Wednesday, March 3, 2010


In case I haven't mentioned it previously, I'm from the Southern United States. In my experience, a white person in/from the Southern US is almost guaranteed to be politically conservative. Very conservative. And for my family, my Southern friends, and my family's friends, this guarantee rings very true, meaning my family and my Southern friends are all very conservative. And everyone they know is also very conservative. So everyone I interact with when I go home is very, very politically conservative. And, they kind of assume I am, too.

In my professional life, I'm an academic (even if I am just a lowly grad student). In my experience, academics are almost guaranteed to be politically liberal. Even the academics I knew in the South were politically liberal, so there you go. I guess profession trumps location when it comes to political leanings. And, most of my academic associates also assume I'm politically liberal.

What's fun about this collection of quasi-facts? Well, it means I get to (have to) hear very candid views from both ends of the political spectrum. Sure, anyone can turn on the TV or radio and hear candid views from the people on TV (although in my experience, most people only listen to people on the same side as themselves). But I get to hear it from regular people, all of whom are assuming I agree and are therefore not censoring themselves to avoid argument or hurt feelings. The experience is interesting.

It's really interesting, because I can tell that most people don't ever hear both sides this way. I'm so amazed at how the two sides see each other. How my conservative people see liberal people as so out of touch with reality, so trapped in a bubble where everyone is smart and good-willed, and either has so much they can afford to give it away, or has nothing and wants to get as much for doing nothing as other people get for working hard. And there is a perception that liberals don't understand that many of the policies they support would give government control over everything, and that this control is government's main goal. On the other side, the liberal people I know seem to see conservative people as either really stupid and backwards, or so rich and powerful that they will do anything to keep their wealth and power. And both sides see each other as blind followers who just believe what they're told, because really, why else would anyone believe in or support the politics of the "other" side?

Have I gleaned anything useful from my uncommon perspective? I think I have. I've found there are very, very smart people, with very, very good hearts on both sides, who have really thought things through and made a decision about which way to lean. Of course, on both sides there are also plenty of followers who have gone with the surrounding flow. But for those who have thought about it and made a decision, it really breaks down to different philosophies on people, human nature, and motivation. My conservative people have a more pessimistic view, assuming that people are pretty selfish by nature, and need real consequences for their actions in order to be motivated to be productive members of society. Meaning, if you work hard, you get good pay and live the good life. If you don't work hard, you don't get good pay, and maybe you'll be motivated to work a little harder when you get hungry. My liberal people are perhaps more optimistic, and seem to assume that given the right circumstances, everyone will rise to the occasion of being productive members of society.

Obviously this view is oversimplified, but it seems to be how things break down for many policies. Health care: conservatives think people should work hard to get and pay for their own good health care, liberals want a plan to fall back on for people who end up in bad circumstances. Economics: conservatives want minimal intervention so that natural consequences motivate people, assuming that risk will be rewarded; good, hard work will be rewarded; laziness will not be rewarded. Liberals want more intervention to ensure that uncontrolled circumstances don't dominate the course of people's lives, such as trying to institute policies to give women and minorities a fair chance at education and jobs. National defense: conservatives want to carry the big stick, because the fear of that big stick is the motivation for other countries to leave us alone; liberals want our diplomacy and good deeds to influence good will from other countries.

What do I think? I think there are great ideas on both sides. I also think ideas from either side break down in the extreme, because I think most people do need some consequences in order to be motivated, but I also know life hasn't presented a fair opportunity to each of us. So, here's to being an independent, and hoping that multi-party politics can result in good things getting done, rather than preventing anything from getting done.

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