On Conservatism, 1/6/14

1. Nowadays, all I want to do is write.

Not read, not think, not analyze, but express myself as if I have a single, immutable truth. I made my New Year’s resolution to be less angry and more confident.

But I’m not sure I should give up my anger. Anger is the sign one feels wronged, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t wronged. Or, to be more accurate: that we weren’t wronged.

2. The realities of class and race play out right in front of my eyes every day. At numerous times, I’ve watched whites get second, third, fourth, fifth chances that minorities will never see. I know they’ll never see them because I saw what happened with other races in the exact same situation. People with no support thrown out at the slightest misstep, as if they had support. And I’ve watched people with money pride themselves on their work – as well they should – but as if the job itself could be had by anyone with a little drive or savvy. As if no one else was combing job listings or begging friends for contacts or trying to self-improve with limited time and resources.

What I’ve realized is that all the inequality, all the anger, turns into a strange political phenomenon. It translates messily into class warfare. There’s always a “them” taking from “us,” but the “them” is confused. It’s almost always a straw man, a hypothetical. Maybe it is corporate overlords or government elites or people of other races or religions. What matters is “our” moral purity: we’re the ones who don’t take. We’re the ones who earn.

Except we do take, all of us. One of the things that has me burning is the exploitation of Christianity to dodge the inconvenient fact we’re all sinners. This happens consistently with extreme prejudice by people who in many cases don’t know the difference between the Trinity and One Direction. What they “know” is what they feel, and they haven’t really paid much attention to knowing or feeling. They want to hear there are rules that if obeyed get them into heaven. They do not care at all if those rules bear a striking resemblance to nostalgia more than morality, if they are using a romanticized portrait of their own past to guide them at best. (The biggest problem with me is that I assume people are attentive.)

I’m lucky in a way. My parents’ faults – God bless them – are very evident. That I’m recognized as having next to no prudence helps me remember that in terms of forming a serious moral judgment, I’m on my own. I had better take everything I have – as much of what’s considered human and divine wisdom as possible – and evaluate seriously. I had better do my best to judge and accept judgment, not avoid it.

3. My more liberal friends who want to reach out to everyone aren’t realizing that snakes are everywhere. Conservatives exaggerate their numbers and point at the wrong people, but the idea that some people will take everything if given a chance is correct. Only: every single snake I know nowadays is a self-proclaimed conservative. Right now I’m dealing with some of the most vicious ones, ones who continually take, never giving back, always asking for more. To even listen to them is to walk into a trap. They think their survival is at stake (it isn’t); they see themselves as different (they aren’t); they could care less how you feel or whether you’re being stolen from because you have (you don’t) and they need to survive anyway (as if trust wasn’t worth having). To listen to them is to implicitly justify the fact that they plan on taking from you. You won’t utter a peep as you’re tired of talking to them.

One major reason why I consider myself politically conservative is that I try to stay away from the illusion that people can be better than killing each other over $5 or a place in line at Pizza Hut. That sort of tragedy will always happen. But what’s happening now is that the worst stereotypes about a culture of dependency are manifest. People have been told they’re frauds, cheats, liars, or simply not worthy before even having the chance to do or get anything. Or they think they deserve everything because by their standard, they earn.

What they’ve lost is any sense of shame. Without shame, you can’t have morality. People have to want to stand for something at some point. If they don’t understand why that’s important, they’ll do anything to anyone else. A friend watched a person take several hundred dollars from another who was making less money than he was. And this isn’t the only thing I’ve seen or heard in the last couple of months. There were the libertarians who failed to distinguish between freedom and addiction; the roommate who muscled his way into another apartment and kicked out another who had graciously taken in him when homeless. There are bad people out there, and words alone will not fight them.

4. We are beyond shame. We’ll tweet hate at the President, Republican or Democrat. We’ll say anything to justify ourselves and at times allow ourselves to be purposely consumed by hysteria. We know if we get hysterical or neurotic we can get what we want. The only question left is why we haven’t eaten each other.

But that’s only a matter of time. In the richest country ever in the history of the planet, food banks have shortages. We have hunger on an increasingly epidemic scale. Get out and work, growls the gentleman whose entire income comes from the federal government. I’m working says the leech taking advantage of everyone else – milking every advantage he has – while using the disguise of work.

To have shame is to have a rough equality. I do not expect that we will ever meet the standard of Plato’s Laws, where the richest citizen only has 7 times what the poorest has. But maybe we should look at the Arab world, where a great tumult broke out. Islam offers many that sense of equality, that sense “we’re in this together,” while elites stay secular and cynical, often exacerbating social divisions to the point of violence. But the shame before the law (sharia) has not set in; rather, the law is used to bully others or used in reverse to ostracize its true adherents. With people far more passionate about the possibility of democracy than in our own country – with people who in many cases overcame greater odds to lead and work for others – they might fail. It isn’t religion that’s the problem (the hardline Islamists kill more Muslims than anyone else), or even the awful legacy of U.S. Cold War policy, where merely proclaiming yourself “anti-communist” got you weapons and dollars. The problem is that the spirit of the law is what we must work toward. The law only matters because of unity. Again, look at – maybe to – the Arab world. We are far more comfortable, far from grudges that go back centuries, but we’re at each others’ throats over nothing. To have shame is to know that you are no better than the people you think must serve you, the ones you claim to hate.

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