Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Liberal Helping of Sanity

As a Canadian, I am always surprised by the fact that despite having four viable federal parties across Canada, I am always still picking the least offensive to me when I vote, rather than feeling like there is a party that truly embodies my values. In the USA, with only two parties, I imagine most voters feel trapped in a choice between "Dumb and Dumber" - or worse. I've always felt like both Democrat and Republican platforms are both utterly unacceptable. Maybe I am a centrist and America has no place for anyone not at the extreme polar ends of the scale? No, that couldn't be it. After all, neither Republican nor Democrat really represent extremes in anything other than fiscal irresponsibility and pandering to corporate special interests.  Besides, my views are hardly centrist on many things. Many of them are rather polarizing. They just don't fit into a package where they polarize the same group of people the same way.

So then a friend of mine recently suggested that certain dominant elements in the American "Political Left" are no longer "Liberals," but instead are simply "Left-Wing Conservatives." This gave me something of a political epiphany. You might be confused as to the meaning of his statement, but one only needs to look at the definition of Liberal to understand:

Liberal ˈlib(ə)rəl, adj: 1. open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

Liberalism is absolutely required in politics. It is the mechanism for pushing for necessary change. It is the motivator for progress. This doesn't make it superior to Conservatism -- which is the opposite force. Not all change is good, not all new behaviors or opinions are worth looking at, and not all values should be discarded.  These two political forces in balance lead to a healthy dialogue where advantageous changes are implemented, but poorly thought out ones are placed on the shelf. These tendencies have nothing to do with the "right" or "left" side of politics. A hardline communist (leftist) in Soviet Russia would have been conservative, while Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika were extremely liberal - despite leading Russia further toward the right side of the political spectrum. 

My friend is absolutely right - Liberalism is what's missing in modern political discourse. The entrenched ideologue is about as extreme a Conservative position as one can take. Increasingly, people identify with a particular party or ideology as part of who they are. This means they can't be open minded toward alternative ideas or views without compromising their very identity - and so society moves toward more and more conservative attitudes. You just have competing conservatives, left vs. right, unable to come to any sort of agreement.

And suddenly I know why I feel so disillusioned with political parties across the board. 

I am liberal. 

This is not a political view. This is my personal tendency to want to try new ideas, discard old values. My near anarchist-distrust for authority and tradition certainly feeds into this, and suddenly I can't find many people of any political persuasion that I feel look at the world the same way I do. We need more liberal forces within politics; forces that do not demonize ideas simply for being different than their platform, forces that do not try to silence dissent or criticism of other idealogies that they feel are somehow protected from criticism. Give me back open and rational discourse, and let us set aside inflexible and unassailable party doctrines.

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