Friday, January 27, 2006

Is it better to be evil or wrong?

Conservative psychoanalyst Shrinkwrapped writes that "Liberals think conservatives are evil; Conservatives think Liberals are wrong."

While many conservatives do see adherents to pro-Choice or radical Marxian movements as evil, I think that by and large he is right. Conservatives tend to think that they have a view of reality and how to achieve a better society that is superior to the limited scope of Liberals' vision, fixated as they are on micro-problems and individual issues. Liberals believe that Conservatives are more or less able to comprehend reality but either choose to hold certain views out of self interest, or are imbibed with a near-pathological hate of something (racism, homophobia, classism) that they allow to color their beliefs despite the clear voice of reason.

And the internet is a prime place for those very biases to be played out, as the palimpsest of a message board helps one to conflate all the qualities one hates about the 'other side' into an easily recalled mental image.

People who subscribe to either label are right to call the other side on the limitations of its worldview. I more often am annoyed by the Liberal habit of focussing on fixing a symptom (eg. make stiffer regulations to clean up a polluted river) rather than a system-based problem (eg. fear of lawsuits makes incentive to minimize ongoing pollution rather than acknowledge it and openly develop cleaner practices). This frustration betrays an underlying conviction that I understand the broad sweep of reality better, but a Liberal might reasonably point out that consequences can be measured by varying degrees of time course, and the short term gain of lawsuits preventing the most egregious polluters to be brought to account might be valued high enough to outweigh the long-term though uncertain benefit of developing new cleaner practices.

On the flip side, Liberal people note rightly that the Conservatives who stand to gain from pro-business practices are their most energetic proponents, in keeping with the idea that Conservatives decide on their self-interest first, and their philosophy follows. Undoubtedly this formulation rings true for some Conservatives. But consider that it is a self-fulfilling prophesy that the population of people who value economic achievement--entrepreneurs, managers, people who organize people--will by definition be enriched for people who hold pro-business ideas about how government should act. There's no way to prove this, but I think the vast majority of pro-business Conservatives honestly believe what they do because they think that it will benefit society, just as the majority of Liberals working in homelessness programs believe that increasing funding to social services will benefit society, though it may also incrementally benefit themselves.

We are all evil; we are all wrong. It is time to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

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