A Liberal Manifesto for the New Century
Somehow our fundamental rights have become points of conflict, and somehow ordinary human values have become synonymous with a rallying cry of extremists. It’s time to push back against the culture wars.
I am a liberal person, in every way. I frankly don’t understand what we refer to as right-wing ideology, which is not to be confused with being a conservative person. I also find the idea that your political stance, on any issue, has to be dictated by your political leaning insulting; this notion is (and should be) insulting to any critical thinker. I am liberal in the broadest sense, I am open minded.
I believe we all share the human condition. We are equally flawed when viewed from afar, and I’ll be the last person to apologize for it. I know deep down, somewhere in my belly, that while our differences cause friction, they are a vital part in creating diverse points of view within us. The variations between how two people see a picture, are as important as the variations between what we find socially acceptable.
Our interactions with people unlike ourselves, forces us to grow as individuals. We can’t be isolated in our heads, with our singular, uninformed outlook on life, if we all communicate our values. There may even be distasteful, or bewildering cultural traits that certain regions cling to, but it is my choice to see it through their eyes. It is by choice, that I try to learn, and understand what is like to be those people, in those situations. Even if I can’t figure out how the Hindus manage to wrap their turbans every day.
I don’t think my point of view is superior to anyone elses. I think that in the most basic way, we were shaped as much by the aspirations, the expectations, and the emotions people have around us. There are places in the world where polygamy is perfectly acceptable, who am I to say that a loving relationship between several people is wrong? Even if I don’t agree with someone’s values, my first reaction isn’t to hate them, nor is it to dismiss all their ideas as tainted. Most people didn’t go shopping for their internal value system, they were nurtured into it.
Cultural and religious differences have both tended to lead to wars. The seeds of war on an individual level are always planted long before that; when slightly dissimilar people decided, with closed minds, to feel like they don’t belong to the same species. Whatever it is that divides us, should never be given the power to keep us divided. We are all a part of the same family, like distant third cousins we only see every 10 years at Christmas.
We should all be fighting for the same causes, whether that is justice, or any other social issue, even if we can’t agree on exactly how to get there, or how it is implemented. We live in dynamic societies, some less dynamic, some more so. The fact is things change, technology drives social changes, just as intensely as affluence. As philosophers have said, we shouldn’t just stop to think about what’s possible, we should also stop to question our motives. It is only when we understand our motives, when we are in touch with our desires, and likewise fears, that we begin to grasp how we are biased.
Being liberal means caring about all people, not just those in my immediate family, or circle of friends. It means that I can’t help feeling hurt, when I witness torture, even if there are no obvious bruises, because it’s psychological. I pain when I understand the struggle of an oppressed people, I feel sad when I witness tragedy. It means I am unashamed to feel what others feel, and I don’t accept that it is wrong to be affected deeply by those feelings.
Human suffering can be caused in many ways, as a systematic deprivation of resources, an inexorable erosion of human rights, or the creep of hopelessness into a generation of youth. Rarely, if ever, does this calls for violence to resolve. I don’t believe war is a necessity, I only believe it satiates our primitive need to inflict punishment, or revenge. Might, doesn’t make right. And trust should indeed be earned.
I am not a pacifist. Being liberal doesn’t mean being a surrender-monkey, it never did. I choose to eschew violent means to solve conflicts, because I know that a punch to the kidney, or a bomb dropped on your house, is never going to convince you to change. Change comes from within. It comes from questioning your assumptions. It comes from experiencing other ways of living, and alternative value systems, which you may not have been exposed to. For some people, this might even mean discovering a horrifying fact, that they have been living their whole life, based on a false premise.
Our cultures do shape us, but we have the freedom to accept, or reject that shaping. Freedom starts with free will. This is why open, honest communication around the world is so nourishing. When we can openly discuss our ideas, or our feelings, we learn more about ourselves in the process. We can learn that what we abstractly believed in the past, doesn’t mesh with how we feel about it swirling in the air, above our delicious tea. Human rights don’t develop in a vacuum.
I believe that we all have to stand up for the little guy. Whether we intervene in a case of bullying, or whether we tolerate it, is one of the key distinctions between being a good person, or being self-centered. Hardly ever is the intervention a choice between personal harm, and personal safety. Yet is at those very times when the best, and worst in people, comes out. Heroes are forged when the risk is the greatest. If none of us turned a blind eye, the world would be a different place.
I believe in our individuality, and our independence as people. Conversely, I also believe that all those individuals influence us, through example, through peer pressure, through apathy. We aren’t entirely individualistic, when we belong to a society of many. Our habits, our taste, and even our preference of grooming, is all affected. This shouldn’t diminish our quest to find out who we are inside, but it should temper the notion that we are only what’s inside.
Traveling is a hugely important part of personal growth. It opens our eyes to things we didn’t know, it shows us what’s possible with willpower alone, often because there’s no money to throw at a solution. We have to accept the possibility, that everything we know is wrong, or at least, that it isn’t the only way. One of the great tragedies of having a busy life, is never fully experiencing the richness of other cultures. Vacations don’t do it, we need to digest it passively, let it flow through us.
Being liberal means I don’t categorized behaviour rigidly. I don’t think anal sex is a perversion, and I don’t think virginity is a virtue. The irrefutable truth about a situation, is only that it happens. The irrefutable truth about humans, is they act on how they feel at any given moment. To suggest that the way we feel, or the way we react to a situation that makes us uncomfortable, somehow makes that situation wrong, is a fallacy.
We are nuanced creatures, we have the benefit of observation, and if we saw two people hopelessly in love, engaging in some weird act with candles and thumbtacks, isn’t their love for each other more important than our disdain? We could substitute any scenario, from how we view courtships, marriage rituals, and social structures. There will be a time when we can’t fathom what we see through our eyes. This fact doesn’t inherently make what we see unacceptable, or bad. It means we should try to understand it, from their perspective.
Being liberal then is to accept the reality, that we aren’t a homogenous blob of goo like a bacterial culture. We have immense variety of thoughts, opinions, and customs as a species. None of which supersedes our right to carve out a good life for ourselves, but it also means that sometimes we need a helping hand to get it. We live in a world of sharks and sheep. We need to be strong in will, but nuanced in principle.
Our individuality may be partly an illusion, yet it still drives us. Our wish to be self-sufficient, or self-sustaining, is another key ideal that we all share on some level. Neither of these things is exclusionary in nature. We can be compassionate to those around us, we can give away some of our spoils to help the less fortunate, and still be just selfish enough to reach our own goals. Happiness doesn’t come from personal gain, it comes from sharing.
I know for a fact, that goodwill, and kindness are powerful weapons. Kindness can make selfish people feel guilty. Kindness can break an ideological war. It all starts from within, and our own willingness to allow ourselves to change. It comes from recognizing that others feel the same things we do, more or less.
We have to realize that others may feel angry, or hurt by events when they don’t understand what’s happening. When someone tramples on your feelings, rarely did they care it was actually you, it was more likely lashing out for feeling crappy themselves, and the way to fight it can be as simple as showing you care about it. You care about them. That for some stupid reason, our silly feelings aren’t important, but they matter regardless. We all matter.
The way we feel also doesn’t dictate what is right, or wrong. When we are happy, clueless of the damage we cause to the environment, or the harm we cause other people, does our happiness change the fact? Is it a factor in how we should judge ourselves? When we are angry, we view the world as hostile. When we are frightened, we often become angry at the intrusion to our otherwise safe lives, not because being frightened harmed us.
Part of growing up, is distinguishing how we feel, from how others feel. Painting the world with the colours we see at any given moment is a sign of a closed mind. Admittedly, it can be difficult to force yourself to open up, to live outside of yourself, at least in part. Yet it is imperative to do it, and do it often. The good part is, that like any muscle training, it gets easier. We can choose to grow more cynical, and conservative over time, or we can choose to be more understanding, and more compassionate. Just like our intellect can grow over the course of our entire lives, or stagnate when we stop using it.
To me liberalism is about viewing the world as equals, not feeling that I’m more important than my neighbour, even if they are a politician. However, it also doesn’t mean that I don’t value anyone, or that I don’t value myself. The distinction lies in whether I assume that my life is more useful, or more socially acceptable, or somehow inherently more important than anyone else’s, versus realizing that we are all playing in the same sandbox.
Interestingly, we as humans are also not happy without a struggle, we grow bored when there is no existential struggle to be a part of. For this reason, if for no other reason, we should understand, that even the least desirable members of society play a role. They help to keep us on our toes, they give us something to rally around, they cause problems we have to solve. People never stop to think about that. What if there were no selfish, or mean individuals? What if there was enduring world peace, and our most violent act was mowing the lawn? Life would be gray, and meaningless; we would go bonkers.
That said, we all have good days, and bad days, it’s unavoidable. How we deal with these two facts can shape our time on earth for the better. We need to embrace our differences, and not worry so much about changing them. Having different recipes for the same dish is not a bad thing. Our creativity hinges on our past experience, our sense of urgency is influenced by the pace of change we are used to, and our morality is strongly affected by the morality of others.
Completely unifying us all, in culture, in outlook, and in values, can be just as bad, as completely dividing us. Being liberal means not picking a side, but rather listening to all sides. There’s no greater way to avoid ignorance, than by listening. Knowing is the enemy of learning. There’s also no greater way of avoiding war, than by reaching out a hand of friendship. Opening our hearts and minds to everyone else, is the first step to a better world.
We all die in the end. How we live until then, is up to us. Join me, and take back the meaning of being liberal.