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My view: Liberals, conservatives need each other

By Larry Alan Brown

Published: Tuesday, May 8 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Yin yang is an ancient Asian concept that describes how opposite forces rely on each other in the natural world. They are complementary opposites that provide balance within the greater whole. One cannot exist without the other.

In politics, the principle of yin yang can apply to liberals and conservatives, who desperately need each other but won't admit it. They have degenerated into warring tribes, for whom being party faithful is more important than being good Americans. This ideological conflict has resulted in a dangerous game of chicken that threatens the very fabric of our nation.

What liberals and conservatives are loath to admit is that each side has, with a few notable exceptions such as abortion and same-sex marriage, strongly held values that nearly every American can agree with. The problem is not in the universal worthiness of the values themselves, but in the lack of balance or affordability in their implementation.

Let's use the example of labor and business. How could anyone argue with the value that all employees should be treated fairly and have a safe workplace? Likewise, could any reasonable person dispute the right of business owners to be competitive in the marketplace and get a fair return on their risks and investments?

Liberals believe that strong labor unions are the best way to safeguard workers' rights. But conservatives are nearly united in opposing unions, which they see as a threat to management control and profitability. This seemingly intractable standoff could be resolved with the thoughtful implementation of these complementary opposites.

It is likely that both sides, if they let down their defenses and thought objectively about it for a minute, could agree on how to make their competing beliefs work together. However, it is the combative disagreement over the implementation of the values by the opposing tribes that leads to friction, insults, hardened positions and, too often, mutual failure.

Both values could be realized, resulting in a win-win outcome, if neither side tried to press its advantage or strength to harm the other.

Nature provides an example of how two species (or political philosophies) can relate to one another. One is parasitism and the other is symbiosis.

Parasites are organisms, like the pine bark beetle, that damage or kill their host. Conservatives and liberals have both been increasingly guilty of parasitism, to the detriment of all.

Symbiosis, on the other hand, is when two species have a relationship that is mutually beneficial, even when one side is more powerful than the other.

One such relationship involves the shark and the pilot fish. Sharks routinely allow pilot fish to clean their skin and teeth to remove parasites and bits of food. This symbiotic relationship provides a meal for the pilot fish and dental hygiene for the shark, even though the shark has the power to make lunch of his much weaker companion.

This provides a useful analogy to describe how conservatives and liberals should interact regardless of which party holds power in Washington and in the state legislatures. It requires mutual respect for each other's values and contributions along with a vigorous debate on how to best implement them.

There will always be tension between labor and business, environmentalists and resource extraction industries, advocates of health care by government versus free enterprise, etc. Tension is, in fact, essential for healthy debate and a robust democratic process.

Solutions are only possible, though, if liberals and conservatives shed the tribalism and parasitism of today's political parties and work together, in the spirit of yin yang, to engage in creative tension and compromise. Only by implementing balanced and affordable complementary opposites will America start moving forward again.

Larry Alan Brown is a writer and business consultant living in Alpine.

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