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June 1992 W. O. W.

Pseudo-liberalism (last of four essays)
By Travis Hardin

Liberalism (May M-Anation) is an attitude of inclusiveness, a feeling of commonness, and a conviction that all included individuals should be permitted to exist happily and free of suffering. It appears to me there are two branches of liberalism -- all-inclusive liberalism and progressive liberalism. The former is derided as bleeding-heart let's-open-the-jail-doors liberalism, while progressive liberalism depends on capable intellectuals and the social and physical sciences to engineer the betterment of humankind. The latter opens jail doors more selectively.

Some things appear liberal, but are not:

• Spurious and homonymous definitions • In addition to "favoring progress or reform," the dictionary says "liberal" also means "giving freely or abundantly" and "not strict or rigorous." But the last two meanings are other meanings that aren't central to the social liberalism I have been talking about. The popular notion that social liberals believe in irresponsible spending is based on another meaning, a meaning that may equally be applied to, say, a George Bush.

•   Open-mindedness as indiscrimination • "It's important to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out," advises a Nancy Lebovitz button. I am a fair-weather Unitarian-Universalist. In foul weather I hide under the coffee table and bite at ankles. I attended that liberal church where a fellow member with a brilliant but jumbled logic system rambled often about being pursued by the CIA. He had left his wife for a cross-country joy-ride during which he was finally committed by the police. A schizoid personality to me, he was a financial auditor and newsletter editor to a liberal group wishing to be undiscriminating.

Other members there professed what they believed to be liberal epistemology and metaphysics -- a sense that one person's truth is as good as another's, that there is no objective reality, or that one person's reality is as valid an another's. Inclusiveness that includes everything includes nonsense.

• Animal rights • (Most people favor humaneness toward animals. That is not the question here.) I must reluctantly agree with analysts who see the animal rights movement more as an anti-human movement whose proponents are, in general, people who have been hurt deeply or disappointed by human beings. Analysts say the movement appeals most to city-dwellers who are furthest removed from contact with animals, and, not to put too fine a point on it, who idealize the guilelessness of animals.

If distant vision motivates the animal rights person, then she is simply ahead of her time, ready to explore inter-species relations before there are inter-species relations. If sensitivity motivates, I ask if it is possible to be ethical toward an individual animal that has no choice in its actions and is going to do what it is going to do? Is ethics not bilateral?

•  Conservationism (Environmentalist!!) • Saving the planet has become radical  (Notice the use of the words "conservation" and "saving" to represent something ultra-liberal). Mainly the idea is radical to the extent that non-human species are seen to be favored over human. See Animal Rights.

• Anti-nuclear sentiment • The Bomb, which is designed to kill and mutate, is decried by all liberals. The nuclear power plant, which is designed to make steam for electrical power generation, is decried by many because it can kill and mutate accidently. On the other hand, it can save the planet's climate by suspending CO2 accumulation. Being anti-nuclear and conservationist seems to force one into a future where we weave our own coarse cotton clothes, grind our meal on stones under the windmills, and wash our clothes in the river.  Such a position is not progressive nor supportive of human betterment, and so is not liberal.  It appears to be liberal. It is pseudo-liberal.