The Middle East is stuck between authoritarianism and extremism. The dictators of Iran and Saudi Arabia vs. the chaos of Syria and Iraq.
But what about America? Is it any different? The Democrats are authoritarian. The Republicans are extremists.
The so-called liberal Democrats want to control our lives so we behave in a way they believe is appropriate for modern civilized society. And to make us behave, they press for more government regulations, more government programs and the higher taxes to pay for them. They force us to get health insurance, force us to save for retirement, and in every way manage and manipulate our behavior with laws, laws and more laws.
You can't smoke -- it's not good for you.
You can't drink a large soda -- it's not good for you.
You can't have a gun.
You must go to school.
You cannot discriminate against other people.
You must help pay for my abortion.
You cannot pollute the environment, or cut down a tree in your own yard.
You only earn money because the government lets you.
You must conform to our model of a good citizen.
As they go about controlling us, our lives become ever more complicated. You cannot figure out your own taxes, or your own medical bill. The rules for retirement are complicated, and if you make a mistake you get penalized. You need an adviser to get into college, an agent to land a good job, a counselor to help you with Social Security and Medicare.
They want us to hire experts who, for a fee, will guide us through the labyrinth of laws. A lawyer, an accountant, a social worker and psychologist will control our behavior and make sure we don't disobey orders, or engage in unacceptable behavior, or offend the established routine. The thought police even decide what we should say and how we should say it. Don't say, "illegal alien," say "undocumented worker." Meanwhile, you must get official approval before you name your club, design your logo, or open a nail salon or barber shop.
But if Democrats are authoritarian, Republicans are extremists. Leave me alone, they say. Let me do what I want; let me be free to live the life I want, even if you say it isn't the healthiest, most self-actualizing thing for me to do. Let me associate with the people I like, people who are just like me and who believe in the same things I believe, even if they are old irrational myths or ideas that are not approved by science, and even if we want to exclude people of a different religion or skin color.
I know smoking is bad for me. I want to smoke anyway.
Guns are dangerous, but they make me feel powerful so I want one.
It's not my job to care about the environment.
I get my moral values from the church, not the government.
I earned my own money; don't take it away from me.
My family did it this way for generations; I want to do it this way too.
We believe what we believe, and don't try to tell us any different.
And why do we have these two poles -- the authoritarians and the extremists? Because they are the passionate people, the ones who will pressure the politicians and raise money for their cause. And they have this in common: They don't believe in the First Amendment; they ridicule and demonize people who don't agree with them.
The politicians are not stupid. They raise money from people with vested interests on one side or the other, not from the majority in the middle. They know that for the most part people don't let facts determine what they believe. People believe what they want to believe, then choose the facts to support their opinions. So politicians choose a side, and then like their most avid supporters, they latch onto a few facts and distort them and extrapolate them and use them to prove their indefensible positions.
But you know, the authoritarian vs. extremist problem in America is mostly a manufactured situation. Between the 20% ultra-liberal left, and the 20% radical right are the 60% who are roughly in the middle.
Even as divisive an issue as abortion proves the point. According to the latest polls, about 20% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all cases. About 15%
say it should not be legal under any circumstance. But the majority of Americans --
some 65% -- agree with the Supreme Court that it should be legal early in a pregnancy, but they balk at the idea of late-term or partial birth
abortions, which they believe come just a little too close to infanticide.
Didn't William Yeats say it in the aftermath of World War I, almost a almost a century ago? "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold . . . the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
All I'm saying is: In the new year let's try to ignore all the hotheads and the media outlets that exploit them for ratings (you know what they say in the media business: if you want to draw a crowd, start an argument). And as we go along let's try to see the other person's point of view, without demonizing them, and respect our fellow Americans and go about our lives in a more reasoned and enlightened manner.
In other words: Peace be with you.