A Liberal Comes Full Circle

He’d been a solid liberal (or ‘progressive’, as they call it these days).

He’d voted for John Anderson in the 1980 presidential election (despite the half-hearted directives of the doyens in the Democratic Massachusetts statehouse where he’d interned in his Brandeis days, to “Hold your nose and vote for Carter.”.

He’d worked for Masspirg, an ultra-liberal environmental activist group, where his heartfelt pleas on its behalf earned him fundraising renown.

He’d avidly listened to and semi-followed the Grateful Dead, with all which that implies.

He viewed conservatives, especially religious conservatives, as small-minded, masochistic, and bafflingly missing the boat of life.

He resented their apparently arbitrary so-called ‘traditional values,’ (or as they were back then even more odiously termed, ‘morals’) that were all about stopping people from having fun. Don’t drink this…don’t smoke that…don’t date thus and thusly…

When he’d ask them ‘why not?’ he’d only be greeted with nonsense or a string of expletives (which, by the way, were supposed to be another of their ‘no-no’s’, but they’d seemingly forgot).

To summarize, his liberal credo was: We have the right to do whatever we want, as long as it causes others no harm.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Based on that definition, he was still a liberal. The only thing that’s changed is how he now defined ‘harm’.

This change came as the result of having more information than he had back then; the most notable of which was the discovery of a spiritual dimension, parallel to the physical one and directly affected by people’s choices in the everyday material world.

He was astounded to see that seemingly innocuous choices in this world could be tremendously toxic in the spiritual dimension. And how even choices that apparently only harmed oneself, which in classic liberal doctrine rendered them within one’s rights, became problematic. For in the spiritual world, we are all ultimately connected as one, which means that self-harm is also ‘other-harm’, and therefore out of bounds (even liberally speaking).

[This all might sound very abstract, but let’s give a physical-world example that might make it clearer.

Take smoking cigarettes. Less than a hundred years ago, most people considered it a harmless, enjoyable pastime, with even some touted physical and emotional benefits. Based on the then-known information, it passed the ‘liberal rights’ test with flying colors.

Later, when its harm to smokers became known, while it was perhaps an unwise choice, it was still liberally defendable as permissible ‘self-harm’.

However, once it was revealed that smoking not only harmed the smoker, but also, through second-hand smoke, everyone else around him, then the previously ‘innocuous’ pastime was liberally out of bounds (and indeed, many of its most committed opponents stem from the liberal/progressive ranks).]

Another astounding discovery was that the empirical benefit/harm scale in the newly-discovered spiritual dimension uncannily dovetailed with the many (though not all) of society’s ‘traditional values’ – even as most of their proponents seemed clueless to this fact.

It was as if enlightened aliens had once landed and told these curmudgeons what they had to do, but hadn’t told them why.

The upshot left him skewered on the Zen-like paradox that to honestly remain liberal, he’d have to adopt a largely ostensibly conservative ethos.

Life is funny sometimes.


About the Author
Nesanel Yoel Safran, US born and a graduate of Brandeis, now living with his wife and family in the Judean Hills, is a writer, chef, and a teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen — and for living.