Jacob’s new essay about liberal and conservative narratives

Dear Friends
You might be interested in a brief essay just published online by my conservative co-author. In it he does a good job of laying out some differences between how liberals and conservatives view problems. Here’s the link: http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jacob-z-hess/american-politics-beyond-angels-and-demons

thanks, Phil

4 Responses to “Jacob’s new essay about liberal and conservative narratives”
  1. donsalmon says:


    Just found this site. Sorry, I haven’t skimmed through the site and don’t even know if it’s active. I’ve been interested in dialog (across all kinds of disagreements, not just political) for many years, having been a member of Bohm dialog groups and taught a mindfulness based form called “insight dialog” (based on the work of Greg Kramer).

    My interest has been reignited in recent months as a result of an online conversation. I’ve been friendly with a fellow contemplative for 2 years. The conversation took a very weird turn when I casually mentioned I tended to sympathize with progressive views though I am open to views of all sides. Somehow that “open to views of all sides” was ignored and my correspondent virtually pounced on the “progressive”. I honestly can say, perhaps I misread everything he has written since then but I found virtually every letter from this otherwise very articulate, rational, reasonable person to be hysterical, irrational and almost deliberately misreading everything I said.

    Finally, I said if you want to continue, please make a summary of your 10 basic political positions from a left-center perspective. I’ll argue against them from what I understand to be a right of center perspective, then we’ll reverse (he was insisting that the only possible true spiritual perspective was one based on the “far right” – this from a student of Alan Wallace and Franklin Merrell Wolff). He said he didn’t have time to do this (though he penned many very long letters in the past 4 months, far longer than the exercise I was suggesting).

    It made me sad, and also made me curious. most issues that have been politicized (the environment, public infrastructure, worker and food safety) don’t seem to have been – as far as I can recall – even partisan issues 50 years ago. Perhaps the methods of dealing with them might have been, but everyone agreed they were important issues (clean environment, healthy public infrastructure, etc).

    It seems from my cursory reading, that you have left out one of the major – perhaps THE major – issue. There are genuine differences between conservatives and liberals, and these are definitely worth exploring. But there are very powerful and corrupt, highly influential players on the national (and international) stage that are not the least bit interested in dialog, and find if very much in their interest to create artificial dividing lines between left and right. So you might make a distinction between genuine left-right differences, and pathological differences.

    Anyway, congratulations for helping with this dialog. I look forward to reading more about it.

  2. Phil Neisser says:

    Hello. Also thanks, both for your thoughtful remarks and for your effort to engage in a real dialogue. It is indeed sad that so many people are uninterested and unwilling to generously engage with viewpoints with which they disagree.

    I agree with something you suggested: that key players in our political/economic system profit in one way or another from the current polarizing discourse, for one because it situates them well with their “base.” Also as I see it many people with power or influence find the idea of joining or supporting genuine dialogue to be threatening simply because it’s an unknown. After all, real dialogue MIGHT reduce their influence or make them look bad. And for someone with any influence at all inviting people to dialogue could appear to be a thing that would reduce that influence.

    I do want to add that I think that many of the people who whip up partisan division, who name call and misrepresent the views of others to make them look bad, and who somehow benefit (at least in the short term, or in their perception) are NOT what I would call corrupt. By that I mean that they think what they’re doing is right, for example because they believe in the misrepresentations they spread, and/or they have convinced themselves that smearing someone else will move themselves upward into a position of more power, at which time they will (they imagine) do something good for all. Also often people act in ways that are wrong simply to avoid displeasing those with whom they work (e.g. members of Congress want to be on good terms with others in their party). Anyway it is, as you say, sad.

    Jacob and I did, by the way, do our best to distinguish between genuine left-right differences and the appearance of such differences that is the result of misrepresentations or people believing things about the other side that are simply not true. Jacob reports, for example, growing up believing that liberals “don’t believe in anything.” That is what he was taught by some!

    Yours, Phil

    • donsalmon says:

      Thanks Phil, I appreciate it. I’ll keep you updated on my attempts at dialog, both online and here in Asheville, NC (sometimes referred to as an “island of blue in a sea of red” – but I think there’s much more maroon here than people might think>)

  3. Phil Neisser says:

    Yes, please do keep us posted. And enjoy the weekend.

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