I have been thinking about the differences between how liberals and conservatives tend to perceive the world recently.
I have made a realization which has given me increased empathy for conservatives.
What will society be like in 100 years? 50 years? 20 years? What difficult and thorny ethical questions will arise due to new technology unveiled within the next few decades or centuries?
New advances in technology can be scary stuff, raising difficult ethical questions. I thought about how I would feel in a future society...how afraid I would be if I thought that the moral paradigm and the traditions of my society were eroding and deteriorating before my eyes.
And that is when a powerful observation struck me: this fear of erosion and deterioration may just be exactly how many conservatives feel today.
I now understand why people would be afraid of changes in society which could possibly be unnerving and apprehension-inducing.
The struggle that we all share is navigating a course between tradition and modernity. This, I believe, is the great moral struggle of every generation of humanity.
We have struggled to define our moral values in each civilization, in each society, and in each generation of human history. We witness this phenomena in the movement to end slavery, the 20th century civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the controversy over abortion, the controversy over the death penalty (and which forms of execution are cruel or unusual and who should be executed or not), the struggle over gun control, the struggle over communism, the struggle over fascism, and the clash of other religious and political ideologies.
What is morality? What defines when an act is moral? Who defines it? Conservatives and liberals are largely answering the same questions -- they just tend to seek the answers in differing places.
We have a changing moral paradigm. Some people would deny this, but I contend that I have presented enough evidence to confirm this phenomenon's occurrence.
Conservatives and liberals tend to argue over which course to follow on the continually revising moral paradigms of human history. Conservatives seem to be largely guided by "tradition"; liberals seem to be largely guided by "modernity". Neither of these concepts is particularly well-defined; both seem quite nebulous. Neither concept seems to be a clear or resolute guide for future action; neither concept is fully coherent. Both ideas seem equally capable of badly misleading our decision-making. I do believe that over-adherence to either idea will produce disaster.
What is tradition? Yes, we learn from our mistakes, and we have derived ideas and beliefs to help us avoid them. I admire conservatism for trying to preserve our heritage of knowledge and experience and hedging against futile attempts to subvert our best practices. However, since our environment is continually shifting and evolving, there are many occasions where we find ourselves in need of new and inventive approaches for a changing world. I admire liberalism because I believe this way of thinking provides the capability to arrive at such bold solutions.
I must admit, conservatism is awfully appealing to me at times. I like the notion of sticking with tested and broken-in ideas over radical departures from known strategies. I am an incremental thinker; I have never been good at "out-of-the-box" thinking. When I make decisions, I try to build upon the best information that I have. Before I will try a new approach, I tend to re-try older approaches first to see if they work better. I tend to avoid risk in my personal life.
So why am I more liberal than conservative? I don't know for sure. Perhaps it is a function of when I grew into politics. I believe in change. I believe that we have adhered too much to tradition, and that we need new ways of thinking. The way we treat the environment, the way we treat minorities and the poor, the way we treat foreigners, the way we treat homosexuals -- the traditional approaches are not good enough for me. I want to go in another direction.
I have empathy for conservatives, but it has been apparent to me for many years that our country needs to travel in another direction. There are many policies which the Democrats espouse about which I am either ambivalent or with which I disagree. I do not know whether Obama's economic policies are sound. I am, as I have been for most of my life, largely ambivalent about the abortion debate, embracing neither the strong pro-choice nor the strong pro-life position. I wish that the Democrats would move faster and more radically on healthcare and gay rights.
The battles of the future will define and guide our moral values, just as they have in the past. I eagerly await further full and vigorous participation in the debates to come.