Understanding the Liberal Mindset

An attempt to explain the liberal mindset based on a simple, but striking example of liberal thought

A dear friend – let’s call him Jack, who is a very prominent and influential fellow in my community, recently penned a column in a local newsletter. In it, he speaks about his desire to express himself more forcefully on the central issues that confront our community. Indeed, he wishes to do more than express himself; he aspires to lead the community to formulate and implement solutions to some of the more serious problems that residents face. But then he specifies the key issues that he believes are ‘…facing us – gun violence, poverty, homelessness, hunger.’ He asserts that we must ‘…engage to try to ‘solve’ these huge challenges – in small and large ways. And as our community grows in size, and our potential to make a real difference starts to multiply, my desire to see our community engage in these issues grows too! ”

I confess that I am scratching my head at Jack’s list of issues that plague our community: ‘gun violence, poverty, homelessness, hunger.’ I think this list passing strange. In fact Jack is an eminent figure in a vibrant community of relatively prosperous suburbanites of all ages living in one of the most affluent, safe, beautiful and even diverse neighborhoods in the region – indeed, I vouchsafe, in the entire country. It is absolutely without question that aside from what could be no more than a miniscule percentage, no member of our community has encountered gun violence, poverty, homelessness or hunger recently – or indeed at any time in his or her own life.

Now I don’t want to give a false picture of an idyllic existence; the local community certainly does face some serious problems. Those that come to mind include the following:

  • Like all Americans, we inhabit an increasingly bankrupt nation (as well as a severely fiscally challenged State) – the burden of which we are laying off on our children. If we don’t get our fiscal house in order, then we – and certainly our children – will not enjoy for much longer the ‘idyllic existence’ of which we are so enamored and to which we are accustomed. The violence done to our economic well-being easily exceeds any inflicted by automatic weapons.
  • Again, like all Americans, we reside in a country and a neighborhood in which the prospects for the coming generations to live as well as we do is clearly diminished. The American dream is in jeopardy. What are we going to do about it?
  • Congestion, overly expensive housing and excessive government taxation and regulation make it difficult to sustain this idyllic corner of the world that we have created. How can we wisely mollify these real threats to our community – any one of which is a far more prevalent and serious problem than ‘hunger.’
  • A uniform political outlook in our local schools, libraries, government and media closes the minds of our children to any questioning of the politically correct atmosphere that permeates our local society. The only homelessness that is evident in our community is attached to those who profess an alternate outlook.
  • American culture is saturated with pornography, vulgarity, permissiveness media violence and a growing disrespect for religion. Is that the ‘poverty’ (of spirit) that keeps Jack awake at night?

When I converse with my neighbors, I can detect other common problems that might trouble Jack – e.g., neglected children due to parents who work long hours to pay for the trappings of the good life that we enjoy; broken marriages and other familial crises that deprive children of a happy and nurturing home life; a stagnant economy that cripples economic opportunity and advancement; increasing alienation from religious faith as exemplified by dwindling church attendance, moral decay and the proliferation of ‘alternate lifestyles.’ But nowhere do I see anyone who has been victimized by gun violence, nor anyone who is hungry, homeless or poverty-stricken. How in heaven’s name can Jack identify these as the central issues ‘facing us?’

Well here is my stab at an answer. Certainly violence, poverty, hunger and homelessness are serious problems in many parts of the world, and in some parts of our nation. When we learn of tragedies associated with these afflictions – be it a Sandy Hook shooting or pictures in the news of a filthy, street-dwelling, vagabond roaming a blighted urban neighborhood – our hearts are rent and we wish that our world could be spared the horror of these calamities. Now compare those poignant tragedies to the more personal dilemmas we face: not enough of a salary raise this year; my wife and I are working so hard that there is barely any time left for each other; my prepubescent son is being bullied in school; or God forbid, my eldest daughter is dating a gangbanger. The liberal mind is haunted far more by the former than the latter. He/she ruminates: if we can fix these ‘global,’ horrific problems, then the world would be good and trivial matters like a faltering personal economy will be much easier to deal with.

Since the dawn of civilization, there has been a dichotomy in the human soul between the universal and the particular. Conservatives tend to focus on the particular – particularly when it comes to the world’s faults. For liberals, the universal is the way to calm the soul. In a way, I admire Jack that he is so deeply troubled personally by a nameless homeless person whose visage on TV moves him to action. I applaud the emotion; but I believe that Jack would be more successful at healing the world if he kept his attention focused on the more visceral needs of his friends and neighbors in the community.