Monday, June 16, 2014

Conservative conceit

It's been almost a year since a relative of mine used the conservative assertion that some person or persons we were discussing "isn't old enough to be conservative yet." It still bothers me coming from a family member, when I might have brushed it off from some idiot on the street, the television or in an opinion column.

I first ran across this snotty put-down back in the 1990s. I'm sure it's older than that, but that's how long I've had to be aware of it. It's one more subtle way to turn a discussion of issues into an exchange of insults. By all means, be patronizing.

As further proof that I'm living my life backwards, I have steadily grown less conservative as I have gained life experience and listened to the stories of more and more people. I have my limits, but anyone to my right would surely say I am and have been headed in the wrong direction.

Over the years I have steadily scoured out remnants of racism, sexism and homoanxiety I had acquired simply by growing up privileged and white in the 1960s and '70s. Sure, lots of white people were braver and more noble in support of the advancement of all the repressed and downtrodden, and others were far worse in continuing the oppression, but in the middle were doofuses like me who laughed at certain jokes without thinking hard about them, who treated women at least ever so slightly like a prey species and worried about whether we might be homosexual because male classmates were questioning our manhood. Even referring to heterosexual orientation as manhood, as if it was the only form of it, is a holdover from a more simple-minded past.

Fiscal conservatism can be sensible. I don't like to waste money, even if I do get along with all sorts of freaks and weirdos and believe that no one should make 700 times as much money as someone else who has a job and tries to be useful. I happen to believe that the government established by the US Constitution is basically a good model for addressing a bad situation, namely the need to have a government to take care of the routine details of running a society that allows for ample citizen input. The channels of input have been bought out by financially powerful interests masquerading as "the Private Sector." If they can be reclaimed, the big old rickety ship of state might actually start working for the benefit of all once again.

Conservatism in its worst form tends to reject ideas based on their source and to act on the basis of fear. While the conservative may brandish weapons and say warlike things, it is the emotional first line of defense against a world perceived as inherently hostile. If they are correct, and the human race is incorrigibly violent and duplicitous, I'm even happier not to join anyone's hate club and not to have subjected any offspring to the Planet of the Assholes.

I know my relative's fear springs from a time he was very small and still innocent, and had the very bad fortune to be thrust into the middle of desegregation in the schools in a city that was only just recovering from a period of racial violence. Oops. He's not a swastika-wearing skinhead, but he's one of those people who still keeps the N-word available in his vocabulary to describe dark persons who do things of which he does not approve.

Other influences have contributed to solidifying his position. I never argue about it. There's no point. Everyone has to try to find methods that get them successfully through one day and the next for as long as they keep getting more days. While I believe that many -- if not most - of the positions strongly held by today's conservatives are bad for the future of humanity, I know that no one can change this by acts of force. And if it can't be changed by persistent spread of knowledge and a gentle insistence on productive discussion and action, it won't be changed at all. So back we come to the self-fulfilling prophecy of conservative dystopia. They'll have been right because their intransigence brought about the culture of violence and distrust they feared existed all along. The only freedom comes through the skillful use of weapons against whoever tries to muscle in on you.


1 comment:

greatpumpkin said...

I have often been thankful that the first people of color I met were a teacher at my school (who later became principal), whose husband was a principal (and later became superintendent of schools), and their brilliant and talented sons, one of whom was in my class. This gave me a perspective that survived later encounters.

And I'm not old enough yet to be conservative, either.