Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Really, Pretty Centrist

I am a self-described moderate but people who know me say I can sound “pretty liberal.”

But a core of regressives in our state legislature as well as in the U.S Congress make moderates and even true conservatives sound liberal.

In truth, I get exasperated with a tendency by some liberals to sound as though they are always trying to absolve groups and individuals of personal accountability.

An example is a story last week on New Republic by Dana Goldstein entitled, Inexcusable Absences about some truancy laws that hold parents accountable.

My concern as I read the recent DOJ report on the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, is that as a society we have an obsession now with institutional accountability.  That blinds us to an even more significant underlying problems in neighborhoods and homes.

In fact, there is ample evidence that even the problems of some individuals within institutions can be traced back to the homes and neighborhoods where they were raised.

But if you get “bleeding heart” beginning of Goldstein’s story, she makes several very valid data-driven points about how we can institutionally deal better deal with truancy institutionally, but few to enlighten societal interventions at home.

Okay, am I sounding moderate enough now?

I may have dismissed the article too soon had I not read Goldstein’s phenomenal book recently entitled The Teacher Wars, a well-written and documented overview of 175 years of American education.

It was particularly enlightening when read, as I did, in tandem with the just published revision of The Libertarian Mind written by David Boaz.  There is actually more agreement than people who only judge them by their titles might think.

This country was founded by liberals and libertarians who did not see those outlooks as incompatible.

The Teacher Wars illustrates just how old, tired and ineffective the polices are that are now being rehashed by regressives elected to high office across the country.  The far right still fails to grasp that we are not all born equal.

The book also illustrates how misguided teacher unions have been to shield unengaged teachers from consequences.

The Libertarian Mind brought to mind a friend I see on occasion frequenting a restaurant in our neighborhood.  Get him started and he will spend all the time you have and more explaining how the federal government is to blame for the collapses that brought about the Great Recession.

He has a point but fails to grasp that it is the free market that fails to incorporate the full cost of its actions into a fully sustainable cycle, instead pushing what are called negative externalities off onto society.

Taking responsibility for consequences is also a theme in The Libertarian Mind whose adherents would probably agree with the right of Michael Brown’s parents to sue the Ferguson Police Department as a rightful consequence.

But it is much more complex when consequences are enforced on poor parenting or neglectful neighbors and landlords or on personal behavior regardless of circumstances.

This is also an area today’s liberals avoid, seeming instead to absolve consequences by viewing personal responsibility through the lens of victims of circumstance such as objecting to work requirements for safety net benefits even though those were required when the nets were first erected, ironically by liberals.

Everything seems to revolve around that pesky little issue of free will.  Libertarians seem to reject any other influence and liberals often seem to sweep away free will altogether.

The sticky wicket seems to be what is blameworthy.

But none of us has been held entirely responsible for each of our actions so criminalizing poor or inadequate parenting may not ensure personal accountability either and certainly doesn’t seem fair or consistent with any of the world’s spiritual cultures.

Consequentialism and Communitarianism, are to me at the opposite ends of a spectrum, one seeming to view the world only through individual responsibility and the other viewing responsibility as a result of community interactions rather than personal behavior.

So there too, I find myself clinging as a centrist, though as I get older liberals probably see me as “pretty conservative” and my more conservative friends see me as “pretty liberal.”

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