Liberals vs. Conservatives: A Response to Charles Hayes
Charles Hayes is one of my favorite commentators. Coming from a very conservative background, he nonetheless has a very progressive slant. He first came to my attention as a client several years ago, seeking publicity help for his brilliant book on self-education and liberalism, Beyond the American Dream.
I’ve just read two of his essays posted here: “Liberal vs. Conservative: Peace at Last.” and “Did the Cold War Condition Us to Fear Democracy?”
Like everything I’ve read by Charles, these are very thoughtful pieces. Not an easy read, but certainly within all of our grasp, and worth the effort.
Charles sees five pillars holding up society, but the liberals lean on two and conservatives on the other three, causing a great deal of friction. In typical Charles fashion–a brilliant and very well-read self-educated man–he quotes many sources, including George Lakoff (whose analysis I think is vital for an understanding of the liberal vs. the conservative mind.
And Charles’ perspective on this is especially fascinating because he was raised a southern conservative, is a veteran (Marines), and came to liberalism much later in life. Personally, I think liberals have at least as much need for community as conservatives, but they seek a *different kind* of community. And both liberals and conservatives can support caring communities; evangelical churches and fundamentalist Muslims have often been actively involved in homeless shelters, feed-the-hungry, and other social service ventures.
I’ve been having a correspondence this week with a very conservative Muslim friend who’s active on a publishing discussion list that I frequent–a retired state trooper who now runs a press that publishes American Muslim fiction, especially by women. She and I value many of the same things, but the expression of those values takes very different forms. Yet we have a great deal of respect for each other. Today, she proposed an Israel-Palestine peace idea that would make any liberal proud. And yet she repeatedly razzes on a listmate who is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, accuses him of hating America, and tells us that we have a great deal to fear from radical Muslim extremists, even though she sees them as violating key precepts of Islam.
One of the things I’ve learned to do well is to seek common ground with people who are different from me. They can hear me a lot better that way, and perhaps some part of my message of peace and social change gets through. My dialogue with this woman is an example of that, the sort of dialogue that Charles says is entirely too absent from the discourse.
And I think he’s right. We spend so much time shouting at each other and so little time listening., Yet we make big progress when we do engage, and listen, and talk.
My greatest successes as an organizer/activist always come when I’m able to help people find unity. It gave me huge satisfaction back when I did Save the Mountain (2000) to drive around the neighborhood and see our lawn signs sharing lawns with signs for Gore, Nader, *and* Bush. We had found the common ground–and we involved thousands of people and won a nearly complete victory. And I find, over and over again, for 30 years, that when we listen respectfully to each other, we not only find common ground, but we grow in our thinking a our analysis is challenged.