward thing to bemoan the intervention of a free country against a tyrant. Particularly when that tyrant has acted against, not only his own people, but the countries around him.

Those bands of robbers having parceled out the world, and divided it into dominions, began, as is naturally the case, to quarrel with each other. What at first was obtained by violence was considered by others as lawful to be taken, and a second plunderer succeeded the first. They alternately invaded the dominions which each had assigned to himself, and the brutality with which they treated each other explains the original character of monarchy. It was ruffian torturing ruffian. The conqueror considered the conquered, not as his prisoner, but his property. He led him in triumph rattling in chains, and doomed him, at pleasure, to slavery or death. As time obliterated the history of their beginning, their successors assumed new appearances, to cut off the entail of their disgrace, but their principles and objects remained the same. What at first was plunder, assumed the softer name of revenue; and the power originally usurped, they affected to inherit.
The Rights of Man; The Origin of the Present Old Governments - Thomas Paine

This was written over 200 years ago. Sad that it is still so true today.

But, on patriotism being bigotry, if that is how some people would like to portray it, then let them I suppose. To me, it doesn't take much to look around and see, even with the election issues brewing, the discussions of war and peace, protestings, taxes, the economy, etc, I wouldn't trade this country or it's government for a palace and all the gold in Fort Knox. As long as I am free and have the right to choose my representative government, I will be happy to remain just me. A middle class person, struggling to make the ends meet. That means that I do believe this country and this type of government are the best among men and countries. With but a word, a vote, I can change it to suit my needs.

And, herein, I lay claim to the part of the title "liberal" that I feel the current "liberals" have abandoned in their quest for moral relevatism: that is to say, that I am open minded to the point that I can recognize other cultures, religions etc, but I am open minded enough to understand the basest of human desires, to live in a free and "liberal" society without fear of persecution from those that would control them for their own nefarious purposes.

Thomas Pain, in "The Rights of Man" goes on to explain the difference:

All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny. An heritable crown, or an heritable throne, or by what other fanciful name such things may be called, have no other significant explanation than that mankind are heritable property. To inherit a government, is to inherit the people, as if they were flocks and herds.(...)

As the republic of letters brings forward the best literary productions, by giving to genius a fair and universal chance; so the representative system of government is calculated to produce the wisest laws, by collecting wisdom from where it can be found.(...)

It appears to general observation, that revolutions create genius and talents; but those events do no more than bring them forward. There is existing in man, a mass of sense lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something excites it to action, will descend with him, in that condition, to the grave. As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by a quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails to appear in revolutions.(...)

It is wholly characteristical of the purport, matter or object for which government ought to be instituted, and on which it is to be employed, RES-PUBLICA, the public affairs, or the public good; or, literally translated, the public thing. It is a word of a good original, referring to what ought to be the character and business of government; and in this sense it is naturally opposed to the word monarchy, which has a base original signification. It means arbitrary power in an individual person; in the exercise of which, himself, and not the res-publica, is the object.

Every government that does not act on the principle of a Republic, or in other words, that does not make the res-publica its whole and sole object, is not a good government. Republican government is no other than government established and conducted for the interest of the public, as well individually as collectively

In short, yes, as a Patriot of the United States and a believer in the need for governments to be "by the people, for the people" I do believe that our system of government is the best system of government. I do believe, based on the numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal, who pay the price of leaving homeland, family, risk life and limb or pay tens of thousands of dollars to be spirited into this country and experience this way of life, that this country, this type of government is the best. If one must refer to that as bigotry, then by all means, call it what you will.

Frankly, I feel that any person aspiring to the label "liberal", who does not recognize that they have actually closed their minds to the thought that other people in other countries desire to be free, should be stripped of the title "liberal" and verbally whipped with their own inconsistency. Of course, in the definition of "liberal" we find the word "tolerance", but I believe that our current "liberal" brothers and sisters have completely mistaken of what one should have "tolerance" for.

To tolerate another mans religion, culture, the number of tattoos, his clothes, his very life style, is one thing. But to tolerate a man who steals, kills another in cold blood, abuses his family or the people to whom he is set to govern, is quite another. If you ask me to have such tolerance, then I will have to respectfully decline.

To tell me that I should not interfere in the worst endeavors of another because I might cause some damage to the very people that I mean to protect is a moral ambiguity that makes men take no action. And frankly, that is the worst sort of immoral behavior I can think of. To do nothing. To sit like Pontius Pilate upon the throne of judgment and wash my hands of the blood of another because I might cause something worse to occur, makes me just as evil as the one committing the crime.

I turn with the warm ardor of a friend to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out: I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands; throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but "show your faith by your works," that God may bless you.

It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. The Crisis 1777 - Thomas Paine

So, will you, nil you, call me patriot, bigot, conservative or liberal, don't tell me that my government, my country is only as good as another. In the long history of governments upon this world, even in it's imperfection, it is more perfect than any other. Don't ask me to tolerate in this world, that which I would not tolerate for myself, for my family, for this country because someone lives "over there" and does not share my race, religion or heritage.

Give yourself the label of "liberal", but strike from the definition tolerance for dictators, oppression and slavery.

This then is the "new revolution". A reminder to patriots that patriotism is not a nationalistic evil. Patriotism is the love of your country, in the system which we chose to govern it. Patriots believe that this way of life is the best way of life and should not be traded for a moments peace. They call it "neo-conservatism" or new conservatives. It is not new by any means. It is as old as Aristotle and Pluto. It is not "conservative" by any means as a conservative is bound to hold on to the old traditions, to be conservative in his actions. Takes little or no action on the belief that it would upset the status quo. Conservative.

Rather, this new revolution has no label as it takes from the core values of both liberal and conservative definitions. To be open to new ideas and cultures. To not be bound by orthodox thinking. To give freely to others. To be a "liberal benefactor". While at the same time to believe in freedom as the desire of all men. That it is an unalienable right, given by the Creator and not reliant on the laws of men to bestow it on another at their whim. To believe that republicanism, government for the good of the people, by the people, is above any monarchal or authoritarian government, is the new patriot.

It's a new revolution. An evolution if you will. The once proud rebels of the old revolution are now the conservatives, trying desperately to hold back the tide and maintain the status quo as the "new liberal" advances having co-opted the best of both ideologies, re-constituted his morality as something less vague than gray nuances and complexities, reshaping that which is "right" and "wrong" to his new understanding of the world.

That is to say, that the new revolutionary understands that there are injustices in this world and that peace and tolerance are the ultimate goal, but the new revolutionary understands that more than words, sometimes actions are necessary to effect the change and wipe out the injustice. Feeling something is not the same as changing it. The new revolutionary is similar to the old in feeling that the slow pace at which the world was changing is not acceptable. So they will change it by force if necessary.

Who or what created the new revolution? Frankly, the same people that created the old. That is to say, the previous generation, the old revolutionaries, the old liberals, who by dent of their long persuasion on our conscience, to insist that we open up to other ideas, cultures and countries, has forced the conservative to stop looking inward and begin to look outward and see what they see. Having succeeded in pushing the conservative out of their safe, blinkered and inward contemplation, the old revolutionaries are now loath to admit to the old maxim: be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.

What we have now is the new revolution. Don't be afraid to embrace it. It is but the next step on the ladder of evolution. The new revolutionary will become the old soon enough. Enjoy it while it lasts.


Jason Rubenstein said...

Kat, really excellent post.

I think the difference, again, is between the rational-liberal and the emotional-liberal. The latter can find any excuse for behavior valid as it stems from feelings; hurt feelings are de-facto evidence of evil. If something 'feels' right, it is right, so the idea goes.

To a rational-liberal, the perfect is the enemy of the good. To an emotional-liberal, a solution without guarantee of perfection is wrong.

Mike H. said...

Kat, we have a number of people in this country who don't have a fire in their belly for freedom. It's those folks who are tolerant of people who shouldn't be tolerated.

Kat said...

To a rational-liberal, the perfect is the enemy of the good. To an emotional-liberal, a solution without guarantee of perfection is wrong.

Wow...I wrote about 10k words and you said it all in two sentences. LOL

That is exactly it and, believe it or not, I was having this same discussion with the same guy again last night. He actually told me that supporting the fight against people in Fallujah was "creating terrorists" because we are killing their relatives and because I supported these actions and they resulted in the deaths of civilians, it made me equivelent to a terrorist.

In which case I replied that he was so bound up in moral ambiguity, I don't know how he ever the left his bed. Of course, then I thanked him for doing what I knew he was going to do and proving me right: kat=terrorist.

We are so far away from the day when people understood that there was a right and wrong and that doesn't mean peace is right and war is wrong particularly when "peace" includes daily beheadings, lashings, shootings in the public square and disappearing by the secret police. I just cannot understand how someone can get to that point. They would be the first to sell themselves to the tyrant if only they don't have to worry about disturbing their morality.

Mike...simply put, yes. These folks are running around talking about "social injustice" when the biggest social injustices in this world are right in front of their eyes taking place on their TV screens, etc and they have the gaul to speak to me about an alleged lack of morals. Yes, I see now clearly, let the Iraqis die, we have more important things to worry about. You know, the word "God" in our pledge of allegiance is an affront to SOMEBODY and we should remove it forthwith. Never mind those 50k dead sudanese.

I cannot even begin to understand how somebody comes to that reasoning.

onein said...

Another great post Kat!