There’s a debate going on in America right now about the right path to prosperity and healthy government. As you’ve noticed, I consistently snark on the current (an oxymoron I know) breed of conservatives through this blog. Some of my readers debate these points, and others have told me they read my work despite my political views.
So perhaps it’s time for a little explanation of how and why I arrive at conclusions about matters of politics and religion.
The reason it is pertinent to write about it here is that my running, riding and swimming are tools and time for thinking about things that matter. There are many times out there alone when the mind has time to really focus on what matters. Of course there are times as well in which the mind escapes such things. That’s the funny thing about endurance sports. There’s a whole interior world we create in order to sort things out in life.
Starting way back in 1970 when I first went out for a cross country team and discovered the intense joy of competitive running and training, the companion aspect of endurance sports has always been teamwork. Even in such individual sports, there is considerable need for support and encouragement. Inspiration and affirmation as well. The human need for these things is universal, but among distance athletes these values take on a heightened profile.
The values you learn from distance running and other endurance are self-reliance, dedication and commitment. No one else can do the workouts for you. Yet running or training in a group of equally dedicated athletes sparks the mind.
One could legitimately call that brand of patriotic dedication to a competitive cause a really conservative value. It also afforded opportunities for real leadership. The call for individuals to lead the team is real. We lead by example, and we lead by words. I feel blessed at having the ability and the opportunity to be a leader in those circumstances. Our team won the first ever conference title when I was a sophomore in high school. Then I transferred and we won a district title on top of a thrilling dual meet season. Come college I was captain of a team that took second place in the Division III National Cross Country Meet. That makes you a team All-American.
So I believe strongly in the value of teamwork. Yet among all my teammates in all those years were many people whose worldviews differed highly from my own. There were many discussions about faith and politics during all those training sessions. Even today the triathlon club to which I belong is a definitive mix of conservatives and liberals. Some of these folks love to tease me about my so-called liberalism.
But here’s my real political foundation. It is neither liberal or conservative. It is not even Progressive. It is Considerate.
Yes I agree with many liberal values, but I also adhere to many conservative values. I’ve run the local Chamber of Commerce, for example. When I entered as President to discover there were no budgets for any of our activities, I demanded to see the bottom line. We finished in the black after years in the red. That’s a pretty conservative approach.
I’m also a follower of Jesus Christ. But the Jesus I follow is anchored in the organic truth of the Bible. I’ve written a book and maintain a blog about the fact that the most important lessons of the Bible are founded on metaphorical examples dependent on nature to convey spiritual principles. That’s how Jesus taught, using parables based largely on naturalism. I believe that is critical to understanding the Bible in its entirety. If you consider the foundational approach to truth taken by Jesus with his organic parables, then the most conservative manner in which to read the Bible is by following his example.
That happens to release scripture from all sorts of literal impositions including the crazed idea that creation had to happen in seven literal days. And when you dump that supposedly conservative view of scripture the world begins to open up in all sorts of other ways. No longer are we trapped in a cycle where science conflicts with religion. No longer are we stuck fighting over distracting issues of legalism and law. Those had their time and place, but the truth of the Bible is much bigger than that. It’s not about religion, you see. It’s about consideration of the human condition.
Pope Francis is now trying to get people to realize this broader scope of truth in the Bible. Not surprisingly, he is getting massive resistance from inconsiderate political and religious leaders who think his message is “too liberal.”
What about consideration drives conservatives so nuts? The idea of stepping back to consider what the Bible or the Constitution really means––versus hammering home some assembled tradition in order to control the narrative––is anathema to so many conservatives. And so, we have evolved a political party and conservative movement led by massively inconsiderate people.
Some like Scott Walker simply seem incurious or driven like robots toward some pre-defined conclusion. They simply dismiss questions that don’t align with their political ideology. Sarah Palin was the same way. When asked to consider the portent of some of her views, she branded that line of inquiry as “Gotcha” questions.
Now we have the egotistical firebrand Donald Trump leading the current pack of presidential candidates for the Republican Party. Trump is the ultimate inconsiderate politician. He seems not to recognize at all why or how his remarks offend. And what is the response on the conservative side of the spectrum? He jumped to a lead in the polls.
And that, my friends, is why I so distrust the conservative electorate today. There is no consideration of meaning or nuance. There is no respect for real religious scholarship or insight. There is no understanding of science or even a curiosity about what it has to tell us. Instead we find a consistent denial of all that contradicts the conservative dogma now dominating every news cycle.
This ugly approach to worldview, in which those who shout the loudest win the day, is the height of inconsiderate behavior. Pushing propaganda as a substitute for news is also the inconsiderate approach to truth. Calling it “fair and balanced” is just a euphemism for a maintaining a partisan balance sheet.
What considerate really means
Let’s take a moment and study what it means to be “considerate.”
To “consider” is defined in the following way:
“to think carefully about, especially in order to make a decision; contemplate; reflect on 2: to regard as or deem to be: 3) to think, believe or suppose.
But to be considerate is more an emotional than an intellectual question. To be considerate is to be both polite and tolerant. Where do we stand on this issue today?
Conservatives might argue that everything they believe is carefully considered. They in fact often complain or argue that it is liberals who are the masters of relativism, believing anything that comes along or seems like a good idea.
That has simply not been my experience. Personally, every value I hold has been tested by trial and by experience. When I faced the fact that my wife had cancer, my personal faith was tested every step of the way. For eight long years we held to our belief that God would provide, and many real and tangible miracles happened along the way. Yet one of the more conservative members of our church walked up to me one day and said, “I don’t know if my faith could survive through something like that.”
That statement stunned me at the time. I muttered, “But that’s what it’s for…”
I wrote a book about that experience.
The business of creation
Likewise my so-called liberal friends who believe in issues such as environmental conservation do so from a perspective of faithful devotion to creation. Their faith is not interrupted by the thought of evolution working to develop this miraculous world. Instead those perspectives inform and broaden their appreciation for everything on earth and beyond. This is the real mark of a conservative. It is therefore no contradiction that the words “conservatism” and “conservation” share a root meaning.
Every day I consider how the hell these values got divided at the gut? It’s like the neo-conservative movement wants to draw and quarter all those who abide by the truly conservative values of conservation.
That’s because it’s all about money. The deep divide in neo-conservatism as a worldview is always about money. Fiscal and free-market conservatives simply cannot reconcile their economic worldview with the clear message of Jesus Christ, who advocated distribution of wealth to the poor.
Jesus also stood by business people who demanded a fair return on their money both through labor and through interest. So he was not against the necessities of business. He was against exploitation of any sort. And herein lies the problem. When a society is structured around business practices, traditions or economic structures that exploit workers or natural resources without fair compensation or restoration, then things are clearly out of balance.
For a long, long time in America the balance sheet of extraction-based businesses has simply ignored the real costs of development and impact on natural resources. In his book The Ecology of Commerce, author Paul Hawken addressed this ugly reality by stating that business should be forced to account for the real costs of extraction such as pollution and restoration. Of course any hint of this considerate approach to commerce is met in conservative politics and by the United States Chamber of Commerce with fierce resistance. That’s because the current reality is a house of cards. Business has thus far been allowed to extract the profits and socialize the costs of environmental pollution and even global warming.
Claims that full environmental accounting would ruin industry are farcical. The auto industry was suddenly able to make more fuel-efficient vehicles when that requirement was imposed through legislation. The auto giant GM was once such a lazily conservative auto company it did not care about quality or gas mileage in its vehicles. Foreign automakers that met this consumer demand stole 20% of the market share from GM, which dared not even consider the need to change, much less how.
Equal rights and weapons of choice
So this notion that a conservatively inconsiderate approach to business and life is the way to go is massively incorrect. So-called liberals advocating equal rights for women, minorities and gays are simply fulfilling the promises made in the United States Constitution.
Likewise gun control advocates want the nation to acknowledge and consider the meaning of the first phrase in the Second Amendment, which begins: “A well-regulated militia…being necessary for the security of a free state…
Consider what that means for a moment. Really consider it. Don’t just jump over and start blathering about the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment begins with the idea that regulation of guns is vital. It is necessary for the security of a free state. Frankly, we don’t have that right now. People are being mowed down by guns on a regular basis. In fact more people have died by firearm violence in America than all the soldiers that have ever died in foreign wars. That means America is a nation at war with its own heritage, and the seemingly considerate view that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is just an excuse invented by a highly profitable gun lobby to sell more guns.
The real reason we have a gun problem is that people are too stubborn and selfish to consider the import of the proliferation of guns and automatic weapons. They are so concerned with their own rights they have no patience or consideration for the impact of those rights when abused by others. Guns make it too easy to kill. They were invented for that purpose. For that reason they must be highly regulated.
I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns. But I do want people to consider why they really feel the need to own guns. Why is society so imbalanced that some people feel the need to stockpile weapons in case––as one co-worker put it to me a few years back–– “the niggers come to take my stuff.”
There are just as many people who so distrust the government they feel the need to own guns in order to fight our own country. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of government, especially American government. Somehow nations with much stricter gun laws manage to govern themselves without “benefit” of such a highly armed citizenry. Instead America is evolving a vigilante attitude that guns are necessary to maintain peace and provide personal protection. At some level that is not freedom at all. It is war. The militias cropping up in backwoods glory are proof of that.
Fear and hate as family values
The so-called freedoms some people desire to maintain automatically dilute the freedom of others.
Racism is one such “freedom.” It is also the ultimate expression of an inconsiderate worldview. Racism is real and active in America, and typically conservative elements of our society own the stuff and stockpile it like weapons. Racism is a fascist belief system, often mixed with nationalism.
Far-right white extremism is a one such fascist segment of society. Angry white men are a well-known political faction. Threatened by the perceived loss of influence in society, they are prone to claim persecution and disadvantage when, in fact, the very laws that govern American society highly favor the status of white males. But angry white males don’t want to consider that. We’ve got a black President, after all. How can that be fair to white males?
These are the inconsiderate questions we have to answer for people before we can get to truly rational consideration of how to balance social inequities. We’re so preoccupied with the stupid questions of selfish origin that America can’t manage to solve problems without partisan conflict. As a result, we can’t even fix our crumbling infrastructure. And how symbolic is that?
Tarsnakes and value systems
So you now have my full take on the very real tarsnakes of conservatism. The supposedly healthy values of conservatism have melted into dangerous ruts of social complaint. They trip up the process of considerate government and demand all our attention lest we all wind up in a ditch. Like we did in 2008 when the economy crashed under conservative watch. Or lack thereof.
The potentially healthy values of faith, conservative social values and economic prudence are fine on their own. But deep contradictions occur when these values are launched on a society whose very Constitution guarantees the right to believe as one chooses. No amount of rationalization on the part of conservatives can prove that America is indeed a “Christian nation.” And no amount of argument can prove that social programs such as social security and Medicare are not conservatively intelligent ways to protect people from destitution in old age.
The notion that “privatizing” such programs would produce better results is a lie. The recent crash of the economy in which people lost millions in investment value while major financial institutions got bailouts because they were “too big to fail” proves that privatization is a farce on many levels. In the end, not even the most successful business on earth is truly privately owned. As President Obama once stated, all of business is dependent on society to succeed. “You didn’t build that” was a reference to the infrastructure and investment in society made by the people.
A considerate man
What drives both conservatives and liberals really nuts about Obama is that he is the ultimate considerate President. He does not act without thinking. He does compromise, which is the mark of a good politician. Yet he learned that conservatives in this era were both inconsiderate of prudence in domestic and foreign policy, and were aggressively negative toward a considerate approach to government.
There have been things about which I disagree with President Obama. The TPP partnership smacks of a payback to big money in America. Political realities sometimes demand that sort of quid pro quo. I’m not naive to that fact.
But the nation needed Obama and half the nation seemed to deny that fact on the simple premise that he was black, a Democrat by definition and too smart, some would say, for his own britches.
To me his Presidency was a watershed in my own political thinking. Having watched the last six years of obfuscation by conservatives, and having read seminal books such as Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean, it has confirmed that there are people who care more about themselves and owning power than they do about our country. The previous eight years under Bush developed that suspicion. The last six years have proved it.
The Considerate Party
So I am firmly committed to my alliance to the Considerate Party. It is neither Republican or Democrat, nor Libertarian or Green. It’s not even the mark of an Independent voter, which is no mark at all. I share my values openly, and think about what I write and read. I will consider the opinions and experiences of others, but if I find them lacking in some way I will challenge and cajole until the day I die.
So I invite you to consider that. Now you know why I think like I do. And what I think about while I’m out there running, riding and swimming. Consideration is the mark of compassion, commitment and completeness. We need more of all that in this world.