Us vs. Them

This morning I saw a bumper sticker in a parking lot that said “Liberalism is a Mental Disease.” This made me angry, of course. As the anger subsided, I started to feel sad — and sorry for the poor schmuck. Not too sorry for him; he drives a Cadillac, so he can take it. But still, it must be awful living inside his head.

On the other hand, having posted a couple of months ago, in this very blog, an only slightly tongue-in-cheek essay suggesting that conservatism might be a form of mental illness, I’m hardly in a position to complain. Everybody has a right to free speech, even idiots.

Without, for the moment, trying to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong, is it possible for us to dispassionately analyze the differences that are causing such tension? I think maybe it is.

First, let’s admit that we’re all wrong sometimes. The world is a really, really complicated place, and nobody has all the right answers. (There may not even be any right answers.) Conservatives will hate this idea, of course. One of the hallmarks of conservatism is rigid black-and-white thinking. But in order to have a meaningful discussion, I think we need to set aside that mindset.

I’m pretty sure some of my opinions about legal and social policy may be wrong. I just don’t know which ones they are. And I’m darn sure some of the conservatives’ ideas are wrong, but others of their ideas may be right. What we need to do is not indulge in name-calling but try to figure it all out.

I’m not proposing to write a blog entry in which I figure it all out … not today, anyway. But I do think it might help start a dialog if we can get a better look at what separates the two camps.

The way it looks to me is this:

Liberals err on the side of compassion, muddled thinking, and failure to take responsibility. Conservatives err on the side of intolerance, rigid black-and-white thinking, and a too-ready acceptance of violence (as long as they’re the perpetrators, not the victims).

It would be nice to think we could all learn from one another. It would be nice to think that liberals could learn to think with a little more clarity and to expect that people will take responsibility for their own actions. It would be nice to think that conservatives could learn to become more tolerant and less violence-prone.

Yes, it would be nice. But then, I’m a liberal. I like being nice, and I sort of expect that other people will be nice too. Possibly the conservatives are right in thinking I’m hopelessly naive.

If that’s so, I guess I should have keyed the guy’s Cadillac after all. Maybe that would have taught him a lesson about who not to pick on.

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