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The Big Divide

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So a friend asked me to sum up the difference between conservatives and liberals. At first I said that I couldn't do it, but he pressed me to try. I took some time to consider it, and after truly trying to compress a very complex question into a tiny nutshell summary, I ended up replying to him thusly:


Liberals look at people and see lost sheep needing to be guided and cared for. They view humanity as hopelessly aimless and in desperate need of a caretaker. They are well intentioned, and desiring to be kind.

Conservatives see people as a fully capable adults (true and real disabilities aside) who are responsible for themselves and able to care for themselves. They do not need a caretaker, rather they need the least restrictive environment possible. They are also well intentioned and desiring to respect individualism and freedom.


I'm sure both sides will take some good and some bad away from the above summary. We'll have points of agreement and points of disagreement, but when I really sit down and attempt to discern the automatic reaction to people that my brain generates, this would be it. I won't get into the extremists on both sides, because this article would turn into a book.

You see, this is why our two sides clash so badly. The idea of "lost sheep" being left to fend for themselves in a world full of wolves is blasphemy to a liberal mind; and the idea of superimposing restrictions on a free people who are fully capable of being responsible for and caring for themselves is an anathema to Conservatives. It's like baking soda and vinegar, put the two ideas in a room together and you'd better hope that both people want a compromise, because if not, it'll be rough.

Now, I'm clearly a Conservative, so I fall into the bottom category. That said, I thought I'd share with you some of my basic mindset and how my liberal friends have reacted over time. Perhaps you'll see yourself somewhere in here.

On Minimum Wage:

I began working at 16. After getting out of High School, I decided to get a job as caring for and supporting myself was the most important thing for me. I knew from the beginning that it was on me to support myself and the family that I hoped to eventually have.

I was in entry level management by the age of 19, and have largely been in management since. I have strived to always work harder than the next guy, smarter than the manual, and to be as productive as possible for those who are investing in me and my time. I have bettered myself at every opportunity from voluntary training, to self education, to joining the military, and even to getting a college degree while working full time. I knew from the beginning that it was up to me to do it, and that I was going to get it done.

I never, ever, was concerned about minimum wage because I wasn't making it for very long and I always stayed ahead of it.

My liberal friends often reply to this with a hypothetical. They say something like, "what if it wasn't like that?" or "why does it have to be like that?" It often comes packaged as, "there's got to be a better way." Their intent is kind, they feel that I've had to do too much to get where I am and that I shouldn't have had to do it. They, in a way, feel sorry for me.

Yet I don't. These things were my choice, they've made me a better and stronger person, and I wanted to advance. I knew what it would take, and I was willing to give of myself to get to where I wanted to be. It never crossed my mind to beg someone else for help so I wouldn't have to work harder. Hard work is rewarded, minimum effort isn't. I knew that instinctively at 16, and I still know it today. 40 hours a week and home for a beer is the minimum, yet many seem to think that's all they have to do.

On College Tuition:

I could already see the high cost of college tuition when I was 18, and after reading the loan paperwork and financial aid terms at the age of 20 (when I considered going back to school), I decided that college loans were a bad choice and a bad way to pay for school. The terms read like a mortgage, interest was upfront, and the overall payback was close to three times what I took out. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what a bad move that was. I knew that I could succeed without it, and so I sidestepped the entire thing.

Later, at the age of 28, I joined the US Army and after my five years, I used the GI Bill to get a Bachelors Degree. I also worked to continue to provide for my family during my time of study and to pay for whatever ancillary school costs were not covered by the GI Bill. In the end, I got a degree and ended up debt free to do it. This same path is open to many, and there are even other paths such as the College of the Ozarks where you pay nothing to go to school, but rather work for the school while you are there to pay for your education, available as well as grants and scholarships if you're wiling to work for them. Where there's a will, there's a way.

My liberal friends, however, see my path to a degree as horrific. Why should anyone have to go through that just to get a college degree? Well, the answer is because it separates me from the competition in the job market. Yet, that's what people don't understand. Every time you devalue a level of education by making sure that everyone gets there, employers just raise the level. Now you have to have a Masters Degree for a job that only required a High School diploma 40 years ago. Why? Because we've made it easier, and more available, so now everyone has a High School Diploma, whether or not they deserve it, and so it can't be used as a criterion. It's just gone up the chain, and now even a Bachelors Degree is not good enough anymore for most jobs. If everyone has it, then no one has anything.

In fact, we've oversold degrees to the population to the point where many big companies are going away from the education based hiring model and going back to the old experience based one or even a new aptitude based or certification based model. Google, Microsoft, Costco, Whole Foods, Hilton, Publix, Apple, IBM, Bank of America, and others have all changed because a degree just doesn't separate people well enough anymore. Making college free doesn't actually help anyone, it just floods the workforce and makes companies look away from a degree when hiring. It will not only waste money, but it will also harm those who have gone through and gotten a degree by further watering down their market.

I want to write more, but I wonder if most people will even read this far. Perhaps I'll do a part two. I hope this helped my liberal readers to understand the mindset a little better, and I hope it helps my conservative brethren to put words and voice to their experiences.

Yet the biggest thing I'm hoping to communicate by sharing my thoughts is that we conservatives aren't just heartless monsters who want to keep people down, and my liberal friends aren't some power hungry control grabbers, we both want to help people, but we both see helping people as being very different.

I still think our divide may be insurmountable, but I'll at least try to bridge that gap. Hopefully it helps others to understand.

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