I had this thought in the shower. (All my best thinking gets done in the shower.) I wanted to toss it out into the blogosphere. I’m hoping that my good friends– particularly conservatives– might respond.
This isn’t me trying to be argumentative. It’s a real question, or atleast a real hypothesis. A hypothesis around a fundamental difference between liberal and conservative. I’m not interested in the definitions of these words. I’m much more interested if I’m accurately speaking for you below.
Obviously, we all begin with the same data. Suppose our data is an inner city adolescent. Like too many inner city adolescents, he has done jail time and deals drugs.
We would both look at this child and agree that a failure has occured somewhere. We would both agree that we must do everything we can to steer people away from decisions that lead to drug dealing and jail time and all the rest.
Could the difference be this simple: we have different emphasis (is that the plural for that word?) on where the responsibility lies?
For simplicities sake, let’s suppose there are three levels to society: There is the community, there is the family, and there is the individual. Societies are made up of large numbers of communities. Communtieis are made of large numbers of families. Families are made up of individuals.
As a liberal/progressive, I would put a greater emphasis on community than a conservative. I would say “At some point, this child did not hear the messages he should have heard. He did not hear and believe that drugs are destructive. He did not hear and believe that the laws exist for everybody. He did not hear and believe that he can be succesful within the system. The schools should have been teaching him this. Churches and community groups and social networks should have done a better job. The government should have done a better job of equipping and enpowering these groups to do this.”
For me personally, the issue is not so much that schools have failed to teach specific facts about the world. (Though they have.) It’s not that kids don’t who Columbus was, or how to calculate the area of a circle. It’s much more that kids don’t recognize that calculating circle area and understanding who Columbus was are worthwhile pursuits.
Some conservatives might disagree with me on this, but I think progressives and they place roughly equal emphasis on family. But as a conservatives sense of who is responsible gets laser focused on an individual, a progressive would be typically least focused on the individual.
I am not saying that progressives don’t believe in personal responsibility. I am also not saying that conservatives don’t believe in communal responsible. But I think there is a difference in emphasis.
And unless we wanted to deny that personal responsibility exists, or we wanted to deny that communal responsibility exists, I think we would all do well to recognize that there is value in truth in both conservative and liberal arguments.