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Thread: Common ground on social analysis

  1. #1
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    Default Common ground on social analysis

    It seems like liberals and conservatives virtually always disagree on a) the cause of a social problem b) the best solution. But why is there rarely common ground on the cause of the problems? For example, is doesn't seem impossible that a liberal and conservative could have the same explanation for the root of a problem such as increasing income inequality or racial inequality, but simply have a different solution. I don't get why a person's philosophy on government's role and capability should always affect their initial analysis of the societal problem. But it always seems that way.

    I'm not an expert on politically philosophy, so sorry if I'm behind here. This is just based on what I've observed.
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  2. #2


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    Quote Originally Posted by bighead384 View Post
    It seems like liberals and conservatives virtually always disagree on a) the cause of a social problem b) the best solution. But why is there rarely common ground on the cause of the problems? For example, is doesn't seem impossible that a liberal and conservative could have the same explanation for the root of a problem such as increasing income inequality or racial inequality, but simply have a different solution. I don't get why a person's philosophy on government's role and capability should always affect their initial analysis of the societal problem. But it always seems that way.

    I'm not an expert on politically philosophy, so sorry if I'm behind here. This is just based on what I've observed.
    Just using the examples you cite, the root of the problem and the corresponding answer to it, is the same to both sides.

    Government involvement.

    Liberals believe that the reason for income inequality, and racial inequality is government involvement, a lack of. And the fix is more government involvement.

    Reverse that for conservatives.

  3. #3
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    Well put, bronc, well put. I like that explanation.
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    I don't think it's too surprising that libs and conservatives have diametrically opposing views most of the time.

    People who tend to be conservative are more about tradition, and resistant to change. "I do it because that's how my parents did it." Very family-oriented and less welcoming to outside influence. A lot of that in the South. Politically, they tend to vote on morals and emotion and try to prescribe that on everyone. Because morality is absolute. This explains why conservatives claim to detest federal government involvement but are relentless in pushing legislation limiting women's reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, drugs, etc.

    Liberals are more progressive and tend to be more willing to look at something that isn't working and try to make it work. They are more activist and are more likely to move away from their hometowns to big cities, if their hometowns are more conservative. For me personally, tradition means nothing. I only care about what works for most people, and alienates the least. As I said about gun control, it's not that I like more government, I like the right government.

    That's about all I can say without this becoming too biased and condescending. I feel like I didn't answer your question, though.
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    If I could sum it up, I would eschew words like "liberal" and "conservative" because they obfuscate the real difference. On issues of social ethics/justice, I think it can be narrowed down to two major opposing schools of thought, both of which are present on all sides of the political spectrum (albeit in varying quantities):

    -) Absolutism; what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong, and to compromise is to "back down" from what is right; this school of thought encourages confrontation and divisiveness, resists change, and commonly utilizes straw man arguments to misrepresent the opposing side's position in order to avoid having an honest clash of ideas. "Good vs. evil" thinking is common in this school; it can be summed up as a "top-down" approach to social ethics and justice --- there are "objective laws or rules" at the top, and any time we have a problem, we just look up and apply those rules and that tells us what we need to do.

    -) Contextualism; whether or not something is ethical is dependent largely on the context of the situation; this school encourages a common denominator, but doesn't set anything in stone --- it tries to minimize suffering and maximize benefits for as many as possible, but it realizes that this is not a perfect world and so things can never be perfect or truly ideal, and there will always be a different or better way to do things. Compromise is encouraged, but Contextualism lacks the sense of moral conviction and satisfaction that the Absolutism has, and so if the situation is less than ideal, it is not accepted as "the right way," but rather "the best way we know how to do it at the moment;" it constantly strives for ways to improve things. If Absolutism is a "top-down" approach (taking laws and applying them to situations), then Contextualism is a "bottom-up" approach (taking situations, observing patterns, and extrapolating those patterns into theories and rules based on observations).

    To use a religious example; an Absolutist would say, "God's law says that killing is wrong, and so we should never kill anyone, not even as a punishment or penalty for severe crime, or in self-defense." Whereas a Contextualist might say, "Killing is wrong, but it's excusable to kill someone if it's the only way to prevent them from hurting someone else." Note the use of the word "excusable," implying that it's not ideal but that given the situation, it is a reasonable standard to hold a person to.
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