Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Conservative Side

As our politics have become more polarized and tribal in nature (I listen to NPR not Hannity, watch MSNBC not Fox News, eat local instead of Applebee's, etc) the shades of grey and ambivalences that we all have in our hearts have become blasphemous to utter. Since I am all for honest blasphemy rather than dishonest doctrinal purity, I thought I would volunteer my own conservative sympathies on certain subjects.

Much of this, of course, is small "c" conservatism, conservatism in the literal sense meaning wanting to conserve traditional, older things threatened by modern life. Those who call themselves "conservatives" today are in reality the most destructive of radicals. In their crusade to make all society submit to the will of the capitalist market, they attack the public spirit in the name of a soulless individualism that reduces all social relations to the almighty dollar.

Most of my opposition to free market orthodoxy has to do with more Leftist values of social justice. At the same time, however, I shudder to think at how unrestrained capitalism wrecks social bonds, undermines the family, and turns education and religion into consumerist businesses. This reflects a general distaste on my part for ideology, whether it be of the Left or the Right. In some respects, I have taken to heart some of the observations of that ur-conservative, Edmund Burke. He was ultimately right to decry the Enlightenment gospel of human perfectability as the gateway to failed experiments and misery on a vast scale. (Exhibit A: the Jacobin stage of the French Revolution, Exhibit B: Communism, Exhibit C: Neo-liberal capitalism). I obviously find his defense of inherited political power and the aristocracy to be bullshit, but I must recognize the validity of some of his other insights.

While I am still in the political confessional (which makes you all in cyberland my priestly confessors), I must admit that I find many liberals to be insufferably smug and naive. When I was in Texas there were so few liberals, and we were so surrounded by people that hated us, which meant that we tended to be a little more aware of what other people thought of us, and maybe restrained us. Now that I work every day in New York City, I am surrounded by ultra-PC liberals who seem completely unaware of their abnormality. They are quick to talk about social consciousness and globalization, but seem wholly ignorant of how the bus drivers and bodega owners in their own neighborhood see the world, much less those rural people clinging to their guns and religion whose paranoia may very well decide the next election. (I agree with the president's controversial remarks about rural America, because in my experience, they are true. Unfortunately, most liberals seem to have failed to understand the implications of that truth, and why it means they will be on the losing end.) It pains me to say this, but the average conservative, in my experience, is much better connected to the public pulse than the average liberal.

Wow, that is going to net me a hefty penance of novenas and rosaries.

Last, but most importantly, I think values do matter, and that while my values are mostly very different than those of the conservative movement, I think that the Left has failed heartily to talk about values, while conservatives have emphasized the importance of values. There is a fundamental contradiction in the modern conservative philosophy that extols the virtues of rapacious capitalism, and then laments the loss of "traditional values," when it is our nation's ideal of consumerism ueber alles that's to blame. Well I do think that things like having a work ethic, treating people fairly, being honest, and not compromising one's integrity are really important and need to be stressed. It's just that I think these values of fairness mean letting gay people marry and combating racism and sexism. Because I think hard work ought to be valued, I think it's criminal to let the people who make money from money amass fortunes that would make King Midas blush, all the while busting unions and taking away health insurance. I am optimistic about the Occupy Wall Street protests because they are actually forcing the Democratic politicians, who seem to only value staying in office, to actually think about what they stand for. Once we get away from ideologies, party lines, and parroting the talking points of our news media of choice, there might be some positive change.

No comments: