Thursday, July 14, 2011

Right vs. Left or Ignorant vs. Educated?

The political spectrum is a complicated phenomenon. It has been over simplified in recent years, particularly in places like America. It is generally understood that people on the political right (at least in America are) anti-taxation (or at least claim to be so), pro-small government (again, in theory), anti-abortion, pro-capital punishment, hawkish in foreign policy, and against socialism of any kind (except socialized defense spending, on which they often prefer extensive socialism, though generally without realizing it). Those on the left are understood to be more dovish on foreign policy, pro-choice, anti-capital punishment, and slightly more in favour of some socialist policies such as government organized health care and social security. Of course, the two political parties in the United States are often perceived to generally represent these two wings and many people identify with the each party’s position to varying degrees. This over simplification of course neglects many of the historical foundations of the political spectrum. Most Americans, I would suspect, are ignorant of who Voltaire or Adam Smith were, or what the Magna Carta generally stated. They are also likely ignorant of the fact that both Democrat and Republican are really varying brands of conservatism. Nevertheless, in many Western countries there is a spectrum of parties that allow most voters to roughly align themselves with relative comfort. The vitriol in political debate seems to have strengthened in recent years. One remembers the strong right to left divide in the United States during the Bush years of the first decade of the century, and in Canada in the recent election there was much hatred of both the Conservative leader Stephen Harper and his Liberal counterpart Michael Ignatieff by voters from opposing parties, and much deliberate misinterpretation of what they each stand for. One can certainly understand disagreement with party positions that do not represent ones vision for one’s country if not condone the hatred with which much of the disagreement is directed.

But what I find unfortunate is an emerging discrepancy in education versus ignorance within the right to left spectrum. In most basic terms, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be an educated, enlightened, open-minded person and to find a conservative party with which you may feel comfortable. To be sure there are ignorant stalwarts on both sides of the political spectrum, but there appears to be much more organized ignorance on the right than the left. The political right, particularly in the United States, is ridiculed in much of the rest of the Western world, not for its specific political positions, but rather for the preposterous voices attributed it often puts forward. Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, these are all names that most educated, intelligent and rational people smirk at regardless of their political bent, again not necessarily because of their political leanings but rather because of their pure ignorance. One classic example of this is the issue of creationism. In America, it is relatively rare to find Democrats who push the issue. In Canada, you would be hard pressed to find a supporter of the Liberal, New Democratic, or Green parties who believes in creationism. Yet, a large number of Conservative party supporters seem to. As I’ve written elsewhere, even the Conservative appointee as Minister of State for Science, Gary Goodyear, is a creationist. Yet, creationism is known to be false. Anyone who is actually open minded to the facts and evidence, is educated in science and biology, who wants to know and understand the truth has to accept that evolution happened and creationism did not. So, why do so many conservatives refuse to accept that fact? Other issues such as taxation policy are a completely different matter. If you are a conservative and you happen to believe that corporate taxes should be lowered and government spending on healthcare should be reduced, then that is an opinion that holds some validity. It may or may not better for the country to do so, but the opinion cannot be rejected outright as completely false (unlike creationism). So, I wonder, why have conservatives become synonymous with deliberate ignorance. I don’t think they necessarily realize that they have done so, but it has become increasingly difficult to hold and support conservative values in counties where this has happened.

It seems that it has become exceedingly difficult in some countries, the United States in particular, to be a conservative, to vote conservative, and yet to be an intelligent, educated, rational person who accepts evidence based reality. If you vote Republican in the U.S. (assuming you take them to be the conservative party even though fiscally they are anything but conservative), then you are casting your vote along with people who believe the ten commandments should be emblazoned on public buildings, who think gay marriage should be illegal, who often think the earth is 10,000 years old, and who think that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had anything to do with terrorism. What is one to if you do want to vote conservative but reject all those issues as known fallacies? (To be fair, perhaps the gay marriage issue should not be lumped in with the rest as it is an opinion (though an exceedingly ignorant one) where as the others are indisputably wrong to anyone who examines the evidence and thinks rationally).

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