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Liberal vs Conservative: Clash of Ethics

Let’s say some kid is 5’2″ and works his butt off to get into the NBA, but just isn’t very good and can’t get drafted. If another fella who’s 6’11” but kind of a slacker gets drafted, it’s just not fair to the first kid. But then let’s say he makes such a fuss that the NBA says, “Okay, we’ll do what’s fair and let you, and anyone else who has worked really hard, be in the league.” I think fairness would be achieved, but no one would want to watch basketball anymore.

In social justice issues, I think this is how a lot of conservatives see liberal activists. In whatever way conservatives have come across their information (maybe they see the system working well) they often conclude that liberal activists are just people who are complaining because they can’t get what they want, even though it will bog down the system for everybody. The ethic I think conservatives prize is self-sacrifice for the benefit of the entire community. They might say, “Why can’t they understand that sometimes life isn’t fair. I’ve had to deal with unfairness too, but the system works.”

And when they suggest that some selflessness in unfair issues can bring the betterment of the whole, liberal activists claim they couldn’t understand because it’s not unfair for them, and they get called bigots.

Now, let’s say there’s a community basketball team and there are tryouts. But the coach who is picking the teams is friends with some of the parents. And when all the kids try out he just picks his friends’ kids. Then, feeling like the coach and his friends are being vastly unfair, the parents of the unpicked kids confront the coach and his friends. Eventually the coach relents and picks the most talented kids who have earned it.

This is how I think a lot of liberals see conservative systems. They need to fight because the system leans towards unfairness. In whatever way they came across their information (possibly those they love were the unpicked kids) the liberal’s primary ethic is to fight for fairness for the individual. They might say, “Every person has unalienable rights to happiness! Why can’t those in power understand how they are denying people of this?”

But when they make a fuss they get called rebellious, rabble rousing trouble makers.

A solution

I think most liberals and conservatives are probably mostly fighting for their good ethic. I assume we all have some mixed motives but overall, both sides want what is best for people. Assuming the best of people, I conclude that the gap is in our understanding about the reality of the systems. This is why stories are important. Not as propaganda to push one side, but as awareness. Awareness that sheds light on where exactly unfairness, and where exactly selfishness are working in each social system.


A person I know started a campaign to allow dogs at work because he said it was unfair to discriminate against dogs. “Our dogs should have rights too.” Now, I think that might be an example of someone who confused his motives of fairness with his selfish desire to bring his dog to work. That sort of story feeds the conservatives biased view of liberal activists. It causes many conservatives to assume all liberal activists are that way.

And I read Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy which convinced me that some prisoners did not commit the crimes they were profiled for and were unfairly imprisoned. These sorts of stories fuel liberals’ passion of pursuing fairness. Many liberal activists assume the whole conservative system is corrupt.

Both exist. So maybe we should listen, and understand that we don’t always need to fight for fairness or selflessness. We are all fighting for both. We need to see which situations we need to fight for fairness, and which ways we need to take one for the team because we’re just not made for basketball.

Have mercy you guys. I’m doing my best here to make sense of my polarized friends. Forgive my faults in these explorations. Please add something to the conversation if it is a story or a help to understand. But if you respond on Facebook again with a lot of reasons your side is right, I’ll assume you didn’t get the point.

I love ya’ll. And I want you to understand and love each other.

Raw Spoon, 1-26-17




These BLOGS are usually inspired by messages I (or friends) feel we have heard from God. This is the nature of our God. Listen for how he may be speaking to you.

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