Losing My Religion

I made a statement to some friends while having drinks that “Conservatism is kind of like religion and requires blind acceptance of its dogma without being self-critical.”

Actually, there is a name for this, it’s called the “Asymmetry Thesis” and it contends that individuals who subscribe to a conservative viewpoint are more likely to resist evidence that challenges their existing beliefs.

I contrasted this to Liberalism which emerged from the Age of Enlightenment as a repudiation of the status quo.  I added that there was no clear set of principles from which conservatives operated; their belief system was rooted in a repudiation of change.

One person immediately asked, “What is unclear about lower taxes and smaller government?”

“Everything” I replied. I compared those political platitudes to a “clear” commandment from Christianity:

Thou Shalt Not Kill.

“What is clear about that?” I asked. “It may be a definitive Biblical statement but we kill all the time. We wage war, killing millions and even justify collateral civilian casualties.  We execute, and we apply subjective criteria for killing in self-defense.”

If we were honest, we should amend the Commandment to: “Thou Shalt Not Kill…Unless We Feel We Have A Really Good Reason To.”

My flippancy is not far off; that is more consistent to what our society has determined, yet, many consider all of the Commandments as immutable and literally written in stone.

“What is clear about lower taxes?” I asked. “Lower taxes to reduce military spending? Lower taxes to reduce what is available for disease control, transportation safety, education, highway maintenance or unemployment for those who cannot find work? Should we lower taxes so there’s less pay for teachers, police or firefighters? How about lowering taxes to reduce research to create better medicine or to help disabled Americans?”

“No! I’m all for the things that improve the quality of life and help others,” one of my friends insisted. “I’m tired of politicians giving themselves raises, I’m tired of handouts and government waste.”

“Okay,” I answered (amidst the cheers his statement inspired). “Give me the list then and be specific. Then let’s do the math. What are we going to cut and what are the realistic repercussions?”

“The Stimulus was a trillion dollars!” came the first volley. “That was a total waste.”

“We can debate the Recovery Act until the sacred Keynsian cows come home, but in the world of business, which many of you believe should become the operating model for government, it is an ‘expense’ on our P&L statement. The relevant equation is the Debt to GNP ratio and our argument should be about production and jobs.”

I made that too easy and I deserved the roundhouse punch that followed:  “Thou Shalt Cut Taxes– that’s how you stimulate growth!”

“But, tell me,” I asked, “why didn’t that work 12 years ago? We even had a surplus and were just trying to correct a minor recession, but businesses contracted anyway and jobs were lost. In fact, it set the table for the catastrophe that followed.”

Maybe…taxes are not the direct answer. Or maybe…they can help but only if they are lowered in the right way at the right time- as Kennedy did in 1963 (the bill passed after his assassination in ’64); closing loopholes at the top, and better breaks at the bottom.”

I have yet to hear a precise answer to that.

Another “clear” Conservative Commandment is:

Thou Shalt Make Smaller Government.

Okay. I’m all for containing the spread of anything that is not useful, but what, specifically, needs to be trimmed?  Financial reform commissions, safety boards, criminal investigation, food and drug supervision?

I’ve heard some people say that we should do away with the Department of Education, but I’m not sure, that will resonate with most Americans who are concerned about education standards.

Can we all agree that the Military Industrial Complex needs the red pencil?

No? Well, just try to get rid of Social Security and Medicare and see how far you get.

I’m not disagreeing with anyone who believes that government has redundancies that need to be cut or trimmed or that taxes need reform, it is a self serving drum beat from conservatives, however, that perpetuates the idea that liberals think that government can’t get big enough or that taxes are never high enough; it simply isn’t true or historically accurate (at all).

The Zimmerman trial illustrated the liberal/conservative divide. The parameters of the case and the resultant verdict fell along ideological lines between the left and the right, with the right supporting Zimmerman’s defense of “self-defense” and his acquittal, and the left finding the circumstance of Martin’s killing fundamentally suspect and the aftermath to be a miscarriage of justice.

On a social media site a conservative defended the American court system as “still being the best in the world.”  Another conservative defended America’s non-racist values by pointing out that this country elected a black President “twice.”  Another accused Liberals of “hating America” because of the liberal contention that our socio-political system is flawed.

On one hand, this evidence supports the Asymmetrical Thesis because these conservatives will not question their storybook nationalism, but at the same time, many Liberals will not allow for anything that doesn’t support their existing belief that those flaws are more accurately defining us.

So I calibrate my own thinking by coming back to what my Liberal Doctrine demands and that is to consistently challenge the status quo and to fight for the principles that should come before any action; the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; egalitarianism and justice for all. The ideological clarification I’m looking for from my conservative friends is specifically what they believe in beyond those giant, fairytale platitudes…like, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.“

I want clarity from those who claim they are clear and I want ideas accompanied with facts and historical evidence. I want objective, self-critical analysis.

You know…kind of like what liberals do.

Published by gary1164

I'm an advertising executive and former actor/producer