08 May 2005

Two Kinds of People...

As everyone knows, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don't.

Being one of the first kind of people has certain advantages: for example, you're able to account for things some people do that is otherwise inexplicable, such as re-electing George W. Bush. If you believe there's only one kind of people in the world, you'd have to think that 51% of them had become psychotic, or had been replaced by eidolai that came out of giant bean-pods in the garage, or had suffered some other incredible mishap that, if you took it seriously, would make you doubt your own grip on reality.

When my daughter Nelly started to ask all those questions that start with W, my favorite was "Daddy, what makes them do that?" -- because it was the only one I felt I could honestly get away with answering, "I really don't know. I've never been able to figure that one out." I didn't have the heart to tell her there are two kinds of people in the world, at least until she was old enough to have some compassion, understanding, and respect for such poor benighted souls following their leader (whoever he happened to be) into the darkness: they can't help themselves, sweetie-heart, because they are, well, different from us.

At a political luncheon on that fatal election day last fall, I heard a dear friend and fellow traveler describe the dichotomy thus: "What we (liberals) want is a big tent, and for everybody to be able to get into the process; all they (the conservatives) want is 51%, and they're willing to do anything to get it."

It may seem at first glance that my friend is with me, believing that there are two kinds of people -- liberals and conservatives, in this formulation -- liberals recognizing and respecting difference, hence their open-door policy; while conservatives only see things one way -- their way.

But in fact it's the other way round: liberals believe that all people are created equal, and therefore are entitled to every protection the law can provide; conservatives recognize clearly that there are two kinds of people -- the good ones (them) and the evil spawn of the devil (us) who must be exterminated by any means necessary.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.
-- William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming (1920).

Well, maybe each group has both kind of people in it, which might account for Jim Wallis's encouraging book God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It as well as Dennis Miller's going over to the Dark Side.

Bernard Shaw, in his seminal modernist rant The Quintessence of Ibsenism, divvies up the world's population into Idealists and Realists (well, actually there are also the Philistines, but they count for little, since they're able to get along pretty much with things as they are). It would be tempting to think, at least among the combatants strutting and fretting their hour upon politco-cultural stage today, that the liberals are the realists, trying to get government to mirror the world as it is -- i.e., full of all different kinds of folk, including not only fat rich straight white ones, but also people of all different colors, races, creeds, genders, sexual orientations, and body weight -- while the conservatives are the idealists, trying to force everybody to force everybody to actually be all the same -- i.e., aligned with the Lord and imbued with Fambly Vayooze.

Again, at least to this two-kinder, that's backwards. Liberals believe that government can actually evolve (with help, admittedly) into the Peacable Kingdom, whereas conservatives *know* that the only thing government is really good at is preventing some people from doing what they want (albeit, sometimes, to the benefit of all concerned). Who was it who brought the term realpolitik into our national discourse? Wasn't it Henry the K (may the vultures roost on his shoulders)?

I think the only way to make any sense of this controversy is to get Biblical on its ass.
And the Lord God said..., I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
-- Genesis 3:14-15, King James Version

That pretty much sums it up for me, how about you? The thought has occurred that this might be an evolutionary thing, possibly even DNA-related (as was clearly the case between the woman and the serpent), and that the survivor in the culture wars was going to be the one with the passionate intensity, irrespective of position on the issues.

Does being a big-tentist preclude being a realist? I sure hope not, but Team Liberal better find itself a firebrand somewhere and soon, cuz night is falling fast.
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
-- Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach (1867).


At 29 March, 2006 14:12, Blogger Chris said...

Gee, Bill, I enjoyed this! Don't know why it took me so long to get in and read it!

At 26 April, 2007 16:07, Anonymous John Weingart said...

I think this big tent vs. 51% split is exactly right and, since it is a thought I have had myself, very profound. Had the Supreme Court chosen Gore, there is little doubt that he would have formed an administration that reached out to, and included people from, the 50% of voters who had voted for Bush. The problem is that people like us care about people like them but that care is not reciprocated.


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