Discussing political hot-topics such as gun control, gay marriage or Bernie Sanders can feel like a waste of time. Scroll through your Facebook feed and click on an article about any of these topics and I guarantee you’ll finish it feeling either exhausted, bored or upset.
More often than not, you’ll see a Democrat calling a Republican a racist imbecile or a Republican calling a Democrat a Muslim socialist. Contemporary political discourse is good entertainment but bad problem solving.
If you take the time to look past the yelling and name-calling, a theme appears in nearly every political controversy. This is seen not only today, but throughout the awkward story of human history.
Whether it be English barons forcing their King to subject to the Magna Carta or thousands of Hebrew slaves trudging confidently away from their Egyptian masters, one conflict is pervasive—is it better to have freedom or security?
Although having both would be nice, we don’t live in such a generous world.
For example, taxes are obnoxious and often unfair, but do we really want to live in a world without state-created conveniences such as firetrucks and stoplights? On the other hand, do we know for a fact that things wouldn’t be better in a free society where we could pay for the fire truck but not the war in Afghanistan? Every good argument for freedom or for security is paired with an equally thought-provoking retort, leaving the issue complex and frustrating.
But we often miss that this clash between freedom and safety underlies most conversations. In debating gun control, the argument is about the ethics of a state disarming its citizens. With the Kim Davis debacle, the conflict concerned the federal government’s right to tell state employees what to do.
While statistics and anecdotes dominate arguments about polarizing issues such as socialism and abortion, under the surface these conversations revolve around the ethics of making someone behave in a certain way to keep themselves and others safe. In its essence, conservatism is conserving the size and power of government, while liberalism is being liberal with the power and authority given to our central government. This disagreement dates back to some of the first issues our founding fathers faced, and its unfading relevancy is a testament to its complicated nature.
Although the proponents of either belief are unlikely to find total agreement anytime soon, understanding that this conflict plays a part in all political discussion can help us understand those we disagree with better, and thus add a hint of productivity to such discussions.
If you’re a Democrat, just remember that under the ethics and anecdotes, your Republican friend is probably saying that she would rather be free to keep herself safe than for the government to do that job for her. If you’re a Republican, keep in mind that beneath the rhetoric and pathos, the Democrat you’re listening to is probably just saying that keeping people safe and secure is more important than keeping them free.
And if you don’t know where you stand, start to wrestle with this conflict. Ask yourself whether mankind needs a keeper. Glance through history and compare the death tolls delivered by states with those delivered by free individuals. Examine how much control you have over your democracy. Most of all, decide if the promise of security, be it economic or physical, is worth a loss of freedom.
Agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nigel is a sophomore pursuing a double major in history and psychology.