By Dan Hazen / Herald Forum.
“If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 40, you have no brain.”
Often attributed to Winston Churchill, this pithy little axiom’s origins are murky. (It probably started with Jules Claretie in 19th-century France). Provenance aside, the saying itself begs many questions, the first two of which are, “What’s a liberal?” and “What’s a conservative?”
Context matters, right? A conservative member of the politnureau in Cold War-era Soviet Union would be a committed communist. A liberal member of the Islamic State holds that a woman’s face may be seen in public.
You get it.
So, my question to the conservatives in our context is, “What exactly are you trying to conserve?” And to our liberals, “What exactly are you trying to liberate?” I’m guessing that on the surface, the answers would be complex and nuanced: “It depends …” Fair enough.
But let me suggest that beneath that layer of subtlety lies a harsh and dirty little secret which accounts for much of the rancor and division we are suffering these days. That is, both poles are clutching at the same prize. One is trying to conserve a thing that the other is working to liberate. Beneath the complex arguments and all the filigree and propaganda, beneath all the moral posturing and slogan slinging is a tug-of-war match for the Self. Both sides frantically pulling on what they believe to be the most valuable commodity going, only to discover that someone else is pulling in the opposite direction. Just picture two toddlers and one favored toy.
Self-expression, self-determination, or “My Truth” or “Freedom” (whatever you wish to call it) is seen as a highly valued but limited resource in our cultural economy. The way we define it in 2022 means that “The Other” or “Them” must surrender something in order for me to either conserve or liberate myself. There’s no real choice between what we call conservative and what is called liberal. They’re just a married couple tugging at two ends of the same blanket while the children in the middle go cold.
Being raised as I was, I have struggled with my failure to live up to that apocryphal Churchill quote. I’ve thought that I was becoming more liberal as I aged and wondered why. “What’s wrong with me? What would mom and dad say if they were alive?” But it turns out that I’m not actually becoming more liberal, it just looks that way relative to the selfishness of what has become “conservative”: The conservation of power and profit at the expense of the planet and our hearts.
Simultaneously, I am repulsed by the selfishness of what has become “liberal”: The liberation of personal “truth” from the demands of reality at the expense of our children and our souls.
Sure, each side makes a show of being concerned for others: posting tweets to defend the unborn over here or flying rainbow flags on their corporate office tower over there. But can those of us stuck somewhere in the middle just say it out loud?
“We know it’s really all about you.”
Your position is all about your identity, your acceptance, your brand, your comfort, your safety and your sensibilities. If it weren’t true, why do so many liberals make a lot of money trading corporate stocks while decrying the rich? Why do conservatives lead the way in perverse sex scandals while wagging the bony finger of judgment at everybody else?
There’s a word for it. Hypocrisy. And there’s a word for those of us left floundering in the middle. Exile.
Dan Hazen is the community pastor at Allen Creek Community Church in Marysville.