You’re either a liberal or a conservative, right? And once you choose, it governs everything about you. Your political viewpoint. Your bias. Your circle of friends. How awkward your Thanksgiving dinner will be. That’s how it’s always been, and how it will always be…
Or, at least it’s been that way (kind of) since the Enlightenment, which happened mostly in Europe, around 250-300 years ago. In fact, there were many philosophers back in the 1700s, and only a few of them were what we might call “liberals” or “conservatives.” On the liberal side, you had a lot of Johns and Jeans (John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau), while the conservatives had good old Edmund Burke.
But there were many other philosophers around the world with wildly different views on politics, ethics, ontology, epistemology, and other philosophical words. In those days, philosophers did it all! Science, ethics, mathematics, engineering, politics, relationships, medicine…you name it, some philosopher had an opinion about it. As we moved into the 1800’s, there were more specialists. There were people who really focused on chemistry, biology, medicine, anthropology.. and there were political philosophers as well. We debated, theorized, and tested millions of ideas, theses, philosophies, and perspectives.
Our belief systems are cobbled together from our religious upbringing, our friends, our parents, our experiences, and what we’ve read, watched, and listened to.
We’ve progressed a lot since the 1700’s, but we still hold onto many antiquated belief systems. Some people believe the earth is flat. Some people are afraid of vaccines. Some people are afraid of ghosts (I am one of those people). And many of us (at least in North America) consider ourselves to be liberals or conservatives. Of course, those terms have changed so much over the years that a modern-day conservative might sound more like John Locke than Edmund Burke.
It’s weird that we’re so beholden to these concepts of liberal and conservative. It’s weird that our political parties fall along this arbitrary spectrum.
This false dichotomy has resulted in a lot of acrimony and hatred. There’s a real “us vs. them” attitude in political debate, because you supposedly only have two choices.
But we’re all amateur philosophers, aren’t we? Our belief systems are cobbled together from our religious upbringing, our friends, our parents, our experiences, and what we’ve read, watched, and listened to. I’m not a liberal anymore, I’m a “Joshist,” following the Josh philosophy. It’s a mix of Socrates, Chuang Tzu, and Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino. And if I learn something new, that is incorporated into my ever-evolving beliefs.
Donald Trump isn’t beholden to traditional conservative values, just as Justin Trudeau isn’t beholden to traditional liberal values. Is Xi Jinping liberal? Is Emmanuel Macron conservative? All of these leaders have made decisions that break from these respective philosophies, and their actions can and should be evaluated independently. No matter how you identify, you should be reflective enough to recognize and be critical when someone you like does something you disagree with, and vice versa.
The way it is now isn’t how it has always been, and it isn’t how it must always be. So be free and break away from tradition. You can be anything you want to be.
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Author: Josh Bowman