I hear a lot of definitions around “What is Right” and “What is Left” or Conservative/Liberal, Republican/Democrat, Nature/Nurture, Male/Female, Defensive/Embracing and so forth. There is no agreement, and never will be. There are popular, academic, scholarly, philosophical and deeply politicized definitions, many of which are deeply prejudiced.
It seems to me that clusters are more important than specifics or mono-blocks, so long as you also realize that individuals actually contain multitudes: that they can lean “Copnservative” t on one issue, but “Progressive” on another. We’re complicated.
While making it clear that politics is not my arena, many of my close friends are indeed deeply politicized, and I’ve listened to and engaged in thousands of hours of talk on the subject. My primary goal in defining things so that they make sense to me is to define things in a way that avoids damning or praising either side. Not that I don’t prefer one side, because I do…for my own reasons. Not that I don’t think that one side or the other can, as the pendulum swings, be a more rational approach to the world’s problems. But any definition that implies a basic flaw in the most basic aspects is to be avoided. I see nothing useful there.
While there is no definitive one for me, one that works in so many cases that I find myself thinking in these terms more frequently than any other is that the Right seems to be the protector of traditions and history, and the Left is a cultivator of dreams for our future. What works on the one hand, what might be even better on the other. Clearly, both approaches have plusses and minuses. MOST of what we do is rooted in past behavior. A culture that reinvents the wheel every day never progresses. You don’t seek a new way to tie your shoes or drive to work every day. It is through inculcation of habits, grooving what we know about everything from clean water to infant health that we survive. But it is dreams, testing, asking how we can improve, how can we be healthier, happier, more free, asking what traditions are obsolete, and how can human beings evolve socially, that is responsible for all we have accomplished as well. Everything was once new, once mocked, once reviled…until it worked. At which point it become part of our heritage, and we move on. And this is not negative. It is not foolish to question the new, any more than it is foolish to question “we’ve always done it that way.” Mutations tend to produce cancer more often than Wolverine. Tradition keeps us alive. But without Progression, we stagnate and die.
There will always be a tension between these things. And if there was an objective position to take, it would be clear (I believe) that in general there is an equal amount of wisdom and asininity on either side. As I’ve said…there are individual eras or moments of history in which one side is probably far more “correct” than another, but as beings functioning WITHIN the system, it is probably difficult to know at the time. We’ll have different opinions. And that’s part of the cost of living in a democracy–we will disagree about what is the best way to live, how much of the past is good, and which future we should build.
It is galling at times. Frightening. Exhilarating. The only alternative I know of would be to be ants or termites, which have not changed in a hundred million years…or on the other hand to be utterly anarchic, everyone following his own path, which is no better than total regimentation depending on how much one values survival over “freedom.” Sigh.
Its tough. But if you think that the current world is providing challenges we’ve never faced before, I politely suggest that you are looking at the surface, and haven’t studied your history. Everything old is new again, and we’ll survive this part of the cycle, the human race inch-worming forward, never too far ahead of itself without triggering a backlash, which in turn triggers a drive to vault forward again. Those who will contribute the most, who the world needs the most, will be those who can see both the Yin and the Yang, and grasp that those one either extreme who scream “all is lost” or “we’re the only truth” have always been among us. And they have always been wrong.
I choose to think there is nothing so special about the current generation that we happen to be the ones for which it is finally true. How we feel depends upon what we focus on, the questions we ask ourselves.
I choose both joy, and readiness. The children of the world need me to be an adult. The sleepers need someone to be awake. To be awake, and adult, and remember the cycles of change strikes me as being the best way I can thank those who came before me…and make the way for those who will follow.