Absolutism

Bill Clinton, whether you like him or not (and I do not particularly like him) once said something profound that has stuck with me. He said “Conservatives seek to draw lines that should never be crossed. Liberals seek to erase lines that should never have been drawn.” I always thought that was a great analogy for the tension between right and left. Every human being has a code. Every human being has a sense of right and wrong. The problem is that each person’s view of right and wrong is just a little different than ever other person’s.

There are absolutes in nature: pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and it never changes; the force of gravity on Earth is 32 feet/second squared. But when it comes to human behavior, we have never agreed on what is right and what is wrong. You can say murder is wrong, but for a child growing up in a primitive warrior society like the Vikings it was not just okay but expected that one kill and be killed.

Now, you can say “MY code is from God so it is both absolute and right.” But that is just another level of subjectivity because there is no agreement on who God is or what he demands. Everyone has a sense of right and wrong, and the first step to being a good person is following your conscience. But the second essential step to being a good person is recognizing that just because someone else does not follow your code, they are not “wrong.”

Every human being has a code and almost every human being tries to do what they think is right. In 19th century Virginia, blacks were forbidden to learn to read and write. Now is that the kind of line that should never be crossed or should have never been drawn? Many localities forbid dancing, or the sale of alcohol. Are those absolutes? I think you would say that rape, or child molestation, is absolutely wrong, and I would agree with you; and yet the Ten Commandments, which says flatly thou shalt not kill, makes no mention of rape or child abuse.

Some people consider “compromise” a dirty word, and yet compromise is the way American government and society functions. Following your conscience is necessary, but moral absolutism, when you measure everyone else by your code, is what grinds the gears of civility to a halt because it makes people self-righteous and closed. I believe we need to accept rather than dismiss other perspectives and not be so quick to create “enemies lists” of everything we hate and disapprove of.

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Right v. Left

I grew up a Southern Baptist conservative. My first presidential vote was for Reagan. Then I voted Libertarian for a couple of cycles. I voted for Ross Perot when he ran, though in hindsight that was probably a bad idea. Then Nader. I voted for Obama twice because his sense of idealism resonated with me. (Had the 2008 race been McCain v Hillary I probably would have voted for McCain.) I voted for Hillary this last cycle only because it was the closest thing to an Obama 3rd term. lol. And of course because I thought Trump would be an unmitigated disaster, which he is proving to be. My political views are civil libertarian, socially liberal, and fiscally moderate. I believe that the free market works, but it has no soul, so government can and must intervene to regulate where it is needed, and to provide help for our citizens who need it. I think government when it is serving the public interest is a force for good, but government can also become an unchecked cancer on the body politic. I believe it is human nature to be self-serving, but that the modern, humanistic, Age of Reason world has given rise to a sense of social justice and empathy that we must not let die because it makes us a better species. I believe in science, the scientific method, and empirical evidence, and anyone who denies these forces is standing against Nature and Reason. I believe the axiom that an eagle requires both a left wing and a right wing to fly. I also believe in the saying “Conservatives draw lines that should never be crossed. Liberals erase lines that should never have been drawn.” I believe there is value in both the left and right, and the tension between them is necessary and productive. The public interest and the private interest are equally valid concerns, and the sacrifice of one to the other can only produce instability and poor results.