Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

September 9, 2004

Dear Auntie Pinko,

Why is it that every time a Liberal wants you to agree to something, they bring family members into it, as if that makes it okay. Like it's okay to be gay because we all have family members or friends who are gay and so it's alright. Or, it's okay to get an abortion because we all know someone who needed one and had it for the "right" reasons, so abortion is okay if it's for the "right" reasons.

It seems to me like the only thing Liberals think is always immoral is "intolerance." Anything else - promiscuity, adultery, or whatever, is okay, as long as we're not being "intolerant."

Well, I believe there are some things that are always wrong and always immoral, and that I shouldn't have to approve of them or even "tolerate" them. Is there anything, besides "intolerance," that liberals think is always immoral? Or is it just liberals and their families and friends who are "exempt" from morality?

Los Angeles

Dear Rick,

Once again, Auntie cannot speak for all who identify ourselves as liberals. I can speak authoritatively only for myself, and not authoritatively but confidently based on my observations of those I know well and interact with regularly. I hope that's good enough!

Let's get a couple of things clear right off. None of the liberals I know (including myself) believes that morality applies only to people they don't know, or that their family and friends are exempt from morality by virtue of being close to us. However, I'd be willing to concede that liberals certainly have a much keener awareness of the potentially subjective nature of the moral judgments humans apply to one another.

And I'd be willing to concede, too, that the average liberal tends to err on the side of moral relativism, as opposed to moral absolutes. Both relativism and absolutism, carried too far, are erroneous approaches to moral judgment. Both are harmful, both have potential for long-lasting, wide-reaching negative consequences.

The nature of these two errors is perhaps one of the best ways I know of to illustrate the downsides of both liberal and conservative approaches to public policy issues. For example, liberals favor a justice system that puts the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused, and takes all possible measures to ensure that an innocent person is rarely, if ever, convicted and imprisoned or killed. Conservatives feel that a justice system so biased in favor of the accused that it allows criminals to go free and commit more harm in the community makes that system culpable for the further harm done.

Both negative consequences - an innocent person imprisoned, a criminal set free to commit more crimes - are intolerable. Yet no system that we've been able to devise yet can ensure that one of those outcomes won't occasionally occur. And so we must, in effect, choose our error, and abide by that choice in the full knowledge that we are guaranteeing at least some intolerable negative consequences.

Liberals find it easier to live with the notion that a criminal might slip through the system, than that an innocent person might be falsely imprisoned. Conservatives find it easier to live with the idea that an innocent person might suffer imprisonment, than with the idea of an unconvicted criminal repeating their crimes.

In the public arena, morality is rarely unambiguous, and almost never simple. Taking only one of the examples you raised, there are those who truly believe that it is immoral to abort a pregnancy, even when the life of the mother is endangered. There are those who believe that it is immoral to abort a pregnancy, unless the life of the mother is endangered. There are those who would force the victim of incest or rape to bear a baby resulting from that crime, and there are those who would allow the woman so victimized to choose to end that pregnancy. There are cogent arguments to be made on behalf of the "morality" of all of these points of view.

Most of the liberals I know have very well developed moral sense. The fundamental common denominator seems to be the golden rule - do as you would be done by. Whether you attribute this to Judeo-Christian moral tradition, to the philosophical humanist tradition, or to some other source, it seems to be a universal human constant, and liberals are neither exempt from its application, nor immune to its appeal.

I hope this helps you understand us, Rick, and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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