Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Conservative Betrayal

Conservatives are fundamentally traitors to the very world that they live in.

Don't get me wrong; some of my best friends are conservatives. I don't dislike them, just their ideology, and for most people this compartmentalization is both possible and functional, permitting interaction on multiple levels: both as philosophical adversaries and as members of a valuable friendship.

But what is it about Conservatism that I dislike? Put simply, it's the clinginess of it all. Much like a Buddhist views a soul not far along on the path to enlightenment and transcendence, I see Conservatives as clutching desperately to that which is, the reality around them. They want to prevent change, to impose stasis, etc.

Now let's be clear: many of those we call conservatives are not. I don't think there is really a totally ideal Conservative; just as I compartmentalize my relationships with people, we all often do the same thing in our judgments of situations. We may come to the conclusion that A is desirable (and so we will act to preserve it) and B is not (so we will act to change it) - ultimately, the closest to perfect conservatism that one can come is this: to wish on the balance of things that they should so remain, and to act with a view of bringing this about.

So really, there's not just one Conservatism. We're dealing with two totally different animals: the former is total (and impossible), the latter is partial. I don't mind the latter, but abhor the former. We all embody some elements of Conservatism in this second imperfect sense - we all find things existent that we would like to preserve, from lives to sunny days, or even a deep-dish pizza. This is normal, and harmless.

The other kind isn't so benign. While impossible to achieve, it may still be a stative goal of a person - in this sense, it still may cast its shadow on the imperfect Conservatism. Absolute conservatism denies the basic nature of existence: change. In doing so, it denies that which is, and can't help but being a permanently dissatisfied goal, persuit never generating satisfaction, merely more misery as the realization is made that the goal endlessly regresses.

Grasping at a state of being is like grabbing at a beach, a handful of sand rushing through your clenched fingers despite your best efforts to the contrary. Holding on to an idealized state can bring nothing good; the viable alternative is to embrace reality and its changing nature. To do anything else is to be in denial.

My suggestion: go read Epictetus's Enchiridion, available online from the Internet Classics Archive and Perseus Project, amongst other places. It's a great introduction to Stoic philosophy, which encouraged an involved life, attempting to moderate stresses and aggravations thereof by recognizing the difference between things that we can control, and things that we can't. Maybe it'll bring you some piece of mind; I know it well served me in that capacity when I needed it.

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