Sunday, March 27, 2011

Common Thoughts

I don’t think people give enough respect to the thin, weak boundaries of their ideological convictions. I actually take notice of, and am alarmed by, the ideas that I entertain, which have the potential to push me in either of two directions – towards a more extreme, less rational extension of the political views I already hold, or towards an eventual reversal of my closely held beliefs. If we don’t live our lives in a self-imposed vacuum, our ideas certainly are capable of dramatic, almost inconceivable change. Just look at Arianna Huffington for a prime example. It just happens that most of us don’t notice the turnaround until it’s already happened. As romantic as the notion of epiphany is, it’s not the way things usually go. Most of the things we come to believe are grounded in a gradual accumulation of evidence and, hopefully, logical analysis.

I remember being twenty years old, working in a gas station over my summer break from college, and finding myself deep in thought while stocking the walk-in cooler one night, actually praying to God to not let me become an anarchist. My own political engagement, my own earnest considerations of where I stood seemed to be pushing me that way, even though I knew that anarchism, however well-intentioned, is stupid. My genuine concern was therefore grounded in the threat that if I didn’t go on reminding myself of the glaring flaws of that view, of its neglect for the numerous salutary effects of living in a civilized society, the appeal that stood beside that foolishness could overtake my mind.

On quite the other hand, I’ve worried about the potential for getting conservative as I get old ever since I heard the famous, now clichéd, Winston Churchill quote about a young man who isn’t liberal having no heart and an old man who isn’t conservative having no head. But the threat of late-onset conservativism really took on a dimension of terror after I read Rabbit Redux, and saw that John Updike’s character, in whom I had seen so much of myself, for good or ill, had become belligerently conservative as he emerged from his twenties.

The effect of fiction is bad enough, but would not resonate at length if I did not observe warning signs portending wrong thinking in my own mind, as well. Sometimes I’ll entertain what I think is a typically conservative thought, and then I’ll consider that really what is in my mind is not an ideological statement, it’s an observation. But it’s the sort of observation that it is easy to imagine dominates the senses of a right-wing person. It is the groundwork of an objectionable ideology, but the presence of that actual ideology depends on building an interpretation onto that foundation of observation.

Rational assessment of observable facts and arguable solutions is the thing that has held extremist liberal mindsets at bay, and if I retain an active mind, that will be what keeps me from conservativism, as well. Thinking about this has led me to a very interesting thought: Liberals and conservatives may very often have the very same idea about a particular subject. The thing that differentiates the two is the way each interprets his own observational thought, or even his own emotion. From my liberal standpoint, I would venture to guess that it’s often a matter of degree, with the liberal giving a greater amount of consideration to the topic, as opposed to, say, stopping short with an easy answer.

It worries me when I find myself thinking, “I can’t stand seeing all these recent immigrants in all these same positions of employment.” The thought passes through me as if it was not my own, and then my mind reels, and the first thought to follow upon it is, “holy shit, I’m betraying everything that I respect in myself.” And then I have to wonder why that is, when it seemed to me for a moment that I was just observing an obviously true state of affairs. Then I realize that I had imposed emotional content onto that observation, and that it reflected badly on me. But in the next second, I start to relax as I reassure myself that I hadn’t directed my despisal at the working class immigrants themselves, but at the circumstances surrounding them and me in kind. My comment hadn’t dislodged any of the beliefs that I hold and consider laudable – such as that everyone, regardless of race or national origin, deserves an opportunity to work.

But the fact remains that I think it’s terrible that I sometimes see white-owned, corporate chain establishments staffed entirely by very recent Indian immigrants. I don’t like that virtually all of my produce is picked and packaged by Mexican migrant workers. I know that conservatives object to these things, too. But they take the easy route of blaming the individuals who had the audacity to try to better their lives. They acknowledge what’s happening, and they acknowledge their own frustrations that things are bad, and that perhaps they themselves are out of work, but they stop there, and don’t give a deeper consideration of what’s wrong.

Every time I buy a cup of coffee from an Asian immigrant laboring for a Western company, I think about the fact that there had no doubt been dozens of applicants for that persons job from white, native Buffalonians, and that the job went to the immigrant. In several places, the job went to the immigrant in every god damn case. And it’s not because they’re coming here to take our jobs. It’s not because they’re invading us in droves and robbing the white man of what should be his. It’s because of the white men who set the hiring policy at these places, knowing that they can comfortably pay a substantially lower wage to a recent immigrant. I look at these things and I experience what I think must be a conservative’s anger. But thank God that I have a liberal’s mind, because I have no right to be angry at another person who is as lowly as I. My anger is for the system that disregards one group in order to thoroughly exploit another.

I don’t think we partisans recognize often enough that we’re living in the same world. We’re facing the same problems. And if my experiences are not anomalous, we are even having some of the same thoughts. We just need to do a better job of understanding what we’re all thinking, what we’re all feeling. And if we focus on that common ground, those of us who have thought through the facts, observations, and theoretical solutions can better explain that the issue is deeper than you realize – deeper than the conservative notion at which it’s easier to arrive.

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