The Problem with Liberalism (From A Liberal’s Perspective)

I’m a liberal — at least that’s what people call me.

Truth be told I don’t like labels or political identities, I think the democratic party is fundamentally flawed and I’m socially progressive and fiscally conservative. But for the purposes of this essay, it’s fair to say I’m diggin’ the scene with a liberal lean.

Lately I’ve been asking myself “how are we wrong”? As in, how are liberals just as delusional as conservatives? It’s easy for me to point out how conservatives are wrong, but this is a two-way street and we need mutual understanding and respect if we want to move forward. Beating other people over the head with our beliefs isn’t going to get us anywhere (I’ve tested this theory to be sure).

Our current political situation in the United States is a lot like a dysfunctional romantic relationship. Both sides are blaming each other, not wanting to give an inch for fear of looking like the one who is the problem.

This is my best attempt at being part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem.

While there are certainly many topics we could cover, I’ve noticed that when it comes to the problem with liberalism, it’s possible to boil everything down into one simple sentence.

Liberals aren’t connected to reality.

Now before you conservatives get all uppity on me, I’ll be fair and say that conservatives aren’t connected to how to make a better reality, but that’s a different essay. For now, we’re going to focus on how liberals are disconnected, because liberals everywhere are failing miserably when it comes to understanding the world as it is, instead of the way we wish it was.

One example of this disconnection is food consumption.

I don’t think farmers woke up one day and said “hey you know what? Instead of giving all these chickens space to roam and fly around, let’s stick them in tiny little cages.” No, instead they did what anyone would do in their shoes, which is whatever they could to keep up with the demand for food, and guess where that demand comes from? Us.

It’s easy for us to breeze through Whole Foods on our 6-figure salary and moralize about cruelty to animals when we aren’t connected to the process of where our food comes from. We judge the process that produces the convenience we celebrate.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t work to fix the system, and I’m definitely not saying factory farming isn’t something we should be thoroughly embarrassed about — it is, but we don’t understand the problem if we think it’s as simple as us pointing fingers and saying “don’t do that”.

We (liberals) do that a lot.

We need to be more careful when judging others for doing something we’re not willing to do ourselves. For example — how many meat eaters are happy to eat beef but feel skittish at the thought of slitting the throat of a cow? I know I certainly do. Then how many of us turn around and project our discomfort onto people who hunt, or hunting culture in general? My friends who hunt and eat what they kill are often more connected to animals than any city-dwelling animal activist.

Side note: I’m going to lump in the terms city/liberal and conservative/country. For a finer discussion of why this is true see this brilliant article from Cracked.com

So what about vegans? I hear you ask. Being vegan is a step in the right direction because it’s less hypocritical, but evangelical veganism is another way liberals are disconnected from the lives of others.

I live in Encinitas California, where finding great vegan food is as easy as finding someone to heal your past lives or do reiki on your dog. Drive thirty minutes inland and you won’t be overwhelmed with the amount of options for someone who doesn’t eat meat products. Even in Encinitas where vegan food is plentiful — it ain’t cheap, so someone living on a budget isn’t going to be thrilled about increasing their food costs when it’s a choice between that or paying for their kid’s dental work.

Can people make their own food? Can we replace farm raised meat with meat grown in a lab or with tasty vegan substitutes? Yes we can, but we’re not there yet, and in the meantime we need to stop judging Uncle Billy for eating meat because often it shows that we’re completely out of touch with his circumstances.

Again, this isn’t about these things being right or wrong, it’s the fact that we’re disconnected from reality. Our defense is always “but it’s morally wrong”, “but it hurts the planet”, that kind of thing — but we don’t stop to look at what it would actually take to solve it, we just gloss over the details in the name of it being the right thing to do.

The Dirty Details of Clean Energy

This concept of liberals being out of touch with reality also applies to consumption at large. As much as I want to see us stop our dependency on oil, and as much as I believe Elon Musk when he says we can move the entire United States to solar power with a 100 x 100 mile grid of solar panels, there is more to energy than saying “solar is clean energy, therefore we should all switch to solar”.

It’s funny because as I researched that stat I saw two different versions, one that said “Elon Musk says a 100 x 100 mile solar grid will power the US” and one that said “Elon Musk says a 100 square mile solar grid will power the US”. In the first 4 organic google searches, two publications said it was 100 x 100 and two said it was 100 square miles.

That’s a difference of 9900 square miles. Here it is represented on a map.

100 square miles

100 x 100 miles

Now you may be thinking, “they just did math wrong, what’s the big deal?” Yes it is a math error, but it’s also a perfect metaphor for how we as liberals constantly overlook the details for something just because we believe it’s morally right. We do this all the time, just ask a conservative person.

We all benefit from the conveniences of gas and oil, and if those were taken away I’m pretty sure the first people to complain wouldn’t be folks in the countryside. City people are far more attached to their quality of life than folks in the country and resources like oil, gas and electricity are the building blocks of a luxurious life.

There is a more beautiful world out there where we stop draining the earth of her resources, but it ain’t here yet, and us ignoring the reality of what life is actually like for most Americans just drives a wedge between two already divided groups of people.

Bringing it Home

Ever since I started thinking about this topic I’ve been more aware of the ways I’m disconnected from reality, not just liberals in general. I always catch myself saying “I’m just 10 minutes away” when it’s really more like 15. I catch myself thinking I can plan events last minute that actually take weeks to prepare for.

Maybe I’ve always been like that or maybe it’s been conditioned into me by hanging out in progressive communities, but either way it’s an imbalance in my life that’s worth addressing.

At the end of the day, if we don’t understand our own weaknesses and if we can’t articulate the strengths of the people we oppose, we’re not just hurting the collective, we’re hurting ourselves. We’re missing out on the wisdom they have to offer, and yes — Trump voters have plenty of wisdom to offer us.

In addition to that, we know that if we have a chance at influencing someone else we need to first seek to understand, then to be understood. You’ve heard that before, right? It’s from Stephen Covey, who was a Mormon. Funny enough, I know a lot of people who don’t like Mormonism, but whether or not you agree with their religion, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a damn good book.

It would be a shame to miss out on the gifts and wisdom people have for us, just because they don’t go to the same potlucks as us.

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