Monday, October 11, 2004

Degrees of Difficulty 

by Kristine
Astute readers (and even, perhaps, some who are not particularly astute) will have noticed that I frequently (er, pretty much always) disagree with John Fowles. Online, at least, we seem to inhabit the opposite poles of possible intellectual orientation to Mormonism. In real life, of course, we'd probably be chatting about obscure German verbs and the best restaurants in Ann Arbor and our kids and be great friends in no time. But online we seem to be cast as arch enemies, which is very intellectually productive for me, at least (John probably only gets high blood pressure out of our discussions).

Anyway, I mention this because lately (when I'm not busy thinking of new ways to provoke John), I've been thinking about a little exchange we had a few posts ago, about the relative degrees of difficulty of living in a black and white world versus living in a grayish one. I said that I was envious of people with John's apparent confidence; he said he thought it would be easier to live in a world of grey. (Maybe it would be, with the British spelling :)) I'm curious as to why we each might think the other's way of being in the world easier. Perhaps it's a simple case of "the grass is always greener..."

But perhaps not. It seems to me that many disagreements between conservatives and liberals (for want of better terms) come down to this suspicion of each other: I think John is choosing the easy way by abdicating a great deal of his own critical faculty and agency in favor of a stance of more or less unquestioning obedience; he thinks I'm trying to find an easier way than just keeping the commandments, with my constant questions. It is certainly true that some "liberality" is an excuse or a rationalization for less-than-valiant behavior. But there must be deeper issues at stake here. If I behave exactly as John does (and I think I probably do, in very many ways), is my way of thinking about things still wrong? Is it possible for conservatives to grant that there might be a principled, moral reason for taking a liberal stance? And, conversely, is it possible for liberals to believe that a conservative stance can be similarly principled, and not a mere abdication of one's reason and thoughtful effort? Can we see and acknowledge the difficulty of both stances?

The vitriol in debates between conservatively oriented and liberally oriented Mormons reminds me sometimes of the nastiness between mothers who leave paid employment to care for their children and mothers who outsource some childcare while they pursue another occupation (sheesh--no wonder people resort to inaccurate and loaded terms like "working mother" and "stay-at-home-mother"). Both ways are sooooo hard, and somehow we get invested in thinking our way is the hardest, and therefore we're heroes and people who take the opposite course are wimps. What a strange kind of competition! Is choosing what seems the hardest way really the most virtuous course?
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