My Libertarian Friend

I recently added a poster to my facebook timeline with the following text:

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges.” George Washington

My comment on this poster suggested that, if true, this one statement could put the Fox network out of business. My libertarian facebook friend replied that he didn’t understand my comment about the Fox channel. This fellow and I have had numerous and lengthy conversations, during which we seem to dance around issues until one of us, usually me, gets tired and stops responding. It is not that I don’t think about these things, but I’m reluctant to start another long cycle of discussions that often end in frustration for me.

So I thought I’d post my answer here, with the caveat that responses are welcome and encouraged, but that this blog post stands alone, and I very likely will not respond to responses. So here we go…

The comment that the statement, if true, will put the Fox network out of business was tongue-in-cheek. And I must warn you that my response below will also contain some humor. It is up to you to determine its location and respond with appropriate guffaws.

To explain the joke, it is important to understand that an often used argument by my conservative/libertarian friends about things such as gun rights, immigration, social security, the affordable care act, etc, is that the founding fathers clearly would not have embraced these ideas, and then proceed to produce quotes from these guys to prove the point. I find these arguments weak. The founding fathers wrote a lot of stuff, and much of the quoting is done out of context with snippets that perhaps prove a point, or at least muddy the point. To me, saying the founding fathers would have acted xyz to a current issue is pretty naive. These guys were brilliant, and no mistake, but to suggest they had the foresight to anticipate our current immigration problems and beef up the constitution accordingly seems plain silly.

So the joke was, I had posted yet another out of context quote, and not just from one of the founding fathers, but from THE founding father, suggesting that we welcome all ethnicities and religions to this country seems to fly in the face of the right’s founding father argument regarding immigration.

Ha ha!

I’ve long puzzled about the different ways the folks on the right think compared to those on the left. For most of my life, I could come up with no plausible explanation why myself and fellow progressives thought one way, and the conservatives/libertarians felt just the opposite on several issues. Some reading I’ve done lately has given me a clue. In surveys conducted on both groups, progressives score higher on empathy, and lower on fear, while conservatives/libertarians are lower on empathy and higher on fear.

So on an issue like immigration, progressives tend to empathize with immigrants, and not fear them as a group, while the other side feels little empathy for them, but tends to fear them as a group.

Empathy and fear are powerful feelings. When you fear your neighbor, you’ll want to be sure you can defend yourself if that neighbor goes crazy. And when you fear the government, who’s job it is to (supposedly) protect you, then you’re going to want to have more and bigger guns than the group you are afraid of, because obviously the government won’t help. And if you happen to be a sloppy thinker, then any time a crime is committed by a member of a group you fear, you will attribute that crime to the entire group. You will furthermore tend to discount incidents when members of the group you fear perform a meritorious service.

Having empathy can also blind one, but it seems to me that people with an overabundance of empathy seldom go on rampages, say like giving flowers to every person they meet, or forcing so much bean soup on homeless people that a city-wide over-flatulence occurs. Having too much empathy can cause problems, however. If we, as a society, spend all our resources seeing to it that everyone has an equal foothold on the resources on the planet, there can be consequences. This has been tried by some governments with varying results. The question seems to be whether the peoples in the two systems, capitalism and socialism, when compared to each other, are as happy, happier, or less happy. Some results from surveys have suggested the answer to this question is not clear cut.

It seems that empathy/fear is sprinkled about the population in varying degrees. The Fox network seems to me to celebrate the low empathy/high fear way of thinking, and thereby attracts a wide viewership. It is nothing to be ashamed of, they’ll tell us. In fact, you people are the heroes. And perhaps this is true. My personal take on this is we have separated ourselves from the other species on the planet only through our efforts at cooperation. Virtually everything we’ve accomplished on the positive side of the ledger has been as the result of cooperation, which has a strong component on the high empathy low fear side of the equation.

As the population of humans continues to grow exponentially on a planet of finite resources, problems such as climate change, global pandemics, and diminishing food resources, to name a few, will require us to work together to solve. We’ll have to work together and sacrifice to ensure a habitable planet for future generations. Or we can argue that working together is just a plot to take away our rights. The choice is ours.

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