Thursday, December 16, 2010

Moral Clarity

The growth of the tea party is the most glaring evidence of the pain poor governance has inflicted on the people of the country. When the right wing, a group heavily conditioned to stay in line, is moved by its government to rise up as the tea party against that government in ways that it has so long and loudly proclaimed as unpatriotic, it is obvious that something is terribly wrong.

To those on the left, though, these protestors seem to have finally seen the need to escape without finding the door. Their cries of protest are defeated by their lack of direction. Their generalities – smaller government, moral leadership, etc – lack specificity while calling for a return to the “good old days”.

The “good old days” of a chicken in every pot sound good to the left, too, but the “good old days” of pre-Social Security and Medicare - both positions expressed by tea party candidates who recently elections to state and national office – do not. That call is for a return to the county poorhouse and death by neglect. Such ideas lead us backward, not forward. What improvement lies within them?

A wonderful book, “Moral Clarity”, by Susan Neiman, Director of the Einstein Forum, discusses the rift between left and right in great depth. In extremely limited synopsis - she says that the right, as followers of David Hume, cling to the notion that mankind needs religion because it is incapable of internally governing its own behavior in a moral fashion. The left, as followers of Immanuel Kant, cling to the notion that ideas and ideals are each person’s guides to morality and that good governance explores the potential for ideas and ideals to achieve moral balance in society.

This right wing caution, she asserts, urges us to hold to known quantities – stability and security guaranteed by those whose abilities have put them in socially superior positions - as opposed to accepting the assertions of dreamers whose ideals tell them that “things” ought to be better. Such caution, however, may lead to security, but not to growth and social improvement.

We must be “realistic” the right tells us, and not follow the unproven dreams of idealists, but the expectation that an idea must contain from the outset a proven solution to a problem is absurd. The purpose of ideas is not to solve problems so much as to identify them and act as steps toward their resolution through political debate and compromise.

Poverty, for instance, remains a problem among our African-American population, but it is not as severe a problem as the slavery that preceded it. Nor is it the same problem it was before Dr. King dragged the white population into the harsh light of racial reality through the prism of Alabama State Trooper billy clubs wielded against his ideas.

Society advances through the evolution of ideas into realities. A movement striving to stifle those ideas is a return to old days that weren’t really all that good.

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