A recent email to a friend—a professed conservative with liberal leanings in many domains. We have conversations where we listen to each other and make no assumptions. This is about as “political” as I ever get, which is to say, not much.

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I wonder if you are on the train now? Funny, because a friend and I were just talking about the joys of traditional train travel. I trained around Europe last spring, trained often in southern Ontario 35 years ago, and trained across Canada four or five times as a boy when they still had white tablecloths and silverware in the dining car. My friend was saying that he was thinking to do a train trip in the States, and it made me realize how much I’d like to do it if time allowed. 

Regarding conservatives and Nicaraguan dictators versus Guatemalan kleptocrats, I hear you. Of course, neither are desirable in the grand scheme, but I certainly take your point. Guatemala is perhaps Russia in the last days of the Tsars, Nicaragua perhaps is the U.S.S.R. in the 60s or 70s?  I can’t say—just a wild guess for purposes of a thought experiment—where I am reminded that there were many Russians who decried the collapse of communism after they saw the Russian mafia take over the country in the 1990s. And of course now they say nothing for fear of extrajudicial execution or more mild forms of personal violence against them and their wives and children.  

I think one of the lessons has to be “we’ve had it good in Canada for a long time.” And no, I don’t believe it’s because we have been colonialist oppressors exploiting the … (blah blah blah). While Canada has not been perfect—and no country is—we have (had) strong democratic institutions, rule of law, and under the terrible Christians a social safety net with healthcare for all, education for all, highways for all, etcetera. As we see our institutions becoming increasingly challenged in Canada as artifacts of “oppressive colonialism,” we might do well to listen to what the citizens of Hong Kong have been saying since 1997 and since 2014 especially: They long for the days when the British were the territorial government.  

As for conservative friends—I have plenty of those from my private school days, so I think I have a grasp of what you are confronting. I think they have had it very good since birth, and they’ve come of age at a time (1960s-1990s) when it could indeed be reasonably expected that someone could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps if they made a modicum of effort. This has shaped their worldview, such that they don’t really understand how the structure of the economy has changed fundamentally, and how much wealth has been transferred to Amazon and the pharmaceutical companies, and the landlords of Canada and their fentanyl dealers, greatly diminishing any opportunity for a child born outside the borders of Point Grey or Rosedale or Westmount to make a decent go of things. (And have they not noticed that even in those barrios, their own children are electing to stay at home until their late 20s to avoid paying the exorbitant rents, attending university and college at their leisure, while their parents pay for their tuition and vacations in Costa Rica and Hawaii?)  

There is a blindness that comes with living in too great of comfort and vacationing in all-inclusives in countries run by kleptocrats. I fear it is not a reflection of evil or bad will, but rather the simple lazy ignorance and complacency that too easily accompanies wealth. I’ve seen plenty of this in Chile.  

If your conservative friends are unresponsive to your email (which I felt provided a sound opening to a pertinent discussion), it is more than likely a reflection of the common discomfort that accompanies our awareness that we may be complicit in the problem, even if only inadvertently and to a tiny measure within the larger landscape, so it feels best not to peer into that canyon of conflicted emotions, desires, and allegiances. 

I think I have told you how often I have been accused of being a leftist socialist by some friends, and within days a rightist conservative by others. I don’t think it’s a sign that there is any contradiction in my values and thinking, but rather a sign of the inherent contradictions in so much of the Left and the Right today, both of which too often lack balance between head and heart in their ideologies. I have some views that tend to be labelled conservative, and I have some that tend to be labelled liberal or socialist. They arise from a specific set of unified values that in turn arise from a specific set of understandings of what we are as human beings. In this regard they actually form a cohesive “ideology,” though it might not be apparent to my friends on the Left and on the Right. They arise from spiritual understanding, and most importantly the centrality of compassion. 

Ideology needs to be informed by a spiritual understanding of the human condition. Intellect is a necessary adjunct, but inadequate on its own. Compassion is the only way forward for humanity, if there is to be any hope for our species at all. All other virtues arise from it. Any political ideology that fails to operate on this basis, together with humility and an adequate measure of selflessness, and an understanding of the fallibility of all “perfect systems,” is set for failure in the service of the people. 

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