A Question of Political Theory

by

I promise I’m not trying to take over the blog and post every day.

(Sorry, Sandi. I hope you post a column today and just knock my little question here down a notch. I was just reading and thinking and want some feedback to a question of politics.)

I have a question to which I’d like to hear some opinions. It seems that all political parties agree that there are many things that qualify as “bad” in our world. Democrats focus on a few as the most outrageous issues, Republicans on others… And both sides offer solutions of course, at least on some level (even if it doesn’t go much beyond Elect us!). Both sides disagree with each other’s solutions.

I’d like to peel back the onion and ask the readers’ opinions on the root causes of all these bad things in the world around us. It seems to be a fundamental question of political theory. If there are solutions to problems, then they must not be band-aid solutions, but solutions that strike to the root of those problems. As my American hero, Barney Fife, would say, “Nip it in the bud.”

What do you guys think? From where do the major problems in the world around us stem?

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9 Responses to “A Question of Political Theory”

  1. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al,

    First of all, thanks for taking my Sunday post. My grandfather passed away on Monday a week ago (1/9) so I’ve been rather busy lately. While I was saddened at the loss, he was 89, a faithful Christian man, and it was somewhat expected.

    The short answer to your question is our selfishness and self-centeredness. When I see marriages fall apart it is always what he/she is not doing for me. When I look at the situation in New Orleans, if the media can be trusted on this, the mayor had promised using money to build stronger levies, which is not even in the works. It’s not about the people and the poverty issue has not even been addressed realistically. In politics, the focus always (even if it is in the background) is on getting re-elected. Whether that means cowtowing to lobbyists or towing the party line, in general, all politicians, Republicans and Democrats, have as their primary goal getting re-elected.

    Money and power play their roles but I see this as the rich and powerful summoning the full force of their wealth and power to accomplish self-centered objectives.

    But then that’s why we needed a savior to tell us that being truly human means sacrificing self interests for the sake of the other. But now I’m getting religious on a political post–sorry. 🙂

  2. Malki_Tzedek Says:

    While I agree with you, Duane, that selfishness is a factor behind “world problems,” you sound a little too much like someone reading a lot of Paul. (why not considering your translating work) But I think that I want to take a different route. Just saying that selfishness is the problem and if we were all unselfish then things would be great is a little too easy(at least on paper). It seems that the big issue between the political parties in America is their value system. Democrats place much value on freedom and choices, where as Republicans plcae much value on responsibility and national interests. This is not to say that these things are not considered by the other. I am just making generalizations. To give a better example, same-sex marriage. Democrats believe that it should be ok to join 2 people of the same sex in a federally recognized union. How they come to this belief is somewhat muddled, but it basically comes down to them believing in freedom above all else. Republicans believe no such union should be allowed. This seems, like most of Republican beliefs, to be based loosely on some form of religious (e.g. the Bible) background or belief. So in reality, the problem comes from a fundamental difference of opinion regarding what values are a “given” in the world. For most of the world, life is a value that cannot be repressed. After that, the lines start blurring.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Interesting stuff so far. I don’t want to interject too much yet, giving others a chance to chime in before I respond.

    I do find Maliki’s response interesting on several fronts, and I hope this will be the first of many thoughtful comments like this one!

    One of the interesting things to me was that when I used to teach Civics I would teach that “freedom” was a big word to Republicans and “equality” the biggie to Democrats. This may have changed since then. At the time, I would explain that the right side of the aisle was less interested in “big brother” telling them what to do, while the left side was more interested in intervention in attempts to provide a “level playing field” for everyone. The “equality” card still works in regard to the example Maliki proposed, but the “freedom” value doesn’t play on the Republican side here.

    I digress. Back to the original question now, please…

  4. Sandi Says:

    Al, I don’t think your response was a digression at all. I also found Malki’s response interesting because of his characterization of Democrats as being all about freedom and Republicans being all about responsibility, whereas you said that Democrats are about equality and Republicans, freedom. Both his and your characterizations are right, depending on how you define the terms “freedom,” “responsibility,” and “equality.” And therein lies the rub.

    I gotta put in a plug for George Lakoff here (linguistics professor at Berkeley). His 1996 book “Moral Politics” explains all this stuff as well as I’ve ever read it explained in one place. But for my own part, I have always thought that invoking notions of “freedom” is a pretty crappy way of legitimizing or defending anything. Freedom as such, undefined by context, is devoid of moral content, and can be used for good or ill. It is not its own value. This is not to say that freedom, in a limited sense, is not a necessary precondition for developing and living good values; I believe that it is. But freedom is not itself the value.

    Responsibility is another interesting word. It is a great value, but it depends on how you define it. The main divide between progressives and conservatives about responsibility is whether it is primarily individual or primarily collective.

    Likewise, equality is a loaded word with contested meaning. One way in which debate over equality as a concept is articulated is by the notion of “equality of opportunity” versus “equality of result.” (Most often this was invoked in the debate over affirmative action). Then there is the issue of how equality and difference interact. All fascinating questions.

    But as for what’s wrong with us, I think Duane is pretty close to right. I would add as a related concept a failure of empathy.

  5. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, here’s why I ask…

    I’m reading a book by Philip Yancey (no apology necessary, Duane, for injecting religion in the political question – it was a religious book that prompted the political question in the first place!).

    He was writing about how he sees both political parties blaming lack of education and poverty for all our social problems, and the opposite as the solution.

    He countered with the view from Shakespeare’s day that the most educated and wealthy were seen as the villains instead of the well-adjusted. Shouldn’t those with the most education and most money be the models for society if those are the cure-alls?

    I purposefully asked the question with a political emphasis, because if I asked as a Christian question: What is the root of all evil? (the question I did, in fact, ask), then the response would have been universally similar.

    I don’t think Paul’s idea in the New Testament that the “love of money” is the root of all evil is that far-fetched. And I don’t think it necessarily disagrees with the comments offered here (i.e. selfishness, lack of concern for others).

    It does, however, disagree with the fundamental assumptions of both political parties as to what causes our problems and what, by extension, fixes them.

    Feminist issues = camps divided mostly over money (e.g. Sandi’s discussion of status)

    Same-sex marriage = camps divided mostly over money (marriage benefits)

    Tax breaks vs. hikes = obvious

    I’m not saying every issue is a money issue, but I am saying that the saying, “It all comes down to money,” isn’t too far-fetched.

    And if “love of money” really is a root of bad things, then what political solutions result?

  6. Sandi Says:

    Hi Al, the reason that every issue is not a money issue is that there are qualitative, intangible aspects to what I called “status.” It definitely is not all about money. In a capitalist society, it is often hard to separate the two because money often confers status and often, but not always, the opposite is true, that status leads to financial success.

    Since I am not a fan of capitalism — and I agree with you that “the love of money is the root of all evil” is probably at least half of it — I am not particularly interested in merely achieving economic parity (in whatever way you define that, for whatever groups you think need to achieve it). Rather, what I am interested in is, to put it very simply, respect. (Aretha Franklin playing in background, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me …). There are several ways to express this — notions of stigma is one way it has been expressed in the psychology literature, for example. But basically, it’s about eliminating illegitimate hierarchies (to the extent that there are legitimate ones, which is a highly academic question, I admit) that are based on the premise that some people are better than others based on group characteristics or any characteristic that is ascribed, whether biologically or culturally.

    Here’s a feminist example: it is considered degrading to men to be called feminine or woman-associated things. I.e., “you throw like a girl.” (to take a non-obscene example). In this culture it is considered humiliating or degrading to be like a girl. By extension, it is considered degrading to be a girl. Giving women economic parity, however you measure it, is not going to achieve equality if people still say things like “you throw like a girl” and they retain their power to wound.

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I don’t know that I’m making my point very well yet, mostly because I haven’t really located my point just yet.

    I agree that providing economic parity is not the answer. I was trying to say that, but it didn’t come out that way.

    I am not a fan of capitalism either, but from a religious perspective. It strikes me as sadly ironic that Jesus has come to be seen as cozy with the idea, but if there’s any hint to that in his teachings or any other teachings in the Bible I’d like to see it. Jesus (and the entire Bible) has a completely different view toward money than capitalism, but no one bothers to point that out. At least in America, where I live.

    I think this gets me closer to my point. America sees its solutions from a money-centric view of life, and I think that is sadly misguided. And not going to work. Which is why I have little faith that either political party can offer hope to the “real” problem that faces us – which I’ll side with you and say, the problem of basic decent “respect” for others.

  8. Duane McCrory Says:

    Lack of respect for others, which brings us, I think, back to my point of self-centeredness, i.e. I don’t have to respect you because my thoughts, feelings, interests, etc. are all-important whereas yours are not.

    Just my own reflections.

  9. Sandi Says:

    Al, I am so glad that someone is finally willing to point out in a (semi) public forum that the true teachings of Christianity and capitalism are fundamentally incompatible. They just are. Usury (i.e., charging interest) was once considered a more serious sin than adultery, if I recall my medieval literature class correctly. Boy, how times have changed. Of course, I see this from a more secular perspective, but I think we are trying to get to the same conclusion, which is that capitalism, while undoubtedly fostering “progress” and the collection of “things,” also creates a lot of perverse incentives to lie, cheat, and play dirty in order to make money. I see it every single day in my work, and I notice it in life too. Capitalism will not temper itself or go away because of my vote (and who knows, maybe if I did a complete balancing of pros and cons I wouldn’t want it to) … but at the very least we can acknowledge that its precepts do not closely track what I think of as good values.

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