Friday, October 31, 2008

Who are we? The making of conservatives, part 1

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The following is Part One of an interview where I answer questions about my move years ago to conservatism. It is my goal to provide an ongoing look into various nuances and implications of conservative thinking within a liberal landscape.

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Part 1: California Dreaming

Your political views are the opposite of your family’s. How has this been for you?

I’ve spent very little time discussing these things with my family because I haven’t wanted to create discord. My mother is gone, and now it's just my father and sister who I care for very much. Fortunately my husband and I are on the same page.

One problem with not saying much is the incomplete, inauthentic feeling you get by holding back all the time. While I was always very clear about how liberal my family was, they had no idea until recently just how strong my beliefs are. And by the way, most liberals I know are utterly unaware of just how insulting their constant brittle and condescending remarks are to conservatives; it's relentless and irrational.

So you can talk about it, or not. Basically, either way, it’s a wedge… a kind of tightness when it’s unspoken, and a glaringly uncomfortable feeling for us all when it’s out in the open, as it is now. The word painful wouldn't be too strong. I have no idea how couples with mixed ideologies can be together. It would be completely impossible for me. We’re not talking about whose baseball team is better, after all.

So you grew up in a liberal household.

Well, it was a democrat household, to be sure. There wasn’t a lot of political discussion. And when you’re young and making your way in the world, finding your identity, dealing with personal issues, these things are extremely abstract and, for the most part, irrelevant. As it turns out, my family was growing further and further left along with their party, which they can deny all they like but I know to be true. But it’s really a great deal more than just learning these things at home. Now that I look back with adult eyes, I can recall time and again the indoctrination of my school environment.

And you’re not talking about college, but before that.

Oh, it began way before college, although college is where it becomes the most sophisticated. It’s hard to say which is worse. I can remember in grade school our teacher telling us about the difference between democrats and republicans, and thought, wow, those republicans sound so mean.

My reading and comprehension skills were years ahead for my age so I was rewarded by being given more adult reading by the time I was in junior high. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the point of view that would send a young teen off to read Jessica Mitford. Nobody was trying to teach me to think; they were trying to direct me. And naturally, kids look up to teachers, and have no way of really processing all that.

What would you say if someone said you moved deliberately to an opposite point of view, that your changed beliefs were some kind of mindless rebellion against your upbringing?

The only way I can respond to that is to explain that sometime in my twenties, gradually, I began to consciously develop a world view. Eventually it was a very conscious decision because at some point I realized I never actually sat down and figured out: What should I really believe?

So I decided to make the slate as blank as possible and start—as much as I could— from scratch. A lot of this ethic of logical thinking came from being around my husband and his engineering mind. There was this gnawing feeling that I’d been drifting along applying sloppy methods, picking up information carelessly and arriving at important beliefs using faulty or nonexistent logic. If your methods for forming your views are based on that, you’re at the mercy of very powerful coercive cultural forces all around you. History shows us how destructive that can be when this prevails throughout societies.

It eventually just seemed irresponsible to arrive at an ideology first and then run around finding supporting information. But that’s what a lot of people do. And of course, so much of conservatism is counter-intuitive, and it doesn't have the superficial caring voice of liberalism.

You’ve said before that your year at U.C. Berkeley helped strengthen your views. Tell me more about that.

Well, I’d been working for years in the beauty industry because it paid well, was pleasant and undemanding, and I was still emotionally immature in so many ways and figuring out who I was, and what I wanted to do with my life. It was like having my finger on the Pause button.

Eventually it seemed like I might be a good teacher, an art teacher, so I applied to U.C. Berkeley and got in, with the vague plan that I’d get an art degree. I was already conservative, and I expected it to be a liberal culture there, so it's not like I was naive about it. But the extent to which professors try to indoctrinate their students in anti-American anti-Constitution leftist ideology is nothing short of breathtaking; I can personally attest to that.

What was it like there?

This was in 1983, and I'd been out of high school for 12 years. I’d sit in my world geography class listening to our professor extoling the virtues of socialism and think, these young students all around me are soaking all this in, never mind that none of it really made any real sense. You’re taught these elaborate theoretical constructs that have no relevance to the real world, that don’t withstand logical scrutiny. I’d get blistering remarks scrawled across the margins of my papers. I had a professor who kept office hours at a local coffee shop instead of on campus. Students don’t simply meet with their teachers; it was more like getting together to plot the Revolution with a poster of Che Guevara on the wall.

But as discouraging as it was, I tried hard not to react to the cultural environment emotionally; it’s actually very instructive because you see how it all operates. When you are in the ideological minority, the burden of proof always falls on your shoulders, which is a huge drag. But it can be beneficial because it forces you to really look at facts. And even if you can’t persuade blind ideologues to look at documented facts and lead them by the hand through logical arguments, at least your own head is clear.

Nothing is more useful than real information and logic if you don’t want to be at the mercy of illogical yet powerful oratory... but for me, it's mostly for my own satisfaction. Maybe I'm too sensitive about this but I hate arguing these things, and rarely do. This is partly because what passes for debate in liberal circles is their tossing out obscure stories and positing them as broad proof of one idea or another, making incendiary statements, engaging in straw-man arguments, or demanding you come up with some obscure fact on demand to prove your grasp of the situation, or lack thereof.

Anyway, despite getting onto the Dean’s list for academic excellence, I finally grew so discouraged spending all that time on the other side of the Looking Glass that I quit Berkeley and went back to work. I can remember later explaining this to my sister once, telling her how crazy it was there. Her response was unintentionally revealing. “I’m glad that didn’t happen to me,” she said. That is a very telling comment.

Could you elaborate on this?

It reveals how she accepts that ideologies are formed and subject to influence, and that she wouldn't want to have lost her beliefs. This scenario leaves no room for logical assessments but talks instead about one faith versus another. In essence, her remark was remorse at the notion of someone becoming soured on liberal (IE humanitarian) beliefs by being in a too-far-leftist environment like the one I found myself in… as if that properly defined the mechanism. But nothing happened to me in the way she essentially suggests. The only thing that ever happened is I noted what was going on and went off and educated myself, and I’m still doing that.

Conversely I can see that her beliefs did more or less happen to her. Although she's very intelligent, she didn’t put in the long hours and consciously develop them from the ground up, even though I’m sure she feels she’s given it all such rational thought. I know she would find all this insulting, and I’m not trying to be unkind or pick on her... it's a really prevalent perspective. But all belief systems are not equally valid, which sounds arrogant, but it’s true. When solid facts and logic are on your side, when you acknowledge things like human psychology and look even informally at the weight of history, it’s impossible to defend the Marxist theories at the core of radical liberalism.

It’s not enough to read a book by Al Franken or Al Gore and claim you’ve done your homework when you’ve never read about the forming of the Constitution, or know about some key war statistics and history, know the basics about supply-side economics, or don’t really understand what a republic is or why it’s so precious. I'm certainly no historian, but anyone who ignores history or reads faulty history and opinion is in danger of bad ideology. I see daily confirmation of how passionately people hold to liberalism with a stunning lack of evidence.

Liberal views are supported round the clock by a frighteningly biased media and cultural environment. It’s unbelievably disturbing to me to spend more than a day or two up in the Bay Area for that reason… not because I feel susceptible to its message, but because it’s sad that such a wrongheaded ideology is so ubiquitous.

When I was younger I thought it was so great we had two parties that balanced each other, and the checks and balances between the three branches of government always seemed incredibly brilliant to me. But it’s become a far different picture because now we have what I call American Socialists mostly in charge of all three branches of the government and supported by mainstream media to boot, with people you could call Constitutional Patriots fighting for our very existence… that’s basically what we’re doing. The dialog about how much and what kind of social services are appropriate, and how best to fund them, should arguably be taking place on a lot smaller scale.

How do you explain the appeal of liberalism?

There are a lot of reasons, and taken together they are very powerful… greater than the sum of its often illogical parts. For some, it's a simple matter of wanting more than they have, of buying into the Evil Rich/Noble Poor idea and going for it. But for the people that really put it forth as an agenda, it's more than that. And it's certainly not that I don't get it.

There’s a strong emotional component to people’s attachment to liberalism. Rather than being logical, it has its roots in the idea of defining oneself as a do-gooder… the idea of intent trumping actual outcome. It really is at the core of all liberalism once you recognize it. Former radical David Horowitz writes quite eloquently about this. It's also rooted in the childish misconception that you can fix all ills and injustices. As Thomas Sowell reminds us, there are no solutions, only trade-offs.

There’s so much irony lately. It’s crazy for America to embrace socialism in a fit of self-loathing at a time when countries like France have finally gotten fed up with being piss-poor and going nowhere and are slowly becoming more capitalistic… but that’s what’s happening here. There’s an old Soviet joke that socialism is the long road between capitalism and capitalism. The Soviets learned that the hard way.

We, on the other hand, romanticize Europe and have what Tom Wolfe has called a colonial complex. So there’s that. Many Americans, especially we baby boomers, feel so un-cool with our tidy suburban houses and dozens of home appliances, and fantasize about simple cottages or Old World flats and a grocery bag filled with daisies and a baguette.

There is so much guilt in America—guilt for the native Americans, guilt over slavery and civil rights issues. We feel guilty for bringing our goods and our perspectives to a world seen as unspoiled and idyllic before our oafish feet stomped on them. We lose sight of how we’ve brought more freedom and prosperity, by far, to more people than any other country or institution. The stock market crash of 1929 is felt, in a gut way, as an indictment against greed, and the social engineering that followed is romanticized as having saved the poor when in fact the opposite is true… a bad recession was actually turned into a long depression. Good-hearted and genuinely caring, we became embarrassed by the postwar era and our explosion of prosperity, the nuclear family, and comfort. And then there was McCarthy, and now you’re a tyrannical fascist if you worry out loud about the communist/socialist voice. So it’s not hard to see who the cool, smart people are, and it’s not us capitalist pigs.

With liberalism, aided constantly by a powerful media rewriting history on the fly, its champions get to show to themselves and others how they really care about people. Plus, and I hate to say this so bluntly, you get to sit in a coffee house wearing a beret, and feel a bit sorry for all the simpletons in America's heartland

The horrifying thing about liberalism is that it hurts and even kills real human beings in the big picture, but people don’t seem to notice in their eagerness to "do something".

Describing the danger that way, that’s a pretty strong statement.

Believe me, I wish it weren’t true.

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Next, living in media oblivion.

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