June 26, 2003
I know from righteous, I know from sin

I've been thinking the last couple days about politics. Not any political event in particular, but about my own politics. I read a lot of political blogs, as can be seen from my blogroll, but I rarely post on political subjects any more.

Almost two years ago, when I first started reading blogs, I was reading a rather different set than I am now. I think the first blogger I read regularly was Andrew Sullivan, and through him I got connected to blogs of rightward or libertarian bents. Virginia Postrel and Eve Tushnet were some early ones whom I still read, but there are some others -- Steven den Beste, Tim Blair, Charles Oliver -- that I haven't been to in ages. When you look at the ones I dropped and the ones I've added, you can see two definite trends: leftward and Christian. The fact that I wound up here at notfrisco seems somehow inevitable.

I grew up in the left. My family is of the liberal secular-humanist coastal intelligentsia that a lot of conservatives like to revile. And in northern California in the '70s and '80s, the '60s left was still definitely present. I always identified with the left, but as I got older I became disaffected with it in various ways, especially the '60s part.

When I moved to L.A. I got really detached from that background. Partly because of the environment in which I work, but the 9/11 attacks also had a certain conservatizing effect on me, as they did on a lot of people I guess. Nothing like a sense of threat from a mysterious, alien enemy to drive you in that direction. But it's not like I ever really became a conservative either; I was just sort of ... nowhere.

Although Telford probably wouldn't like this fact, since he's a Republican, I think knowing him and this whole Christian adventure he's leading me on is not unconnected to the leftward drift in my blog reading. One thing it's done is to reconnect me with my heart, and I've found that it still bleeds. I want to help the poor, I want to find peaceful resolutions, I want prisoners to be protected from abuse and I want animals to be treated humanely. I really do think we should learn more about people in other cultures and what grieves them, without thinking attacks on us are somehow our own fault. I believe the sexes have more in common than they differ, and I think most gay people are not out to destroy society and should not be made to suffer for their loves.

Having said all that, I still don't feel like I'm back squarely in the left camp. For one thing, I have doubts about how many of my ideals can be achieved by governmental means. (This is not just a problem I have with liberalism -- I have doubts about some rightists' grand plans to remake the Middle East too.) Most of these things are matters of cultural attitude, and they are probably best achieved by persuasion rather than fiat, even though fiat is quicker and more satisfying. Also, though I personally admire pacifism, I understand it's dubious as government policy. I think that's part of why approaching it from a religious rather than a political angle appeals to me. Maybe that's the more appropriate venue.

Secondly, I don't identify tribally with the left any more. When I read some of the more spirited leftist blogs, like Body and Soul, Electrolite or that of my own virtual landlord, I admire the moral passion but I see a kind of Manichaean partisan identification that I just don't have any more. It's not something I could debate with them by marshalling facts and evidence, it's just something that's come from my life experience. Partly because I've come to know people to the right of me, attending one of those reviled evangelical churches. But I think also because my moral identification of myself is not really political.

I sometimes wonder, as I did during my exchange with Teresa Nielsen Hayden a while ago, if I'm turning a blind eye to things and I should get more politically active. But I think right now I'm working more on trying to get my own life aligned with my ideals, before I try to proselytize them to others. The last thing I want to be is one of those people who rails against the environmental policies and oil interests of George Bush before driving off in her SUV. Get the plank out of your own eye before taking the speck out of someone else's, as a smart person once said.

Posted by Camassia at June 26, 2003 06:52 PM | TrackBack

I am moving leftwards and out of Christianity, myself.

Posted by: Joel on June 26, 2003 09:44 PM

You need to think differently: the continuum isn't simple. It spreads from a center. You want to preserve freedom and still revere the community as an agent of continuity and compassion.

My real struggle is with authoritarianism of all stripes. The problem with the 60s left was that they turned a blind eye to the authoritarianism of their own. Conservatives deny that people on the left can be for freedom. I point to the Middle East and the Patriot Act as evidence that they have made more of a wreck of the constitution than all the liberals with their hate crimes laws combined.

But I am not a liberal. I stand left and I stand for civil liberties, for a free marketplace of ideas, though some sectors such as education and health are, in my opinion, better off left to government. Conservatives want to privatize everything -- including prisons and the military. Only gold will buy the loyalty of troops if they have their way. The 20th century will look like nothing compared to the 21st if we don't wake up and realize that in our reverence for community that the true roots of freedom dredge mineral sustenance and life-affirming water.

Posted by: Joel on June 26, 2003 10:12 PM

Sorry if I mis-labeled you, Joel. I haven't been reading you as long as the other bloggers I mentioned, so it's a little early to think I have you pegged.

Yes, political labels are pesky things, and the conventional left-right axis has its limitations. Actually, that's where I'd disagree with your second comment -- I certainly know people who'd call themselves conservative who do not want to privatize absolutely everything or chuck constitutional rights. The two main political parties are really coalitions of politico-cultural groups that don't always get along.

Your point about liberty is a good one, and makes me notice that I didn't really mention liberty in my post. I do value liberty, but I think I didn't bring it up because it's my "bleeding heart" that puts me more at variance with the rightish-libertarianish folks that I was hearing from both in the blogosphere and in real life last year. I can just imagine the guys at the office laughing at me for caring about the plight of industrial chickens.

Community is definitely something I'm working on in my own life, both in social life and volunteer work. It's something I was never very good at before. I think I'm still working out what the proper balance is between individual and community, both in a political and spiritual sense.

Posted by: Camassia on June 27, 2003 08:52 AM

It doesn't bother me as a Republican that your spirituality is taking you leftward in your reading. I wish the right had more people like Hernando de Soto, whose anti-statist politics reflect his concern for the poor who are at least as likely to be victimized by strong states as they are by strong private sectors. I wish the right did not resort to racism and xenophobia when it feels its base is being threatened. I wish it were not so quick to consider the status quo to be the same as "realism." I wish it would not demagogue and engage in ad hominem attacks, as appealing as these tactics are to true believers and as well deserved as they are when waged against people who have been doing the same for decades.

For that matter, I also wish the left did not resort to intellectual arrogance, Machiavellian politics, utopianism, and apologetics for the tyrannies that somehow catch its fancy.

I suppose that I generally wish both the left and the right would stop worshipping powers other than the God who is love. Seated together under the cross, I think we would find the common ground that we have preferred to abandon in our struggles to defeat each other.

That's not just an accusation; it's also a confession.

Posted by: Telford Work on July 7, 2003 01:35 PM
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