Celtic Riverside – The Online Journal of James Keenan

An Open (Friendly) Letter to Conservatives

My biggest problem with conservatives is that when you speak, I hear 1) why you think what someone else is doing is wrong, 2) why you disagree with something that doesn’t affect you personally – it’s just an ideological disagreement, and 3) that you don’t believe liberals.

When I listen to the liberals/moderates speak, I hear 1) how an issue is affecting their personal lives and 2) ideas for how we can go about improving things for others, even if the issue doesn’t affect us personally.

And then when conservatives do struggle, as many indeed do, you seem so inclined to put it on the wrong group. For example, you don’t like the taxes you pay when struggling to cover your finances. It’s too much government. They’re just handing that money out to people who are also struggling, but you’re working and they aren’t. They want a handout, you want to earn it.

This misses the reality of their stories though. Your reality is important, but so is theirs. Many of them want to earn it and find those avenues denied to them. Some abuse it, yes. But most want to earn it and can’t. We should be together taking issue against the system that makes that true.

One example: Marijuana is now legal in many places, but we have black people still in jail/prison in those same jurisdictions for minor drug offences, and those offences will be used against them when seeking employment. (I went to a mostly white high school – many of the students occasionally or regularly had marijuana. To the best of my knowledge, exactly zero of them ever saw a cell or even a courtroom about it.)

Our society is full of systemic injustices like this that make it more difficult for certain people than others (i.e. privilege and intersectionality). It doesn’t mean that you don’t struggle – it means in that particular case you are not faced with the systemic challenges.

What liberals and conservatives want is not all that different in most cases. We both want reform in a lot of these areas. Conservatives frame it as smaller government; liberals frame it as more efficient to eliminate those systemic injustices.

What I’d like to see more of from conservatives is listening to members of these various communities. Not discussing, not engaging in a dialogue – we’ll get there. Start with straight listening to them to understand, at a personal level, the challenges they face.

I get that you face challenges, too. Seriously, I do. This is not about putting all of the blame on men or whites, it’s not about “identity politics” or erasing a culture. We will get to them – you will have a turn to speak. But we need to address these other items first because they affect most of our population: women, LGBTQ+, ethnic and religious minorities.

More than half our population is held back by systemic, institutional, bureaucratic challenges that exist only because we decided to build them into the system. We can easily amend or remove them. But we need to identify and understand them first. That starts with listening.

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