Tuesday, September 07, 2010

my shuffle left

This another of those posts that I've been noodling with for a long time in my head and even a couple months in draft versions. I've passed on perfection, and possibly even coherence. I just need to get this out and off my mind.

When I was 18 years old, I registered to vote. I registered as a Republican. When I was 22 years old and moved to New Mexico, I registered as independent. I continued that independent trend when I registered in Texas three years later. Since then, I have seen nothing that would make me want to register with the current Republican party again.

Over the past several years, I have generally engaged in a political shuffle to the left. As I have grown older, more fiscally successful, I have not drifted right, but instead left. This is not to say I'd call myself a Democrat or a liberal, but merely that I have moved from somewhere right-of-center to somewhere less right-of-center. When I was younger, I thought I was a mild conservative and the Republican party seemed embraceable. By Californian standards, that might have even been true. Fiscal conservatism, personally somewhat conservative, socially moderate (or so I thought) and personal accountability seemed like a passable platform. Oh, how little I knew.

(An aside: Perhaps the political center has shifted more than anything else in the last 50 years. From this admittedly very selective offering of the 1956 Republican Party platform, one must wonder what happened.)

Then I left upper-middle to lower-upper class suburbia. And learned a lot. In a most basic sense, I learned that the world is ugly, oh so ugly, and in many ways and many places. It is not a fair place. It's not like I had never traveled outside the suburban bubble while growing up, but the realization never truly set in. Perhaps I never truly believed it was fair to begin with, but this was made all the clearer to me when I lived outside the Silicon Valley. And the world will never be fair. That's just how it is. People get what they get and we should be honest about that. What they deserve is something else entirely. The concept of fairness is just that, a concept, not a reality.

This concept of fairness troubles me. Well, not the concept, but the perception that some people have that the world is fair, that the system is fair, that our standing before the law is truly equal, that success is only a matter of hard work, and that people get what they deserve. No. They don't. To pretend they do is an insult. I think this is why I have also shuffled, not just away from the political right, but also away from libertarians. Yes, the world could certainly be a nice ideal way. However, it's not that way and to pursue policy under this false assumption is insulting at best, and deceitful and spiteful at worst. We have to accept reality as it is, not as we wish it were, before we can successfully work within it. Like my job, it doesn't matter if we have the best designs and equipment if we're not even at the correct location.

Furthermore, I am incredibly disenchanted with the current level of political discourse in the United States. This is especially true of the right-wing squawkers on platforms like Fox News. However, the left is hardly innocent of trolling and needless sound-biting, but the political right engages in more despicable tactics, lies, race-baiting, hate-speech than I thought people could stomach. But I have apparently vastly underestimated the political value in appealing to the ignorant and hateful of this world. This rolls right into the next point.

Anti-intellectualism is perhaps the biggest long-term threat to America's (and the entire world's) prosperity that we currently face. It is why we cannot have intelligent and reasoned debates on meaningful topics. War on terror? War on drugs? Evolution? Education and basic science research? Financial regulation? Energy policy? Taxation? Why bother when people are so apt to fall back to the often incorrect talking points and anecdotal evidence. It is distressing to see (social) conservatives actively promote this as well through the criticism of universities, scientific processes, and even big words. I'm torn between rage and despair when I think about this and realize that this is an intellectual battle that may never be winnable when the opposition acts like the concept of truth is entirely malleable.

Is this a rant? Perhaps. More than anything though, this is my long overdue goodbye to the political right.


buickguy said...

Well said. But the unaddressed question is, "Are you going to work within the system or outside the system?" I prefer to be within, for I believe I can be more effective within. Let's see how your approach shapes up.

Anonymous said...

Life is never fair.

I don’t remember who said this: “If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it.”

Brian said...

While it would be fanciful to go all 'Dark Knight' on everyone and be "the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now", I do not suffer delusions of grandeur about either my crime-fighting ability nor my powers of persuasion to convince people to stop being dolts. Working outside the system is really not practical for me as it is both not my style, but also not something I think I could convincingly do. The upside of working outside the system is that the people with the most, let's call it per capita passion for change, are typically outsiders and can be potentially more powerful in a true revolution and sea change of opinion. However, that outsider world is also less legitimate to the vast middle that really needs to be moved. But working on the inside is a path to becoming a status quo insider. You become complacent and eventually become what you were supposed to be against if you're not careful.

Scott said...

The three biggest things that irritate me about the current state of the US and its politics (in no particular order- it could be argued that each contribute to the ills of society on an equally

detrimental level):

1) anti-intellectualism: you hit the nail on the head. While yes, I can see why conservatives and the less-educated Americans attempt to bad-mouth higher-education (out of an intangible fear

that universities are nothing more than a platform for under-experienced self-indulgent professor-types to preach their impractical liberal ideologies to the country's impressionable youth), I

don't think that actually happens (certainly not on the scale that the fear-mongers would have you believe). At the very least, in my experience at Berkeley (of course one of the more

notoriously liberal-activist campuses in the country (world?)), I experienced a professor preaching her political views exactly once. In March of 2003. Which is fairly understandable, given

how volatile the political climate was at the time. But the overwhelming majority of my classroom experience revolved around learning the subject matter, not the professor's political stance.

More importantly, my classroom experience focused on teaching me (in very general terms) how to think critically and how to problem-solve. Not how to hate Christianity and the 2nd


Another possibility in explaining the anti-intellectualism is that a large portion of middle-america didn't grow up in the same type of academically-oriented meritocracy that we did. Maybe my

views are skewed (read: my views are probably skewed) because a lot of my impressions of the rest of the country come from 1) a college football message board and 2) people that I meet

in Hollywood who are transplants from other parts of the country, but in talking to them, I have come to the conclusion that the whole "[geeks|nerds|dweebs|generally smart people] are

second-class social citizens" stereotype is still true in most places. And once these people who perpetuate that stereotype grow up and realize that the smart people they picked on when

they were kids are now in charge of everything, they get scared that they may now become the victims, and thus they feel the irrational yet somehow understandable drive to discredit those

institutions that are responsible for empowering the very people they used to victimize.

But that's just an idea born of late night rambling. Throwing crap out there and seeing if it sticks, so to speak.

Scott said...

2) (and no, that previous post wasn't some weird attempt at oddly-metered poetry, I just transferred it from a text document and the spacing got all weird) Corruption. Holy crap. It's one thing to want to line your pockets, and the pockets of your friends and family. It's another thing to do it in an unfair manner and at the expense of the good of the country. Which brings me to:

3) People who don't understand the need for a balance between duty to self and responsibility to humanity. Yes, we are all individuals. We all have individual tastes, desires, ambitions, and capacities (in spite of what your elementary school teachers taught you). A world without that individualism would not only be boring, it would be non-functional. There would be no innovation, no creativity, and no motivation to improve oneself (or even a concept of self-improvement?). And yes- if we were to shun the recognition of those individual aims in favor of a greater contribution to the whole, we would all be very angry, oppressed people embittered by our own existence (a more cynical person could argue that we already are), and humanity would not last very long. We would destroy ourselves. So I can say with confidence that it is important to embrace the sense of self, and to recognize those personal ambitions and strive to achieve them.

But it is also important to recognize that even as individuals, we are all a part of a greater whole called "humanity". I like to think of it as a sports team. You can be an incredibly gifted athlete, and very good at your team sport (and I mean a REAL team sport- not something like gymnastics where they just tally up the points from individuals), and as such you have the capacity to approach your talent in two ways: you can either go all out for yourself, or you can develop your skills as they pertain to the success of your team. The first approach may get you more looks from the scouts, but the second one will probably get your team more wins. The unfortunate difference between humanity and a sports team is that a coach can bench a selfish player, or that player can quit, and that player's selfishness will have less of a negative impact on the team's subsequent success. Humanity can't exactly bench someone who doesn't understand that they have a responsibility to it, and that person can't exactly quit humanity. Whether they like it or not, they are a member of a greater whole, and as a member of that greater whole, they have a responsibility to its quality. And I'm not saying they have to sacrifice the entirety of who they are and what they want in order to make that necessary contribution to the whole, but I am saying that if the pursuit of who they are and what they want has a negative impact on humanity as a whole, then they should re-evaluate those aspects of their lives.

There isn't enough re-evaluation going on in this country, at any level.