My Life is Words
Words and ideas turn on the lights in the brain
Over the years, I have tried to both explain to my conservative friends what it means to be a progressive/liberal and to also try to understand what drives the conservatives to such draconian solutions to societies issues. I've decided that the basic difference between the two philosophies is whether to reach for someone to give them a hug, or to smack them with a hammer. That may sound a bit dramatic, but let me try to explain what I mean.
With the progressive/liberal - I'll simply use the PL designation for this group - it seems to me that the approach to problem solving typically takes a more compassionate approach. We see most societal problems as human problems requiring a human solution. The conservatives, particularly the so-called right-wing - I'll call them CRW for simplicty - tend to be suspicious of people. When someone is up against it and asking for help, the CRWs tend to think these people are trying to scam the system. The two groups have a very different view of people and the world and how to govern a nation, in our case, one of 330 million people.
These differences are not unique to the United States. The PLs and CRWs exist in every country around the world and are in a continuous struggle to hold the reigns of power to implement their form of government. China, one of the few remaining communist countries and unquestionably the largest is in the control of the CRWs. If you think we have a problem with crime and corruption in the USA, imagine what it must have been like in China before the CRWs came into power. Simply triple the problems in the USA to try to envision the old China. The communists took over and began to tamp down the problems of corruption and crime. Unfortunately, their approach seems to have resulted in the deaths of, and the numbers vary, of around 100 million people. Yet, for all their control, China and their "stability and order" as the top priority of the ruling elite, for the past three decades, crime in China has grown much faster than its economic development. From 1973 to 2002, the increase rate for filed criminal cases by average is 17%. Due to the Chinese government's restriction on information, details are often difficult to come by.
India, on the other hand, is the larges democracy in the world. And, yes, they are struggling with all the problems that come with being a democracy. Major problems in India include various human rights issues, corruption in government, widespread poverty, societal violence based on religion, an overburdened judicial system, so-called "honor killings" and caste bias. The relative importance of each of these issues is subjective and difficult to determine. Conflicts in India between members of the Hindu and Muslim faiths have led to violence in some cases. The rights of women are a serious issue in the country. Rape of women has become the country's fastest-growing crime in the past five years, and yet it is thought to be under reported.
Governments tend to swing from one approach, CRW or PL, to the other. In the UK, you have the Conservative Party that is generally consider center-right. They are CRWish with perhaps a few moderates. There is the Labour Party, the center-left philosophy that is PLish. We, in the US don't have the equivalent of the Scottish National Party the keeps agitating for independence from the UK; the closest we may have is Texas which from time to time seems to think it could fly solo without the support of the Feds. As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 epidemic. One wonders how Texas would be faring if they were on their own. And finally, to the left of the Labour Party in the UK, you have the Liberal Democrats who tend to push for social democracy, not unlike what Bernie Sanders is going on about in the US.
Just about every nation on earth is split between CRWs and PLs, save a couple like North Korea where a brutal dictator is in charge, or Saudi Arabia where the royal monarchy has ruled since the formation of the country in 1932. Saudi Arabia is also a brutal dictatorship held together with a coalition of tribes, bribes, and corruption wrapped in a semi-theocracy. Governments like North Korea and Saudi Arabia are like the CRWs on steroids. Inside even these strict autocracies there exists both governing philosophies, but in some of these countries any kind of criticism is stifled, often under the threat of death.
I mentioned that the PL approach is typically based on compassion and trying to understand the "why" of things like poverty, crime, deviations from the norm, and simply the day-to-day struggles of the typical American, be they citizens or immigrants wanting to become citizens.
That compassion can take many forms and, like the CRWs, can lean toward the extreme at times. A simple example of that notion might be animal rights and protections. Generally, you will find the PLs are in favor of animal protection and rights. I personally eat chicken, pork, fish, and red meat in about that order with chicken being the dominate protein in our diet and red meat at the other end of the spectrum in lesser amounts. I am strongly in favor of treating all of these animals as humanely as possible on the way to our dinner table. I do not consider price to be a justification for abusing animals.
On the extreme end of this issue are groups like PETA. While I can agree with some of their approach in terms of treating animals humanely, I find some of their words and actions to be at best, ridiculous and in the extreme, outright stupid. An example of that is their efforts to change some of our idioms such as "be a guinea pig" or "beat a dead horse". Besides being innocuous terms to describe a situation, this is hardly the biggest problem facing the relationship between humans and animals and is a waste of time, money, and casts a whack job image on the group as a whole. Instead of saying "bring home the bacon", they advocate for "bring home the bagels". Give me a break! You are sounding like an SNL skit, now.
So, within our PL group, we do have our own little bell curve that goes from moderate PLs to the whacko PLs. But, generally, the PLs are focused on making life better for everyone including animals and doing so by understanding what drives our actions.
The CRW approach to governing seems to embrace terms like control, rules, and punishment. Their view of the world seems to encompass a general distrust of the motives of anyone but themselves. They view others with a suspicion that can border on a form of paranoia. They seem, at times, to be consumed with conspiracy theories: "a theory that rejects the standard explanation for an event and instead credits a covert group or organization with carrying out a secret plot:"
Consequently, the CRW approach to governing can become draconian in nature. Perhaps one of the best examples of that has been the US approach under the GOP to the issue of immigration. From the Heritage Foundation, the self-ascribed protector of all things conservative, comes this statement in 2014: "Instead, elected leaders in the House should acknowledge that our immigration system is broken, but put the blame where it belongs—on the executive branch’s failure to enforce the law. The first steps to fixing the system must be taken by the president: securing the border and enforcing current laws." Needless to say, they are referring to the Obama administration and their efforts to address immigration.
To be fair, there is a bell curve within the CRW community just like there is in the PL community. This from redstate.com, "We, as conservatives, want those who are here illegally, to understand that we want those who are law abiding, productive members of our society to fully assimilate into America! This does not mean that they must give up their culture or language of origin, but simply embrace the great culture and language of America (“The great melting pot”), as well.
I say this as a man who is married to a wonderful Bosnian / Muslim woman who came here as a legal immigrant, stayed here as a legal immigrant / resident, and became a US citizen last year. We celebrate her culture, language, and religious holidays as well as ours. I respect her culture and traditions and she respects her new / ours. She also speaks our language better than many who were born here and therefore is able to understand our laws, our Constitution, and our history."
I'm not suggesting all CRWs are AR-15 carrying crazies. If the views of this gentleman represented the majority of the CRWs, we would be well on our way to resolving many of our problems.
The truth is that immigration, and here I'm talking about illegal immigration, is not a question of criminal conduct, it is a symptom of a very human problem. People all over the world are fleeing poverty, civil wars, drug cartel recruitment, any number of reasons that make life where they were born untenable. They are literally fleeing for their lives. This is a human problem that will yield to human-based solutions. You have to find the root cause for people wanting to abandon their place of birth and work to resolve that, not look for ways to punish them for trying to survive.
Here, I have tried to explain the differences in approaching problem soliving, using real world examples, between a progressive and a conservative, and in our approach to governing. One offers people in trouble a hug, the other often raises a hammer to subdue and subordinate them or sometimes to intimidate them. This has been especially pronounced under the Trump regime. Like the old saw about drawing attracting more bees with honey than vinegar, I suggest a softer approach will have both better and longer lasting results for our nation and the world in general.
I would call your attention to the fact that the official seal of the president does not have a Confederate flag or a giant TRUMP sign of any sort. It does not hold an image of an assault rifle, nor is it covered with camouflage. What the seal does have is:
So much for the history lesson.
The first question, it seems to me, would be, do we want a president who looks forward or one who looks backward? Do we want a president who will take us confidently into the future or one who pines for the past?
MAGA, Make America Great Again, wants to go back to some ill-defined point in our past. The keyword is 'again,' suggesting that we were once great, and now we're not, so let's go back to that mysterious period where we were at our apex of success. Where that might have been, depends on who you are talking to.
I'm reminded of a comment by a woman that was generally disliked and shunned when I was at Boeing. In her ramblings one day about the men in our group - she seemed to find men appalling - she talked about men from various generations and how they dressed and cut their hair. She pointed out that many of them were somehow trying to recapture their youth, a period in their lives where at least they thought they were at their best. Senior men were dressing the way they did in their twenties or wearing their hair in a style that had gone out of vogue decades earlier. I found it to be a profound observation from someone who most of us gave short shrift to and tried to avoid. Nevertheless, it described what many people do as they begin to sense they have passed their prime.
There is a tendency by every generation, as they age, to dismiss the present and long for the past. That seems to be human nature. We forget the difficult times and only remember what we thought were the good times. Consequently, I think we do need first to decide if we want a president who will move our nation forward, maintain the status quo, or go back to some time in the past that they and their supporters believe as having been a better time.
When we talk about change, we need to keep in mind that the presidency isn't a dictatorship in spite of Trump's efforts and the waving about of his Executive Orders that have the permanency of a high school romance. If we assume the winner is Bernie Sanders with all his progressive plans, understand that he can't do that without the Congress behind him. If he were to go to the White House, and we changed the majority in the Senate to a Democratic majority, the Congress won't rubberstamp all of his proposals.
There are moderate Democrats, some who may have been elected in a state that has been historically red (but can't stand Trump). Those Democrats have to keep in tune with their constituents and if they don't like Bernies healthcare or student loan relief, or any other proposal, their representative to Congress had better listen to them if they want to keep their jobs. Regardless of who the next president is, they won't get everything they want. The real question you need to ask yourself is, will they take us in the right direction?
The likely candidate for the GOP would be Trump, and we know he wants to return to the past - not at all unusual for someone of his age. If he stumbles, resigns, or is impeached, the candidate that replaces him is not likely to alter the GOP's vision or lack thereof, so I will focus on the Democratic candidates.
We have four septuagenarians in the race. They are, in descending order of age should they be elected, Bernie Sanders - 79, Joe Biden - 78, Michael Bloomberg - 78, and Elizabeth Warren - 70. While I think it unlikely that Bloomberg will survive to the convention, politically speaking, I wanted to be inclusive.
I have mentioned before that I prefer a candidate who will live long enough once out of the office to answer for their policies. Of these four, Warren is the most likely to meet that test.
Of the four, I think Sanders is the most progressive in trying to restore our democracy to the people. Next up would be Warren, who has embraced some progressive ideas but seems also determined, through a plethora of proposals, to be focused on plans and regulations to correct what she and a lot of us see wrong with the direction our country has been led.
Biden strikes me as moderate to slightly nostalgic for the old days. His old days are not as old as Trump's, but it seems to me that he talks a lot about how it used to be more than he talks about a future vision. Biden has devoted his life to public service, and for that, he deserves to be recognized and praised, but it may not make him a 21st-century president. Bloomberg is something of an anomaly for me. I'm naturally uncomfortable with someone worth $58 billion spouting off about how he's going to help the working class. He changed from a Republican to an Independent and then to a Democrat. I don't know whether to read that as his evolution from conservative to liberal, or simply playing political chess to improve his chances of election.
Next, we have the "others," and I don't intend to demean any of them with that term, only to indicate that the dwindling field of candidates still outnumbers a starting NFL offense or defense. Here are some thoughts on the others.
Mayor Pete - He's 37, so presumably in touch with the modern world, yet he continues to struggle with gaining the support of people of color. I can't decide if his handlers are screwing up, or if the community of people of color is sensing an insincerity in his proclamations. His views, like Biden, seem to be rather moderate, and his stint as mayor of a relatively small town doesn't inspire me in terms of qualifications.
Senator Klobuchar - She is 59, an age that implies experience and wisdom. She is a three-time elected Senator with high approval ratings in her state of Minnesota and is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. She has a broad range of experience on several key committees in the Senate. She is still battling to get her moderate-to-revolutionary message out and close on the front runners, but she could be a sleeper who comes on late in the primary season.
I won't detail the rest of the pack; Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Michael Bennet, Deval Patrick, and John Delaney simply because I put their chances of showing up as candidates at the convention at something less than 2%. That's not to say they wouldn't make excellent presidents, but we simply only need one to replace the disaster currently occupying the Oval Office.
In conclusion, as I stated at the outset, we all need to think about where we want the next president to take our nation. Do we want to embrace the future or long for the past? I understand that most of us have one or two hot-button issues like immigration or abortion or healthcare, etc., that cause us to look to a particular candidate that we think will solve that problem. Still, we really do need to step back, look at the bigger picture, and make sure we aren't overlooking a dollar to pick up a penny.
You might wonder if a discussion of government and governing is philosophy; I believe it is. The Cambridge Dictionary online defines philosophy as:
I sometimes think I'm a little obsessed with topics such as politics and religion, and perhaps I am. I don't wake up to think about things; an event usually triggers it, or a news story, or something I've read. When that happens, my brain begins to whir, and I evolve an idea, opinion, or philosophy.
That brings me to the subject of this post, the philosophy of government. At the simplest level, we have two basic philosophies, progressive or liberal and conservative. Both are dominated by a school of thought that is itself founded in beliefs, values, and principles.
Generally speaking, the liberal philosophy seems to be based on the notion that all people are created equal and thus should be treated equally or as close to that as possible. This philosophy is based on compassion and understanding that humans succeed and fail. That those who fail may be entitled to some special considerations to ensure they do not suffer extreme hardships. Liberalism believes in the rule of law but prefers those laws to focus on creating positive results rather than punitive measures. It tries to be a peaceful philosophy that is opposed to war and embraces the idea that we should be able to communicate with each other and resolve our differences. In summary, liberalism is a philosophy of trust, compassion, and progress toward a better world for everyone.
The conservative philosophy seems to take a harsher view of the world and humans in general. There appears to be an attitude that if you are in dire straights, it likely is because you made bad decisions or did something wrong. This philosophy seems more combative and ready to impose penalties on others. Conservative philosophy tends to want to dictate certain aspects of society, often based on religious principles. The conservative philosophy appears to be less tolerant of discussion and reaching a consensus on those issues about which they feel strongly. The conservative philosophy takes a hard line toward foreign policy. It insists on an active military to back this approach to governing. To summarize conservatism, it is a policy based on distrust and on the idea that strict rules and harsh punishment bring about better results than caring and compassion.
Let me remind you that I stated I'm talking in generalities. Both philosophies are on a bell curve with adherents ranging from liberal to conservative within their philosophical curve. We, humans, are nothing if not diverse in thought and deed as well as our physical and cultural differences.
I count myself among the progress/liberal faction, so let me give you an example of how we might resolve one particular problem in society. I'll use the debate over the minimum wage (MW for brevity), an issue that roils emotions from the local to the federal levels of government. This is a complex issue and one I won't try to cover in excruciating detail, but in a way that I hope demonstrates a progressive approach to problem-solving and government. I'll use the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour as an example since the minimum wage is all over the map at local and state levels.
The argument that we consistently hear from the conservative side when talking about raising the MW is the impact on small businesses, and that is true. I think there is a general agreement on this notion of a liveable wage. In a perfect world, everyone would make a liveable wage, if only we could find an approach. So, how do we alleviate the poverty of those in the MW world while not breaking the back of small business people? Here are a couple of ideas.
The poverty level income for a family of three (two adults and one child) is $21,330 per year at this point. Working a full year is considered 2,020 hours a year, regardless of whether that is one job or two jobs. To reach the poverty level of income, you have to make $10.32/hour. Remember that only brings you up to poverty - that is not a liveable wage. Per the Living Wage calculator, in the state of Washington, and Seattle-King County, that family of three has to make $30.84/hour. The poverty level is $7.91/hour, and our MW stands at $11.50 as I write this. That means our MW is just over 1/3 of what is considered a liveable wage. You can use that calculator to look at any state and county in the country. You will find a broad variation depending on the state of the economy around our nation.
Back to Seattle. I'm now a small business owner. Let's say I have a pizza restaurant that is also serving sandwiches, salads, soft drinks, and beer and wine. I'm working in the kitchen. I have a dishwasher and a server in the front of the house. Remember, I'm trying to keep this simple without getting down the weeds on the cost of pizza sauce, etc. I open at 11:00 am to catch the lunch crowd, and I stay open until 9 pm. My day crew (dishwasher and server) work the 11 am to 4 pm shift, and the night crew comes on and works until 9 pm. So, I have four employees besides myself, who are each working 5 hours a day, and I'm open six days a week (closed on Sunday). My crew is working a total of 20 hours a day times six days for a total of 120 hours a week, and I'm paying them the current MW of $11.50/hour. That puts my payroll for the week at $1,380/week. But...
If you're in business, you know there are overhead costs and state taxes, etc. I ran a pretend set of numbers for my pizza shop on something call T-Sheets (by QuickBooks) to estimate the labor cost with all the other things rolled in; something call the wrap costs. With the numbers I used for rent, insurance, etc., my cost per employee came to $27.99 per employee, and remember I'm paying them $11.50 per hour.
I said the liveable wage in Seattle was $30.84/hour for a family of three. We'll assume all my employees are married and have one child. When I kick the wages up to that number, my total cost per employee per hour goes up to $48.81/hour. That's an increase of $20/hour, and that is hard to absorb. For my crew of four, my employee cost went from $167,940 per year (that's four people working 1500/hours a year and costing me $27.99/hour) to $292.860 or an increase of $124,920 per year. That's not small change.
Any plan has to look out for the employees (trying to get them to a liveable wage) and the small business owners. It should be possible to do a ramp-up to the liveable wage at a rate that get the employee to the liveable level in a reasonable time, while not breaking the backs of small business. The goal is to build something into the taxes that give the small business owner relief for helping our country bring people out of poverty and up to a liveable wage. There could be tax breaks or subsidies paid to the business to ease their burden.
Yes, this all comes out of taxes, but if we straighten out our tax system instead of letting billion-dollar corporations off tax free, it can be done. This is an example of seeking solutions that work for everyone. It moves us toward being a nation that tries to ensure that the working class doesn't have to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to survive. There would be significant reductions in those services, and that money could be redirected to the small business subsidies. As this all sorts itself out, and it will over time, then these programs can be reduced or dismantled.
These are not simple problems, and there are no simple solutions, but these clowns in DC are pulling down $174,000 a year to find answers. It's time they earned their paycheck. What might the conservative plan look like?
Recently, a very close friend lost her battle with cancer and died; she was 76. Everyone probably knew she would likely lose that battle at her age, but it still comes as a shock when it happens. We console ourselves by saying things like, "Her pain is over" or "She's in a better place" if you subscribe to religious philosophy, but no amount of consoling statements will shorten or ease the sense of loss for any of us and some experts caution against those kinds of remarks.
My wife, Gale, and I have discussed death many times over the years. With 80 years of age squarely in our sites, we know people will be making these comments about us one day. There can be no life without death. We neither fear death nor encourage it to come any sooner than necessary, programmed, or ordained depending on your point of view. Neither of us is "religious." Gale does embrace much of the Buddhist philosophy but is not a practicing Buddhist, whatever that might mean.
Regardless of what you believe about life and death, when there is a loss, it hurts. Losses can come in many ways. Death is the most obvious, but as a child, your best friend might move to another town, or your family is the one that moves, leaving all your friends behind. Your parents get divorced. You can have a breakup with a friend or partner that results in the sense of loss. Friends at work leave or you change jobs and leave friends behind. You can lose a dog, cat, bird, horse, or any number of non-human friends that you loved, and that leaves you miserable with a profound sense of loss. There are no shortages of losses in a person's life.
While talking about loss and grieving, and trying to understand what is happening, it occurred to me that we are not grieving for the person or animal that is gone - they may or may not be aware of anything - but rather we are grieving for ourselves. The pain we are feeling is that we have lost them in our lives.
The grief we feel when there is a loss is relative to the role the person or animal played in our lives. Significant impact, major pain. When they are lost to us, it leaves a larger or smaller void in our hearts, in our minds, and in our so-called souls. Something is missing from our lives, something that was important to us on an emotional level is gone.