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What To Do When The Group Expands?

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Evidence offered daily makes it clear that liberals and conservatives differ in where and how they focus their efforts to preserve and protect their respective moral values and beliefs.

In a 2012 New York Times review of Jonathan Haidt's THE RIGHTEOUS MIND: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion [Pantheon Books], William Saletan offered his observations on some of the points raised by Haidt:

They [conservatives] don't start with the individual. They start with the group or the cosmic order. They exalt families, armies and communities. They assume that people should be treated differently according to social role or status -- elders should be honored, subordinates should be protected. They suppress forms of self-expression that might weaken the social fabric. They assume interdependence, not autonomy. They prize order, not equality....
Another aspect of human nature that conservatives understand better than liberals, according to Haidt, is parochial altruism, the inclination to care more about members of your group -- particularly those who have made sacrifices for it -- than about outsiders.

'We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.' - President Obama *

As a progressive/liberal, I for the life of me cannot understand why that observation and others of similar content is the source of so much conflict and ideological dispute. How can any rational person think that in these times, anyone but the few are well-positioned to enhance and expand what they already possess. For the rest of us ... that's a struggle.

It's all the more so because those few with the means and the power to dictate policies which are and are not implemented are making it that much more difficult for the many to fulfill their ambitions. It's hard to embrace the notion that with hard work and effort alone anyone can reach their dreams when those in position to keep the doors open have not only locked them from the outside, but are sitting on you as well.

Countless examples from both the past and present-day politics suggest these differing assessments as to where political and cultural concentrations of effort are devoted are entirely accurate. It's actually quite consistent with the Right's general aversion to change and their convictions that government should stand aside in order that each individual be free to pursue his or her interests (seems more his than her) without restrictions, regulations, or responsibilities to others.

Must be nice not to be burdened with concerns about inequities burdening so many through no fault of their own while greasing the skids for one's own well-being at the same time. Compassion and integrity can be so burdensome!

Those on the Right, consistent with their inherent make-up and ideology, focus their efforts on protecting those in their "group" because doing so helps preserve the beliefs and values upon which they base their moral determinations about policy-making. Inviting "outsiders" into the established affiliations exposes them to the possibilities of changing dynamics and beliefs contrary to their core principles, and likewise runs the risk that unfamiliar obligations and rules will be imposed.

As with most philosophical differences, what those principles are in abstract concept matters less than how adherents behave in support of ideology. It is there where conflict arises.

The problem with this perspective in the 21st Century is that the definition of "group" has expanded in our increasingly diverse, inter-connected, and global world. An expanding population and necessary/inevitable/unstoppable assimilation carries with it greater cultural, political, and economic variety and interests. In these conditions, the harder one fights to preserve what is/once was, the more society both passes them by and invites added conflict.

How do we honor conservatism's ideological inclination to protect the liberties of the individual and his/her freedom to pursue their ambitions in the marketplace in an increasingly diverse yet interdependent world? We invite only more chaos and dispute about priorities and protections by not recognizing the need for oversight and regulation in these circumstances. Several billion all encouraged to go it alone is a strategy ripe for more complex and more divisive societies.

In a rapidly-changing and evolving world, leading the way seems to be a better tactic than trying to hold back the tides of change. Conservatism has much to offer, and a more cooperative approach to policy and problem-solving will afford the Right a more meaningful role to contribute rather than merely obstruct.

The challenges we face across a broad array of subjects won't go away. If we're not paying attention to the needs and values of both ideological camps--fighting instead to protect our exclusive political turf--we're accomplishing little more than deepening the impact and consequences of inaction and compromise-free conversations.

There's nothing good about that outcome, and a partisan victory today is a greater loss tomorrow--Left and Right.

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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows I remain a firm believer in late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's observation that "We all do better when we all do better." That objective might be worth pursuing (more...)

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