the problem with the liberal/conservative dichotomy

I don’t have the energy to keep up with the nuances of every new political topic and issue. It’s not that I’m not interested or that I don’t think these are serious issues – because I am and they are – but I don’t have the energy to try to address the liberal and conservative talking points on every one.

Not to mention no one is asking me to. Except Rooney. But I think she might be a fascist.

This political season I chose not to exhaust as much energy as I formerly would have because I decided people are operating from faulty premises anyway. By this I mean, I could spend hours reading and writing and debating about a particular issue, and maybe even persuade a few people to consider my opinion on it…but even if I were successful in this small endeavor, I would merely be chopping down branches instead of uprooting the tree.


I listened to a podcast recently about argumentation and persuasion. The guest gave the analogy of a man riding an elephant. He said that even though the man knows where he wants to go, and may even know that the destination is in the elephant’s best interest, he can’t make that elephant move unless the elephant chooses to (second time I’ve ended a sentence with a preposition, I know). So it would be pointless to worry about anything else until the rider was certain he could make the elephant move.

The guy said that the elephant is someone’s mind – it’s their opinion – and that when we try to persuade someone of something, we are often grabbing at the rider instead of the elephant. We want to worry about a singular issue instead of addressing the root problem.

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” ~Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

And here is the faulty premise…the false dichotomy…it is in assuming that Liberal vs. Conservative is the elephant. But it’s not.

So I tried (keyword: tried) to not use countless time and energy grabbing at the rider over the last year when I knew the elephant didn’t want to move. Because most people don’t know what the elephant is.

The elephant is Authoritarian vs. Individual Liberty.

 The true underlying premise behind so-called political issues is actually whether we should favor an authoritarian answer or one which involves individual liberty. If we don’t attack this elephant, everything else is simply a band-aid on a bullet wound.

99% of the “solutions” and opinions I see people propose are operating from a false dichotomy. Immigration…education…taxes…religious freedom…women’s rights…they’re always being discussed in this traditional liberal/conservative framework. But they’re not political issues per se, they’re just issues. When we assume they’re political issues, we try to answer them with political solutions. We assume that 50% of the population are liberals, and 50% are conservatives, and so the more people we can get into our camp, the closer we are to actually solving the problem. But we’re trying to grab the rider before we nudge the elephant.

If Americans would realize that the elephant is actually authoritarian vs. individual liberty, we could start to arrive at actual solutions. And what is authoritarian? It is someone, or some group of people, telling someone else what they can or can’t do. If we operate from this framework, we see that most liberals and conservatives are of the same vein in the sense that they typically favor some type of authoritarian solution.

Immigration? “Close the borders.” “Open the borders.” “Pass this law.” “Pass that law.”

But this is a faulty premise, because all of these big-government, authoritarian solutions assume that a few people know what is best for everyone else. The alternative is the decentralization of power. It allows the individuals concerned to make decisions that best suit their needs. If someone wants to come to the United States from Mexico, I know that he is not going to start his journey through my backyard in Dallas. So why should I be able to choose a policy that either allows or denies him to start the journey in the first place? If I lived on the border and people were trespassing through my property, then I would be at liberty to find a solution that best fits my needs. What if I lived on the border and didn’t care if immigrants traveled through my backyard? If that were the case, why should an authoritarian oligarchy be able to tell me that I can’t allow that? And if I didn’t want people trespassing, why should someone else be able to tell me that I have to let them?

Yes, I know this is a simple analogy that doesn’t actually reflect the complex immigration issue, but I am describing the premise, not the logistics.

What about education? I see teachers mad about Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education. “She’s never been a teacher.” “She wants to take funds from education.” “She doesn’t have enough experience.” But this operates from the assumption that we should even have a Department of Education, much less a Secretary of Education. If my school district wants to teach a particular curriculum, or use funds in a certain manner, why should a department in Washington D.C. tell it otherwise? It’s not a liberal vs. conservative issue, it’s one of authoritarian vs. individual liberty.

Our culture has become obsessed with authoritarian solutions without realizing that THAT is the problem, not the answer. So when we spend time and energy combatting a singular issue (immigration, education, etc.) we are grabbing at the rider before we convince the elephant to move. The government may come up with a “solution” to the immigration problem, but it will inevitably be one that utilizes authoritarianism unless we realize that the true solution is in individual liberty. It is in allowing people to make decisions that best suit their needs, so long as that solution doesn’t infringe on someone else’s liberty or property. If I cannot even presume to know what my neighbor wants (or needs) for dinner, how can I (or the government) presume to know what is best for people thousands of miles away? At best, authoritarian measures reflect a fraction of the population’s will, but certainly not everyone’s. If the government makes a decision that even one American disagrees with, then what moral right does that government have to impose its will on that American?

We shouldn’t be asking “Would a liberal or conservative solution better solve this problem?”

We instead have to ask “Who knows better? The people effected, or a group of elected (and unelected) bureaucrats?”

Any solution that is made by people other than the ones effected is an authoritarian one.

The rider will never get anywhere unless the elephant is ready to move.


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