“The only real progress lies in learning to be wrong all alone,” said Albert Camus. Coming from an influence such as Camus, this statement can only be more true for any young thinker. My own worldview has gone through significant changes the past few years, so empirically, I can affirm that having my views challenged has brought me to a greater understanding of the world already. I want this blog to be a place where I continue to research, shape, and challenge my perceptions. That said, I want to take this post to look back on the relatively short history of my views to let readers know how I’ve gotten to this point, and possibly offer a lesson on judging people’s political views.
My interest in politics only picked up in the summer of 2008. Yeah, I was part of the Obama wave, for no particular reason besides his “coolness”. I didn’t actually participate in anything election related (I can’t vote yet!) but I did start reading the occasional political article in Time or Newsweek. Before then, I had always been focused on my education and cared little for anything requiring excess reading; however, the greater world, much which seemed related to politics, had become exposed to me.
For the rest of 2009 and early 2010, I called myself a Democrat, though I still didn’t really care for political discussion. I just thought, “Democrats are smart and don’t like war, Republicans are rich and possibly racist.” I lived in a pretty Republican/conservative place, so I met my fair share of passionate young Republicans, espousing how Obama was going to take all their money and how we needed to bomb the Middle East. At that point, I didn’t really know how to respond to them, and I didn’t want to either. The majority of my classmates felt similarly besides one of them, I’ll call him Nathan. I’d known him since elementary school and now in my English class, he showed us a letter he had written to President Obama, criticizing the healthcare plan (which was being debated at the time). My teacher posted it on the bulletin board, and upon reading it, I came across various terms I’d never heard of, like “federal deficit,” “Medicare,” and “SEIU”. I was near the top of my class based on grades, but felt really uninformed seeing his letter. I wanted to be able to throw around terms like Nathan since he sounded pretty intelligent to me.
At that time too, the economy was in such a state that it was really hard to ignore any of the news about job losses, rising unemployment, and the specter of a depression. I’d seen the pictures of the Great Depression and read The Grapes of Wrath and wondered if we were heading for anything like it. Luckily, we haven’t, but I remember one night hearing on the news how Congress had voted to extend unemployment benefits to 99 weeks. Like I said, I was around the top of my class academically, and had never faced a challenge that hard work couldn’t beat. So, I really didn’t feel any pity towards the unemployed at the time, and actually felt a little angry that they couldn’t just try harder to find a job instead of relying on the government. Last summer (2010), I started to find myself in agreement with many Republican positions. I was in a bit of denial at first, as I couldn’t believe I was going to associate with a party which I knew for fighting wars and supporting racism. I feel that this was the first time I “learned to be wrong,” as I realized I had misconceptions about Republicans. From there, things really snowballed, since as I became more aware of politics, I especially payed attention to the opinions of those around me, who were mostly conservative.
The next school year (fall 2010), I started at a boarding school in Massachusetts. Naturally, I was in for a shock from my Midwestern roots. I always knew there we Democrats on the East coast and that some had pretty cogent thoughts. At my school, I felt a little overwhelmed by their sheer number, but at first, didn’t take the time to hear them out. I was still quite entrenched in conservative beliefs about the wide range of issues. Just about the only place where I would side with liberals was on global warming-but I felt that it wasn’t a problem government should deal with. Anyway, shifting from a place where my conservative beliefs weren’t really challenged to a place where they were almost foreign really confused me at first. To me, it seemed that my peers just didn’t understand things they way they should, and if they could just see things the way I did, they would naturally fall into place with my views. My first instinct was to retrench with the conservative side and research, so that I could engage and win in political debate. I read a lot of RedState and FoxNews, but I never became a fan of Beck, Limbaugh, or any of those other hosts. I had heard about Fox’s right-wing bias, but didn’t feel it to any more extent than the liberal lean of CNN, MSNBC, etc.
I was able to hold a decent argument with my liberal friends from reading these sources, but I always felt that their points had some personal flair which mine lacked. I realized that I had bought in too much to a narrow source for my political news and opinion, and it really wasn’t allowing me to speak with my own voice and mind. I still felt like I was a conservative though, and found a site better suited to my conservative view that was gradually becoming more open, RealClearPolitics. The daily aggregate of news and opinion helped bolster a more intellectual conservative view in me, though I still held many liberal views with disregard. I read them, but I would usually try to come up with some sort of rebuttal, that was quite possibly faulty and without factual evidence. As I read through RCP’s daily collection of articles, I found myself skimming more and more of the conservative ones, and actually reading more of the liberal ones. I realized that having my view challenged was something I found interesting, whereas reading the same old articles about, say, cutting taxes or ending regulation to be a little bland.
And finally, one day this spring, I came upon Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish. He called himself a conservative, which drew me in. Upon reading into his views though, I found he agreed with much of what today is called “liberal”! His writing was intriguing though, and confused/stimulated my thinking even more, because I was supposed to agree with him, being a conservative. So for a few months, I begrudgingly read his blog, and some of those which he linked to, often which were liberal. I felt that if I wasn’t going to agree with them, I might as well learn what I can, and mold it into my view of conservatism. All this time, I continued to hold pretty strong conservative beliefs and had altered only a few of my views. I felt pretty comfortable having an ideology I could identify with, no matter what it was, and didn’t exactly want to leave it for the shifting unknown of someone still finding one.
This next time I “learned to be wrong” was after reading this article by Fareed Zakaria about conservatism. It resounded to me akin to the feeling of the persona in Keats’ “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
My old perception of a rigid conservatism had been crushed, and replaced by Conservatism. That championed by Edmund Burke, George Will, and of course, Sullivan. Conservatism had to be rooted in reality, and not some hard ideology. I realized that I could still hold on to my old beliefs about free markets and moral responsibility. They wouldn’t influence my pragmatic desire to solve problems based upon empiricism. I would like to believe that no tax increases and less regulation will help the country recover; however, if the evidence stands against it, then I must stop beating the same dead horse. This is what it meant to be a “true” conservative, a conservative in the classical sense. It was a truly liberating experience to be not beholden to any firm set of views.
By now, I have almost recounted to the present day my journey. Thinking about Camus’ quote, the one thing I have to disagree with is doing this “all alone”. I feel thankful to all the sources of knowledge that I have turned to, and without them, I would still be quite ignorant about things. Despite the many changes my ideology has already undergone, I still feel nascent in the arena of politics and economics. There is still much to read, learn, and ponder in the days and years ahead for me. And I’m sure I’ll be wrong many times along the way.