Thought Blockers

Let us wriggle free of the 'conservative' and 'liberal' duopoly

Topics

Philosophy

Let’s start with good blockers. Alpha-blockers and beta-blockers play a strategic role in reducing high blood pressure and even some cardiac problems. They’re health-defenders. Next up? Something seasonal: Fall’s the season for football blockers, especially welcome as goal-defenders.

What about bad blockers? They’re a motley crew of offenders. Enter name-droppers and conversation-stoppers. The worst of the lot are the thought blockers. Here’s an example that merits closer attention, even when palmed off as poetry. The master of lyrics W. S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan, penned this version of it:

“Every little boy or girl

That’s born into this world alive,

Is either a little liberal

Or else a little conservative.”

Sure, by two they’re little rascals. But let’s stick with Gilbert’s claim. For a start, we can ask what’s a “conservative” and what’s a “liberal”? After all, people who find themselves so identified often deny the label. Care to consult a dictionary? Take a look at Ambrose Bierce’s The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary. It offers this entry:

Conservative: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Okay, maybe that won’t help. But even if we were to achieve definitional accord, there’s a dismal duopoly at work. Why must we sort out the whole range of politics (plus theology, the arts, and even the haberdasher’s ties) in terms of the one or the other? Are there no other distinctions, none that make a difference, to consider?

Suppose, too, that one seems–if only to others–rather “conservative” about politics and “liberal” in theology. Nowadays maybe we can’t suppose that. Maybe we only have a “conservative” menu and a “liberal” menu, both alike in that they insist that there be no substitutions. If so, let’s scrap the menus! We’d do better, wouldn’t we, to think for ourselves, as best we can. That means no more bad thought blockers like “conservative” and “liberal.”

What’s left for us, though, if we wriggle free of the duopoly? Since no one wants to be a “reactionary,” the “progressive” strides boldly forward. Well, then, what is the progressive progressing toward? Perish the thought that it is something conservative or liberal! Yet surely progress depends, doesn’t it, on what one’s goal is. Discerning this goal calls for thinking, hard thinking and over the long haul. It’s worth noting, in this regard, that one of St. Thomas Aquinas’s beautiful prayers is titled “A Prayer Before Study.”

 

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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