Midwest vs Coasts: history, culture & politics

Often in reading about politics, my Midwestern worldview can make me feel like I’m working from a slightly different context than mainstream culture. The mainstream media tends to put issues in terms of Northeastern Democrats versus Southern Republicans or else East Coast Establishment versus West Coast Libertarianism/Liberalism. The Midwest is none of these.

I was thinking about this last night when I was reading American Nations by Colin Woodard (which I came across in my recent research that began with an earlier post). Here is one of the passages that made me think about this (Kindle Locations 2962-3053):

“New Englanders headed west across the northern tier of the Northwest Territory, land-hungry settlers from the Midlands were pouring into the central Midwest. The Midlanders—a great many of them German speaking—carried their pluralistic culture into the Heartland, a place long since identified with neighborliness, family-centered progress, practical politics, and a distrust of big government. Spanning the north-central portions of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Greater Midlands spread through central and southern Iowa, northern Missouri, eastern Nebraska and Kansas, and even northernmost Texas—an area many times greater than its original hearth on the shores of the Delaware Bay. Its settlements—a collection of mutually tolerant ethnic enclaves—served as a buffer between the intolerant, communitarian morality of Greater Yankeedom and the individualistic hedonism of Greater Appalachia, just as they had earlier on the eastern seaboard. New Englanders and Appalachian people often settled among them, but neither group’s values took hold. The Midland Midwest would develop as a center of moderation and tolerance, where people of many faiths and ethnicities lived side by side, largely minding their own business. Few Midwestern Midlanders were Quakers, but they unconsciously carried aspects of William Penn’s vision to fruition.”

(Note: Here in Eastern Iowa, there are a fair number of Quakers. Offhand, I know of 3 Quaker churches and a Quaker school in the immediate area. Demographic maps show a relatively higher percentage of Quakers in the Midwest, particularly in Ohio, Indiana and Iowa; where I live, Johnson County, is only a county away from one of the concentrated Quaker communities in the US, Keokuk County. However, maybe this only increased after the early immigrants came to the region. I noticed a 1914 book about Quakers in Iowa which notes, “Although the Quakers have not been numerous in Iowa, the influence of their attitude toward life has been considerable in the history of the Commonwealth.” Maybe living near a concentrated population of Quakers biases my perception of the Midwest slightly.)

“Most Midlanders reached the region on the National Road, which guided their settlement to the Mississippi and beyond. Pennsylvania Germans did their best to replicate the towns they’d left behind. New Philadelphia, Ohio, was founded by a congregation of Moravians and soon attracted German-speaking Mennonites. In Ohio, Pennsylvania Dutch dominated a fifty-mile-wide belt of farms south of the Yankee Western Reserve in settlements called Berlin, Hanover, Dresden, Frankfort, Potsdam, Strasburg, or Winesburg. Amish and Dunkers founded Nazareth, Canaan, and Bethlehem. Pennsylvania Dutch barns and United Brethren churches sprang up amid tidy farmhouses and fields of wheat. From the 1830s this familiar cultural environment attracted huge numbers of immigrants directly from Germany who congregated in Cincinnati.1

“In Indiana the Midlander belt of settlement was narrower due to their discomfort with the Appalachian dominance over the territory’s affairs. Indiana’s Borderlanders called themselves Hoosiers, came from the backcountry of Kentucky and western Virginia, and were ambivalent about slavery. But to Yankees and Midlanders they might as well have come from the Deep South. “Avoid settling in those states where negro slavery prevails,” a Philadelphia newspaper advised would-be emigrants to the west. “Your children will be corrupted by their vices and the slave lords will never treat you like Christians or fellow citizens.” To settle in Yankee-dominated Michigan or Wisconsin, meanwhile, meant putting up with the New Englanders’ irritating desire to make everyone into a Yankee. Many Midlanders did ultimately put down roots there (Milwaukee would declare itself the “German capital of America”), but they had to expend time and energy resisting Yankee attempts to close their beer gardens on the Sabbath, to force English-only public schools on their children, and to stamp out their Germanness. In the Midland zone, foreigners, Catholics, and others found a society untroubled by diversity but skeptical of slave labor, warfare, and the cult of the individual.2″

(Note: My mom’s family who were Germans would be included in the above mentioned ‘Hoosiers’. They originally settled in Southern Indiana from Kentucky, but I don’t know how long they were in Kentucky. If they had only stopped in Kentucky on there way to Indiana, they might not have picked up as much of the Appalachian culture. However, living in Southern Indiana, they inevitably picked up some of that culture. In fact, my mom raised in Northern Indiana still to this day speaks with some of the Appalachian dialect that she apparently got from her family. Anyway, from what I know of my family on that side, it would seem they took on a fair amount of the Appalachian culture, beyond just dialect. My ancestors probably would have maintained more of their own German culture had they initially settled in a more Northern or more Western region of the Midlands. Yankee culture tried to enforce assimilation, but the Scots-Irish of Appalachia weren’t known for being friendly to other cultures either.)

“Midlanders settled a swath of the north-central area of Illinois, anchored by the border cities of Chicago and St. Louis. Northern Missouri became a Midland stronghold as well, with St. Louis supporting two German-language daily newspapers by 1845. Bavarian immigrant George Schneider founded the Bavarian Brewery there in 1852, selling it to Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch a few years later. Continued immigration from Germany enabled Midland civilization to dominate the American Heartland despite competition from aggressive Yankees and Borderlanders. By midcentury, German immigrants were arriving by riverboat in St. Louis and from there fanning out across northern Missouri and the eastern prairies. Railroads followed, carrying immigrants from Europe and the coastal Midlands alike.3

“Germans had many reasons to abandon central Europe, where forty independent German states were squabbling over the great issues raised by the French Revolution: the legitimacy of feudalism, monarchies, and an economic system in which most people lived in dire poverty. Efforts to unify the region into a single state under a representative government failed in 1848, and many Germans looked to escape the military autocracy that followed. Even before the collapse of the so-called ’48 Revolution, liberals had wished for a place where they could build a New Germany, a model for the democratic, egalitarian society they had hoped their own splintered nation could become. “The foundations of a new and free Germany in the great north American republic can be laid by us,” the leader of one German colonization expedition to the American Midwest told his followers in 1833. “We may in at least one of the American territories create a state that is German from its foundations up, in which all those to whom the future here at home may seem . . . intolerable, can find refuge.” This and other expeditions were drawn to northern Missouri by the writings of Prussian-born resident Gottfried Duden, who extolled the region as a ready-made utopia. They were further encouraged by the new German Society of Philadelphia, which sought to found “a New Germany” in the west as “a secure refuge for ourselves, our children, and our descendants.” As the United States headed to the brink of civil war in the late 1850s, two leading German political analysts predicted the union would break into a number of independent states, some “under German rule.” These ideas are probably not what ultimately motivated the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Germans who actually made the move to the American Midlands, but they did provide the means for many of them to get there, in the form of useful information, organized emigration societies, and political assistance. No state would ever come close to being dominated by the German-born—Wisconsin stalled at 16 percent in 1860—but the 1830–1860 exodus from the Fatherland ensured that the diverse and tolerant Midlander civilization would come to dominate the American Heartland.4

The flow of Quaker migrants was much smaller, but they were drawn to the Midland Midwest for similar reasons. In the early nineteenth century, Friends still sought to separate themselves from the world, and many found it harder and harder to do so on the densely populated eastern seaboard. During the course of the century, a number of Quaker enclaves outside of the Midlands relocated to Ohio and Central Indiana. Disgusted by slavery, century-old Quaker communities abandoned Tidewater and the Deep South. Indiana eclipsed Philadelphia as the center of North American Quakers in the 1850s. To this day, Richmond, Indiana, is second only to the City of Brotherly Love in total Quaker population. Nestled among communities of Germans, Scots-Irish, English Methodists, Moravians, Amish, and others, the Quakers had found a cultural landscape almost identical to that of southeastern Pennsylvania.5

Like the Yankee Midwest, the Greater Midlands was settled by groups of families who had been neighbors on the eastern seaboard or in Europe. Unlike Yankees, they generally weren’t interested in assimilating people in neighboring communities, let alone in entire states. As in the Delaware Valley, individual towns were often dominated by a particular ethnic group, but counties tended to be pluralistic. Midwestern towns took their gridiron street plans from Pennsylvania precedents. The Germans set the tone, generally buying land with the intent to build lasting family homesteads rather than as speculative investments. They sought a permanent, organic connection to their land, taking unusual care to ensure its long-term productivity through soil and forest conservation measures first perfected on the tiny farm plots of central Europe. Whether arriving from Europe or Pennsylvania, they built their homes from stone whenever possible, as it was more durable than the wood used by the Yankees or Appalachian people.6

“Scholars have observed that the Germans insisted on entering the American melting pot collectively, on their own terms, and bearing ingredients they felt the country was lacking. Germans arriving from Europe usually had a higher standard of education, craftsmanship, and farming knowledge than most of their American neighbors, whom they found grasping and uncultured. “Americans are in their regard for art half-barbarian,” immigrant Gustave Koerner remarked in 1834, “and their taste is not much better than that of the Indian aborigines, who stick metal rings through their noses.” The Germans avoided assimilating, using their language in schools and newspapers and almost exclusively marrying other Germans as late as the 1880s. In a country rushing madly toward the frontier, the Germans distinguished themselves by their emphasis on stable, permanent, rooted communities, where families would work the same piece of land for generations. This rootedness would be perhaps their most lasting contribution to the culture of the Midlands and, by extension, the American Midwest.7″

(Note: The above is what I had in mind when I was writing yesterday my post Radicals & Reformers of Indiana. In that post, I was discussing the revisionist history that claims assimilation was the norm prior to the multiculturalism of 20th century progressivism. In reality, America was in many ways more culturally diverse and less culturally assimilated in the 19th century than it is today.)

The people of the Midland Midwest had political values that distinguished the region from both the Yankee upper Midwest and the Appalachian lower Midwest. Midland areas resisted Yankee cultural imperialism and thus voted against the new Yankee-controlled political vehicle that emerged in the 1850s: the Republican Party. Midlanders did not wish to create a homogeneous nation: Quakers championed religious freedom, at least for Christians; new British immigrants were coming for economic opportunity, not to create an ideal Calvinist republic; Germans were accustomed to living among people of different religions. While these and other groups settling in the Midlands zone may have disliked and disagreed with one another, none sought to rule or assimilate the others beyond the town or neighborhood level. All rejected the Yankee efforts to do so.

(Note: Multiculturalism is and always has been the culture of the Midland Midwest.)

As a result, throughout the 1850s a majority of Midlanders supported the anti-Yankee Democratic Party, which, at the time, was the party of the Deep South, Tidewater, and immigrants, especially Catholics. Democrats in this era rejected the notion that governments had a moral mission to better society, either through assimilating minorities or eliminating slavery. People—whether Deep Southern slave lords or the impoverished Irish Catholic immigrants of Boston—should be left to go about their business as they wished.

But at the end of the 1850s this allegiance to the Democrats began to change as tensions built over the extension of slavery to Missouri, Kansas, and other new states and territories. Midland opinion began to splinter along doctrinal lines. Religious groups whose beliefs emphasized the need to redeem the world through good works, moral reforms, or utopian experiments found common ground with the Yankees, first on slavery, and later on efforts to curb alcoholism, blasphemous speech, and antisocial behaviors; this led Dutch Calvinists, German Sectarians, Swedish Lutherans, Northern Methodists, Free Will Baptists, and General Synod German Lutherans to embrace the Republican Party. People whose religious beliefs did not emphasize—or actively discouraged—efforts to make the present world holy stuck with the laissez-faire Democrats: Confessional German Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, and Southern Methodists. Groups occupying the middle ground on these issues (Anglicans, the Disciples of Christ) were split.8

The end result was characteristically Midland: a large region of swing voters whose support could make or break nearly every future federal coalition around any given issue. On the eve of the Civil War, slavery would push a narrow majority of Midlanders into the Republican camp. Careful forensic analysis of the 1860 presidential vote by late twentieth-century political scientists has shown that this shift in Midlander opinion—particularly among Germans—tipped Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana into Abraham Lincoln’s column, giving him control of the White House. Defeated on the federal stage by the defection of the Midland Midwest, the Deep South would move to secede almost immediately.9″

My Mom’s family is mostly German-Americans who came through the Appalachian country of Kentucky and finally settled in Indiana (interestingly, Abraham Lincoln’s family also went from Kentucky to Indiana where he spent most of his childhood, the reason given for the move was partly because of the slavery issue, Kentucky being a slave state and Indiana a non-slave state; by the way, Lincoln had a personal and political connection to the utopian socialist New Harmony community that was located near the area where Lincoln’s family and my family lived; also, like Paine who inspired him, Lincoln had family ties to Quakerism and, like Paine, sought to self-educate himself as was encouraged in the Quaker tradition). My mom’s family seems to have a bit more of what people think of as the Scots-Irish culture (not known for tendencies toward socialism and self-education), but I was born in the Midlands of German-American Ohio and raised in the Midlands of various states with Iowa as my home state. Both the Midlands Midwest and Appalachia have cultures that mistrust big government, although for different reasons, the former because of a focus on local communities (local governance and civic mindedness) and the latter because of a focus on individualism and a disinterest in any collective organization beyond kinship.

The Midlands has never easily fit into the categories of Southern aristocratic conservatism or Northeastern paternalistic liberalism. Certainly, the Northeast did add a certain flavor to Midwestern culture, especially with some of the New England type of college towns that can be found as far as Iowa. However, the Midwest had to deal with multiculturalism in a way that many other regions of the country didn’t have to deal with. The closest parallel might be parts of the West Coast which makes sense considering many Midwesterners moved to the West Coast during the Dust Bowl years, thus giving to the West Coast its Standard American English. The Midwest shares with the Northeast and the West Coast a love of multiculturalism, although the Midwest gives a very different spin to it.

Midwesterners are liberal in this sense, but this liberalism isn’t always perceived by the rest of the country. Midwesterners are so laidback and not generally outspoken in politics. Texans and other Southerners may speak of live and let live, but Midwesterners genuinely live this motto to a greater extent. Many Americans outside of the Midwest might find it odd how radicaly left-wing the Midwestern states can be at times. We have high union membership, we have some states with same-sex marriage or same-sex union rights, and we have a history of socialism.

Eugene V. Debs, one of the most influential American socialists, was born and raised in Indiana. We also had many socialists communities starting in the 19th century through the 20th century, including New Harmony in Southern Indiana around the time my family moved into that area and including decades of Sewer Socialist mayors in Milwaukee. Big business and big government oppression led many Midwestern socialists to flee to Canada, but even to this day there are successful socialist communities such as Eastwind which is located in the lower Midwest. Despite the decline of overt socialism, social democracy which is closely allied with socialism continues to reign as the dominant political system of the Midwest. My home of Iowa City is a perfect example of social democracy in action.

The following is another section from the same book (Kindle Locations 3799-3819):

Despite a long history of abolitionist sentiment, the Midlands had been ambivalent about Southern secession prior to the attack on Sumter. The Quaker/Anabaptist commitment to pacifism trumped moral qualms about slavery. Newspapers and politicians from Midland areas of Pennsylvania advocated allowing the Deep South to secede peacefully. Midland-controlled northern Delaware found itself at odds with the Tidewater-dominated south of the state, with some fearing violence might break out between the sections. Midland southern New Jersey had no intention of joining a slave-trading Gotham city-state, even if northern Jersey did.

In the 1860 presidential election the Midlands voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, except for northern Maryland and Delaware, where he did not appear on the ballot. (In those places, Midlanders voted for the moderate Bell instead.) Lincoln easily won most of the Midland Midwest from central Ohio to southern Iowa, tipping Illinois and Indiana into his column. While Midlanders voted with their Yankee neighbors, they had no desire to be governed by them. Faced with the possibility of a national dissolution, most Midland political and opinion leaders hoped to join the Appalachian-controlled states to create a Central Confederacy stretching from New Jersey to Arkansas. The proposed nation would serve as a neutral buffer area between Yankeedom and the Deep South, preventing the antagonists from going to war with each other. John Pendleton Kennedy, a Baltimore publisher and former congressman, championed this “Confederacy of Border States,” which opposed both the Deep South’s program of expansion by conquest and the Yankee plans to preserve the Union by force. It was, he argued, the “natural and appropriate medium through which the settlement of all differences is eventually to be obtained.” Maryland’s governor, Thomas Hicks, saw merit in the proposal, which could preserve the peace in a state split between Midland, Appalachian, and Tidewater sections; he corresponded with governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, and Missouri (all of which had substantial Midland sections) plus New York and Virginia to lay the groundwork for such an alliance should the Union break up.13

But the Deep South lost all Midland support after Sumter. In Philadelphia, Easton, and West Chester—Pennsylvania communities that had previously been centers of secessionist sympathy—mobs destroyed pro-Southern newspaper offices, drove pro-Southern politicians from their homes, assaulted secessionists in the streets, and forced homes and businesses to display Union flags. In Maryland the Central Confederacy proposal became obsolete overnight; Midland and Appalachian sections rallied to the Union, Tidewater ones to the Southern Confederacy. Their flag attacked, Midland sections of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri threw in their lot with the Yankees.14″

Isn’t that interesting?

Imagine if a Central Confederacy had formed. If the South had resisted turning to violence, the Midland Midwest (and upper Appalachia) wouldn’t have turned to fight with the Northeast in defense of the Union. Also, if the South hadn’t tried to force its slaveholding aristocracy onto the rest of the country (through undemocratically forcing slavery onto new states and by forcing non-slave states to submit to the power and authority of slave states), most Americans in the rest of the country would have been fine with leaving Southerners alone. It was force, oppression and violence that Midlanders and Borderlanders refused to accept from the South. It was the principle of it that bothered these Americans. If the North had first turned to violence in a similar manner, they very well might have gone to the defense of the South.

This is why it is so important for American presidential campaigns to begin in Iowa, in the Heartland. To win the heart of America usually means to win the entire country or at least to win the popular vote. Republicans try to look good in Iowa despite the fact that Iowa in recent history usually goes to Democrats.

I don’t know if that clarifies what I was stated at the beginning of this post. I’m a Midwesterner in my outlook on life. When I come across discussions about politics, especially when it involves those on the far right or far left, I feel like my own understanding is ignored.

I don’t think it is intentional. It’s simply that most Americans are from different regions than I am from. The most densely populated regions are on or near the coasts (West and East, Northeast and Deep South), and it is these regions where most political extremists are found. If I try to join discussions with such people, I feel like I have to translate my own views into their political terms and their social context. I realize that I understand them better than they understand me. As a member of fly-over territory, I constantly am barraged by the mainstream media that comes from the coasts. Those on the coasts, however, are mostly unaware of Midwestern media and hence unaware of the Midwest in general. Sadly, because of coastal dominance, even average Midwesterners have become increasingly uninformed and misinformed about the history, culture and politics of the Midwest.

In some ways, I think the Midwest is more radical than any other region of the US. It is radical because it is something entirely different, something that challenges the very notion of what this country is, what this country has been and could become. The Midwest is largely the creation of cultures from Northern Europe such as Germany. This Northern European culture still remains in the Midwest. Like Northern Europe, the Midwest has low economic inequality and low rates of social problems. Maybe it is time for average Americans to stop defining themselves according to the worldview of coastal elites.

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After writing the above, I realized I had forgotten about one issue that motivated my thinking in this direction. I was reading an interview/discussion and a guest post over at SKEPOET’s blog. In both, the issue of regions came up, although only in terms of comparing countries. In the first one linked, one particular section of the discussion stood out:

Keith418:  [ . . . ] I don’t see a criticism of the managed society developing on the right or on the left. Instead, people pick vaguely defined managerial forces they wish to see prevail, but the structure and core operating beliefs of these experts is seldom acknowledged or challenged. Many people on the left just want more humane and caring management – which is quite a different demand from that of the people themselves being allowed to make the most important decisions that effect their lives. There are those on the paleocon right who evidence a kind of cranky antipathy towards the managerial elites, but these folks still don’t seem truly ready to abandon the technological society these same trained experts have provided for them. The neocon right has always cultivated its own managers and think tanks and has always been quite ready to enjoy what a “big government” made of empowered managers can provided.  For both the left and the right, taking power back from those they have ceded it to will take effort and energy. Who is ready to start that process and what sacrifices will they make to get there? The alternative is just to insist on better management – and not to attack and question the power and role of the managers at all.

He does make a fair point here, but such generalizations can be problematic. Instead of just comparing countries or international cultures, I was wondering if more insight might be gained by a more fine-tuned analysis of the regions within the US (and within other countries). If we don’t look in detail at how we got here, how can we speak of where we are going and where we might end up?

The ideal of a society managed by an elite has tended to be more of a coastal phenomenon. In the Midwest, there is the ideal of managing at the local level of communities where there can be a balance between a “more humane and caring management” and “the people themselves being allowed to make the most important decisions that effect their lives”. The most notable example of this balance is that of the Milwaukee Sewer Socialists.

We ignore this cultural tradition and its future potential at our own peril. Instead of looking outside for rupture from the present system, why not look inward for the native traditions that can erupt naturally as part of the culture? If we want to avoid technocrats, then any revolution must arise naturally rather than being externally foced upon the population.

Skepoet: Would you say that right and left are largely irrelevant positions?

Keith418:  Well, even if I did, what would be gained? Why do people still cling to these terms and think and act as if they were, indeed, still profoundly meaningful? Since the ’60s – I’m thinking of Karl Hess and even before him – many have tried to point out differing, and more determining and accurate kinds of dichotomies. Centralized vs. decentralized approaches, authoritarian vs. individualistic choices, top-down vs. bottom up styles. Why, after all this time, do people keep using “left and right”? What is concealed, what unrevealed truth is carried in these terms that continues to prevent their exhaustion?

Maybe we cling to these terms because what needs to be resolved is at the ground level of culture rather than in the heavenly sphere of ideas. The devil is in the details, not in the abstractions. Likewise, to borrow a phrase from Philip K. Dick, God is in the garbage. The real fight is in the dirt and muck of local culture. That is the only place ideological conflict can be fundamentally resolved. As former neocon Francis Fukuyama came to understand, healthy institutions must arise from within a culture as part of the local traditions and knowledge of communities.

Skepoet: What do you think remains unresolved at the core of the idea of left and right then as the fact that categories do not seem to leave us would indicate?   In my mind, when categories won’t go away despite the existence of more precise semantic categories, there is something unresolved at the core of the idea. Perhaps I am wrong about this, but I suspect you approach this similarly, although it may be for different reasons.

Keith418: Well, what are the origin of the terms? They go back to the days of the French Revolution. What remains unresolved from that point? What questions were asked then that still haven’t been answered – and which our political definition still, somehow, entail? [ . . . ]

To me, these terms represent differing sides on the nature of the dream of shared human life, the great motivating metaphysical dream that floats above us and lives through us as we seek to create a world for ourselves.

Maybe so. I’m not unfamiliar with nor uninterested in such metaphysical perspective. However, for my thinking at the moment, I feel drawn to ground these metaphysical dreams in worldly particulars.

Metaphysical dreams don’t just float. They are more like the mist hovering along the ground drenching the world with its wetness, condensing into water that feeds life and then evaporating once again. Such mist follows closely the geography of hills and hollows, obscuring the world beyond the immediate place we stand even as it gives form to the air we breathe.

America’s Hyper-Individualism: a tale of deception & immorality

American Exceptionalism Subsides
The American-Western European Values Gap

In America, religion is considered important.

However, this religiosity is more about individual salvation than helping those in need.

From this individualistic worldview, Americans believe individuals control their own lives.

This individualism is extended to national isolationism where we believe in only helping our own country.

This individualism goes beyond moral principles and touches on a sense of selfish entitlement to interfere with others, even though we show little desire to actually help them.

American’s love individualism in all forms and have faith that individuals can solve their own problems (a convenient rationalization for a country that causes so much misery around the world and allows so much misery to continue in its own borders). Despite this individualism, actual data shows individual Americans have one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the developed world.

Radicals & Reformers of Indiana

As I’ve been doing genealogical work, I’ve also been thinking about my studies of history and generations. Part of my lineage is German. In the US, German culture and history hasn’t received fair and equal treatment. This is for many reasons.

The Germans were the enemies of the US earlier last century and at that time propaganda was at times intentionally used. After WWII, Germany was a pawn in the Cold War. Before either of the World Wars, there was much cultural diversity and tensions including that of Germans. The 19th century immigrants included a lot of religious radicals and political revolutionaries.

The Republican Party was, in fact, the beginning of a more mainstream version of left-wing politics with its connection to European socialists such as Marx. Some of the revolutionaries became politicians and generals, some even having fought in the Civil War. Some of the European revolutions in the early 19th century were partly inspired by the American Revolution, even seen as a continuation of it as envisioned by Thomas Paine. So, these revolutionaries came to America with this attitude.

I was thinking of this because of a specific fact I came across in my genealogical research. A number of generations of my family (Clouses and Hawks) lived at Spring Mill in Indiana near Mitchell (now a state park). Spring Mill had a distillery and some of my family were stillers there at different times. There was also a tavern and an inn. Since it was along a stage coach route, it attracted many important guests including politicians. What interested me, though, was this tid bit (The Village That Slept Awhile, p. 7): “Quite often, the intellectuals from Indiana’s famous experimental colony at New Harmony stopped at the tavern.”

When coming across that, it immediately perked my ears because I was familiar with the name of that utopian colony, although I had to research the details. It was first started by German pietists who had a radical vision of religion that was more similar to that of the Quakers, Shakers and Amish. They believed in living every aspect of life according to religious principles. The Harmonists decided to leave the area and so sold the community to a Welsh utopian thinker and social reformer, a socialist to be precise. This was circa 1824 and the community didn’t last many years, although its influence remained as it attracted some scientists to the area which might be why George Donaldson, an eccentric explorer, later lived in Spring Mill. It was around the 1820s and the decades following that a Wesley Clouse, possibly in my lineage, was the distiller.

Anyway, the area that attracted my family also attracted many radicals and reformers, intellectuals and eccentrics. The early 1800s was when my family was moving back and forth between Kentucky and Indiana, not fully settling in Indiana until maybe the second half of that century. It’s quite possible my family interacted with the various people who moved to the area to live in or near the utopian community, either in it’s guise as religious or socialist or even later on as a community of intellectuals and scientists.

Indiana today may seem like a conservative state, especially Southern Indiana, but it wasn’t always this way. There is a reason some of the most major union strikes happened in Indiana. There is also a reason that Indiana was founded as a non-slave state. Lincoln’s family moved to Indiana (where he was raised) partly because of the slavery issue and Indiana supported Lincoln in his election. Later on, Eugene V. Debs was born in Indiana and grew up to become one of the most influential socialists in US history, specifically during the Populist and Progressive eras. Debs was a high school drop out who first worked for the railroads which could describe some of my own working class family in Indiana.

If you want to know what is the Heartland of America, this is it: radicals, revolutionaries, abolitionists, free soil advocates, socialists, labor unionists, and on and on. Big business has gone a long way in destroying the radical heart of America, but it still beats. No amount of revisionist history can make this go away.

Revisionist right-wingers speak of assimilation and use it as a tool to attack anyone who isn’t like them. They romanticize about the so-called Melting Pot where everyone was equal. The only problem is that this is just propaganda. My family comes from Germans and history shows that German-Americans didn’t passively accept assimilation. They fought against assimilation even back in the 1800s. German immigrants (along with other ethnic immigrants) and their descendents did their best to maintain their own culture. In early America, the largest non-English speaking demographic was the German population. They often formed communities together, particularly in the Midwest, where they not unusually taught in German in their public schools (prior to the federal government later on in the 20th century forcing all public schools to teach in English).

(As a side note, I came across another interesting piece of info. I live in Iowa City. It has a large Czech population. My co-worker is part Czech and her family has been in the area for generations. She was looking at her grandmother’s cookbook which was recipes put together by a locla Czech Catholic church. A note in the cookbook mentions that the Czech Catholic church was built because the other nearby Catholic church had its service spoken in German. The Czech church was built in 1893. This demonstrates that cultural assimilation was limited in the 19th century.)

Germans were among the earliest immigrants. The German language was even considered as one possibility for the official state language in order to fully separate American society from British society. Germans have fought in all of America’s wars. Germans have shaped America as much as any other ethnic group, including the British. Presently, Germans are the largest ethnic demographic in the United States.

Much of the German-American side of my family are working class conservatives. Like most Americans, they probably don’t know much about the history of their own people or of their country. They might not even realize that the American working class wasn’t always conservative. When they think of socialists, they imagine people from far off lands, not in ‘conservative’ states like Indiana. Such conservatives have no pride in their history because they don’t know it.

 * * * *

As a note of explanation, my main point was simply that I’m annoyed with revisionist history. When I came across this interesting historical data, I felt a desire to share and yet I realized that my conservative parents wouldn’t necessarily share my excitement. My mom, in particular, has no interest in left-wing social reform, much less socialism. Her interest in family history is limited to family itself. That her German ancestors may have not been conservatives is of little relevance to her mind.

That is fair. I have no inclination to force my interests on the uninterested. My complaint is just the fact that my parents are mostly unaware of this history.

I’ve heard my dad argue the revisisiont history of cultural assimilation. It seems that most historical revisionism comes from the right. I find it annoying, but I don’t know who to blame. My dad is a smart and well educated conservative. Where did he learn this revisionist history? When he was a kid in 1950s Indiana public schools, were they teaching this revisionist history? When he went to conservative Purdue University, were they teaching this revisionist history? Or did he only learn this later from right-wing media such as Fox News?

Just thinking about all of this, I felt frustrated. If we as Americans don’t all share a basic knowledge of our own history, then how can we accomplish anything as a shared society? I’m fine with people having their own opinions, but opinions shouldn’t be allowed to replace facts. Why is this such a contentious issue? How can anyone honestly claim an opinon about history is equal to verified historical facts?

The United States is and always has been culturally diverse. You can like that fact or you can dislike it, but it doesn’t change its being a fact. If you question my claim of this being a fact, I would recommend the two following books:

Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer

American Nations by Colin Woodard

After studying the facts, if someone still has some disagreements with my interpretations and conclusions, then I’d be more than happy to discuss the facts. But any such discussion should begin and end with the facts.

 * * * *

11/29/11 – Since writing this, my mind has returned to it. I feel like I was being too critical in my frustration. I said I didn’t know who to blame and I still don’t. It’s not any single person or group who is responsible and the problem is very complex. As I often contemplate, we all are to varying degrees ignorant. The Melting Pot myth is indeed revisionist history. There was of course assimilation but just not to the degree that some would like to believe. Then again, we all have our favored myths that blind us to other viewpoints, other understandings, other information.

This makes me wonder what lies or misinformation have I learned in my own education/indoctrination. When I’m older, what will some younger person complain about in reference to older people like me? What will seem obvious to future generations that isn’t so apparent at the moment? It’s always good to be wary of righteous judgment toward others. None of us are without failure of one sort or another. None of us sees the whole picture perfectly. Revisionist history is simply what people want to believe because it gives meaning to their lives and justifies the world as they wish it to be.

My main complaint is more of a personal issue. Studying my family’s German heritage, why shouldn’t I be proud to be part of an ethnic group that resisted assimilation for about a century or so? Considering this, why should anyone of Germanic descent feel arrogantly self-righteous toward other ethnicities who have been resistant or slow to assimilate? It took Germans at least a century to even begin to assimilate. So, let’s give these new immigrants a century to assimilate on their own terms. Assimilation is good when freely chosen but is a system of oppression when forced.

Dull Scientists and the Reliable ‘Dumb’

Why are modern scientists so dull?
Medical Hypotheses. Volume 72, Issue 3, Pages 237-243
Bruce G. Charlton

“Question: why are so many leading modern scientists so dull and lacking in scientific ambition? Answer: because the science selection process ruthlessly weeds-out interesting and imaginative people. At each level in education, training and career progression there is a tendency to exclude smart and creative people by preferring Conscientious and Agreeable people. The progressive lengthening of scientific training and the reduced independence of career scientists have tended to deter vocational ‘revolutionary’ scientists in favour of industrious and socially adept individuals better suited to incremental ‘normal’ science. High general intelligence (IQ) is required for revolutionary science. But educational attainment depends on a combination of intelligence and the personality trait of Conscientiousness; and these attributes do not correlate closely. Therefore elite scientific institutions seeking potential revolutionary scientists need to use IQ tests as well as examination results to pick-out high IQ ‘under-achievers’. As well as high IQ, revolutionary science requires high creativity. Creativity is probably associated with moderately high levels of Eysenck’s personality trait of ‘Psychoticism’. Psychoticism combines qualities such as selfishness, independence from group norms, impulsivity and sensation-seeking; with a style of cognition that involves fluent, associative and rapid production of many ideas. But modern science selects for high Conscientiousness and high Agreeableness; therefore it enforces low Psychoticism and low creativity. Yet my counter-proposal to select elite revolutionary scientists on the basis of high IQ and moderately high Psychoticism may sound like a recipe for disaster, since resembles a formula for choosing gifted charlatans and confidence tricksters. A further vital ingredient is therefore necessary: devotion to the transcendental value of Truth. Elite revolutionary science should therefore be a place that welcomes brilliant, impulsive, inspired, antisocial oddballs – so long as they are also dedicated truth-seekers.”

This reminds me of George P. Hansen’s analysis of the Trickster archetype in terms of science.

In his book The Trickster and the Paranormal, Hansen discussed Trickster mythology, magicians, paranormal researchers, hoaxers, and debunkers. More interestingly, he went into some detail about Ernest Hartmann’s boundary types (which correlates to such things as IQ and personality traits) and Max Weber‘s concepts of rationalization, disenchantment, and bureaucratization. Relevant to the above quote, Hansen discussed the hierarchical nature of scientific institutions: how they maintain order, what personality types they reward with positions of authority, etc.

 * * * *

Reliable but dumb, or smart but slapdash?
Medical Hypotheses. 2009; Volume 73: 465-467
Bruce G Charlton

“The psychological attributes of intelligence and personality are usually seen as being quite distinct in nature: higher intelligence being regarded a ‘gift’ (bestowed mostly by heredity); while personality or ‘character’ is morally evaluated by others, on the assumption that it is mostly a consequence of choice? So a teacher is more likely to praise a child for their highly Conscientious personality (high ‘C’) – an ability to take the long view, work hard with self-discipline and persevere in the face of difficulty – than for possessing high IQ. Even in science, where high intelligence is greatly valued, it is seen as being more virtuous to be a reliable and steady worker. Yet it is probable that both IQ and personality traits (such as high-C) are about-equally inherited ‘gifts’ (heritability of both likely to be in excess of 0.5). Rankings of both IQ and C are generally stable throughout life (although absolute levels of both will typically increase throughout the lifespan, with IQ peaking in late-teens and C probably peaking in middle age). Furthermore, high IQ is not just an ability to be used only as required; higher IQ also carries various behavioural predispositions – as reflected in the positive correlation with the personality trait of Openness to Experience; and characteristically ‘left-wing’ or ‘enlightened’ socio-political values among high IQ individuals. However, IQ is ‘effortless’ while high-C emerges mainly in tough situations where exceptional effort is required. So we probably tend to regard personality in moral terms because this fits with a social system that provides incentives for virtuous behaviour (including Conscientiousness). In conclusion, high IQ should probably more often be regarded in morally evaluative terms because it is associated with behavioural predispositions; while C should probably be interpreted with more emphasis on its being a gift or natural ability. In particular, people with high levels of C are very lucky in modern societies, since they are usually well-rewarded for this aptitude. This includes science, where it seems that C has been selected-for more rigorously than IQ. Indeed, those ‘gifted’ with high Conscientiousness are in some ways even luckier than the very intelligent – because there are more jobs for reliable and hard-working people (even if they are relatively ‘dumb’) than for smart people with undependable personalities.”

This gets at the ideological divide. Conservatives tend to value high-C but not high IQ. Herman Cain, a typical far right conservative, gave voice to this view when he sought to explain away his lack of knowledge on important issues: “We need a leader, not a reader.”

It seems that American society in general has always valued high-C over high IQ. The American ideal has always been the “Self-made Man”, the doer rather than the thinker, the inventer rather than the philosopher. So the theory goes: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. For people who argue American culture is fundamentally conservative, this would seem to be what they are pointing at. The businessman as the leader, as the moral paragon. This is what the American vision of capitalism is all about, the ideal of meritocracy, proving oneself worthy by action and deed, success as outward accomplishment and upward mobility (in particular, up the corporate ladder).

To connect this back to the first article, I would make clear that the personality type rewarded with positions of authority and power within the corporations also is the same personality type rewarded with positions of authority and power within scientific institutions. What corporations and scientific institutions have in common is that both are hierarchical and, in Weberian terms, both are bureaucratic.

My Bumper Car Philosophy of Life

I sometimes find myself complaining about a particular person or group or criticizing a type of person. It’s amusing. Everyone feels this way sometimes. In being who we are, we inevitably can’t fully understand (emotionally or cognitively) others who are very different from us. It’s perfectly normal, but most often we don’t think about how odd this is.

None of us really knows why we are the way we are or even exactly how we became that way. We all have our own stories that explain our lives, but these really are just rationalizations to explain away the uncomfortable fact that we are mostly shaped by and motivated by things of which we are unaware. The factors that go into making a human are infinite, beyond comprehension. Maybe what bothers us about not understanding others is that we ultimately don’t even understand ourselves.

In life, we are driving blind. We learn of the world by running into things. This is my bumper car philosophy of life.

The Mystery of GOP Truthiness: what is the appeal?

An article from The New York Times discusses the low quality of GOP candidates:

“It is an ‘Animal House.’ It’s a food fight,” said Kenneth Duberstein, a chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan. “Honestly, the Republican debates have become a reality show. People have to be perceived as being capable of governing this country, of being the leader of the free world.”

It makes me wonder what these Tea Party Republicans want. I’ve talked to some of them. They like that these candidates aren’t polished as if that makes them more sincere, more real.

But why would anyone want to elect someone president simply because that person is as uninformed as the voter? Why wouldn’t they want a president who is smarter than they are? This is what distinguishes these GOP candidates from the likes of Obama. Whether or not you agree with Obama says, you realize that he at least knows what he is talking about. Then again, Tea Party Republicans apparently aren’t able to make that distinction.

The only thing these GOP candidates having going for them is confidence that could be described as blind arrogance. They feel their beliefs are equal or greater than the knowledge of others. They see no distinction between opinion and fact which makes one wonder if they can tell the difference between imagination and reality.

The Tea Party claims to be pushing for something new, but how is any of this new? This appears to be the same appeal that Bush had. Bush presented himself as a simple country boy who didn’t know much about that high falutin political stuff. Bush modeled himself as a compassionate conservative in order to speak to the far religious right and yet he also spoke the fiscal conservatism that appealed to libertarians. When Bush was elected, there developed a conflict that some described as the faith-based community vs the reality-based community. It was Bush or Rove who was reported as having said:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

When I hear the rhetoric of GOP candidates, I can’t tell any difference from the rhetoric of Bush when he was campaigning. The only difference is that Bush surrounded himself with evil masterminds.

By the way, it was Colbert who really brought this issue home with his coining of the term ‘truthiness‘. If you would like to have the full Colbert experience, he introduces the term in the video here and he takes it even further here in his roast of George W. Bush.

I ultimately don’t really care about the GOP. The fact that some Republican leaders fear that the GOP brand might be destroyed certainly doesn’t bother me. More power to them. Continue the destruction as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care about the game of partisan politics for either side. But I do care about our democracy. I would rather both sides were putting forth their best candidates with the best ideas to help improve our country. More importantly, I also care because I personally know some Republicans.

My parents are Republicans and both are drawn to the Tea Party. My parents are highly educated. My dad, in fact, spent much of his life as a college professor (the realm of the intellectual elite that right-wingers so often deride; i.e., those who can’t do teach). I would go so far as to say that my dad is smarter and more informed than the average GOP candidate. My parents aren’t mindless partisans, although they are life-long Republicans. They are just the typical older middle class Republican who still reveres Reagan, but they aren’t any happier about the hyper-partisan politics than I am. My dad thinks the right-wing pundits have gone too far and the lack of listening to the opposing side bothers him. Still, my parents are attracted to these hyper-partisan candidates. The reason seems to be the same for why they voted for Bush: the plain-spoken persona.

I don’t want to just dismiss this as being ignorant or stupid. I know my parents very well. They aren’t ignorant and stupid. I can somewhat understand this attraction toward the plain-spoken. There is nothing wrong with this.

I actually like people who are plain-spoken. It’s just I don’t see a conflict with being plain-spoken and being intelligent/educated/informed. The reason I like Chomsky is because is plain-spoken. The reason I voted for Nader was because he is plain-spoken. Nader, in a speech about a decade ago that I attended, explained that he intentionally didn’t rile up crowds. He said that when a crowd gets emotionally riled that it just leads to mindless groupthink rather than intelligent discussion. Nader cared more about real solutions than simply winning by cheerleading to the crowd.

This is what distinguishes this left version of plain-spoken from the right version (well, excluding the more mild-mannered Ron Paul). My parents really liked Cain. Why? Basically, because he was a straight shooter (as Cain explains it, he “shoots from the lip”). However, Cain isn’t mild-mannered or thoughtful in the way Nader is (or Ron Paul, although even the thoughtfulness of Ron Paul is less than that of Nader). What makes Cain any different than Bush? Nothing really. So, why do my parents think he would lead to different results than Bush? I honestly don’t know.

I find myself emotionally conflicted. I respect my parents. It was from my parents that I inherited my own thinking abilities, especially my intellect from my dad. I respect my parents in this basic way… and yet I don’t respect the candidates they support. Why can’t my dad see that he is smarter and more well informed than Cain? Why does my dad want to vote for someone less smart and less informed than he is? This perplexes me.

My dad would make a better GOP candidate than someone like Cain. My dad probably even has more real world experience and knowledge about the nuts and bolts of how businesses operate because my dad worked as manager of a factory, has advised many businesses in their operations, and has taught a generation or two of business leaders. It’s precisely because my dad left the corporate ladder of ruthless hyper-individualism that makes him so moral. Unlike Cain, he left that world of immorality/amorality in order to teach morality to students. Heck, I might even vote for my dad if he ran as a GOP candidate, despite my ardent liberalism.

I remember showing my dad the above linked video of Colbert roasting Bush. He thought it was mean-spirited. I was a bit surprised, even though maybe cynicism should have made me impervious to such surprise. Is someone who dismisses reality (if not outright lying/deceiving) in order to promote a war of aggression less mean-spirited than the person who points out that this person was dismissing reality? Why is my dad more bothered by the person who points out the untruth than by the person who promotes the untruth? Whatever the answer to that question is the mystery to phenomenon we are now watching in the GOP debates.

 * * * *

Additional thoughts (11/18/11):

While at work, I was cogitating on this issue. I realized there is a deeper aspect to this. But first let me point out where my line of thought began.

I was specifically focused on the context of my dad and his support of Cain. In my mind, my dad is superior to Cain in all ways except for one. The one way Cain excels above more moderate, intelligent, knowledgeable, and moral conservatives is that he has an unquestioning sense of pride and self-confidence. He is the type of conservative who just knows he is right and just knows he is the right person for the job. It’s an unwavering confidence that inspires and demands respect from many conservatives. The plain-spoken aspect would be meaningless without this key element of pride, what to me seems like arrogant pride (maybe the element that Ron Paul lacks).

What someone like Cain knows how to do is be a salesman, selling himself while climbing the corporate ladder and selling the corporate brand. Cain sees the presidency as if it were the CEO of a massive corporation and the brand to be sold is ‘America’. The presidential CEO doesn’t need to know about the nuts and bolts of actual policies in the way a corporate CEO doesn’t need to know how a factory is run. The CEO is the symbolic figurehead, the charismatic leader, the man with a vision. CEOs don’t need to do anything practical. CEOs only need to know how to work with people, i.e., how to get people to do the work that needs to get done.

It’s just like how Bush ran the presidency. Bush wasn’t a Rhodes scholar like Clinton, wasn’t stupid but surely was no genius. He had no background in the legal profession (such as constitutional law like Obama had) and no experience in international affairs (other than being family friends with some of the wealthiest families in the world such as the Saudi royal family). In fact, Bush was a failed businessman born into wealth (who probably would have been a failure his entire life without the power and privilege that comes with wealth). What Bush had to offer was that he was a people person and he had the connections. Bush could make things happen because he was surrounded by people who could make things happen. Bush was just the figurehead. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know much of anything.

It’s obvious that I feel dismissive toward this type of person. Even so, I’m not dismissing the appeal that someone like this has for the average conservative or even the average American in general. Americans love leaders who are idealistic and optimistic, whether or not they have any other positive qualities. This is why both Kennedy and Reagan were equally popular presidents, both having spoke of America in terms so positive as to be patriotically grandiose. It doesn’t matter that Clinton had a brilliant mind and Bush didn’t. Average Americans don’t care about brilliance. They want a president that they can relate to, someone who will play the role as national cheerleader. Humility is the very trait that will destroy a campaign quicker than a sex scandal.

Americans have become known for our confidence (along with their egotism and obliviousness; i.e. the ‘loud American’). Americans want everything big including the egos of their leaders. On a less critical note, this has its roots in American religion. Americans are so positive and confident because of our beliefs, and American religion has tended to be very individualistic (actually, there is a less individualistic tradition such as Catholicism that is equally American but it is a much quieter tradition and so tends to get ignored; in the US, the loudest always wins even when they don’t, they win because they loudly declare they win and the MSM ignores everyone who isn’t loud). I’m not quite expressing this right. There is this essence of optimism, not necessarily loud even if often so.

Let me try to explain this in more personal terms to bring it back to my own family. My conservative parents raised my brothers and me in the Unity Church which is New Thought Christianity. It is a very liberal church, liberal to the point of being New Agey. So, why would my conservative parents raise their kids in a liberal church? It’s simple once you understand this essence of American optimism. Unity Church comes out of the evangelical tradition. Unity Church is just the liberal version of evangelical prosperity gospel (it also goes by many other names).

This religious optimism is the same attitude at the heart of the optimistic vision of capitalism as a ‘free market’. This is the reason why so many conservatives simultaneously promote capitalism and Christianity, both of these embodying that optimistic vision, both expressing a meritocratic vision of society that verges on social Darwinism. God punishes the bad and rewards the good. This connection between religion and economics isn’t theologically sound, but that isn’t the point. It’s an experience, an emotional understanding. It’s right because it feels right. It can’t be explained logically. It just is. Such optimistic confidence doesn’t need to be explained. The desire for explanation has a scent of doubt about it. Doubt is the only sin. Just believe with all your heart. Just know what is right. Just know God is on your side.

It’s hard for me to explain this. I grew up with a version of this optimistic Christianity. It isn’t all bad. I wouldn’t be who I am now if it weren’t for my Unity upbringing. My intellectual curiosity was fed upon this positive thinking. I was taught that the mind is an expression of God, is the creative force of God. Each of us is co-creating the world with the Creator. The world is participatory and we all are participants. There is no point in making excuses. Just believe in yourself and — like the Nike ads used to say — Just Do It! It is a very attractive worldview. If not for my depression, I might still be living in such a mindset… and maybe if my parents had experienced depression like mine, they might have left this mindset behind long ago. That is my fatalistic side peeking out. We all are who we are for reasons we don’t understand. For someone living in this optimistic vision, it is very compelling and the thought of living otherwise seemingly offers no benefits or advantages.

I was thinking about my dad’s experience of life. I connect with him in many ways. I understand where he is coming from. He took a Dale Carnegie workshop when he was young (which was taught by Carnegie himself), and it has forever influenced and inspired his life. I didn’t take a workshop, but I did read Carnegie’s book when I was young and it did have quite an impact on my young mind. I so much wanted to be that kind of person. Without depression having torn down my dreams, I might have gladly followed my dad’s footsteps in this direction of confident self-assertiveness, of demanding to be liked by others by liking others, of being a ‘good person’ doing good things. During my first years of severe depression, I kept wondering why I too couldn’t just be a ‘good person’, couldn’t just believe in myself, couldn’t simply help make the world a better place, couldn’t be kind and giving, couldn’t be successful and happy, couldn’t fit in to what the world said I should be. Everything felt impossible, the precise opposite of the positive thinking. The idealism and optimism I was raised with just magnified my depression to the point that I became cynical; the brighter the light, the darker the shadows. As George Carlin explained, “If you scratch a cynic, you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”

My role in life has become that of the failure of the family and this role has now expanded into that of the weird bachelor uncle. “Ben had so much potential. I wonder why he never did anything with his life.” Obviously, I’m slightly bitter about my New Thought upbringing. People like my dad (confident, successful, popular, respected, sought after, etc) could never understand someone like me. I’ve come to think of myself as the shadow of my parents, the parts of themselves that they rejected. Arnold Mindell has this theory about the roles people play. If a certain aspects are denied by certain people, then some other person will be forced to play out those rejected aspects. The darkness cannot be refused, no matter how much it is ignored and suppressed. My parents fled to their conservative vision of righteous morality and optmistic self-certainty. What they left behind in the process became what the Bible describes as the sins of the father being visited upon his sons.

My dad believes God has guided him in some way in his career: divinity and materialism, the miraculous and the successful wedded together. This is what I’m forced to take seriously. Listening to my dad speak, I can profoundly sense the sincerity behind his words. He is communicating a very deep and personal truth. This is the tricky part. My dad has taken a subjective experience and used it to theologically validate a particular vision of society. Because God guided my dad, because he listened, this implies that anyone else who is a failure has failed to align their life with God which means they deserve their failure as punishment. This is the darkside of worshipping the God of success. The genuine spiritual experience easily becomes corrupted in its being used to rationalize away social injustice.

Much of American Christianity has come to worship Mammon (the vision of success embodied in capitalistic meritocracy). I remember my dad telling me that it never made sense to him the scene where Jesus throws out the moneylenders from the temple. Such an angry Jesus didn’t fit his vision of the emodiment of God. Why would Jesus be so angry with people doing business? How could moneylending (the very heart of modern capitalism) be bad?

I’ve gone off track a bit here. To bring it back to the topic at hand, this meritocratic optimism relates to the anti-intellectual confidence, Cain being the perfect representation of how these two fit together. To be fair, anti-intellectualism doesn’t just exist on the right. I can’t remember all the times I’ve been driven to irritation by the anti-intellectualism of left-leaning New Thought and New Age types. This anti-intellectualism, whether on the left of the right, annoys me to no end. There is no way to talk to people who have become enthralled to this attitude of confident certitude.

Still, there is a difference between the left and right that is quite significant. The left-leaning spirituality in America is heavily influenced by traditions such as Quakerism. Spiritualism, the forerunner of much of the New Age, was largely originated by radical Quakers. What differentiates Quakers from the prosperity evangelicals is that the former has a tradition of promoting education. The anti-intellectualism of the left-leaning spirituality is much more mild. In the Unity Church I was raised in, there was no lack of intellectual curiosity among the membership. In fact, Unity tended to attract very highly educated people. Unity goes the opposite direction from the right-wing evangelicals in that it encourages people to have minds so open that their brains might fall out. The right-wing evangelical tradition, on the other hand, is more in the tradition of the Scots-Irish which includes absolutely no tradition of promoting education. It’s from the Scots-Irish that average Americans get their disdain for the ‘Intellectual Elite’.

Anyway, this confidence in all its forms is what makes American culture what it is, the good and the bad. It’s because of this culture of confidence that such things as the present GOP fiasco of campaigning become sadly inevitable. As long as we place confidence above intelligence and knowledge, we will continue to get politicians who are confident despite their ignorance and misinformation. It’s not to say that most Americans are stupid. It’s just that even smart people like my parents end up voting for stupid people because our political system offers stupid candidates. We Americans come to think that politicians aren’t supposed to be smart and that smart people aren’t supposed to be politicians. This becomes so implicit that we stop even questioning all the stupidity. It’s simply the norm, the way things always have been, the way things are supposed to be. Stupidity will lead to more stupidity until at some point we will hit a crisis point, a SNAFU of stupidity… maybe we are already at that point.

 * * * *

More additional thoughts:

I was thinking about this all last night, even as I was falling asleep. I just couldn’t get it off my mind because I felt like I wasn’t communicating my essential thought on the matter. To me, it isn’t about whether someone is smart or stupid, that of course being an overly simplistic way of looking at it.

Everyone has various talents and potentials, but not all talents and potentials are equal for all careers. Being a politician, especially in Washington and even more especially as president, requires a very specific set of skills such as a working knowledge of international affairs and of federal laws. I know that I don’t have what it takes. Why is there this myth among the right-wing that any random Joe could be president in the belief that the president is just a symbolic figurehead requiring no talent beyond being friendly and good-looking (along with the whole confidence thing)?

The problem I see with voting for someone who is equal or inferior to me in knowledge is that it is selling ourselves short. I don’t want average. I want excellence, the best of the best. America has a very large population. No one can honestly claim that the GOP candidates are the best that the conservative movement has to offer. Why not vote for the best? What is to be gained by running politics like a reality show? Is mere entertainment all that many Americans expect from politics?

To be clear, I don’t just blame Republicans. I certainly think Democrats could offer a lot more better choices. It just seems like the same thing again and again in both parties, both sides playing the same old puppet show. I don’t want to just blame the American public for the sorry quality of candidates. Obviously, the system itself filters out the people who are most qualified to help run the country well. Cenk nailed this in a recent video (maybe its better to end with Cenk words than with my own):

Do Americans Support Unions & Union Rights?

Public opinion on unions in the US has always been mixed, going up and down.

The Cold War led to rhetoric falesly accusing anyone who cared about the lower classes to be Commies. Chomsky has pointed out that, in a democracy, propaganda is a key element the powerful use to keep the powerless in line. Propaganda does work, but only when the economy is doing well. People are less willing to accept lies when they are personally suffering because of those lies. That is the situation that has been developing lately, and so unsurprisingly union support is growing again.

The young are more supportive of unions (and more liberal in general) than older generations (even when those older generations were young themselves). This new liberal young generation is also the largest generation in the US. It would be counterintuitive for the support of unions to not consistently rise in the coming years and decades.

Just to give some context, consider public opinion of unions over the past 80 years:


Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions? 1936-2011 trend

Notice how in the entire history of polling that approval rating has never been below 50% and the disapproval rating has never been above 50%. For most of US history, the approval rating has been massively high. It was only with recent hyper-partisan politics that there has been a small drop that is now once againg rising.

Also, consider public employee unions. They are the easiest targets to attack. If support for unions was down, support for public unions would be in the gutter. However, that isn’t the case:


(Credit: CBS)

If you want a fair presentation of public opinion, the following are some good sources of recent data and analysis:









Liberalism: Label vs Reality (analysis of data)

I’ve looked at this poll before but was just browsing it now to check out again the liberal data.


In the 2005 Pew poll, the demographic was just called ‘Liberals’. In this 2011 Pew poll, the demographic is called ‘Solid Liberals’. So, I don’t know if it is speaking about the exact same demographic segment of the population. Pew changes the demographic groupings as the data changes. In the new ‘Solid Liberals’ demographic there is only 23% Independents whereas in the previous ‘Liberals’ demographic there was almost 1/2 Independents. Of those Indpendents, they didn’t ask how many self-identified as liberal or something else. Among ‘Solid Liberals’ in general, only 60% self-identified as ‘liberal’ while 31% self-identified as ‘moderate’ and 9% self-identified as ‘conservative’.

What does ‘liberal’ even mean when slightly less than 1/2 of supposed ‘liberals’ don’t self-identify as ‘liberal’? This goes to the heart of the American public’s confusion about ideologies and labels. Given a choice between the two, most Americans self-identify as ‘conservative’. However, when asked about specific issues, most Americans support many liberal positions on key issues.

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I’ve been having some discussions with a left-winger recently. I’ve noticed that he, like many other left-wingers, often are highly critical of liberals. Left-wingers, like right-wingers, often see liberals and Democrats as essentially the same thing and so they assume the policies of the Democratic establishment are supported by most liberals.

It’s not surprising that there is a conflict here, but it demonstrates a number of things. The right is incorrect in assuming liberals are the same thing as left-wingers, but left-wingers are also incorrect in conflating liberals with Democrats. One set of data I saw shows a third of Independents self-identify as liberals. So, there is this undescribed middleground of Independent liberals who aren’t left-wingers and aren’t Democrats. No one represents these independent liberals in politics and the media mostly ignores them except when they protest. Many of the OWS protesters (and activists in general) are probably independent liberals.

– – –

The problem liberals face is related to their love of compromise which is just an aspect of their love of democracy. Liberals genuinely believe in democracy. Even many if not most left-wingers are highly suspicious of democracy for various reasons. It’s not that liberals don’t see the corruption, but it’s just that liberals have a strong sense of faith and vision about what democracy could be.

This is the challenge. Liberals are the only demographic that has majority support for compromise, but compromise only works if everyone supports it (at least to some minimal extent). All other demographics see compromise as political weakness and/or unprincipled capitulation. Liberal independents are in the toughest spot of all because they see that this is true of the Democratic establishment, but the Democrats don’t represent them or their ideal of compromise. The only place we now see compromise being demonstrated in the grassroots democratic sense is in the OWS protests. Liberal independents know that compromise is possible if the public is willing, but all the other groups so often seem bound and determined to prove compromise doesn’t work by undermining any effort to accomplish it.

What independent liberals understand is that you either support democracy or you don’t. There is no way to have democracy without compromise. If left-wingers and right-wingers don’t trust democracy and compromise, I just wish they would be honest about it and admit that is what they believe. Instead, everyone pretends to believe in democracy because it’s considered politically incorrect to not believe in it, but few actually do believe in it to the extent that independent liberals believe in it. Too often political cynicism rules both mainstream and alternative political discussion.

– – –

Here is another way to look at it. I noticed this analysis of poll data:


“But the Gallup survey of self-identification of ideology shows that more Americans self-identify as moderates and liberals than as conservatives. Most Americans do not self-identify as conservatives.”

Given a choice between the three, the data I’ve seen shows most Americans self-identify as moderates. So, what is a moderate? They are essentially those who tend toward centrism or at least away from the extreme wings. Considering that, where is the center in American politics? I’ve analyzed this before (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism):


What I discovered was that the center isn’t conservative and certainly is moving away from conservatism on many issues. So, the moderate/center is shifting to the left. This is obvious when you look at the increasing liberalism of the young and the growing left-leaning demographics such as minorities. Here is my insight. Decades of Cold War rhetoric have brainwashed the American public into believing liberals and left-wingers are the same thing, i.e., Commies. This is the reason why among even Solid Liberals 31% can identify as moderates and 9% identify as conservatives. When considering the normal definition of liberal (minus the term itself), most Americans probably equate that with the ‘moderate’ label. As such, it’s quite likely that many if not most moderates are liberal on a lot of issues.

– – –

It’s kind of interesting to look back at some data from more than a decade ago. This survey broke up the Democrats into 5 groups including a groups labeled as ‘Libertarian Democrats’.


I imagine that some independent liberals might be attracted to left-libertarianism. Actually, I don’t need to imagine. As an independent liberal, I’m attracted to left-libertarianism such as that of Chomsky with his support of social democracy and a gradualist vision of changing society toward increasing grassroots democracy (Chomsky apparently being on the moderate liberal end of left-wing ideology).

– – –

I was looking further at the Pew data. There is another interesting group: Post-Moderns. They are considered Independents and they are the only group to have the majority self-identify as moderates. One would assume, therefore, that they wouldn’t have any bias toward either party. But one would be wrong in that assumption.

Post-Moderns are 62% Independents, 26% Democrats and 2% Republicans. Of the Independents, 19% has no lean, 58% lean to the Democratic Party and 23% lean to the Republican Party. They favor Democrats over Republicans on almost every question, including reelecting Obama. Also, they listen to Fox News less than the average Democrat and listen to NPR at almost the same rate as the average Democrat. They are second only to Solid Liberals in their reading of The New York Times and their watching the Daily Show. They generally seem closest to Solid Liberals on most issues. They are strongly socially liberal. They have the strongest, although qualified, support of the government. They’d prefer it to be smaller, but they see a role for government in many social issues.

Post-Moderns are the only demographic with a majority of moderates which means they are the clearest indicator we have about where the center is right now in US politics. These moderates are more liberal than not. So, the majority of Post-Moderns identifies as moderate even as the majority also supports many liberal positions and policies.

– – –

Here is the reason why the Democratic Party has never been controlled by liberals and especially not by left-wingers.


“The Pew Research poll notes a fundamental difference between “solid Liberals” and the other two groups that lean Democratic — “Hard-pressed Democrats” and “New coalition Democrats”: “both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative.” To the extent that cultural issues — such as abortion and homosexuality — dominate political discourse, these groups can be peeled away from the Democratic bloc to vote Republican. In his classic, What’s the Matter With Kansas? journalist Tom Frank detailed how Republicans redirect economic discontent to explosive cultural issues. In 2012, “moral purity” will be a major Republican theme — particularly if messianic Texas Governor Rick Perry becomes the GOP candidate. The Liberal challenge is to ensure that jobs and economic fairness become the dominant political themes, not “How can we make the US a Christian nation?””

– – –

Here is some data from 2004 which I suspect might be even more true in 2011. The article notes that in 2000 the Independents were evenly split between the two parties but by 2004 they were leaning Democratic and liberal. If this is a trend that fits the other leftward trends, this will continue into the near future as OWS seems to demonstrate.


“The bad news for conservatives is that a majority of independents line up on the liberal-to-moderate side of the ideological spectrum. Twenty-one percent of independents in the Zogby poll described themselves as liberal or progressive, while 37 percent called themselves moderates. In contrast, 30 percent of independents describe their politics as conservative, with only 4 percent calling themselves “very conservative” or libertarian.

“Zogby asserts that the polls indicate independents are trending more liberal in this election year as opposed to 2000. For example, fully 70 percent of independents believe the federal government should play a major role in protecting the environment, a traditionally Democratic concern. “The environment is a Democratic ace in the hole this year,” Zogby says.

“Meanwhile, 82 percent of independents want the federal government to play a major role in protecting individual freedom, suggesting a backlash against the Patriot Act and other attempts by the Bush administration to change the traditional balance between national security and individual liberty. Sixty-two percent feel the government should help ensure that all citizens have economic opportunities, while 60 percent want a dominant role by the federal government in providing social programs to help the needy.

“The liberal bias of independents contrasts sharply with the other elections in which their vote has proved critical. In the 1980 election, blue-collar workers deserted Jimmy Carter and the Democrats to vote Ronald Reagan into office. And in the 1990s, Bill Clinton infuriated traditional liberals but won the presidency twice by appealing to the socially moderate, fiscally conservative instincts of suburban soccer moms. Third party candidates – John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 – attracted disaffected voters who saw no real difference between Republicans and Democrats.”

– – –

I was amused that the Wall Street Journal is, of course, trying to dismiss the Occupy movement.


This interested me for two reasons:

First, the Wall Street Journal recently had an article which proves how much corruption exists in many big businesses and how this hurts the average person.


That article gives the objective evidence supporting the very same reasons for why people are protesting on Wall Street. The article also helps to explain why most Americans, including most white working class Americans, now support the Occupy movement. When I heard the author of the second article interviewed on Coast to Coast AM (one of the most listened to talk shows in America and in the world), I knew that this was hitting to the heart of the outrage that is growing in America and that heart of outrage is definitely not directed at the left.

Second, I was thinking that maybe the Wall Street Journal should look closer at the data showing what the protesters believe and what Americans believe.


“By a 67 – 23 percent margin, New York City voters agree with the views of the Wall Street protesters and say 87 – 10 percent that it is “okay that they are protesting,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

“Agreeing with the protesters views are Democrats 81 – 11 percent and independent voters 58 – 30 percent, while Republicans disagree 58 – 35 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. Even Republicans, however, agree 73 – 23 percent with the protesters right to be there.

“New York City voters say 72 – 24 percent, including 52 – 41 percent among Republicans, that if the protesters obey the law, they can stay as long as they wish. “A total of 72 percent of voters say they understand the protesters’ views “very well” or “fairly well,” with 17 percent who say “not too well” and 10 percent who say “not well at all.”

[ . . . ] “Asked who is to blame for the current state of the nation’s economy;

  • 37 percent of New York City voters blame the administration of former President George W. Bush;
  • 21 percent blame Wall Street and financial institutions;
  • 18 percent blame Congress;
  • 11 percent blame President Barack Obama.

“New York City voters support 61 – 28 percent an extension of the state’s so-called ‘Millionaire’s Tax.’ Even Republicans support the extension 55 – 38 percent.

“Voters also support 73 – 19 percent, including 48 – 40 percent among Republicans, tougher government regulation of banks and Wall Street firms.”

– – –

Considering all of this, it blows my mind that 9% of so-called ‘Solid Liberals’ self-identify as ‘conservative’. Pew defines ‘Solid Liberals’ as being liberal across the board, fiscally and socially liberal on most if not all issues. Essentially, ‘Solid Liberals’ are as liberal as you can be without becoming an outright communist.

How on God’s green earth could such a person ever be so confused as to think they are a conservative? What do these 9% of conservative ‘Solid Liberals’ think that ‘conservative’ means? What kind of conservatism can include liberalism to such an extent? What could possibly be subjectively experienced as conservative despite appearing liberal by all objective measures?

Consider the seemingly opposite Pew demographic which is labeled ‘Staunch Conservatives’ (basically, conservative across the board). Are there 9% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ who self-identify as ‘liberal’? Of course not, although interestingly 3% do.

Compare also how many self-identify as ‘moderate’: 31% of ‘Solid Liberals’ identify as moderate and only 8% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ identify as moderate. ‘Staunch Conservatives’ are as partisan as they come with %100 that lean Republican (0% that lean Democratic, 0% with no lean). On the other hand, ‘Solid Liberals’ have 1% who lean Republican and 3% with no lean; that might seem like minor percentages but that means 1 in 100 ‘Solid Liberals’ are drawn toward the Republican Party and 3 in 100 are genuinely independent.

– – –

Corey Robin sees conservatives as right-wing counter-revolutionaries in reaction to left-wing revolutionaries (with, from my own understanding/speculations, liberals as moderates in the middle moderating between the two extremes). Many Americans identify as strong conservatives but few identify as strong liberals. To many Americans (who aren’t and/or don’t self-identify as ‘liberal’): being a liberal automatically means being a left-winger; but being a conservative doesn’t automatically mean being a right-winger. Thus, from this perspective: ‘liberal’ already implies ‘strong liberal’; and so, if you see yourself as a ‘weak liberal’, you’d probably identify as a ‘moderate’.

Conservatives see bias in that the term ‘right-wing’ is, supposedly according to one study, mentioned often in the media whereas ‘left-wing’ is mentioned less often; but I take this as further evidence of how ‘liberal’ has come to mean ‘left-wing’ for the mainstream media (the two used interchangeably). Certainly, conservatives (along with many moderates and even some liberals) think ‘liberal’ and ‘left-wing’ mean the same thing. It seems that most Americans have come to accept this conflation considering that many Americans can hold liberal views while not perceiving themselves as being liberal or at least refusing to accept such a label.

As a side note, I found this interesting description by Rochelle Gurstein (in “The Look of Time”):


““A man of the past”—recently I had been re-reading John Stuart Mill’s essay, “The Spirit of the Age” (1831), and was taken by the peculiar way he employed that phrase. The essay is about what it is like to live in an age of “change,” what it was doing to people, existentially speaking. Mill thought that “men are then divided, into those who are still what they were, and those who have changed.” I expected the first group to be those who have been left behind—the superannuated—and the second to be the men of progress. But Mill thought it was the opposite: those who embrace change are “men of the present age”; by changing with the times they stay the same. Those who do not change with the times are changed into “men of the past.” To the former, “the spirit of the age is a subject of exultation; to the latter, of terror.” It then occurred to me how, because of the incessant speed of the Internet, no one is able to change fast enough to remain in the present; we were all being turned into “men of the past.””

Gurstein wasn’t directly speaking about conservatives, but it would seem that her view here fits into the context of Robin’s reactionary conservative. Even if we all now may be “men of the past” to some extent, only conservatives have fully taken on the role of being “men of the past”. As Gurstein makes clear, “men of the past” are a modern invention just like the conservative movement. We moderns have become so historically self-conscious that we are able to imagine a past absolutely distinct from the present, but in the earlier times a traditionalist assumed the past was like the present, a continuum. Traditionalists during traditional times are, therefore, always men of the present.

Since conservatives are reactionary, you must judge them by the social and historical context of their reaction. Thatcher and Reagan were reacting to one situation and conservatives now are reacting to another situation. Yes, in reaction, conservatives push further and further away from the Left even as they adapt to new forms of liberalism. It doesn’t matter that conservatives become increasingly radically anti-liberal over time (especially as society increasingly embraces progressivism). It’s the reaction against liberalism (more specifically, the far left) that defines conservatives and not how their views appear relative to conservatives at a later time.

The conservative is in an interesting position. Robin points out that even someone like Buckley admits he would probably have become something different if he had come of age at a later time. A conservative isn’t a traditionalist in the way a modern Protestant fundamentalist isn’t a traditional pre-Enlighenment Catholic. A fundamentalist is creating something new with each generation because they are constantly reacting to new social changes and new scientific knowledge.

Going by Gurstein’s conclusion, maybe it is impossible or very difficult for any person to be a traditionalist in the modern world. Maybe conservatives have fully or nearly replaced traditionalists altogether. My thought was that traditionalists and conservatives might be the same in terms of psychological predispositions. Research shows that conservatives have a larger amygdala which processes fear responses and research also shows conservatives have a stronger disgust response to that which is abnormal/unexpected (whereas the liberal tends to respond with curiosity). In a traditional society, this fear/disgust predisposition would manifest as traditionalism because there wouldn’t be any major left-wing progressive movements to react against. However, in a non-traditional society, this fear/disgust response is provoked into a state of hypersensitivity and constant activity (i.e., reaction). So, a reactionary conservative may seem like an unnatural response, but maybe it is just a natural response to unnatural conditions (possibly not dissimilar to how overcrowding rats causes them to take on anti-social behavior). Would-be traditionalists can’t get their bearings in a non-traditional society and so they become a much more aggressive political activist.

– – –

Now here is some really interesting info:


“The second and more interesting conclusion is that Independents also tend to be extremists. On two of the three issue publics we examine, the results closely match our expectations. As we predicted, the more liberal one’s views on the environment and the stronger one’s support of women’s equality, the more likely one is to identify as Independent or nonpartisan. 14 In each case the magnitude of the effects is meaningful if not dramatic. All else equal, those who were the most supportive of environmental spending were 5 percent more likely to be Independent than those who believe we are already spending too much on the environment. Similarly, white Americans who strongly favor efforts to ensure women’s rights were 5 percent more likely to identify as Independent or nonpartisan than those were least in favor of government action on women’s equality. On two of the major social movements in America, those who hold strong views on the left are particularly apt to not identify with a major political party. This suggests that there really are issue publics who care enough about a particular issue to reject both parties if neither party actively endorses their issue agenda.

“In Table 5.1 we also looked at how views on religious/social issues affected partisanship. Since at least some observers would claim that the Republican Party has actively taken up the cause of the Christian right by doing things like fighting gay rights, attempting to ban or limit abortions, and generally espousing religion in public affairs, there is less reason to expect a positive relationship between extremist views on this issue and Independence – and possibly some reason to expect a negative relationship between moral conservatism and Independence.”

“The results in Table 5.1 are informative (if not fully conclusive). What is clear from Table 5.1 is that moral conservatism does not lead to greater Independence and nonpartisanship. The negative coefficient for views on abortion indicates that those on the far right on this issue are not more prone to choose Independence. What is less clear is whether liberals or those on the far left are especially apt to end up not identifying as partisans. The fact that the coefficient is negative and almost significant seems to imply that the more liberal one’s views on abortion, the more likely one is to identify as Independent.”

Those with strong liberal views are the most Independent/nonpartisan… while having strong conservative views doesn’t lead to an increase of being Independent/nonpartisan. Therefore, it isn’t about how strongly held are one’s political views but rather how liberal. It immediately jumps out to me how this data relates to the polling data showing only liberals have majority support for compromise. Maybe there is a direct correlation (or possibly even a causal link) between the three factors of liberalism, compromise, and Independence/nonpartisanship. Also, consider the two other factors I mentioned earlier of strong liberals (“Solid Liberals”) apparently being more open to that which is outside of liberalism (“Solid Liberals” having higher rates than “Staunch Conservatives” of self-identified moderates and such).

This makes me rethink a bit. Are those with liberal views misinformed and confused when they don’t identify as ‘liberal’? Or is it that the psychological ‘openness’ of liberal-minded people gives them more freedom in how they choose to identify themselves? Considering the nearly 1 in 10 liberals identifying as ‘conservative’, are they in some psychological sense seeking compromise by trying to adapt their own beliefs and values to the conservative worldview?

– – –

Here are my last thoughts.

Both liberalism and conservativism are creations of modern society, but both are built on natural predispositions that evolved in human nature long before modern society (probably long before all of civilization). Humanity is still experimenting with all of this and has yet to find a balance.

From a liberal perspective, what seems obvious to me is that all of us moderns are ‘liberals’ (relative to the past). The liberal is the modern “man of the present” (the man of our age) or at least that is what they liberal strives to be, and so the liberal has in some ways taken the place of the traditionalist (playing the role of conserving institutions in a changing world and conserving cultures in a multicultural world). The reactionary conservative has left behind the role of the traditionalist and maybe the reason conservatives attack liberals so harshly is because liberals have taken up that traditionalist role (so, they criticize liberals as weak as they’ve criticized traditionalists as weak).

However, it wasn’t the liberal who caused the conservative to leave behind the role of the traditionalists. The liberal merely picked up the role because the liberal realized it was a necessary role that someone had to play. No, the real reason the conservative left behind the role of traditionalist for the role of reactionary was because of the rise of the left-winger. It is left-wingers who are “men of the future”, and conservatives as the penultimate “men of the past” have adopted the left-wing ideologies and tactics of the past. Traditionalism is no defense against progressivism, both liberals and conservatives realizing this. All traditionalism can do is moderate the changes happening in the present by seeking balance (through compromise) between the push/pull of the left-wing revolutionaries and the right-wing counter-revolutionaries.

The challenge for the liberal is that the role of traditionalist doesn’t really fit the liberal worldview. Nonetheless, the liberal fears modern liberal society falling apart and all the liberal gains being lost. Someone has to compromise… and so the liberal is in a tough spot, not able to be fully himself. This is particularly true when reactionary conservatives become dominant and left-wingers become weak… because then liberals become the necessary representatives of left-wing revolution/progressivism (at least in the minds of reactionary conservatives who always need an enemy to fight against, even if that requires them to invent an enemy). It’s only when left-wing ideologies are ascendant that the liberal can have some breathing room. Liberals don’t want to fight conservatives in the way conservatives want to fight. It’s only left-wingers who can fulfill this position of worthy enemy.

This is why liberals have struggled so much and been so confused in recent decades. The left-wing was in constant retreat which left liberals to use all of their strength just in trying to hold the center, to keep it from shifting too far right. This makes me wonder. Where did the left-wingers go? It’s not as if they all disappeared. It’s just that left-wingers became divided in sectarianism while also getting lost in abstract theorizing and so their activism became impotent. Liberals fought as well as they could without much organized support from left-wingers, but there was only so much liberals could do alone. As time went on, liberals weren’t just fighting conservatives but often fighting left-wingers as well. Many liberals turned to the Democratic Party as their last refuge because they had no where else to turn (left-wingers, of course, interpreting this as selling out). Liberals who chose to remain independent became lonely fighters or else apathetic recluses. Independent liberals, like left-wingers, have felt abandoned by the ‘liberal’ establishment (their liberalism being rather questionable from the stand point of the independent liberal). Left-wingers in particular see that it was the ‘liberal’ establishment that left them rather than left-wingers having abandoned liberals. Either way, a splintering happened on the left.

– – –

In conclusion, that is how we ended up in this situation: Where most of the population supports many liberal positions even as they don’t support the liberal label. Where even the most liberal of liberals are either ignorant about what liberalism means or wary of being identified as such. And where the entire left is disempowered and often divided against itself.

On a positive note: It’s only during such times of tumult and uncertainty that genuine progressive change happens… because it’s only when conservatives have dominated so forcefully that the fires of the left-leaning imagination is stoked to such an extent that new visions of society can form. The furnace for that imagination is grassroots populism of the variety seen right now with the Occupy movement. Whether or not people understand liberalism or like to be labeled that way, the protest movement that has developed is pure liberalism in action.