Tuesday, March 29, 2005

MH - The Meaning of Labels

I've been reading The Corner at NRO this morning, looking at the emails some of their writers are getting because of their support for Terri Schiavo. Here's an excerpt from one: "You have exposed yourself as shill for the Christian Right. Where's the sanctity of marriage now you hypocrite?" And another: You are sadistic. It is none of your business that the husband wants to treat his wife like a human, while you prefer to treat her like a bunch of bones. No decent person would treat a sick dog like that . . . There is dignity in life, there must be dignity in death."

Now, one is at a loss as to how exactly to think about people like this. My first thought would be to ask why in the world these people are reading NRO in the first place? To have this kind of mindset seems kind of incompatible with the general philosophy of National Review. (The writers at NRO don't all agree on Schiavo, but at least they're intelligent and civil about it.) I know that there are people who read what "the other side" writes so they can keep in touch with the thinking of "the enemy camp," but for my money these are the kind of people who have way too much time on their hands.

There's a possibility, of course, that they're being provocative, playing devil's advocate, trying to elicit some kind of response. Now, that may be a generous assessment of them, I don't know. For my gut feeling, see comments above. Of course, there's always a third possibility - these people are idiots, stark-raving bonkers, or evil incarnate. (Which reminds me of a great Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy said to Linus "Your stupidity is appalling," to which Linus replied "Most stupidity is.") Many times you read comments like this and wonder what these people could have been thinking - if, indeed, they were thinking at all.

But let's suppose for a minute that they aren't agent provocateurs, aren't enemies of the state, and aren't wackos. What does that leave? Possibly the most disturbing thought - that people who apparently have decent conservative credentials, who consider themselves (at least in some cases) Christians, who share many of the moral convictions (such as they are) that are identified with conservatives, can be so far off base in this case.

You must tread cautiously with these people. Pin yourself too closely to "family values" politics, and they'll hit you for being against marriage when you suggest that Michael Schiavo should not be making the decisions for Terri. The fact that his actions throughout the whole affair have brought into question his own commitment to his marriage doesn't seem to matter to these people. They only see the mantra you use in your thought, and hit you over the head with it. Many "conservatives" have real problems with the Federal government interjecting itself into this situation - setting a dangerous precedent for future government intervention - and I'll agree that these concerns aren't without merit. I might counter that where life issues are concerned, the barn door's already open - it was government intervention that started it all in the first place - but that's beside the point now.

I hark back to Michael Moriarty's column yesterday, in which he said "Even the conservative, spasmodically pro-life voice of business has supported Terri's husband. The costs alone, like those of sheltering convicted murderers, make life support counterproductive to the community." Too often, when economics becomes the dominant aspect of your political theory, you reduce people to statistics, and the meaning of life to the bottom line of a balance sheet. Those people - popularly called "economically conservative, socially moderate" - tend to divorce the two wings of thought, and I think that is a huge mistake. Actions have consequences, and any school of thought that purports to guide your way of thinking and acting has to have a level of consistency that can take new and different situations into account and lead you to a logical yet moral conclusion.

Liberals are no different - pro-abortion types are afraid of supporting Terri because they fear it will weaken their overall "pro-death" philosophy. Those who have come out in her defense risk political alienation, and it's all because they might have chosen to apply a different set of standards than those allowed by the rigid ideologies of their fellow travelers. What I mean to suggest here is that many people, left and right, have a way of thinking that oftentimes makes no allowances for real people and situations. They look at everything in terms of being a lab experiment.

Fact is, politics has become too nuanced to be contained simply by labels. There has to be something larger, some more consistent set of values by which one can live his life. For me, that is the teaching of the Catholic Church. Once I adopted her set of values, understood what the Church taught and why, it changed my way of thinking - dramatically in some areas, barely noticeable in others, but it gave a consistency to my thought that had been previously lacking. No longer did I have to put together some kind of Rube Goldberg mental contraption that would allow me to justify my positions on various issues. Now I had something solid - natural law - that could help me to understand different situations and come to a Catholic appreciation of how to handle them.

That's why I've stressed that this is not a political blog, even though we deal with politics with some degree of frequency. Once you lay out a political agenda, identify yourself with one particular brand of political ideology, you're asking for trouble. I've always insisted that there has to be a certain kind of holistic thought involved in anyone's political thinking, a synergy that will on occasion transcend political and ideological labels.

I make no bones about the fact that I consider myself a political conservative. Although I don't hold to any specific party affiliation, most people would identify me with the Republicans (and it was as a Republican that I ran for state representative a few years ago). But many "conservative Republicans" would have trouble with my criticism of big business and capitalism that I've offered in my continuing essays on Distributism. (And just wait until I get to companies who promote abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning, and other morally repugnant policies simply to make a profit.) When I was hosting my monthly television program on public access, I used to take heat from those who didn't appreciate my frequent criticism of Republicans whom I felt fell short in one area or another. Others would label me a "paleo-conservative," and I think that's closer to the point. Yet even there, we may differ when it comes to support for the war in Iraq, and the war on terrorism in general. My point here is not that I'm subscribing to a smorgasbord style of thinking - one from column A, two from column B - unless we're talking about a philosophy born of a consistency that will withstand logical scrutiny. Therefore, while those of you who are more politically inclined may see me as a "Republican" thinker, there will be many times when I'm harshly critical of positions one might associate with Republicans. Other times my thought will seem more liberal - or at least moderate. But no matter where I stand on an issue, I try to make sure that there is a consistent unity of thought to it.

Some might ask if this isn't similar to the "big-tent" approach that I've ripped so many times. But "big-tent" thinking tries to accommodate several varieties of truth. I prefer to take my cue from Our Lord, Who pointed out that the truth cannot contradict itself. There is only one Way, one Truth, one Light. If you use these as your guidelines, you can't go far wrong.

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