Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Land of Liberalism

I thought I'd share with you an email exchange I've just had with my mother having to do with my political philosophy. So that you're fully informed, I should tell you that I was born and raised and have lived virtually all of my adult life in the Boston area. I grew up in a neighborhood, town and state disproportionately filled with liberal intellectuals, in a state that has more than its share of universities and the doctrinaire liberalism that resides there.

My mother is a retired college professor who, while on the liberal side of things, has also been somewhat surprised, and perhaps bothered, by how far some have taken ideas which seemed like a good idea at the start but which have now spun out of control. I respect her balanced view, but she struggles nevertheless with my conservative views, and words that I speak with great meaning and subtlety intended often hit her brain as two dimensional and trite because she lives on the other side of the perspective fence.

Anyway, she had dinner with friends last night and sent this note:
I had dinner with Carol and John last night and they besseiged me about you and your political views. I said to them, "why don't you discuss it all with Todd? He's good about sharing. I can't represent his views accurately." You should think about it; you might enjoy it and they think so very diffferently from you that it might be fun for you both.
I wrote back asking why they were so concerned about my views and got this response:
I think because your views are so different from those of the people whom they associate you with and because John has listenied to you on the radio and is intrigued by your point of view and it confuses him. I think it is born of genuine fascination.....and the minute John sees me it awakens hiis thnking about the situation. But they are not the only ones who respond thaat way......he is just very up front about it........
This aggravated me, as it gets tiring living in a world in which it is so hard to find someone who isn't shocked by intellectual diversity - It feels like I'm a gun control advocate in hunting country sometimes. So here's what I wrote back:
The subtext of the question is that there's something odd about my views that compels investigation. But my views are, in fact, mainstream ones, found as most people's are - they are derived from a mix or personal psychology, environment and critical thinking. While it may seem odd that I am able to think things thru enough to draw my own conclusions, I find it odd that those who hold a political perspective that has never been accepted by the country think that theirs is the only viable one because they happen to live in a geographical pocket that holds that perspective.

So, let's check off the categories for them. First - Osmosis. My views are based less on osmosis than are most people's, as mine go counter to my environment. That's a point in my favor, I'd say. Second - Psychology. My personal psychology is one of independence and self-suffiency, so I'm inclined toward governmental models that allow and encourage those attributes (which are, by the way, at the heart of the premise of the American experiment). But I would argue that mine are less influenced by personal psychology than are most people's because critical thinking plays a larger role in my analysis - I read, debate and think about these things all the time, and actually know a little about the issues that I have opinions about rather than just being a political mirror, so I do my best to mitigate personal inclinations. Even more important, I discuss and debate the issues with those who are highly educated and hold differing views, so I have a full pallet of ideas to sort through. There is no template one can point to and say - "ah ha, that's where Todd came up with it!" I have drawn my own conclusions.

More in need of investigation, I think, are people whose strongly held views reflect verbatim the perspectives spoon fed them by the media, their community and their peers, an indication that they are little more than "well educated," intelligent people who live a life of cocooned privelege which they don't venture beyond intellectually. Carefully couched in an environment where they never hear differing views, they are shocked and dismissive when they confront someone who shares the political perspective of the majority of Americans, not to mention those of the country's founding fathers.

Rather than inquire about where I got such views, they'd be better served, I think, by questioning why they are so content to be part of a closed feeding loop - parrots who read it in the Times, hear it on NPR, repeat it at cocktail parties with friends of identical cultural and educational identities, and are absolutely baffled by anyone who doesn't share their smug point of view. While they may celebrate diversity with their donations, they are utterly confounded when they confront it in their environment.

Now, aren't you glad you asked?
I thought you'd enjoy the exchange. The names were changed to protect privacy.

1 comment:

Candace from Illinois said...

I did enjoy the exchange...

Two thoughts....unless "John" and "Carol" read your blog, they won't know what you really think. Maybe your point is/was not to tell them what you think so much as to tell your mother how you think. Good job on that score.

The other thought is this- The subtext of your response is that you don't arrive at your views in the same way as the culture you grew up in does. In fact, you have a better way.

I hope your mother receives with curiosity, intrigue and excitement, your detailed explanation of how you arrive at your views. In defense of your mother, I'm still working on how to receive my adult children's differing views with intrigue, curiosity and excitement. It's a process we moms have to go through. Just try to understand!