On cell phones for Cubans and bailouts for homeowners.
As I walked through Manhattan this morning I watched as some buffoon on a cell phone began to cross the street just as the “don’t walk” sign blinked from flashing to solid. He didn’t realize that he was blocking traffic until he was half way across the street. With his phone still glued to his ear he first stopped in his tracks, then loped ahead to the far corner without so much as looking back.
Oh, to live in a world without cell phones! Even Cuba, my last hope of refuge from the cursed devices, has relented to the cell phone tide. Raul Castro — Raul The Reformer, we may as well call him — has declared that ordinary Cubans will be permitted to get cell phone contracts going forward (a privilege previously reserved for key state employees or workers for foreign firms). But since the cell phone contracts will be too expensive for most Cubans, who earn an average of a little less than $20 per month, perhaps it will take a while until cell phones cause traffic accidents in Havana.
But this snippet of communist party friction (Raul’s brother Fidel had held fast to the no cell phone policy for years) got me wondering about whether Raul should be classified as a liberal, allowing for progressive ideas, and Fidel a conservative. And if Fidel is a conservative how does that jive with him being one of the foremost and staunchest communist leaders of all time? Could Fidel Castro and his nemesis George Bush perhaps be sitting on the same side of an ideological fence? And if so, how?
As the current presidential hopefuls put forward their proposals (an odd phenomenon, this, since they’re just running for something, not running something) on fixing or mitigating the mortgage crisis, the stark differences in approach provide a lens through which to examine Democratic ideology versus Republican ideology.
This is a subject that fascinates me. For there to be such a clear division along political lines on so many issues, it seems that the roots of these divisions must live in a fundamental philosophical difference of perspective.
With some differences Obama and Clinton endorse proposals that would provide help to homeowners facing forclosure. McCain (and Bush) oppose any plan for homeowner bailout.
To paraphrase the liberal perspective “let’s help people stand on their own two feet.”
To paraphrase the conservative perspective “let people stand on their own two feet.”
As ideologies, both are rational and consistent. Where and why do they differ?
McCain has made it clear that he believes that homeowners deserve some blame if they’ve bought themselves into an unaffordable mortgage. His perspective is founded on personal responsibility, the freedom to succeed comes with the freedom to screw up. You make your choice and live with it. This same perspective underpins the conservative view on all manner of subjects, such as gun ownership and the death penalty (by all means get a gun, but if you shoot someone you shouldn’t you’ll pay for it with your life).
The conservative philosophy rests on the concept that the individual should have more control over his life and that government should not meddle.
The liberal philosophy rests on the concept that for the good of society, and the good of the individual, government should be ready to step in and provide protection or support.
Obama believes that homeowners need protection from banks eager to foreclose to stem their loses, for instance. While some may get help when they don’t deserve it. Many unwitting victims will be spared. And on gun control, a liberal may say that having the right to bear arms is all well and good unless innocent people are getting hurt by that right.
Is this just a difference of perspective without any deeper significance? I think not.
The roots are evolutionary: As social animals, human beings developed an awareness that while acting for themselves could lead to short term gains, acting for the good of all could lead to long term gains. Sharing your food might make you less well fed in the short term, but when you’re short of food, you’ll be happy for someone to share his food with you.
This is all very rational and common sensical, but even thoughtful people in a well ordered society still feel the pull of self preservation and self-satisfaction. We all experience impulses that lead us to want to act for ourselves, and we all experience impulses that lead us to want to help others. Whether we come out liberal or conservative hinges on the degree to which we believe it’s right and feel the rightness of balancing our own needs with those of others.
(For those who are interested, LIFE! Why We Existâ€¦ And What We Must Do To Survive explores a deeper philosophical basis for this line of reasoning by working from the principles of space and time.)
But what about Fidel and Raul?
Fidel Castro exhibited a deep conflict between his personal feelings about individualism — in which he was a conservative (how could a man who led a revolution and took firm control of a country not be convinced of the power and independence of his individual spirit?) — and his intellectual conviction of the benefits of a collaborative, equalized society, communism after all is liberalism on steroids.
This is perhaps why so many of us have a soft spot for the old guy (Fidel) despite his serious flaws and failings, despite his human rights abuses. We empathize with his internal conflict. We see the numbskull stopping traffic while he gabs on his cell phone and we want him to be delivered a comeuppance not a helping hand. But presented with the intellectual idea of helping those who took on too much mortgage debt (numbskulls, most likely, some of them) we easily fall on the side of assistance.
For more rational, science-based explanations of life’s meaning and purpose, please refer to my book: LIFE! Why We Existâ€¦ And What We Must Do To Survive. (more…)