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The Road Less Traveled: The Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives

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The Road Less Traveled
The Road Less Traveled
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In Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," the traveler comes to a fork in the road and muses about which way to go. Although the poem is open to interpretation and not about politics per se, I think it can be used as a striking metaphor for why some individuals choose the conservative road in life that extols the virtues of the status quo and tradition, and why some go down the liberal road and opt for change and progressivism.

It's been my experience that most people tend to take the conservative road. For example, almost all Republicans go down this road. So do conservative and centrist Democrats and independents. In fact, the only individuals who go down the liberal road are left-wing Democrats, artists, and radicals.

Numerically, then, the travelers on the conservative road far outnumber the ones on the liberal one. Why is that? After decades of evaluating human nature and politics, I think it boils down to one thing: security.

Life is often daunting and filled with chaos and uncertainty. Many people come from dysfunctional childhoods. As they grow up and advance through life, they encounter social and relationship difficulties, medical problems, and financial hardships.

In short, they become insecure. So the last thing they want is to vote for a political candidate who offers to take them down the road less traveled.

I remember when I was working at my first journalism job in Philadelphia in 1972, I thought it was self-evident who the better candidate was in the race for president between the Democrat George McGovern and the Republican Richard Nixon.

McGovern was a legitimate war hero, a humanitarian, and an intelligent and principled man. Nixon was, well, Nixon. But what Nixon lacked in heroism and ethics, he made up for in shrewdness and political acumen.

So while McGovern offered Americans an end to the Vietnam War, Nixon offered the country law and order and security. We all know the results. Nixon won in a landslide. That was my first big political lesson: the best man does not always win.

So are most Americans doomed to always choose the political candidate who offers them the most security? Is there any way for them to rise above their fears and insecurities?

In one of Carlos Castaneda's booksI can't remember which onethe Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan tells Castaneda, his young disciple, that in order to fulfill his apprenticeship, he must go into the jungle and spend the night without any shelter or weapons.

At first Castaneda demurs, saying it is too dangerous, that he'll be killed by wild animals. But eventually he accepts the challenge and spends the night in the jungle. When he awakens the next morning in one piece, he sees a large bug crawl beside his face.

The bug has also spent the night in the jungle unscathed. At this point, Castaneda realizes they are both equal; they are both being "hunted by death" and must accept their fate. In other words, the individual must give up control of his self to the universe. Amor fati, as Nietzsche called it, the love of fate.

In the film The Matrix, when Morpheus asks Neo to choose between the blue pill (security) or the red pill (truth), he chooses the red pill. This is the choice all of us at one point in our lives have to make. Do we do what we're supposed to do and follow the path of conformity, or do we break free and "follow our bliss"? as Joseph Campbell advises.

But what causes one person to eschew security and choose the road less traveled, and the other to give in to his or her fears and go down the path of the well-trodden? One can only speculate. It's not always about genetics or behavioral conditioning. Sometimes, for example, two siblings who have the same parents and grow up in the same environment become two different individualsone a liberal artist, the other a conservative businessman.

The problem is, even in the Democratic Party, the security-based voters outnumber the free spirits. This could not be more apparent in the current primary. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are offering the Democratic voters something new, a chance to change the system and make it fairer and more egalitarian, a chance to walk down the road less traveled, whereas "Uncle" Joe Biden is offering them more of the same by incrementally tweaking the current system.

Who will prevail? As of this writing, the wild card is Pete Buttigieg. He offers voters a little of each. Also, as of this writing, the Republicans are sticking with Donald Trump for their presidential candidate, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that he committed impeachable offenses.

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John F. Miglio is a freelance writer and the author of Sunshine Assassins, a dystopian political thriller. His articles have been published in a variety of periodicals, including Los Angeles Magazine and LA Weekly. His most recent articles (more...)

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