Wednesday, December 22, 2004

If You Must

The other night there was an event at ?!'s, and I got to thinking what a deeply sheltered East Coast liberal I would be if not for that particular group of friends, dnamely the ones from my house in college. My friends from there are predominantly Midwestern, with occasional from the eastern and western American South, and through them I have my only real connections to the war in Iraq (one friend has a brother who recently finished his tour in the Army, another an ex-boyfriend who was mortared [he's home now, with a Purple Heart and some shrapnel under his skin, but fundamentally fine]) and many of my sparse few connections to conservatives/Republicans/whatever (and to the KKK and overt racism--my line of work being as it is, I ain't such a fool as to call 'em my only connections to racism, but it is my only connection to the kind of racism that people admit to and talk about). It lends a lot more street cred than I'd like to admit to the notion that the Democratic Party is a party of an intellectual elite that doesn't understand the thoughts and needs of most Americans.

I was raised in a liberal family, and most of the people who surrounded me growing up at my progressive school and in my liberal home were liberals. All my friends are liberal now; while my Mathews House friends are liberal, a lot of them come from conservative families, due to traditional Catholicism and/or otherwise, and therefore they're a lot less willing, at this point in their lives, to demonize conservatism. T, whose parents are also conservative, was talking about this yesterday. Especially in the face of Bush--or Giuliani when I was in high school; in the face of someone who polarizes a community and can serve as a demonization, as the face of what's wrong--we often reach the point where we imagine the best move is not to talk to people whose views diverge from ours, they wouldn't understand anyway. But T's finding it a lot more comfortable to actually get into political discussions with her parents, these days; something she says she's found is that they have the same goals, just totally different views about what the best means are to this end.

Is that always true? My mom says capitalism, the fundamental philosophy of acquisition, is inherent in human nature and that's why other systems haven't worked. These days, I'm feeling like most problems stem from capitalism--unsustainable development, the widening gap between the elite and the non-elite financially (I'd like to think the educational gap may be narrowing, that college is becoming more available, but I'm judging by my students, who are at a magnet school, still a magnet no matter how underresourced it may be compared to other magnets in the city, so I don't know), health care, etcetera--and that the reasons other systems don't work is because not everybody else did 'em too, but it may be a moot point. I think sometimes, if we're vehement enough, we may think the goals are different, and sometimes we may be right; there are a decent number of both liberals and conservatives who are insincere about their goals, who are fundamentally out for personal gain or for a certain level of personal demonstration, but can we be optimistic enough to say most people want the best for the human race? That doesn't matter that much to me either, honestly; it's too vague. If that is the case, I'd still think that what's more important is our disagreement on what's best for the human race and how to go about achieving that. You could also get into something about what's best for the human race versus what's best for all Americans, and what the U.S. government's proportional responsibilities are regarding those two aspects, but I don't know how far to take that. Lawrence, in an earlier comment, said it was the government's responsibilities to protect its citizens and otherwise to stay out of its lives as much as possible. That makes it all even thornier. I don't think I agree, which is again my anti-capitalist predisposition--I think it's just a fact that we don't all start out equal, that given the current system there's no possible way (was there ever? I don't know), and since that's the truth it is the government's responsibility to level the playing field. But why should it be, if our goal is an ownership society?

And here, my friends, is why I need more conservatives in my life. Conservatives who are willing to concede certain aspects, certain differences, as I hope I am or at least am becoming. And I really do wonder about why my only connections to the military, the KKK, to various institutions that I don't understand and/or that frighten me, for various reasons, are through friends, liberal friends, from particular parts of the country, parts of the country I didn't manage to have much contact with before I went to college. (And while I often miss the contacts with high school friends that my sister is far more able to have than I am or was, it makes me really, really glad I did not go to school in the Northeast; while there are probably a decent number of people of conservative parentage at all the other schools I might have attended, I think the atmosphere would be different.) I need to know *why* people think an ownership society is the most reasonable goal, why that's the best way to go for the human race.

Something else to think about, regarding disagreement and immediacy, is the war in Iraq. T said her father thought it was just too soon to know what was important about it, even as he can concede that there's been substantial mismanagement in the process. To which I, and probably most of my readers, have a part that wants to scream (that was *so* not grammatical), "Mismanagement? People DIED!" And that's a weird one, because there it's my conservative connections, the people whose family members and friends--I know one of these friends, to be fair, but I wouldn't have if not for A, a dorm Midwestern friend--that make that argument hold a lot more water. If I pull back here, if I try to take the more historical view that I think is sometimes necessary when politics get so visceral, and say that's what happens with the Army, that's what people are signing up for, they know it, this is part of defending the larger entity that is your country--I'm ignoring, or at least overlooking, those particular individuals who are intimately connected to people that I love. Should someone's brother, friend, ex-boyfriend be injured or maimed or killed in Iraq (and I'm so relieved that nothing worse than what I already mentioned has happened to the loved ones of my friends), I wouldn't say that and I wouldn't mean it, it would stop really mattering.

And historically, it is too soon to know, that's right. We can look with distaste or dislike or venom-spitting vehemence at the deceptiveness with which it's been handled, but none of us, no matter how smart, is really (are really?) capable of knowing what the war will mean, what impact it will have on the progression of America. We can infer, postulate, make it up, but we don't know. And yet we have to do something anyway, have to take some kind of stance in order to vote, in order to truly function as citizens of America. (I am going to insult political apathy, because I feel it's appropriate these days. I respect even Nader voters more than non-voters; at least they understand that fact that politics matters to daily life.)

So I think we'd be better off talking to liberals and conservatives, whichever one we are not, thankyouverymuchAnnCoulter. (To be fair again, I've never actually read her work, but I feel decently willing to judge that particular book by its cover. Or at least its title. I'll probably read it someday, when I get over my embarrassment at picking it up in a bookstore.) I think our decisions, our doing of something, will be more informed. At least we'll actually know what we're not doing. That was a deeply facile conclusion, but really it's a pretty facile discussion. Something I mentioned to T, though, is that some of it is a question of identity. You can't get into a good discussion with someone of an opposing political persuasion until you know your opinions well enough to know them not to simply be "not theirs." That is something valuable to think about. How have we gotten--well, how have I gotten my opinions to the point where they've become mine, without ever really discussing with conservatives what makes my opinions what they are? (Okay, I once dated someone who voted for Bush in 2000, but in 2000 I thought I could get away from that simply by avoiding the topic.) Maybe it does come from listening to people who have to listen to their families and their families' conservative opinions with some respect, even if, like Layna (non-house, not even college, but originally of the non-Northeast), they are listening only in order to enter into violent, vehement argument with a little more fuel.

So if any conservatives stumble across my blog, talk to me.


At 3:37 PM, Blogger Connor said...

Here you have it:

Reasonable conservatives from southern Florida. Enjoy! ;)


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