This is the first installment in a series inspired by someone who calls himself Euripedes, who wrote his own series on why he's a conservative. (Ironically, his sixth installment was to explain that he's a conservative because he agrees with Edmund Burke when he said self-interest should be put aside in the selection (election) of leaders, and that they should be chosen for integrity and for the good of all. In principle, I would guess this to be nearly universal to any viable democratic political philosophy. In practice, I think conservatives consistently perform worse on this than liberals, voting for narrow self-interest or to benefit one economic class over all others almost all the time, as opposed to liberals, who frequently vote to benefit society as a whole.)
Anyway, the place to start this series seems to be the beginning – the journey I've traveled to achieve liberalhood, and the sources I've explored on the way.
My father was a Goldwater conservative, a rancher in Wyoming who once ran for county commissioner as a Republican. Politics frequented our dinnertime conversation, and dominated during elections. All my neighbors were Republicans, so far as I know. In the school elections in 1972, I was the only person in my 5th & 6th grade class to vote for McGovern; everyone else voted for Nixon. But that vote was an anomaly, perhaps a sign of the distant future, and probably a symptom of the fact that I didn't fit in with the cisgendered kids. I went on to start my political life voting for Reagan – twice. (Since then, I've tried not to repeat my mistakes.) At that time, I hadn't really thought much about politics or economics, nor learned much about them.
I became disaffected with conservatism and Republicans shortly after Reagan began his second term. I noticed the neglect and damage his policies created for the environment. He replaced the "tax and spend" policies of Democrats with a "borrow and spend" mentality that was clearly unsustainable way back then, and has only grown worse to the present (ironically, reaching its apex – so far – under a Democrat who considers himself at least somewhat liberal). Iran-Contra blew up, exposing the corruption that ran deep throughout his administration. Still laden with a prejudice that made me unable to stomach Democrats, I abandoned the GOP and adopted third-party affiliations and candidates.
For the next 15 years, until 2000, I never voted for a Republican or a Democrat for president, and rarely for anything else. I explored Libertariansim, and read Ayn Rand's "Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal." I compared it to "The Communist Manifesto," and to the actual economic conditions in our own nation and others. I briefly worked to help establish a Green Party in Missoula, Montana. I read John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty," and Thoreau's "Walden Pond" and "Civil Disobedience." I met Kristin, and my inability to satisfactorily answer her questions led me to question my own assumptions, and to think and explore further. I went to the University, and, though my field of study was architecture, I learned much more, including how to question and find answers. In the evening job I held to work through school (I was a janitor), I listened to talk radio. I listened to Rush Limbaugh, found him lying again and again, and his vicious rhetoric turned me off. Dr. Laura, Michael Savage, Shawn Hannity – none of them stood the test of truth and compassion. Then, when Air America took off, I listened to liberal radio. I found that some hosts - Thom Hartmann in particular - seemed to get their facts straight all or most of the time. Others, like Randy Rhodes, disappointed, with judgmental rants and lies that seemed to be no different from their conservative counterparts, just from the other side of the aisle.
Then, in 2000, a momentous event occurred, which irrevocably changed my life. My son was born. Within three months, I was his primary caretaker, and it soon became clear that the only way I could get him to fall asleep for his afternoon nap was to put him in the car and go for a drive. Since we lived in a house on a hillside, significantly above street level, I couldn't leave him in the car alone to go and do stuff, so each day for almost two years I had two to three uninterrupted hours in which to do nothing but read and think. Following is a brief list of some of the books I read during that time:
American Empire, by Andrew Bacevich
The Twilight of American Culture, by Morris Berman
Freedom in Chains, by James Bovard
America's Future, by William Boyer
Whole Life Economics, by Barbara Brandt
The Iron Triangle: Inside the Carlyle Group, by Dan Briody
The End of Economic Man, by George Brockway
Clueless at the Top, by Harriet and Charlotte Childress
The Growth Illusion, by Richard Douthwaite
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto
Mobilizing Resentment, by Jean Hardisty
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight; Unequal Protection; and What Would Jefferson Do?: a Return to Democracy, by Thom Hartmann
Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken et al
The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayek
Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt
Instead of Education, by John Holt
The Death of Common Sense, by Phillip Howard
Bushwhacked, by Molly Ivins et al
Blowback: the Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson
Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn
The Teenage Liberation Handbook, by Grace Llewellyn
What It Means to Be a Libertarian, by Charles Murray
Butterfly Economics, by Paul Omerod
How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, by Christina Page
Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn
Bionomics, by Michael Rothschild
Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Fundamentalist Islam, and the Future of America, by Michael Scheuer
Corporate Warriors: the Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, by P. W. Singer
When God Was a Woman, by Merlin Stone
The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss & Neil Howe
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
The Poverty of Affluence, by Paul Wachtel
This doesn't count the magazines, articles, and political and economic columns I read, nor my obsessive reading of the news following the 2000 election and 9/11. I did not, however, rely on TV for any information, and still don't. The manipulation of images and events is so blatant in TV that I think you become less informed the more you watch it (and, in fact, a study following 9/11 and the invasion and occupation of Iraq did show that people who watched Fox (Faux) News regularly were less informed than people who didn't pay any attention to the news at all.)
In sum, I sought out many different viewpoints, compared them to my observations and to the most reliable news reporting I could conveniently find (mostly Newsweek and our local newspaper), and reflected on what I read, heard, experienced, and observed. I accepted the ideas that made sense and that were verified by situations, events, and history, and rejected those that did not, regardless of the source – and many of the ideas I've embraced come from conservative sources. Yet from that grew a deepening liberalism – because ultimately, that is where the best arguments lie.
*Standard note: I value dissenting opinions as crucial to the maintenance of freedom and democracy. While I would like to write convincingly, to influence opinion and sway the balance of power my way, I also consider the conservative viewpoint to be important and meaningful. I do, however, believe that political discourse does not have to be nasty and vicious. I prefer to listen to and respect my political opponents. I ask the same from them.