Radical vs. Conservative

The latest trend is to idealize a situation in which Republicans and Democrats would work together. Slightly less popular is to declare that they are both the same thing and that true progressives should jump ship and be Green Party or Libertarian or something altogether different.

But we miss the fundamental point of working together: it’s not to agree and  make everyone of the same opinion. It’s to use all the various points of view to compromise on the best thing possible. We mistake “working together” as “we’re all going to be on the same page and get what we want.” No. We need to be on different pages and each we need to get some of what we want and let the rest go. For now, anyway.

Mark Twain said about radicals vs. conservatives:

 The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.
– Notebook, 1898

I think this points out an excellent fact about the way humans work: we balance each other out. If we’re in a situation together and you seem overly confident, I’m going to start doubting things, just to make sure you thought of everything. If I am absolutely certain that I know how we should proceed, then someone else will throw an obstacle on my path to help me work out the kinks before that detail I overlooked snowballs into a full-fledged crisis.

But always we move forward, radical and conservative, innovator and critic, dreamer and traditionalist.

Every king needs his fool.

Every head-in-the-clouds artist needs his feet-on-the-ground patron.

So what is it that gums up our works? Why is it that we cannot come up with health care for everyone, with alternative forms of energy, with an economy that doesn’t leave bodies in its wake?

Is it that the money has become more powerful than the people? Is it our capitalist notion that the “market” is a benevolent, organic entity that will do no wrong if unleashed? Is it that we have no principles in common other than vague cheerleading about “freedom” and “prosperity?”

If, instead of throwing stones at “the other side,” we could see that all points of view are necessary and helpful, then we could move past petty arguments and actually start getting things done.

4 responses to “Radical vs. Conservative

  1. I find that my relationship with my husband is this way. I am much more of a dreamer and an optimist and a liberal. I am much more head in the clouds, and he is more feet on the ground. And it is great that he can pull me back to reality sometimes, and we can find a more reasonable way. By the same token, I pull him the other way sometimes. We have both changed quite a bit in the last 16 years together, but we have changed together, and grown closer.

    • Wouldn’t it be wonderful if as a country we could operate with such wise balance as you and your husband have achieved! After all, we did start out with checks and balances, so it’s all in there, just instead of being the guiding spirit, it seems to be the weapon we use to beat each other over the head.

      Thanks for sharing your inspiring example!

  2. There is a powerful interview I’ll never forget hearing of Francis Kissling by Krista Tippett that talks about just that topic. That there’s rarely success in 2 sides meeting to ‘find common ground,’ but if the exercise is to get to know/understand why the other side believes the way they do, then there is much to learn, and much to compromise upon. And they were addressing one of the most polarizing topics possible – abortion. Throwing stones nowadays seems to be done with blindfolds on, like the sides aren’t even willing to look and see that there are actual people being hit by the stones!! YKWIM?!?

    • Yes! Yes I do. That’s a good analogy. Also, in addition to blindfolds, they have earplugs in so they can’t even hear the arguments/pleas/evidence coming from the other side.

      Maybe before we teach the 3 R’s in school we could teach things like listening, conflict resolution, compromise, critical thinking… skills that could actually help make the world a better place.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your response, Connie!

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