I know. I know! We’re all getting sick of politics. I AM actually getting back to writing fiction. For the moment, I am fiddling with the novel I began about a year ago (and subsequently let sit on the shelf for a few months), tentatively titled “The Tribulation Levee”. It is a horror story, so be warned. By comparison, “The Riverhouse” was a quaint historical mystery. So.
But I still find myself in need of a place to vent my blathers about life, people, and the general state of worldly affairs. For the moment, this is still that place. So bear with me. I’ll keep this short (hah!!)
A few days ago, I overheard a discussion about politics. The specifics don’t matter. One phrase of this conversation caught in my brain and has been pecking at me ever since: “what have the Republicans ever done for the working man?”
This could have been said by my grandfather. He was a lifelong Democrat, and I recall having discussions with him that sounded a lot like this. I never knew quite how to respond to such a question; there was just something about it that felt all wrong at the core. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. When I heard the question (rhetorical, of course) posed vehemently the other day, I finally figured out what it was. The problem with the very question is so huge, so all-encompassing, that even now I’m not quite sure how to encapsulate it.
“What have the Republicans ever done for the working man?”
Since when has the working man needed anyone to “do” for him? Isn’t the whole point of being a hard working man (or woman, of course) to be able to “do” for yourself? To stand on your own two feet and take pride in your independence, your ability to make your own way? It seems to me that the true Working Man would be ashamed at the very idea that he needed a political party to *do* anything for him. The real Working Man doesn’t want to be done for. He can do for himself. All he wants is for the government to get out of his way.
When did it become a point of pride to admit that one is unable to provide for him/herself, therefore requiring the support of a matronly government? No one takes *pride* in needing to be cared for. It is impossible to be a self-respecting American individual while simultaneously proclaiming your need for the government to “do” for you.
Another way to pose the question might be this: What has the Democratic party done to the working man?
Who taught the working man that he cannot make it on his own, that he must rely on government to survive in the world? Who promotes the mentality that poverty is forever, since Capitalism is unfairly skewed towards the rich, who just want to crush you under their boot? Who preaches the idea that there is no point in trying if you are a minority, since the white male power structure hates anyone unlike them? What political ideology invented the concept of permanent victim-hood and used it to iron out all sense of self respect and independence from its adherents? Seriously, what has the Democratic party done to the American working man?
No Working Man wants to be fed. He wants to make for himself. No Working Man finds pride in dependance. He yearns simply to have the roadblocks of the government taken out of his way so he can fend for himself. And yes, this goes for the Working Woman as well.
I don’t mean to say that compassion for the poor is bad. I don’t mean to imply that all Democrats are “useful idiots”, unwittingly contributing to the cuckolding of the American spirit. My grandfather truly was a Working Man. He was never talking about himself when he asked what the government was doing for the people. If anyone had suggested that he, himself, needed the government’s assistance, he would have been mortified. Why? Because he took pride in providing by the sweat of his own brow. He would have been horrified at the idea of accepting food stamps or any other government support (despite the fact that, as a young man, he likely did know what government cheese tasted like). No, when he asked what the government was doing for the working man, he meant someone else. Not him. He was fine, but there were others less well off.
I think that’s what the majority of voting Democrats probably think: “It isn’t for me. I can make it on my own. I’m fine. But there are others who need it. What about them?”
I don’t think the average Democrat is bad, or stupid, or a parasite on society. I think they are extremely compassionate. They just want everyone to be taken care of. It seems so ineffective and clumsy for us to tackle the problems of the poor on our own– to take care of the sick, the homeless, the hungry in our own communities, one by one, teensy step by teensy step. I understand that. It feels so much better to establish a monolithic governmental entity that will do it for us on the broad scale. Yes?
The problem, though, is that the government is simply no good at taking care of people. That isn’t its job. Taking care of people is every individual’s job, not in spite of how clumsy and piecemeal it is when we do it on our own, but because of it. One on one, we can sift the sincerely needy from the potentially lazy. As individuals, we can use our social skills, our understanding of our communities, our gut instinct to help the truly impoverished. We can determine when someone needs a free meal and when someone needs a loving kick in the pants. The government can’t do that; its footprint is just too big. The government can’t do anything but throw open the doors of general assistance.
It’s the difference between feeding the hungry by hand and parking the food truck on the street with the doors open. One is a personal act of compassion, distributed with love and deliberation to those who truly need it. The other is a thoughtless waste, intended for the good of the impoverished, but most likely wasted on opportunists and looters.
The Working Man used to know this. He used to know that it was far better to do on your own when you could, and be cared for by those who know and love you when you couldn’t. But this mentality started to die when people began looking more and more to the government to care for the poor, and less and less to doing it themselves. A needy person is reluctant to abuse the charity of a neighbor, but anyone is willing to absorb free money from a faceless government. Being needy has since transformed from an unfortunate setback to a stubborn entitlement. People have lived so long as victims that they have forgotten the pride of being self sufficient.
Am I wrong? As always, I am willing to be wrong. All of this is filtered through my understanding of human nature, and through my own sense of pride in being independent. When my place of employment closed down last summer, I considered applying for unemployment benefits. I even fiddled with some of the paperwork. I quickly got disgusted with the entire idea, and determined to make it on my own instead. I decided to get into mobile gaming. I spent five months making a game, released it to iTunes with financial fumes left in my bank account, and ended up making enough money to last the rest of the year. I am (I admit) DAMN proud of myself. I would not have been proud of myself if I had instead decided to collect unemployment benefits and spend all my time applying for non-existent jobs in my industry. Surely this colors my perception. Surely this is the core of why I find the idea of government dependence ugly.
So where am I wrong? I really want to know. You, Dear Reader (if indeed you are out there) have the floor. Enlighten me.
In the meantime, I’ll try to stop blathering and get back to fiction. Promise.
Note: since the subject of this post is openly alleging racism against me on his online postings, I figured there was no point in keeping this article password-protected. Greetings, former collaborator. I will let the readers make up their minds.
Some of you will remember my earlier post in which I enjoyed a bit of digital repartee with a detractor. That one, as the title states, ended better than expected. That’s always a pleasant surprise.
A week ago, I approached an online acquaintance with the concept of having a public discussion about different political ideologies, with me representing the conservative-leaning view and him representing a pretty hardline liberal perspective. I did this because I am really, sincerely interested in understanding the perspective of people who believe differently than me. I have come to realize that people can be reasonable and intelligent and still hold opinions wildly different than me. Thus, rather than simply dismiss people of other ideologies as idiots (which is, you might have noticed, sort of the new American National Pastime), I want to discuss the differences and hear their response to my questions, sans defensiveness or name-calling.
So, it all started relatively well. The acquaintance was very eager and the conversation got underway. I had hopes of hearing reasonable answers to some of those obvious questions that a conservative tends to have about liberal philosophy.
And then the email came. I won’t quote it– I won’t even paraphrase it– partly because it just wouldn’t be ethical, but also partly because I suspect my former collaborator is the sort of person who has lawyers on speed-dial. I will not mention his name or reveal it even if you ask. Considering the extreme few who knew about our endeavor (I won’t even tell you what it was called), I suspect virtually no one knows (or cares) who he is anyway. I’ll just give you the main thrust of the back-and-forth that followed, and the actual text of my own responses.
My collaborator’s email asked politely for me to refrain from the use of any offensive language about race, such as that which had appeared in a recent post on this very blog. He felt that, since he and I were hosting a public discussion, anything I said on Facebook, my own blog, etc would also reflect upon him. This, he stated unequivocally, was a requisite to our moving forward.
Reasonable enough, I suppose, although obviously I bristled, and for two reasons: 1) I, myself, am not wont to think that just because I am having a conversation with someone, everything they say in any other venue would somehow represent me. After all, it isn’t as if we were co-founding a public charity. We were obviously two extremely different people entering into a debate. We can no sooner be expected to represent each other than George Will and Paul Begala when they debate each other on any given Sunday morning. Frankly,the cynical side of me tends to think that the more stupid things my counterpart says outside of our interactions, the more his arguments are undermined. But I could live with this if not for 2) the accusation that I had, in fact, already used racially insensitive language. Before I go on, here’s the excerpt from my previous post that he found offensive:
“…I am often the lone conservative in a sea of born-and-bred liberals. It works out all right, so long as we avoid the topic of politics, which is totally fine with most people. Once, a couple of years ago, I was working in my animator pit, buried deep in the bowels of the building, when I was paged to come to the front lobby. There, I found a small gaggle of co-workers (women, not that it matters) pointing past the plate glass windows to where my car was parked. A gathering of service employees were leaning on my car, waiting for the bus, yucking it up with each other. They were all black. This, it seemed, required my immediate intervention, thus my summons to the front desk. Obviously, some sort of chicanery was afoot, and I was expected to go and shoo them all away.
“My car, it should be noted, was (and still is) a late nineties Ford Taurus P.O.S. I wasn’t worried about anything happening to it. I didn’t mind at all that the group had chosen to recline against it. If anything, it was possible that the car would end up cleaner for all that rubbing. I said as much to my collected co-workers. They were insistent, however, that this malicious and potentially volatile loitering needed to be put a stop to. When I made to return to the animator pit, one of my co-workers took matters into her own hands, stepping out the front door to shoo the gathering away. Needless to say, this turned a mild gathering into an understandably disgruntled and annoyed mini-mob. I didn’t blame them. I considered poking my head out and telling them that I was the owner of the car and didn’t mind at all if they leaned on it– they could sit in it if they wanted and turn on the friggin’ radio– but by that point it didn’t seem like it would help. Sometimes being a six-foot-four white dude just doesn’t help.
“And I remember thinking, as I headed back to the gloom of the animator pit, isn’t it supposed to be us conservative religious types who always assume black folk are up to no good?”
I should quickly mention that I do not think my former co-workers are racists. I do think that if a conservative had acted in similar fashion to such a situation, they would be branded racists for life. That was the point of the article.
At any rate, I glanced over this segment again just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything. My intention with this little story was to show that attitudes about race are not specific to political ideology, despite what the popular media suggests. Not only did that passage not seem racist to me– it seemed, er, sort of the opposite. I was confused as well as disgruntled. This was my emailed response:
I assume you are referring to the opening story about the employees leaning against my car? If so, can you help me understand what’s offensive about it? If it isn’t that section, let me know what passage you are referring to.
I suppose I was a little terse. I felt terse, I admit. The response came back fairly quickly, wherein I was told that that section was, indeed, the offending bit. He didn’t like that I referred to the employees as black, since it implied that all black people are dangerous and threatening. There was no point, he suggested, in my inclusion of their race.
I was rather dumbfounded. My response:
I agree with you completely on most points. The main thrust of my inclusion of their race in the story was that the people gathering around my car were not, in any way shape or form, threatening or troublesome-looking. They were doing nothing wrong, and I had no problem at all with them leaning on my car. That, in fact, is exactly the point… You are offended by the very thing that offended me.
My point (I hope you understand) was not to imply that all liberals are racists– quite the contrary. In a social climate where admitting one is a conservative is nearly the same thing as admitting one is a racist, thanks to many, many portrayals (most erroneous) in the media, people like me have a very hard time openly expressing ourselves and our politics. There is nothing in our culture more horrifying than being called a racist, so I hope you can appreciate how the casual media portrayal of all conservatives as closet bigots makes life rather difficult for those of us who patently are not. The point of the entire post is summed up with my core belief that racism, like every other human trait, both good and bad, belongs to the individual, not to their political persuasion.
So. I am going to have to cogitate on this. Methinks a better solution than trying to police each other is to place some sort of general caveat on the page that proclaims what I suspect is obvious to begin with– that we are two people with wildly different perspectives asking each other honest questions and offering honest answers, and that none of the things that we do or say elsewhere remotely reflects the opinions and beliefs of the other.
Make sense? Because for both of us, trying to filter our thoughts through what the other might or might not be comfortable with would be, I suspect, both counter-productive and stifling.
What think ye?
Now. Here, I thought, the whole issue would probably end. Surely, I told myself, he simply didn’t closely read the article and hadn’t initially understood my point. Surely, now that I have explained it, he will sheepishly realize this and retract his demand of my self-censorship.
This was not to be. His reply stated unequivocally that, regardless of my stated intent, the post was indeed racially offensive– not only to him, but to any number of objective readers. There really is nothing to consider, he challenged: what he was requiring was nothing unusual in the world of journalism. His demand was not, he insisted, remotely unfair or unusual.
I began to realize that it had, in fact, been a mistake to ask him to be involved in this endeavor of mine. He had begun to take it over, and he was beginning to seem (to me, at least) somewhat irrational, not only in his demands but in his interpretation of my own words. With that in mind, I decided to put a stop to the whole thing:
I am sorry you feel that way and sorry that you still see my comments as offensive. I have no intention of censuring my speech in any way to satisfy anyone else’s sensitivities, and I frankly find the very suggestion Orwellian. Please remove me from [the public conversation]. I am disappointed that this could not be. I would ask only this: is this what you mean by a free society where people can live as they wish?
This last, I should add, was a reference to his stated beliefs about liberalism’s ultimate aims. I wasn’t quite as angry as the email sounds– something I realized in retrospect. I had simply realized that, completely apart from this email exchange, the entire idea of honest public discourse in this instance was probably going to be impossible.
He responded with incredulity, essentially asking if that was my final answer. He found it ludicrous that I would refuse to abide by such a simple requirement. Furthermore (he added), regardless of my points about race, the fact that I am a white, religious, conservative living in the South (St. Louis is the south?) meant that no matter how I stated it, it would likely fall on deaf ears with the average reader.
That last bit, I thought, was highly instructive.
I began to reconsider my idea that having a public debate with this gentleman might be a bad idea. Here, after all, was someone who, while obviously intelligent and extremely well-read, represented the quintessential knee-jerk liberal ideologue, even in the sense that he does not in the least believe he is an ideologue. I also determined that my previous email had, in fact, been pretty blunt and argumentative. I had fallen into the quagmire of defensiveness.
Because, as much as I didn’t like it, he might actually be right– the blog post I wrote might, contrary to my best efforts, seem offensive or racially insensitive. I deplored the idea. After all, I know what is in my heart, thus it was horrifying to think that some readers might actually interpret my comments in a way that did not at all represent me.
So I got a second opinion. A lot of them, in fact. I asked my readers to look at the post again and tell me, with total sincerity, if it was, in fact, racist. Even a little. I have readers and friends (I admit with some pride) from all across the political, religious and international spectrum, from ultra-conservative to self-proclaimed socialist, from atheist to devoutly religious of many faiths, and from any number of countries. They are, by no means, all white, Christian, or conservative, and I am thankful for that. I asked specifically for opinions from some of my friends who are the most honest and the least like me in terms of ideology. I wanted to be absolutely sure.
I won’t bore you with the response. It was unanimous, and in most cases pretty vocal.
On Facebook, I concluded the conversation with a comment that the person who had alleged racism was probably the sort of person inclined to see racism in nearly everything a conservative says. A little while later, I regretted saying that– I couldn’t know it for sure, after all– so I removed it.
Having given serious consideration to my collaborator’s allegation, I decided to swallow a little ego (I almost choked on it, I’ll admit) and write the following:
I know I probably sounded a lot more terse than I was actually feeling. Truthfully, I should thank you, because I really am considering your critique of that particular post. To be sure, I have taken some time to submit the post to my circle of readers… to get their objective response to it… I don’t assume you are interested in the response thus far (this is not an indictment of you– I would assume the same of most people in similar situations) so I won’t bore you with the consensus thus far. I just want you to know that I am seriously considering your critique and seeking feedback about it.
Regarding the continued existence of [the public conversation], it really isn’t a matter of whether or not I want to oblige your request, it’s a matter of me simply not being capable of it. I never intend to write anything racially insensitive, and yet you have found my writings lacking in that area nonetheless. This means, unfortunately, that I could not honor your request even if I wanted, since I simply would not know when or how I might be offending you (or others like you). I could, of course, choose to avoid the topic of race altogether, but I don’t believe that benefits anyone. I think it only fosters a sort of superficial, pretend version of “tolerance” that is not only meaningless but counterproductive. I know you disagree, and that is all right. I respect that, even if I don’t share that opinion.
Surely you are right that some publications would insist on similar self-censorship for their writers. This is why I would never work for such publications. The fact that it may be common practice does not make it good.
Honestly, I considered saying a lot of other things in this email. I feel that, despite our differences, I could offer some feedback that might be helpful to you, if you were able to hear it. I don’t expect that is the case, however, and I don’t blame you for it. I remember having the same difficulty when I was your age. If, however, you are curious… do just ask.
I’d rather end this amicably than continue to butt heads. I respect you and your knowledge and wish you well.
How do you think I did? How would you, dear reader, respond to such an email? I really am curious. Was it inflammatory? Argumentative? Demeaning? Was there anything insulting about it? Granted, I did suggest that my collaborator’s age might result in some sense of unassailability– a sort of self-insulation against personal critique– but that is hardly an insult. We are all like that in our youth, as was I (and possibly even more so than him). It might have been a little condescending at the end. Was it, do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Because the result was, to put it succinctly, amazing.
I will try to avoid the use of the words “shrill” and “screeching”. My collaborator’s reply to the above email was pissed off in the extreme. He re-iterated that it was patently ridiculous of me to balk at his demand. He made it clear that he had, in fact, been following along with the conversation on Facebook and was enraged at my suggestion that he, himself, harbored any racist tendencies.
Pause there for a second.
Huh? Comical cartoon head-shake with the yobbly-yobbly-yobbly sound effect? What? Where– and how and when– had I made any suggestion that he harbored racist tendencies himself? (blink, blink, blink!) I was, finally and completely, dumbfounded.
As I mentioned earlier, I had begun to think that my collaborator was somehow unable to understand my words– and probably the words of anyone who he patently disagreed with. Now, he seemed to be unconsciously inserting new words into mine, creating some fiction where I had suggested he was a racist. Even now, I am flabbergasted. I immediately tried to imagine how he could have misconstrued my comments. It seemed to be in relation to the Facebook conversation. My one comment there had been that, possibly, people like him were unable to read anything a conservative says without seeing racism in it. Had he somehow twisted that into some sort of reverse accusation? How? Was he serious? Or was he just inventing it on purpose to derail the conversation?
I think he was dead serious. It was apparent in the furious tone of his message. He actually seemed to believe I had publicly called him a racist.
Again, to be sure, did any of you who watched this unfold see that? Was I careless with my words? Because to be sure, I don’t think he is a racist in any way shape or form.
To make his point, he (tired sigh) went to great pains to shrilly explain that someone close to him is of African-American heritage.
Sorry, I broke my own promise and used the word “shrill”.
Here is my response:
Wow. I truly intended my tone to be respectful and understanding. I have sincerely tried to reach out in honesty. I can’t imagine what made you think I was suggesting that you yourself were racist, because I haven’t thought that in the least. My only comment on FB (which I removed before I received this email) was that I thought your accusation of racism was based in an idea that ALL conservatives simply must be racist– a view that you have actually made pretty clear you do embrace.
You can feel free not to read the following. I am saying it for my own sake, and truly— truly– not in a spirit of meanness but in helping you understand how you appear to a large number of people (more, I would contend, than would find my article racist).
With all due respect (I mean that literally) I have come to think you are a bit of a self-parody. You claim to represent an ideal of freedom, but you insist that I censure myself from saying anything you would find offensive– a request which, as I politely pointed out, is impossible to carry out, since I simply cannot know your mind. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t give a fig what you said about any subject whatsoever. I truly do believe in your freedom to say anything you want, because I know that it belongs solely to you and does not imply a whit about me. In fact, I would staunchly defend your right to say it, even if I found it repugnant, even if it amounted to attacks against me (which I know are a very real possibility).
I really do respect your knowledge and intellect. I have said that several times. But (and I say this knowing I am wasting my breath) I would invite you to consider the most difficult thing of all– that you might actually be wrong about some things. Not just me and my posts, but in general. I have given your accusation serious consideration– I am still doing so… Would you be willing to do the same?
In short, as a therapist friend once told me: just because you FEEL something is true does not make it true.
I may regret sharing all of this. Not because it isn’t interesting and somewhat instructive, but because I suspect my collaborator would hemorrhage from the ears at the fact that I have published even a description of our interaction. Fortunately, as I said, virtually no one knows or likely cares about the specifics here.
My point in sharing this is not to imply that this person is a buffoon because he is a liberal. If he had become an ultra-conservative, he would be just as much a buffoon. He would, in fact, be Shaun Hannity (rim-shot). And I do not call him a buffoon meanly– I am not resorting to name-calling. Words have meanings, and here the meaning, in my opinion, fits.
As I said in my emails, I respect his intellect and his depth of knowledge. I just cannot respect what he’s done so far with those tools. I am disappointed to lose an acquaintance over something so stupid. But I think I should have known from the beginning that it was inevitable. I suspect as he ages, he may mellow. Someday perhaps we will speak again. For now, I decided it was best to simply shut him off. I defriended him and am ignoring any further correspondence. I have no interest in stopping him from saying whatever he wants to say (and I suspect he will have plenty of choice things to say about me) but I can exercise that wonderfully liberating freedom of ignoring him.
So. As one of my wonderfully witty online friends suggested, perhaps I could try again with a different liberal thinker– perhaps Juan Williams?
If anyone has his email, do let me know.
I’ve been home alone with the kidlies for a week now, and it’s been — to my frank surprise and delight– a wonderful time. Thankfully, I am between projects, so I haven’t had to do much else other than play with them and figure out what to eat, which none of us mind. Yesterday, however, we had a bit of a row in the morning. Zane, my oldest (8) sometimes gets into a sort of hyper-sensitive snit where everything his sister (6) says to him is somehow insulting. He, like me, has an over-developed sense of justice, thus these sorts of moments quickly escalate into screamy emotional tornadoes. I have little patience for it (probably because I do the same thing, and we always most hate the negative characteristics we most represent, yes?) and I lost my temper. In a flash, I switched from frayed, teeth-gritting self-control to shouting. Zane, of course, crumpled and fled to his bed.
I followed, reigning in my temper again and reminding myself that he is, at his best and worst, just like me in this regard. A few minutes later we were tickling and laughing and the rest of the day went by without a hitch. The three of us played at the Botanical Garden. We had movie night and watched Superman. We ate fish sticks and cucumber slices for dinner. We read a chapter of Harry Potter at bedtime. I kissed them goodnight and all was well.
And then, as I was getting ready for bed, a moment of self doubt landed on me with both feet. I remembered how I had lashed out at Zane. I remembered the shocked, frightened look on Greer’s face when I shouted at her brother. I remembered the way Zane fled and hid. And I, of course, felt like a horrible father.
Any father who makes an effort feels that way sometimes, I am sure. I reminded myself that the three of us have had a wonderful week. Both kids have told me so. It was one lapse of anger, and it was quickly remedied. Nobody is perfect. Sigh.
Later, in the dark, I wondered further. Sometimes one’s love for their children can seem frightening, mostly because of how much potential there is for us to get it all wrong. As hard as a parent tries, we all still screw up in some ways. I am constantly aware of this fact, and thus am perpetually asking myself how I might be getting it all wrong even now. What am I doing that my kids, when they are grown, will be complaining about to their therapists? Because I’ve done it myself. I’ve complained about what my own parents did wrong. It’s inevitable. And a thought struck me– a particularly disconcerting, and yes, perhaps preposterous thought. But still:
What if I am too good a papa?
Wait. Let me try that again because that sounds ridiculous, of course. I am not that good a papa, actually, but that’s not quite what I mean. Lemme ‘splain.
My own dad was not particularly involved in my life. He was a decent provider, but he was distant and aloof, absorbed with his own stuff, completely unwilling to be inconvenienced in any way by any of our comparatively petty requirements and desires. I learned early on not to expect him to care about my problems, thus I learned to be very self sufficient. This defines me to this day. Granted, things are better now. My dad has made an effort to be the dad I need now, as an adult. But the point is this: most of us learn how to parent by looking at our own parents and making one of two choices. We either say “that’s how my dad did it, so that’s how I’ll do it, too,” or we say “that’s how my dad did it, and it didn’t work, so I am going to do the opposite”. I chose the second option. When the kids were younger, I would never kick them out of my office when they came to me with a book in hand, wanting to be read to. I purposely sacrificed my own time, energy and self to make sure they understood how important they were to me. I think about how to be the best papa I can be almost constantly. I fail a lot, but when I do, I am acutely aware of it, berate myself about it, and try to learn from it.
But this is where the doubt struck me last night, ridiculous as it sounds. If I am the papa I am because I am choosing deliberately to not be like my own dad, am I taking away from my kids the necessary motivation to be a good, involved parent themselves someday? What if being prized so much by me results in a feeling of entitlement, leading to selfishness? What if it means they grow up to be the sort of self-obsessed, aloof parents my own dad was?
Boy, that does sound kind of stupid. But there is this: when I was in grade school and high school, I saw an interesting pattern emerging in the older classes. One generation of upperclassmen would generally be asses– mean, spiteful jerks and bullies. The next generation would be more tolerant and kind to the younger classes. I developed a theory about it, and it’s really simple. Being bullied creates empathy for those who are bullied. Thus, the kids who were most abused by the jerks grew to become kinder and more supportive to those younger than them. Those kids, growing up with no experience of being bullied, easily fell into the arrogance and self importance of pushing others around, and became bullies themselves. This is where I developed my theory that society is a pendulum, always swinging from one extreme to the other. I have found it to be demonstrably true in both the micro and the macro, across the board of human behaviour.
So. If family sociology works the same way, and I am responding as a papa to my own father’s behaviours, how will my kids respond as parents to my behaviour?
But even as I write this (and this, by the way, is why I write these things) I realize there is a difference between a high-schooler and a young parent (unless they are one and the same, in which case all bets are off). As any teacher will tell you, high-schoolers are not precisely sane. They are so immersed in hormones, the high-drama of clumsy romance, and the pressures of figuring out who they are that they do not generally make very wise decisions. More importantly, they do not make deliberate decisions about some things at all. They are not actively thinking “my upperclassmen acted in such and such a way; should I act the same or should I choose to be different?” They are, with few exceptions, simply reacting on instinct– on the hardwiring of survival and pleasure and a sort of Pavlovian social conditioning. But by the time those individuals grow up a little, get married, and choose to have kids*, one can hopefully expect that they will have matured enough to be rather more deliberate with their life choices. By then, consciously or unconsciously, they should be asking themselves those important questions: how did my parents do it? Did it generally work? Do I want to do it the same way?
With that, I guess I can relax a little. In fact, Zane and Greer are right next to me, in the dining room, drawing. I’m going to ask them about it. I’ll record their responses, er, for posterity:
Me: “Hey guys, when you grow up and have babies of your own, do you think you’ll be the same kind of mama and papa we are to you?”
Zane and Greer: “Yeah.”
Good enough for me.
You all read the recent story about the lesbian couple who went to Dollywood, right? (I know, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Get your mind out of the gutter.) One of them was asked to turn her tee shirt inside out. Why? Because it bore the words “marriage is so gay”.
OK, there’s a few things that the article couldn’t say, one of which was: this is DOLLYWOOD. The South. Good-ol-boys out with their kids for a little hoe-down-friendly fun. I don’t have a problem with the South (anymore, I should hastily add, than I have a problem with lesbians) but the undeniable fact is that if you put a bunch of necks that are red in the same place as an argumentative homosexual, there is bound to be serious trouble. I am thinking that the good folks at Dollywood were not saying to the lesbian tee-shirt-wearer “please hide your offensive message” as much as they were saying “please do not get beaten up by a pile of knuckle-dragging hicks in our park”. But perhaps I am just a cynic.
But the thing that really strikes me about this is that the news story presented the tee-shirt-wearer as offended, essentially, because she was denied the freedom to be deliberately offensive. Am I wrong? Does this not seem like a somewhat ridiculous proposition?
As is often the case in politically/socially charged situations like this, perhaps it would be helpful to reverse the polarities of the story. Imagine that a tea party member decides to wear a humorous (to him, at least) anti-union tee shirt to a Service Employees International Union rally. It’s just a tee-shirt, and it’s just a matter of free speech, right? But I would tend to think that the owner of the venue, upon seeing the tee shirt, would be perfectly justified in making the guy turn his shirt inside out, or even booting him from the premises. Why? Because said venue owner doesn’t want to have to clean up a whole lot of blood and broken glass at the end of the night.
So basically this: when did being offended become such a capital crime that it trumps common sense? Is it not somewhat ludicrous to feel sorry for someone who is offended because they were stripped of their freedom to be offensive? Has society really become this much of a mockery of itself?
I sorta hope so. It’s pretty amusing to watch, if, like me, you have a somewhat dark, violent sense of humor.
So I have started a blog with a friend of mine, Kyle Brady, a self proclaimed liberal thinker. The point is to discuss rationally, but bluntly, some of those seemingly irreconcilable differences between political ideologies. If you have ever wondered how a reasonable, intelligent person can hold deep opinions that are completely contrary to yours, this will be an interesting conversation to watch. The following is an excerpt from my first post– a response to Kyle’s introductory explanation of what, precisely, liberalism is.
My goal from the outset, more than anything, is not merely to attempt to shoot down the points of my friend in this endeavor, but to seek his response regarding some of the obvious, apparent contradictions in the general liberal worldview (at least from the perspective of a non-liberal). For the sake of clarity, I will address the following to Kyle directly, as if this was an interview.
With that in mind, Kyle, I’ll quote from the previous post in which you offered a detailed definition of liberalism:
“Liberalism… It’s about letting people live their lives how they like, in an environment that lets them do so. It’s about not just equality, but equitable behavior across the board. It’s about moving forward, towards a goal where people are happier, healthier, and unconstrained. It’s about the people themselves, not corporations, the rich, the favored, religion, or organizations.”
This comes from the first paragraph of your definition, and it immediately begs some interesting questions. Primarily, I suspect that I could change the first word of that definition to “conservatism”, put it into the hands of any conservative thinker, and find them agreeing whole-heartedly that it represents the general conservative worldview. To be specific:
1) “It’s about letting people live their lives how they like, in an environment that lets them do so…”
Actually, personal freedom, and the responsibility that comes with it, is a foundational principle of the right. In fact, pressing the federal government not to restrict its citizens’ freedoms– to allow them to operate their businesses unimpeded by over-regulation and over-taxation, to grant them the seemingly obvious freedoms to eat what they wish, smoke cigarettes if they choose, and keep a bit more of what they earn– is one of the core messages of the much-maligned tea party movement.
2) “It’s about not just equality, but equitable behavior across the board…”
Conservatives believe very strongly in the concept of equal opportunity for all, regardless of their background. Thinkers on the right proudly point to the many individuals who have succeeded in this country against seemingly impossible odds. This kind of equality, equality of potential and opportunity, is one of the things that conservatives mean when they talk about American Exceptionalism– not that Americans are better than other nationalities, but that the American system allows for anyone to achieve whatever they desire if they simply make the effort. Equitable behavior across the board, they would argue, means reducing the morass of regulations and taxation that constrict businesses, thus widening the stairs to improvement as much as possible.
3) “It’s about the people themselves, not corporations, the rich, the favored, religion, or organizations.”
Now here, I admit, is the one statement that would make the average conservative scratch his/her head, because it seems to pose a sort of logical oxymoron. For a liberal to best understand how this statement strikes a conservative, try reversing its polarity: “It’s about the people themselves, not families, the poor, the disenfranchised, social heritage, or organizations.” Shocking-sounding, yes? In essence, the statement seems to suggest that certain groups (in this instance, corporations, the rich, the favored, and the religious) are not things comprised of people.
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I work in the digital art industry, so I am often the lone conservative in a sea of born-and-bred liberals. It works out all right, so long as we avoid the topic of politics, which is totally fine with most people. Once, a couple of years ago, I was working in my animator pit, buried deep in the bowels of the building, when I was paged to come to the front lobby. There, I found a small gaggle of co-workers (women, not that it matters) pointing past the plate glass windows to where my car was parked. A gathering of service employees were leaning on my car, waiting for the bus, yucking it up with each other. They were all black. This, it seemed, required my immediate intervention, thus my summons to the front desk. Obviously, some sort of chicanery was afoot, and I was expected to go and shoo them all away.
My car, it should be noted, was (and still is) a late nineties Ford Taurus P.O.S. I wasn’t worried about anything happening to it. I didn’t mind at all that the group had chosen to recline against it. If anything, it was possible that the car would end up cleaner for all that rubbing. I said as much to my collected co-workers. They were insistent, however, that this malicious and potentially volatile loitering needed to be put a stop to. When I made to return to the animator pit, one of my co-workers took matters into her own hands, stepping out the front door to shoo the gathering away. Needless to say, this turned a mild gathering into an understandably disgruntled and annoyed mini-mob. I didn’t blame them. I considered poking my head out and telling them that I was the owner of the car and didn’t mind at all if they leaned on it– they could sit in it if they wanted and turn on the friggin’ radio– but by that point it didn’t seem like it would help. Sometimes being a six-foot-four white dude just doesn’t help.
And I remember thinking, as I headed back to the gloom of the animator pit, isn’t it supposed to be us conservative religious types who always assume black folk are up to no good?
Fast forward to last week. My wife and I made the acquaintance of a young woman in our social network– I’ll call her June. June was very likable and friendly, and we quickly fell into conversation about some upcoming life events. My wife mentioned that she was soon to leave on a humanitarian trip to Haiti, prompting June to mention that her boyfriend was currently in the Gaza Strip. We were curious and interested, of course, so we asked why he was there. June proudly described her boyfriend’s work there. “He’s helping build homes for the Palestinians,” she said, and then blithely added, “you know, the good side.”
It wasn’t so much that we disagreed with such a bald, us-and-them statement. It was the utter surety that June exuded– the absolute confidence that, since we are apparently decent, intelligent people, we obviously agree with all of her politics.
And I thought, isn’t it supposed to be us conservative religious types who see the world through the lens of strictly black-and-white, good-and-evil judgments?
Furthermore, isn’t it us monolithic, narrow minded conservatives who assume that every right-thinking and decent person agrees with us by rote?
A few days ago I read an article in the New York Times about the recent death of evangelical scholar John Stott, who spent his life promoting the idea (and it is far more common than most non-religious people might believe) that a Christian’s duty is to serve the world’s needs, both in small ways and large, as practically as possible. I have been affiliated with a lot of churches over the years, both professionally and socially, and in every instance those churches have had budgets set aside to help the poor in their communities. They provide clothes and food, they support feeding efforts in starving countries, they even use their own funds to send people to work in the neediest places in the world. By any measure, religious people are the most charitable of any demographic.
And I ask myself, isn’t it supposed to be the secular liberals who are the most socially conscious and aid-minded? I thought conservative religious types just wanted to beat people with Bibles and enforce their own morality on everyone?
In fact, when I look around at the world lately, enforcing morality seems, ironically, to be the nearly exclusive domain of the left. They want to make sure that no one can smoke virtually anywhere. They insist that laws must be passed assuring people can’t eat certain foods. They make supposedly funny climate-change medias that celebrate how much fun it would be literally explode those who disagree with them. They nearly always assume that everyone agrees with them. They seamlessly mock as stupid anyone who publicly expresses an alternate opinion, all while purporting to champion diversity. It would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.
But I don’t mean to imply that the stereotype of the typically intolerant, judgmental ideologue is not true of some conservative Christians. I know some people like that. What I AM implying (pretty heavily, if you haven’t noticed) is that the left is just as prone to exhibit those traits as the right. In fact, I would suggest that the left is rather more prone to intolerance, arrogance, and their own peculiar brand of fundamentalism than the average conservative. Why? Because they do not have to actively work against the constant negative stereotype. For the moment, Liberals are allowed to occupy the moral high-ground by pure fiat. They are so secure in their vaunted moral and intellectual superiority that they feel safe indulging in the more petty idiosyncrasies of human nature. Conservatives, on the other hand, have the constant pressure of proving that they are not what the New York liberal cocktail party crowd says they are. Some of them perhaps go a little too far, trying to placate a liberal politburo that will always despise them no matter what, but that merely proves my overall point.
This societal pressure is a good thing, perhaps. It drives the pendulum of human nature, which is always swinging back and forth between sociological extremes. It is not so much something to be railed against but accepted and watched.
The bottom line is that the base aspects of human nature– bigotry, tyranny, arrogance– are present in every faction and tier of society. At any given time, it may reside more confidently in one group than another, but it is the sole domain of none.
I would merely suggest, as politely as possible, that my more liberal-minded friends consider how they themselves might come across before glomming onto the knee-jerk notion that only conservative religious types can be social pariahs. If history has any say in the matter, your day is probably coming. The time to start pushing back is now. Fair enough?
Because someday, figuratively, it might be you leaning on the car.