Monday, May 2, 2016

So, What Are We to Make of All This

So, if one is willing to accept my taxonomy that liberals are people who value social breadth over social depth and conservatives are people who value social depth over social breadth, what are we to make of it?  Where to we go from here?  (And by we, I specifically mean we liberals, valuing breadth over depth).

A few suggestions here.

Learn to see things in terms of depth versus breadth.  Recognize that both are good, but that there is a trade-off between them.  And stop defining social good solely in terms of breadth.  This is not to say stop promoting breadth.  Breadth is good and valuable.  But so is depth.  So start looking for ways to cultivate depth as well as breadth and start learning to appreciate its value.

Don't mock.  Read and re-read this column explaining to people who prefer breadth why depth is a valuable thing.  It features John Wayne reading a poem celebrating the virtues of social depth.  The author apologizes for it being so "kitschy," but invites the listener to admire its "lack of irony or cynicism."  And ask yourself, seriously, what is wrong with the social vision it sets forth.  A lack of breadth, most liberals will presumably respond.  The charming, close-knit society being celebrated had an ugly sign out that said, "For Whites Only."  And no doubt it could be uncomfortable for a lot of non-conformists.  But in spite of all that, the sort of social depth it celebrates is a good thing, one that liberals tend to overlook in seeking ever greater breadth, and one we should learn better to appreciate.  So, really, is there any harm in learning to respect what other people cherish and hold sacred, and in giving up the condescension over its "kitschiness," and the insistence on "irony and cynicism."  Then turn to this column, which says many of the same things in much harsher tones, though no harsher than many of its readers deserve.

Understand the mockery that comes the other way.  I am not saying accept the real hatred spewed on talk radio; that is simply authoritarian.  But try to understand why someone who places a high value on social depth might be repulsed by an obsessive focus on breadth.  If you are inclined to snort at John Wayne celebrating social depth and respond with cynicism, give some thought to why conservatives might snort (as they so often do) at liberal kitsch, why they might use "kumbaya" as  sneer word and be so cynically contemptuous of liberal visions of universal peace and brotherhood.  What is wrong with the liberal vision?  Well, what is wrong with the conservative vision?  And if your answer is that is an illusion, or that it lacks breadth, consider the possibility that conservatives consider liberal "kumbaya" brotherhood as no less of an illusion, and lacking in depth.

And accept that for people who prefer depth to breadth, a lot of the usual conservative jeers about liberals -- vapid, superficial, faddish, frivolous, inauthentic, hypocritical -- have some truth to them. They reflect the inevitable loss of depth that accompanies a growth in breadth.  Liberals sometimes share these criticisms.  But what we may not appreciate is just how repugnant that lack of depth can be in people who really value it.

And keep in mind that there is a good deal of truth to another frequent conservative jibe -- that liberals' tolerance extends to everyone -- except white American Christian conservatives.  This is all too often true.  And yes, it is a failing.  That being said, it is by no means a failing unique to American liberals.  The world over, we find ethnic (or religious or ideological) groups whose greatest enemy is whatever other group is closest by.  American liberals are not exception.  But then again, most groups of bigots don't claim to be champions of tolerance and breadth.  We do, and properly so. Openness to opposing opinions and ideologies is a part of social breadth.  We are going to have to learn to broaden our breadth enough to include American conservatives.

And recognize liberal political coalitions for what they are.  People who value social breadth want to expand the circle of social commitment and let more people in.  Naturally this leads to an alliance with the people who would benefit from such an expansion.  Today that may be gays or immigrants; other times it might be ethnic minorities; in the nineteenth century it was the propertyless working class.  But this is an alliance of convenience, not conviction.  Accept that the people you want to work to include may value depth over breadth in their own lives and seek breadth in the greater society only to the extent that it means including them.  Indeed, excluded groups often have the greatest focus on depth of all, and necessarily so since they are faced with a hostile society and have only their own community to draw on for support.  And face it, the sneer at liberals as elitists has a good deal of truth -- the focus on breadth over depth does appear to be a mostly elite trait.

And I am not saying that we should give up social breadth.  Social breadth is good.  Just consider how cruel tight-knit societies with an exclusive focus on depth can be and we can see the value of breadth, even if purchased at the price of a certain shallowness.  But stop thinking of it as the only good.  Recognize how good people could prefer depth.  And that society needs people who value both.

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