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Illuminating Dichotomies

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Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either.”Erich Fromm (1900–1980), U.S. psychologist. Man for Himself, chapter 4  (1947).            

Fifteen years ago, an acquaintance of mine stated he had a very simple test for determining whether a person was a liberal or a conservative.   Ask the person which he found the more objectionable in a movie: sex or violence?  If the answer was sex, he was a conservative; if the answer was violence, he was a liberal.            

A simplistic statement, but there is some truth to it.  The differences between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, are out there on display, more apparent than ever, for all the world to see.            

Let us look for example, at the two major parties national conventions: the Democratic Party here in Denver, and the Republican in St. Paul, and the protests and police reactions that took place at each.            

Here in Denver, there were (according to The Rocky Mountain News) 154 arrests related to protests of the Democratic National Convention.  There were few reports of police brutality, and most of the arrests fell into three categories: 1) being arrested as a political statement; 2) contempt of cop; 3) felony stupidity, e.g. smoking a joint right under a cop's nose.            

In St. Paul, there were over 800 arrests related to the Republican National Convention.  There were incidents of police brutality, even against the members of the press; Amy Goodman and her two producers being the best known.  Even the residents of St. Paul were afraid to go out in a city they no longer recognized as their own.  There are reports that the United States Department of Justice helped the St. Paul and Minnesota authorities to ruthlessly repress dissent.            

So, although the number of protesters were roughly the same (according to news reports), and the protesters were kept well away from both convention sites (a situation which I personally abhor, and which I am also certain has Jefferson and Madison spinning in their graves), some dissent—at least—was permitted at the Democratic Convention in Denver, while it was brutally put down at the Republican convention in St. Paul.            

This difference in the conventions should spell out to the perceptive among us what to expect from the two parties if they are elected.  If the Democrats are elected, we may not see a full return of our Constitutional rights immediately (and it is incumbent on We the People to keep up the pressure to insure the reversal of our current curtailment of rights), but I do not think we will see any further erosion of our rights.  If the Republicans are returned to the White House, you can expect the creation of a theocratic police state where difference, let alone dissent, will not be tolerated.  Think of the movie V for Vendetta.  We will have a nation that we are no longer able to recognize.            

Both conservatives and liberals believe in “the rule of law.”  But what the two sides mean by that term are two completely divergent ideas.              

To many conservatives, “the rule of law” pertains first and foremost to the acquisition, retention, and protection of wealth and property in any form.  All other rights—particularly the civil rights of others—are of secondary importance to this type of conservative.  When this attitude is taken to its logical end, all laws controlling business—the primary means of acquiring property and wealth—should ideally be limited to contract law and “caveat emptor,” let the buyer beware.  At its most extreme (represented by men like Grover Norquist), anything else—especially taxes in any form other than a use fee—is a form of noxious interference by government.            

Many conservatives also believe that this rule of law should include some sort of ruling class.  They define this as a group of individuals who will steer the nation in the “proper” direction, to ever escalating glory and power in the world, until the United States of America is as far above other nations as these individuals are above their fellow Americans.  The test most often proposed for membership in this ruling class is that of wealth.  The plutocrats justify this by saying that since the rich have the most to lose, it naturally follows they should have the greatest control over the nation.             

Liberals on the other hand are generally more egalitarian, wanting no man above the law, nor any advantageous laws or rules to protect you because of your position, your birth, or your wealth.  In the eyes of liberals, a thief is a thief, whether he is a kid from Harlem or the Vice-President of the United States.  Only the degree and scope of your crime makes a difference.                       

You hear a constant refrain from conservatives that human beings are ultimately motivated solely by self-interest, and that liberals have an unrealistic view of the world if they dare to believe anything else.  Liberals, on the other hand, see conservatives as having a limited, irrational view of the world.  Liberals believe that conservative Weltanschauung is so colored by their borderline paranoid assumption that everyone is out for themselves, it makes conservatives' judgment questionable.            

Thomas Jefferson (in a letter to Thomas Law in 1814) called self-interest “egoism.”   I would put it more bluntly; it is selfishness, pure and simple.            

If pressed, most conservatives will admit that their own motivations arise solely from self-interest.  Most conservatives will also try to claim that their self-interest is “enlightened;” that they often set aside their immediate self-interest for some probable (and more substantial) long term personal benefit.  Thus do they justify their own more generous or seemingly altruistic actions, as well as others acts of generosity or mercy, claiming that they are truly neither.  Altruism, after all (according to conservatives), is contrary to human nature—which is that of a selfish absorbed brute who does nothing except for personal reward or self-gratification.  They leave the possibility of an inherent contradiction to the self-interest/altruism dichotomy to the liberals.            

I say contradiction, because altruism is no more the opposite of selfishness than love is the opposite of hate.            

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Richard Girard is a polymath and autodidact whose greatest desire in life is to be his generations' Thomas Paine. He is an FDR Democrat, which probably puts him with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the current political spectrum. His answer to (more...)

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