What do conservative values actually achieve?
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“‘Tis a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
– William Shakespeare
That would be an apt description of much of our political discourse in this country.
Shrill attack ads full of partial truths, irrelevancies, and even downright lies are only the worst of it. Just as pernicious is the generally sloppy use of language that pervades so much political discussion.
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Let’s consider the term “conservative.” (The term “liberal” is now so amorphous and vague it doesn’t even merit discussion.) First of all, what does the word “conservative” mean?
Look in any dictionary and you will find two primary meanings. The first is simply being opposed to change, wanting to keep everything the way it is. The second is wanting to preserve what is considered worth preserving.
When one takes time to consider the first meaning carefully, it is clear that being opposed to all change is an absurd attitude with which to approach life. First of all, life is change, and change will occur whether we want it to or not. What we have to ask ourselves is what would be good change and what would be bad change, and how can we guide change.
To consider that, we have to formulate some kind of a vision of what we want to achieve. What kind of a world do we need? What kind of a world do we want?
We need a biosphere that provides us with clean air and water, fruitful soil and a stable climate. If we lose that, nothing else matters because we will be gone. Something will survive (physics teaches about conservation of matter and energy) but not something we would recognize as us.
This immediately brings us to the second definition of conservative, namely wanting to preserve what is considered worth preserving. Now this makes perfect sense, in fact is imperative. And I claim to be an arch conservative in this regard.
I want to conserve our environment, our manufacturing capability, our middle class and public education.
I do not want to lose one bit more of our precious biosphere. I love clean air and water. I love the good soil in my garden, built up by years of composting. I love a stable climate that allows me to garden, and farmers to farm. You cannot know how to grow food if you cannot predict the weather to a reasonable extent.
I love the wilderness and the wildlife. I deeply believe we must be humble enough not to destroy God’s creation. For people to destroy, or even degrade, any part of our precious biosphere in order to increase their bank accounts – that is nothing less than murderous insanity.
Those who oppose environmental regulation are condoning murder. We have to protect the environment. The question should be how can we best protect it? What kinds of regulations are effective?
We wouldn’t want the government to ignore murderers. In fact, apprehending and punishing criminals is a primary reason to have a government. Apprehension and punishment of polluters and destroyers of the biosphere, the font of our very health and safety, is equally important.
We also need peace. War destroys everything. I take the conservative or cautious view that we should focus on our own business in this country and stop meddling in the affairs of other countries. The peaceful way to win friends and influence people is to serve as a shining example here at home.
After getting clear on what kind of a world we need, then we can and certainly should ask ourselves what kind of a world do we want. Do we want a dog-eat-dog world where it’s every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost?
I don’t. I don’t want to live in a world where we are all just one or two misfortunes from disaster. I don’t believe we have to do that. So in this sense I am a progressive, because I believe God gave us the ability to make our world a kinder, more loving place.
I am confident that we could afford single-payer health care for all, with health care as a right rather than a privilege of the wealthy, just as every other industrialized nation does. All we need to do is cut back the military-industrial complex.
I believe we can afford to rebuild our infrastructure, invest heavily in clean energy technologies, and create and maintain an economy that guarantees full employment.
So, when we ask what kind of a world do we want, I am a progressive. I believe we can make progress toward a better world for all of us – but only if we stop calling each other names, using labels we don’t even really understand, and instead try to consider our situation and possibilities intelligently and civilly with respect for the opinions of others.
“What Do We Really Want?” appears on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Mary Boland is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother, and a longtime resident of Carbondale. Follow her on twitter@grannyboland.
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