My Conservative Values

Part One ~The Case for Communication

By Janus Blume © 2020

“Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.”~Ambrose Bierce

In spite of our differences, I think we share core values we can use as a basis of communication~Janus L. Blumë

As I sit down to write this my mind goes back to a day when I participated in a human potential course. This happened a few years into my fourth decade of life, a pivotal time for me. With my youth behind me, I hoped for a life of contribution and satifsfaction. We were assigned to look deep within and identify a possibility, a core value that would make it worth getting out of bed every day for the rest of your life. For much of the afternoon, I drew a blank.

When my turn came, I went up onto the stage with trembling knees and declared, “My name is Janice Blumë. I am the possibility of a world with adequate nutrition, housing, and health care for every child born on Planet Earth, and I am the possibility that the United States of America is truly a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” No lesser vision could spark my soul. I have neither deviated from it nor turned my back on it since that day.

Devoting my life to the kind of social transformation it would take to achieve the vision I spoke of has guided me to a focus on my own personal transformation. This in turn has led to a deeply satisfying life, but manifesting my vision is not going as well. Children in the US currently experience food insecurity at unprecedented levels. Globally, the world allows over three million children to die of malnutrition each year while producing enough food for one and a half times the global population. The United Nations estimated that 168 million people would need humanitarian aid to survive 2020, “due to conflict and disasters, natural and manufactured.” This came out prior to COVID-19.

My mind cannot picture 168 million people, and certainly not three million children. If we were confronted with a single starving child, instead of numbers too big to comprehend, we might be moved to some sort of action. Pictures on the news seem distant, two-dimensional images with captions that focus on policy disagreements rather than the human crises they represent.

Facing problems of such national or global scope will require an unprecedented level of cooperation, yet the USA remains deeply divided. Conflict and disagreement go hand in hand with the democratic process, but it seems we have reached a stalemate. How can we survive as a democratic republic if we can’t work together?

On a personal level, I can’t even have a conversation beyond small-talk someone very dear to me. When my parents adopted me, my mother had a best friend with a teenaged daughter named Janice. They named me after her. I always looked up to her as a role model while growing up. She and I can’t have a heart-to-heart about current events because we’re on opposite sides of the conspiracy wars. Our relationship is too precious to threaten with discord around political ideology.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

The famous line from the movie Cool Hand Luke might well be applied to the current culture of the US. I’m using ‘we’ as in “We the people,” the populace, the voters, the only legitimate source of governmental power recognized in our founding documents. It has become difficult, even impossible to agree to disagree. But If we have no ‘we,’ from where does our government derive its powers? It’s as if the Grand Canyon now exists in two forms. One, a vast chasm runs through Arizona. The other separates friends, neighbors, and families as surely as if we were standing on opposite sides of the Colorado River with cliffs a mile deep between us.

It’s painful, but that’s mere discomfort. The real problem with our dissension is that it stands in the way of actual progress. We need to address the problems of our nation. Given our military influence, we have a major impact on policies around the world. We can’t have a democracy without conflicts, discussion and compromise, but we seem to have lost the art of negotiation. I would love to engage in productive conversations with my fellow citizens. If we can’t discuss specifics now, maybe we can start by talking about the deeply-held values that unite us as a nation.

Don’t we all want to preserve the best aspects of our society? Democracy will fail unless we can effectively wrangle over public decisions which affect all of us. I dream of a country worth handing on to future generations—one which reflects our shared core values. It’s tempting to give up and conclude that there are none, but I’m not buying the cynicism. It’s too expensive.

My Conservative Values

Since one of my core values and the goal of this piece is communication, it might be most productive for me to start by sharing those I label conservative. One definition of conservative is “…traditional, handed down from generation to generation.” What values do I mean? One of them is democracy. I how my mother explained our system of government to me.

“We don’t have a king; we have a president,” she told me. “Every adult gets to vote, for who they want, young and old, rich and poor, men and women. When you grow up, you’ll get to vote, too.”

I was thrilled. How did I get so lucky? I lived in the land of the free and the home of the brave. As a child, you don’t question overtly. Somehow it seemed almost too good to be true. Sadly, it was. The promise of America shone for me as a precious jewel, yet there was much I didn’t know. We learned about slavery and the Indian wars in school, but the mindset of American exceptionalism, the threats of Godless communism, and the words in our textbooks painted White America as the good guys, the torch-bearers of Western civilization.

I came of age during the era of Viet Nam, the Watts riots, and Woodstock, but I didn’t start to wake up until the late 80s. I came to comprehend that this nation was built on land stolen from her original inhabitants, land that produced great wealth. Yet those riches were coaxed from the soil and harvested by slaves, the victims of human trafficking and their offspring. But we don’t need to deny our history to maintain our status as a great nation. In fact, facing reality might go a long way toward healing and uniting us.

Democratic Ideals in a Changing World

Although our history contains horrific events, I want to think that we can evolve. I want to see our future to better fulfill the ideals for which we would like to stand. If we agree to seek common ground so that we might learn to talk to each other again, we might start with our founding documents. Our founders risked life and limb to institute their new form of government. These opening words of our Constitution and the preamble to the Declaration of Independence still stir my heart.

“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

~The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -“

~The Preamble to The Declaration of Independence

We can’t ignore the gender specification in The Declaration. “…all men are created equal…” and “Governments are instituted among Men…” (emphasis mine). The word choice reminds us of the social changes this country has seen in its relatively short history. When the nation was founded, the idea of citizenship for women, black men, or native Americans was unthinkable. In fact, enfranchisement for every land-owning white male was a radical idea. We still grapple with the details of extending equality to all adults regardless of gender , sexual preference, or ethnicity. Protestors in the streets remind us that we have fallen far short in our attempts.

A concept called the ‘paradox of tolerance tells us that when we tolerate intolerance, the intolerant will inevitably take over. As it now stands, intolerance and obstruction keep us from conducting the business of the nation. This has to change if the bold experiment in democracy that we call the United States will ever live up to its potential. We need to grow up, respect each other as human beings, and learn to communicate cleanly, powerfully, and ethically. I wonder if we’re up to the task?

As stated in the title, this has been part one of “My Conservative Values.” In “Part Two—Starting Points.” I will  name more ideas I consider conservative, and look at Abraham Lincoln’s call for re-dedication to a people’s government. In addition, I plan to write about Gandhi’s words and ideas relating to the self and the world. I hope you will join me. Please feel free to leave comments or email me.