Carson Clark of the blog “Musings of a Hardline Moderate” recently had an insightful post, Miniblog #137: How Did I Break from the Fundamentalist, Pentecostal Republican Mold?
While Carson’s post is about how he left his fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Republican mold, I think that his thoughts can apply to a number of “us vs. them” mentalities, not only those on the Right. I’ll quote from this part of Carson’s post:
“Spanning the spectrum from politics to religion, so many conservatives and progressives seem fueled by sheer anger toward one another. It’s as though there’s something about them–something deep down in the recesses of their hearts, minds, and souls–that resonates with a spirit of opposition and is driven by a desire to defeat one another. It’s this thirst for an intoxicating brew of power, control, and victory. When I was a fundamentalist I felt that elemental, competitive fire. Yet it was never a good fit. There was always something that felt innately amiss. It’s as though the perpetual conflict produced physical energy while simultaneously sapping my emotional, intellectual, and spiritual vitality.”
I can identify with what Carson is saying. When I was right-wing, I was angry at liberals. I felt that they were smug, condescending know-it-alls who looked down on everyone who disagreed with them, while assuming that they somehow spoke for most people. And I wanted for them to be defeated, not just because I thought that their agenda for the country was dangerous, but also because I wanted them to feel the pain of knowing that most of America did not like them. And so I rejoiced when George W. Bush won in 2004, or when anti-gay marriage measures passed in a bunch of states. I was in-your-face about my conservatism, for I wanted the liberals I knew to realize that not everybody shared their views—-that there were other ways to see the issues.
To be honest, a lot of my ideological change occurred when I was away from actual liberals, when I did not have to be physically at my academic institution and could do a lot of my work at home. During that time, I got to reflect more on issues, without bringing into consideration personalities, whom I liked, whom I disliked, etc. I began to believe that winning elections is not so much a matter of telling off the “other side”, as it is of crafting policies that help the country, which includes people of different perspectives. I especially felt this as I attempted to navigate my way through America’s health care system, with the health insurance premiums, the copays, and the fact that my health insurance company often left me with a lot of the bill. I also was hearing and reading the horror stories of those who suffered at the hands of health insurance companies, or who struggled to pay off their student loans. Moreover, in 2008, I was reading Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope, and, while I disagreed with Obama on a number of issues, I admired his thoughtfulness and his ability to acknowledge valuable points in conservatism.
What I often wonder, though, is this: Am I all that different now from how I was as a conservative, only I’m on another team? There is currently a part of me that cannot stand conservatives and conservative Christianity. I hate conservatives’ judgmental attitude towards those who receive government aid, as many conservatives claim that such people do not want to work, when there are actually a number of people who do work yet remain poor. I have also resented the spiritual bullying that I and others have received from conservative Christians, and so, while I remain a person of faith, I tend to gravitate towards atheist blogs and the religious blogs of people who are critical of conservative Christianity (i.e., Rachel Held Evans) because I am elated when conservative Christianity is criticized. When conservative Christians get on their high horse and say that everyone should believe and behave in a certain way, and set themselves up as people’s judge, I get a lot of satisfaction when an atheist says, “Yeah, says who?” I’m hoping (perhaps in vain) that this will take the wind out of conservative Christians’ sails, the same way that I hoped as a conservative (equally in vain) that political defeats would knock arrogant liberals off of their high horse.
So I’m not entirely different now from when I was a conservative. And yet, there are some differences. Nowadays, I don’t dismiss every criticism of my side with “the other side does the same thing” (or at least I try not to do so—-it’s tempting to resort to that when the other side gets self-righteous). I don’t assume that my side is perfect whereas the other side is utterly flawed. I identify heroes in both sides, conservative and liberal, and I read stuff from both sides—-well, not everything, for both sides produce stuff that is malevolent, bitter, and sometimes just plain nutty, but I appreciate a thoughtful (preferably three-dimensional) analysis of policy and politics, regardless of whether the person doing the analysis is a liberal, a conservative, or something else.
Moreover, while there is still a part of me that relishes competition and the other side being taken down a few notches, there are times when I need something more nourishing. I learned that back when I was a conservative. I was in a bitter mood one day, I turned on Rush Limbaugh, and he was ranting about the inconsistency of the Left in criticizing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s alleged indiscretions with women while giving Bill Clinton a free pass. As much as I enjoyed listening to Rush, I found that I needed to turn him off at that time because he was not helping my mood.