Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Journey of Reason and Discovery: Why I’m a Liberal #1

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

and more.

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.


Fannie said...

No matter where you ultimately fall on the conservative-liberal scale, it is refreshing to see someone who has really explored so many viewpoints.

Also, reading your post reminded me of my brief libertartian phase in college (that occurred while reading Ayn Rand of course, LOL).

David Carrel said...

That was a huge list of books! I wish I could say that I have read that much when it comes to politics, but really I don't read many political books at all, so I am afraid that any input I have may end up to be without solid research. I am really interested in this series you are doing though. Thanks!

Seda said...

Thanks! It makes for a more interesting life. I know you read the other side's stuff, too, so you know what I'm talking about.

Ayn Rand is very convincing, but then, so is Karl Marx. The proof's in the pudding, as they say, and in both cases theory does not conform to reality - nor vice versa!

David, Thanks, I hope you enjoy it. It's actually not that big - it was narrowed down to those that influenced my political beliefs curing that period. I've read more before and since. And, you'll be interested to know, The Bible is one of the politically influential books that has led me toward liberalism! But I read it a lot more before that time than during or after.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our