Love is Progressive Part 1: The Politics of Love
I am about to embark, with help from my dear friend Ria Zsigmond, on an investigation of the connections between two topics that most of us know much about but may seldom relate to each other: Love and Politics. I have written about this before, so actually, this is a kind of continuation of an old topic from several years ago. I remember straining with incredulity when "Poppy Bush" tried to introduce the world to the notion of "compassionate conservatism." Events since then have made this concept seem even more ludicrous than it was in the beginning.
What is a compassionate conservative? The meaning of the term is ambiguous at best: Are these people conservatively compassionate, compassionately conservative, or are they conservative and compassionate?
Compassionate conservatives exhibit qualities with their actions that shock and mystify the people of this country, even the world; and further confuses the possible meaning of this term.
It appears that under the umbrella of compassionate conservatism a person may:
1. Invade nations while pretending to feel righteous anger, blatantly using the youth of this country to fight their battles to the death, in the interest of their own selfish personal gain;
2. Show pity for the successful businessman having to pay income taxes, while homeless people are starving in abandoned buildings, doorways, parking lots in cardboard boxes for shelter, and if they are lucky in community parks across the land;
3. Will staunchly protect unwanted fetuses, calling themselves pro-life by forcing pregnant women to bring babies into an already crowded world and displaying dismissively misogynistic attitudes toward women in general. And what is to become of the children of these often single and financially challenged women? Compassionate conservative concerns do not seem to include food, shelter and medical care for these children after they are born. Let those babies pull themselves up by their bootstraps!;
4. Throw political temper tantrums so severe that they shut down the government for a couple of weeks. In such a compulsively passionate state regarding their own egos, rather than compassionately regarding the needs of the public, they take the food off the working people’s table by making them lose employment and a paycheck for a while, that could be a week or months long. Nobody knows just how long such a break from sorely needed income may be;
5. Do not want the general public to have affordable health care. They state they are against such, not because it was not their idea, but because they could have done it better. But in reality, they could not care less about the welfare and health of the general public, their drawing boards have no such plans in progress, despite that 40 million Americans are without healthcare.
Any person understanding human beings inalienable right to life should realize that health care is a part of life. What they really care about is their own rights and their rights grow at an absurd rate on a daily basis as does their personal wealth. This is an example of the kind of behavior we are seeing from conservatives; compassionate conservatism is certainly not anything approaching compassion in any sense of the word.
Love issues are something in politics that does not fall along strictly party lines; many Democrats act more or less conservative too in today's money-dominated corrupt political atmosphere, but modern Republicans fail in our estimation, to harbor an iota of love, compassion or empathy for anyone else but themselves.
We dream of a day when politics as a whole becomes a matter of caring about the greater good -- a matter of philanthropic and even Universal Love for all of creation -- rather than a matter of politicians stuffing their pockets with money and kowtowing to their wealthiest constituents. I am sure most people will say that such dreams are impractical and that this will never happen. We say to such people, that politics must and will change to be oriented toward the greater good of the people, and include love and caring, eventually. In fact, the United States where we live is probably particularly egregious in these present days, in ignoring the public will and good, while some other nations are doing a much better job of good, public-oriented governance. This is a result of decades of attacks on government in general by the corporate and banking world primarily, aided by a receptive public and compliant politicians. Ultimately, this topic is about much more than politics; it is about what type of society we live in -- politics interacts with the larger culture so that it both shapes and results from the nature of the society. A loving society produces loving politics and good politics aids the creation of a loving society; a society dominated by fear and greed creates bad, divisive, hateful politics which hinders the creation of a loving society. It is my contention that progressives are motivated by positive factors and feelings about people, such as love, hope, empathy, compassion and the anticipation of progress, while conservatives are motivated by fear of change and having "what is theirs" taken away, or by the greedy drive to acquire more. Thus, I believe that we will find among progressives, more compassionate, empathetic people in general -- people who are willing to help out strangers, for instance.
However, everyone possesses the pro-social emotions such as love, empathy, compassion, and gratitude. My own parents were both compassionate people, yet both were Republicans from a different era -- the Eisenhower era to be precise, when their political attitudes formed. Whether or not and how one connects the dots between these emotions and politics depends upon the individual and how that person processes his or her experience.
In the case of Ria and myself, the process of shaping our political identities in relation to our emotional proclivities, has similarities (for instance, we both have worked primarily at colleges and universities, which tend to be liberal), and our personalities and other facts about us have striking similarities, but striking differences in our life experiences too, yet we have come to essentially the same place politically, which might be called the Politics of Love. -- as opposed to the currently dominant Politics of Greed. We would like to share something about our personal journeys to the Politics of Love at this time.
Although my parents told me on numerous occasions that I was never a selfish child, my first memory of overwhelming compassion was when I found out that my friend Pat's father had been killed in the Vietnam War. This happened during the Tet Offensive when I was 8 years old, and I was at my friend's house when the bad news came. My friend's father was actually killed in Laos, but by Vietnamese troops apparently. Another incident which bought intense feelings of compassion as a child was not long afterward when I observed my friend's lizard in a terraium suddenly stopped moving and died of overheating. Then I witnessed my brother's antisocial friend at the time, drown a baby duck in a tub, for which I have never forgiven him -- all of this by the time I was 10 years old. I actually have very few memories prior to the age of 7 or 8, so it is difficult to assess my emotional states prior to that time. I do know that I have a tendency to identify empathetically with any living being, and an innate desire to help other beings who are in distress. Also, my family and other experiences contributed greatly to my emotional attributes, especially the sense of unconditional love and generosity that I experienced from my family. On the other hand, my parents were concerned that I was overly emotionally open, as I have had a tendency to "bare my soul" since childhood. They were concerned that my disposition would lead me to being taken advantage of emotionally or drive people away with my forthrightness, but I paid my parents no heed regarding their concerns and have continued to be an emotionally open person throughout my life.
In contrast to developing emotionally, the process of identifying with "progressive" or "liberal" politics due to its more compassionate nature, took me quite a long time to realize, or even to have a definite idea of what "liberal" or "progressive" means in a political sense. In fact, I probably had never even heard the term "progressive" until about 10 years ago. However, as time went on, it became evident that I always was a progressive (or "liberal") whether I knew it or not. During high school, I used to give my lunch money away to friends of mine with less to eat at home than myself. Intellectually, a pivotal point in my life was when I read Carl Rogers' "On Becoming a Person," during my high school psychology class. When I read about Rogers' concepts of self-actualization and unconditional positive regard, I knew that was who I was -- a person who would spend a lifetime evolving, in my quest to make the best me I knew how, and a person who would value love above all else. Despite my efforts to enter the biological and physical sciences as a career, psychology and the aura of Carl Rogers (who was still alive at the time and living in San Diego), called me back to psychology -- Social Psychology, to be specific.
As I observed more and more about politics, probably aided by my academic and scientific training as a social psychologist, I put the dots together and saw clearly that only certain politicians (a minority of them at that) not associated with the Republican Party, showed a semblance of decent love, empathy or compassion affecting their political decisions. I knew that I was a person who believed in progress and what I now have learned is called progressive politics, but for me, it's not so much about "isms" or protecting our privacy or decriminalizing drugs, etc.-- although these efforts are all well and good; It is mainly about building a more loving, caring, spiritually advanced society. Finally, everything fit together in my political life and it all made sense.
Here is what Ria had to say about this topic:
"I also had a similar attitude already as a child, with a caring, sharing nature; I inherently felt compassion and empathy for others. I would often share my lunch with classmates or simply gave it away to those less fortunate when I realized they were hungry. I recall sharing my food with other children from the age of 4; my parents were actually concerned about it, stressing my nutritional needs, because I was a rather skinny child.
I had two winter coats and gave away one to a gypsy girl who had no coat in the bitter cold of the winter in Europe. I was 12 at the time. My mother was quite distressed about this act of compassion at such an early age and had a talk with me about it. She told me in no uncertain terms that I cannot give away my clothing to others – she was also worried that people will take advantage of my generous nature in the future.
I did not outgrow my compassionate nature despite being pressured by my environment to care more about material things and mingle more with people of influence, and less with people of lesser status. I had close friends from different socio-economic backgrounds. I did not discriminate against the wealthy or the poor; my relationships were not based on people's wealth or the lack of it.
I remember my boss calling me one day asking if it is true that I let friends stay with us periodically, sleeping on our couch. I asked him right back since he had a large, comfortable home that if he would know that his friend is out in the rain has nothing to eat and nowhere to stay, would he intervene and make sure that his friend did not go hungry and invite him or her into his home and would he offer his friend a bed at least for a while? His answer was no.
I did not consider myself a progressive or a liberal in the political sense of the word; I simply wanted to be a good person; and that meant for me to care about the well-being of others. When I arrived to this country I was quite stunned by the contrasts here, between the great houses of Lakeshore Drive and the ghettos, society’s different treatment between the haves and the have-nots. Since I am an artist, observation is second nature to me and soon I realized that anyone can turn out to be poor, even homeless regardless of their intellect or social status due to a sudden reversal of fortune. I thought I should make a poster showing an average businessman and say under the photo: 'This person can be homeless.' I wanted people to realize that this can happen to them or anyone, thus giving a face to homelessness. I also noticed how the average person never looked into the eye of the homeless person and this bothered me.
My art reflected this contrast. An acquaintance made a remark about a just completed pen and ink drawing of mine showing a poor black woman in a window. Her expression spoke volumes; I always considered this piece a strong social statement. Upon seeing the piece this person said to me: 'This is a dramatic image and your technique is amazing, but one would really not want to hang this above one’s couch.' I thought: 'Why not - but said nothing.' I did not really consider myself a political entity; I just hoped to meet others with similar interests to mine. It took me a while to realize that I was drawn to more liberal, progressive people and eventually I began to think of myself as such."
Is a Love Revolution Imminent?
It isn't necessary that there will always be a certain percent of "conservative minded people" and a certain percent of "progressive minded people," however. We are largely products of our environments, and in the case of knowledge, it frees a person to be open minded and progressive in attitude. The more open minded and progressive we become, the more broad minded we become; both personal and universal feelings of love are enhanced and the quest for the greater good becomes more prominent in our motivation. Thus, the key, we feel, to having a more progressive society and better quality politics, is knowledge and the love that we are endowed with by that knowledge.
There is a strong neurological basis for empathy; it has been discovered that we humans have "mirror neurons" which recreate the activity of what we witness. These neurons are thought to be involved in human empathy. Thus, we believe that every person can be loving, compassionate and empathetic, but the lessons that we learn from our culture and experiences, are crucial to how a person turns out. It is important to point out that empathetic emotional natures are quite common, if not normal, despite the fact that socialization processes in society currently tends to discourage people from being very empathetic. It is not surprising that both of us (Ria and Robert) received some form of discouragement of our emotionality, as children by our parents. This is an aspect of most cultures in training children to regulate their emotions and behaviors, supposedly for the child's own good. Indeed, teaching emotional regulation is extremely important, but usually not done very well by parents or societies. Really, this is something that most people give little overt thought. People do their best if they can easily call upon their prosocial emotions in any given situation, and also, mollify their negative or antisocial feelings, while still acknowledging their hurts. Telling children to be less emotional in general is not the best strategy by any means, nor is telling them to put themselves first and let selfish feelings predominate, nor telling children to simply deny that their emotions, especially feelings of hurt, exist. Modeling prosocial emotions as well as talking to and teaching children about how to deal with emotions and create good ones, is the proper strategy. Eventually, a society dominated by people who love love and justice for all, and hate hate and injustice to others -- one in which it is difficult to be other than compassionate regardless of social status -- should create a caring, compassionate, effective political system; it is the unconditional goodwill of the general public and their government, which puts good ahead of greed, that really counts.
It seems to us that people are reaching a tipping point where they realize the need for a more compassionate society, including its political and economic systems. The desire among the people for love-based politics is increasing, and likely, it soon will be overwhelming. Only the suppression of such by powerful entities can prevent its occurrence. Knowledge, education, the social media, rejection of corporate greed and environmental destruction, and greater awareness of our social responsibilities as a species, are all leading humanity in this direction, as are the crises we have been creating through ill-considered actions of our exploitative, capitalist system.
The economic and political systems we have are limited by the failures of the people within them. No matter how good an "ism" or governmental plan or economic system might appear on paper, it will never work if the people to whom we entrust oversight of these systems, behave selfishly and not in the public interest. It is important to socialize people better in order to have good government over the long term, but regardless of our experiences, there comes a point where people learn from their mistakes, or those of others, and have a change of heart. We believe this day is coming as people wake up to the need for love-based politics. The future is ours and we will not be denied. A much needed epidemic of love and compassion will shape the future of our planet.