Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why I Feel Badly For Conservatives

Several years ago, before I had joined the Army, my future wife and I were strolling around downtown when we came upon a scene now familiar to many residents of Marquette, Michigan. In front of the Post Office downtown, a group of maybe a dozen people were gathered, standing in the snow. Most of them were elderly women, and they were holding signs that said things like "Support Our Troops- No Iraq War," and "HONK if you oppose WAR." We passed the group on the way to a favorite bagel shop of ours, but after some debate, Anne and I decided to stop over and pay the protesters a little visit.

Admittedly, we must have made an imposing pair. Anne and I are both fond of combat boots and black leather jackets, and with my spiky hair and rockstar sideburns I must have looked something like a knife-wielding thug. The first protester we approached, a petite, mousy woman in her sixties, visibly grew uncomfortable as we approached. Upon reaching her, however, our struts and scowls faded, and I addressed the woman with a friendly smile.

"Hi there. Saw you guys standing out here, and I was just wondering if we could get some information."

She warmed up to us instantly. She explained that she was a librarian, and a member of the Marquette City Council, and that she was standing out here on this Sunday afternoon trying to get signatures for a petition. She explained it was for a city-wide motion to condemn the approaching occupation of Iraq. She asked if we'd like to sign, and we agreed enthusiastically, after which we continued to ask the woman about ways to get involved with this effort within the community.

As one can imagine, Washingon Street on that day was a din of honking and shouts of support. However, during our discussion, we were interrupted by a particularly loud horn. Turning to face the distraction, we saw a Buick driving by, out of which leaned a passenger, by all looks a fratboy, who shouted at us.

"If you don't like it here, then get the fuck out!"

"FUCK you!" Anne and I both dropped our conversation and stuck out our fists, flashing the Bird. We clutched our defiance cocked sideways, like two Saginaw gang-bangers brandishing nines, and as we did so the car drove off, continuing to shout insults. Turning back to our new friend, we apologized. She had blanched at our sudden angry display, but smiled sheepishly. Her eyes twinkled in a way that told me she admired our conviction.

Tell me that that little old lady hates America, and I'll tell you where you can stick it.

As I've mentioned before, I lean strongly left on many issues. I'm a proud liberal, and I'm not ashamed to say it. I've put a great deal of thought into examining my beliefs, and at the end of the day I believe that rational discourse, tolerance, and cooperation are the keys to shaping a better future for our country. Now, this doesn't mean I'm necessarily a Democrat. I vote by conscience, not by party. If this means voting Democrat, then that's okay. Considering the current political climate, that seems to be the way of things right now. But the point is, I live my life by a strong set of personal values; values which I have carefully considered and which I believe are essential to being a decent person in today's society. Thing is, the older I get, the more I realize that the values I hold are just plain antithetical to the agendas of those currently in power. As a result, I find that these days I just generally feel badly for conservatives.

Now, I can understand that, on paper, many of the views central to the conservative worldview are noble ones. Fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, greater individual liberty; none of these are bad things, by any means. But I find more and more that in today's society, the traditional definition of conservative has evolved into something much, much more unpleasant than that, and indeed evolved into a sort of radical Nationalist ideology that is doing FAR more harm to America than good. Ambrose Bierce once described conservatives as "[statesmen] enamored of existing evils, as opposed to [liberals, who want] to replace them with new ones."
Smart fellow. And I agree with Bierce, and indeed with many conservatives, that not all change is progress. But I also agree with Thomas Jefferson, who famously said that "[g]ood government is that which most effectively secures the rights of the people." And here's where I begin to have a problem with the conservative worldview.

Let me tell you what I think when I hear the word "conservative." I think of ordinary people, good people with jobs and families and needs, who amid the pressure of their daily lives don't have much time to really consider the issues that truly affect them. These are people who will, when approached reasonably, usually agree with progressive values. But progress usually means change to outmoded institutions--institutions upon which people have framed their lives and worldviews. And change of the kind that needs to happen in this country is scary. I understand that. But in trying only to scrape by in a world they barely understand, many conservatives unwittingly enable the institutions whose mechanisms would only continue to do them harm; institutions whose agents are not concerned for the greater good. They cling to old ways and old thinking, without really thinking about the people such thinking really hurts. I've come to believe that most conservatives are really just uninformed future moderates or liberals, while the committed few that remain are simply misers and bigots. And unfortunately, in any movement, it's the diehards--the misers and bigots--whose shouts are the loudest, and when such individuals speak up, it is the common individual who naturally follows and ultimately loses out.

I believe that the principles for which I stand are ironclad. I believe there is no stance I hold which a conservative can effectively argue down. This is because, above all, I BELIEVE IN THE IMPROVEMENT OF THE HUMAN CONDITION. And I believe in a way that is separate entirely from my faith and my preconceived assumptions, and I only adhere to an idea as long as I believe it holds continued merit. That is to say, I consider myself an ETHICAL, rather than a MORAL, person. I base my values upon that which will benefit the greatest number, while simulataneously harming the fewest (See Jeremy Bentham). I believe that people and values change, especially in today's society, where information assaults us on a daily basis, so quickly that even the most poorly-read man cannot help but learn.

Modern conservative ideas--opposition to gay marriage, opposition to public funding for services like health and education, opposition to redefining social gender roles--are, I believe, born out of simple ignorance. And that's fine. People can't be faulted if they simply don't know. We can show them. But in today's society, in what I believe is literally a Golden Age of Information, with knowledge like fruit hanging ripe and heavy from every tree, I believe that some ignorance is willful. I believe that there are some, so dependent on existing institutions, that any threat to those insitutions threatens an existential crisis. These people can't handle change, and so they will fight to the death to protect institutions, even if those institutions are hurting them in the long run.

Given the time, I could write an entire dissertation on why gay marriage would be good for society. There are entire books on why labor unions are essential to the Free-Market economy. A quick Google search could provide a wealth of reasons why drug TREATMENT is always better than drug ENFORCEMENT, and why despite dramatic advances in Civil Rights, women and minorities in our society are still viewed as second-class citizens. I believe that any government, in order to fairly represent diverse citizens, MUST BE SECULAR, establishing laws that can effectively both govern and secure liberty for all, not just the privileged few. It is not the place of religious institutions to legislate morality. Laws are made, and then faith can expand upon those laws in private life. Just like in the military. First-line NCOS cannot enforce regulations in such a way as to be more liberal than the orders of the officers that drafted them. They can, however, define those regulations more strictly. So it must be with Church and State.

I'm not a Democrat. I'm not a Republican. I am a human being, motivated by compassion for my fellows. And because of that, I am a proud liberal. I believe that many, if not all, liberal stances are based on ethical (or moral if you must) imperatives. I believe that we are obligated as kind and decent humans being to believe this way. I believe that knowledge is life, and ignorance is death. I believe that we must constantly question ourselves and our values, and ask ourselves if what we believe in truly represents the good of all, even those with whom we disagree. I believe that information is the key to personal growth, even though fear of change is normal. I believe that anyone who clings blindly to existing systems is simply uninformed, or narrow-minded and afraid.

And THAT is why I feel badly for conservatives.

17 Comments:

Blogger Ink and Stone said...

Wow, very nice dissertation! My hat's off to you, I agree with your post 100%, Freeman.

Though I'm curious how you feel about the different 'classes' representation in the government and in the ruling parties. Personally, I feel it's the upper class that has any real representation in the government, and the middle and lower classes just have to hope that the people in the House and Senate have enough integrity to listen to all classes and not just the upper.

2:27 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Neoconservatism remains one of the weirdest, most offensive things I've encountered in politics. Watching my conservative parents slide into neocons is one of the most distressing. (What they think of their daughter's progressivism, well... that I will outgrow it. Hah.)

I agree with you, pretty much straight down the board. Ethics. Improvement of the human condition. Secularism. (Black leather jackets and trading obscenities with frat boy assholes, too!) But I'm losing faith in education as the way to make new progressives. I'm beginning to think that the mindset runs a lot deeper... or there's a lot more misers and bigots than I'd originally suspected, which saddens and angers me. So much of what I read in conservative and neocon rhetoric is based on outright lies, the mind boggles. I don't know how we overcome that, when the very questioning or challenging of a conservative viewpoint leads to mental shutdown. (Mind, that applies to the moonbat liberals, too.)

7:00 PM  
Anonymous WW said...

Well, I'm a Democrat, and I'm one because if I ever vote Republican a lightning bolt will come from the sky and burn my hand off. That's just the reality of it. I grew up knowing that Republicans were selfish, cruel, lying bastards.

I am nearly 50 years old, and to this day a part of me is amazed to hear anyone admit to being a Republican. In my rat brain, it's right down there next to being a child molester. I know that's irrational, but it's encoded in my DNA.

Liberal and conservative are relative terms and mean little by themselves. Prior to 1990 I considered myself a conservative Democrat. In the '90s I thought of myself as a moderate Democrat. Now I have started to think of myself as a liberal Democrat. I haven't changed, the country has changed. George W. made a liberal out of me.

I am not happy with my Democratic Party. They take too many words. They beat around the bush. There's no need for Democrats to plead with anyone about the dangers of an aggressive foreign policy or to beg for tolerance of homosexuals or to preach the virtues of an open mind.

That's 1960s and 1970s stuff. I know, because that's when I grew up and I remember it well. That was then, and this is now. A lot has changed, and if the Democratic Party had more collective brainpower it would be winning landslides, because the Republicans are scaring the shit out of even the people who vote for them.

Wanna know why the wingnuts go after Murtha and Hillary Clinton so hard? Because they're afraid of them. Murtha isn't talking about war being harmful to mothers, children and all living things, he's calling bullshit on the lies and the brutality and the incomptence and the corruption.

Hillary Clinton, unnoticed by the corporate media, has something like a 75% approval rating in upstate New York, which in case any of you don't know is about as red as any red state in the deep South. Why? Because the woman gives a shit about health care and kitchen table economics.

I'm fuckin' sick and tired of Democrats skulking around like whipped dogs. Bush lied his way into a war and then provided absent, incompetent leadership. The Republicans tried to steal Social Security, which to you 20-somethings might not matter for now. But just wait. The health insurance situation is a gigantic mess and no one's doing anything about it.

Student loan rates just got jacked up by 30% (by the way, I blame students who are too stupid, fat and lazy to vote -- they deserve to get fucked). New Orleans was treated like a Third World country. Oh, and Wal-Mart pays an average of $9 an hour, which is what the minimum wage was in today's money in 1968.

Christ, there are so many things for the Democrats to talk about. Nice short sentences, too, like: "George Bush has done nothing but lie about Iraq." "George Bush doesn't know his ass from first base." "The Republicans are for the rich." "The Republicans couldn't care less if you have to retire on dog food."

My Democratic Party is much, much, much too polite. Oh, and that idiot John Kerry should have stood up the very first time he was attacked by the Swift Boat Veterans and said the following: "George Bush, you were AWOL when I was fighting in Vietnam, you goddamn coward."

Instead, he went windsurfing. No wonder he got his ass kicked.

8:51 PM  
Blogger midwesterntransport said...

i love the image of you and your wife in your leather jackets telling that dude in the truck to fuck off while the lil' lady behind you is astonished. heh.

9:14 PM  
Blogger cameo said...

milo, did you know i used to have a pink mohawk? waaaaayyyyyyyyy back in the day - say 20 years ago? it was a short lived stint - not condusive to ballet, but hey! anyway, the image of you in and your wife makes me happy.
and just for the record. conservative, in my book, is synonomous with ignorant. now, i know that's not always the case. but i'm damn proud to be LIBERAL!

5:12 AM  
Blogger cameo said...

TYPE-O!

synonymous.

damn!

and i had to use the word 'ignorant' in the same sentence!

shit! shit! shit!

5:16 AM  
Anonymous kesuka said...

Right on, right on!!!!! That is why I love you.

1:26 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

-ovation-

4:42 PM  
Blogger glenda said...

nice writing!
"I'm not a Democrat. I'm not a Republican. I am a human being, motivated by compassion for my fellows."
That line says it all to me.

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Followed you here from Digby's place. Nice post and cool blog you have here!

NickM

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...

WW Said:

"Student loan rates just got jacked up by 30% (by the way, I blame students who are too stupid, fat and lazy to vote -- they deserve to get fucked)."

Watch what you say, man. I'm an honors student who exercizes three-four times a week and voted for Kerry (the lesser of two weevils).

The only fuckings I deserve, IMHO, are the ones I get after I take my girlfriend out for a nice dinner.

Furthermore, I work 20+ hours a week during the school year AND am graduating a year early so neither I nor my parents have to take out another one of those ludicrous student loans. Fat, stupid, and lazy I am not, and I am by no means alone.

Try spending more time with college students at top-100 schools instead of your local DeVry before you start throwing out stereotypes.

Students do deserve a good tongue lashing, though - they deserve it for being too easily lead by the useless whinging of the Democratic party, exactly as you describe it, WW.

It sounds like back in your day, student protests and demonstrations stood for something and effected positive change.

Now, the skills of our college student body -- impressive skills, like Web design, video production, management and organization, entrepeneurism -- lack the group coordination and direction that your generation had. And demonstrations, at least in Manhattan, are just so much white noise.

People at my age are too easily blinded by knee-jerk ideologies and rabid party lines. I agree with Milo, who said it best in his conclusion - "information is the key to personal growth."

I also believe that the current Democratic agenda is reactionary and too fearful of the changes being implemented by the Republican party.

I believe that if there is no significant improvement in the Democratic party between now and the '08 elections, a third-party candidate will have to emerge that embodies the real-life, progressive, hands-on politics of estranged liberals like the readers of this blog -- people who are motivated to get involved and affect positive social change, but have their hands tied by a monolithic and, let's face it, corrupt party that's too concerned with brokering the power it has to put itself to good use.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous WW said...

Hey nick, go back and read what I wrote. I said that students who didn't vote deserve to get fucked. I think non-voters are fuckwads in general, but college kids who don't vote are really stupid. When they don't vote, the politicos feel free to fuck 'em.

Put it this way: When the Republicans tried to steal Social Security, the old folks swatted that one away like a fly that landed in ther wrong place. Every politician in America knows that if you fuck with Social Security you're dead meat, but every now and then they'll get reminded of it again.

College students? Complete suckers. It's great that you vote, but the problem is that as a group, your cohort has some of them lowest participation rates out there. Too many of you put on a mock cynicism and don't vote. And when you don't, guesss whose budget is first to get cut? It's the way of the world.

Oh, and it's not like my generation was any better. The only reason why college kids gave a shit then is because there was the threat of the draft. Once that went away, the colleges went back to sex, drugs and rock and roll, and tuition and fees started heading for the moon.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous WW said...

As far as being led by ideologues, let me tell you that the students of '65-'72 or so were infinitely more "led by ideologues" than the ones now. The ideologues were left-wing radicals that make today's lefties look like nothing at all by comparison.

As for all the stuff about new solutions and third ways and information being power, blah blah blah, I say bullshit. Business leaders and politicians are exactly the same. They operate with their rat brains. Fear and greed, baby. That's what really makes it happen, and the rest is mostly window dressing.

The '60s radicals didn't persuade their elders of anything. They scared the living fuck out of their elders. The entire country held its collective breath after Kent State and that big antiwar march on Washington in 1970. Just like in the 1930s, they decided to legalize unions to keep the workers from tearing down every factory in the country.

Until the Democratic Party starts rattling some cages they're not going to get anywhere. Don't fuckin' kid yourself. Their problem isn't that they're too ideological, but that they don't want anything bad enough. The leaders of the Democratic Party are in Washington, D.C. and they live too well. They have no idea how badly things have deteriorated in the rest of the country.

The Democrats spend their time begging for crumbs, when instead they should be growling and threatening to grab that big fat turkey right off the table. Until they grow a set of balls nothing will happen. If anyone should see this it's younger people, who are getting hosed in every possible way.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Spc. Freeman said...

"The Democrats spend their time begging for crumbs, when instead they should be growling and threatening to grab that big fat turkey right off the table."

This reminds me of a lyric from Rage Against the Machine:

"Fuck the G-Rides! I want the machines that are makin' em!"

We focus on petty symbols of empowerment, without rising up to seize empowerment itself. Interesting.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous S. R. said...

"Essay, essay, essay," said the specialist.

Most definitely the Dems have no balls at this point. I don't know what cataclysm will incite them to grow a pair.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Jenny said...

This post makes me proud to be a loud mouthed Liberal.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous WW said...

Here is something to think about.

1:49 AM  

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