Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What makes me a liberal?

I had a discussion about where traditional conservatives and liberals agree and disagree. Out of it came the question of what separates us. After much thought I decided that a description of my beliefs may help explain why I am a liberal. What I write is not intended to be insulting to people with different beliefs.

In one short paragraph:

It is easy to treat those who deserve it humanely. It is how we treat those who don't deserve it that measures our humanity.

The decision of who deserves what is individual. Your opinion and mine will likely be different. At some point enough people agree on what people deserve, and it becomes a societal value. In our society laws are supposed to reflect this societal value. If the law and our societal value are not in alignment then the law needs changing.

There are some values that are the basis of our form of government and these are spelled out in our Constitution. This is important. Our religious beliefs affect our personal values, and as such our laws tend to reflect our collective religious values. But, the Constitution puts a limit on this specifically to protect the values of the minority.

My discussion here is religious, but not based upon a belief in a superior power. My beliefs are religious, based on a belief in humanity and in life. Religious beliefs cannot be debated because they are the foundation and assumption upon which our opinions and (hopefully) actions are based.

Restating my belief statement above, and paraphrasing a great man, what you do unto the least of these you do unto humanity.

It is easy to treat those who deserve it humanely.

It is trivial to say it is easy to not hit a stranger in the face for no reason. Providing first aid is a humane act. Helping people less fortunate or who have suffered a crisis is a humane act.

I do not want to trivialize the sacrifices made by people when they help out some deserving person. Easy is relative. I am very glad that some of our injured troops are getting aid they need, but that our government hasn't provided (and therefore not deserving under my definition). The outpouring of aid after a natural disaster is great to see. These are real sacrifices made in time, money, emotional wellbeing, etc. Humane acts can even cause long term or permanent harm to the giver such as nightmares, injury, or even death. But, these are people in good standing in the eye of the person acting humanely. To exemplify what I mean by “easy” is relative I will use an extreme case. Putting yourself in harm’s way to save a friend's life is easier that taking the same action to save someone who has repeatedly harmed you.

It is how we treat those who don't deserve it that measures our humanity.

Continuing with my example, though I disagree with the morality of war, a soldier who risks his life to save the life of an enemy is acting with great humanity.

We make errors. When we decide that someone doesn't deserve something it is normally because they have done something, or belong to some group. In World War II we decided that people of Japanese descent did not deserve to live in society. Clearly that was an error. We acted inhumanely. It would have been humane to let those we felt undeserving to continue their lives in society at large. We cannot give back the years lost. As reflected by our actions, we still believe that they do not deserve full compensation for their economic loss.

There are those who got what they deserved and lost much more. On May 4th, 1990 we executed Jesse Joseph Talero. We gave him what he deserved. There is a problem. He was innocent. The only reason we know about him is that his partner Sunny "Sonia" Jacobs was later exonerated. And if you think we execute humanely, Jesse didn't die on the first attempt to electrocute him, but rather his head caught fire. When his teenage daughter heard about the pain her father went through she attempted suicide. Our humanity was measured when we killed him.

These are cases where we gave people what they deserved only to change our minds later. What about when we haven't changed our minds?

I have frequently thought and said that I hope I don't get what I deserve. I have what I have because I am white, I live in a rich country, and I have been lucky. I have done little to warrant more than those in the favelas of Rio. Our condition in life is more based upon chance than anything we have done. Keep that in mind. Most of the people we label through our laws as undeserving are undeserving by chance.

Society has made decisions about what the people listed here deserve, and it is upon this that our humanity is measured. I have selected issues that generally separate liberal and conservative thought.

Undocumented people living in our society do not deserve to live in it.

We deserve to live here even though our descendent came here undocumented.

Some employed people, and those making a good income deserve preventative health care.

Unemployed, lower incomes, etc. deserve emergency room care only.

Sometimes if you kill someone or several people you deserve to die.

Sometimes you can kill hundreds, thousands, or even millions but you don't deserve to die.

If your parents make enough money you deserve food on the table.

I could go on, but the point is made. Our humanity is measured by how our society takes care of these people. And this is reflected in our laws.

Humanitarian help outside of government is good, but it will never replace governmental help. Otherwise homelessness and hunger would already be eliminated and everyone would get preventative medical care. To say that this isn't the roll of government is to say that some people are more deserving of basic needs than others based primarily on chance.

This is why I'm a liberal.

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