Thursday, February 03, 2005

Right and Left - A Case of Mutual Dependence

This is a thought-provoking post byAnn Althouse on the discourse of the blogosphere.

As a ranter, I'm prone to yelling, name-calling, and vulgarity, but that's because as graduate student and in my profession, I have to engage in civilized, defensible rational debate as a my day job- this is my hobby, the equivalent of throwing back a few and watching a hockey game.

That being said, it's sanctimonious posts like this that are no better than the leftist trash talk the writer condemns:

Those of the right, who believe government ought get out of the way and provide incentives for citizens to become proud, contributing members of society vs. those of the left, who know what's best for us and are into squeezing the money out of the productive citizens' pockets to perpetuate dependency -- humiliation, at bottom -- for the "little people."


There is a dichotomy between the left and the right, a necessary one that in all this "we're so good and correct, you're so bad and wrong" gets forgotten.

Republicans are interested in producing proud, productive members of society. The key is - individual members of society. For a Republican, "productive" is shorthand for "economically productive", a noble goal, a self-reliant individual that is capable of caring for himself/herself and their family.

There's the problem. In focusing on the individual, they ignore the "society" these "individuals" operate in. For a Republican, a set of productive individuals automatically results a good society. As a Democrat, I see two problems with this thinking. First, not all individuals will be "economically productive" - capable of 100% self-reliance at all points in their life. Secondly, while a set of productive individuals may result in a "good" society, focusing efforts on the shared institutions of society can make us greater than the sum of our parts. For this, we get accused of trying to "know what's best for us."

As a Democrat, I want to use the sum of our collective efforts as individuals to assist people to be productive at times when they are not capable of self-reliance. I know this first-hand, as I was lucky to grow up in a time when my family needed help, we got it in the form of tax credits, educational financial aid, and even when it got really bad, heat assistance. Because the collective effort of society helped my family, I am able to be a "productive member of society" today.

Growing up in a family of professional educators, I understand that as a society, we can be greater than the sum of our parts if we provide incentives for people NOT to pursue their best financial interests. My grandfather was a dedicated teacher, principal, and school superintendent in the same rural school district his entire life. My grandmother was a librarian. Two aunts, one uncle, three cousins and my sister are all school teachers (or teachers-in-training). While some people look down on teachers with the "those who can, do" attitude, they don't know how difficult it is to teach and teach well for a 40 year career.

They provided a tremendous service to their community and touched the lives of many people. While they got paid for it, teaching wasn't the best way to be "economically productive" in a time when a union coal miner made more than a teacher, but what would the community have lost if my grandfather only pursued his best financial option? In exchange, the state gave them secure employment, a good pension, good health insurance benefits - benefits that are derided today as handouts to lazy government employees. Society was served and was greater because the "game was rigged" to allow my grandfather to play the role of educator.

Is there a flaw to the Democratic perspective? Absolutely. In trying to manipulate society, we risk subjugating the individual too much. In setting up a safety net, we risk creating dependence. Despite the potential problems, it is a necessary counterforce to the individual focus of the Republican.

One of my life-long friends is a staunch conservative and we always say we need each other in the world. If it was just him, we'd always go to war, and we'd get overrun if there were only people like me, but while he's fighting, I'm pushing for peace. If it were just him, companies would destroy the environment in search of profits, but alone, I'd cripple the economy with regulation.

Right now, everyone wants to be so dismissive of the other viewpoint, but this can't work without the other one. Think about that the next time you cut into someone on the Internet you disagree with, or you make a vile, hate-filled post.

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