An Example of Human Evolution

An excerpt from a recent letter that a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog sent to him:

I grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh, watching Fox News and had a “Proud Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy” bumper sticker on my debate tub. I was lucky though. I did well enough in school to be eligible to attend one of those evil elite East Cost universities on scholarship. I defended Bush, idiotically, all the way until my senior year, when I studied abroad in both China and England. I was forced, over and over, by classmates and those I met in other countries to confront the grotesque neo-con mindset I had thought was so obviously right.

It took crossing both oceans, a comprehensive study of the history of religion and government, and four years of college to change my perspective. As someone who moved from one extreme to the other, I can tell you the one thing that saved me was the conservative impulse to be self critical, to avoid hubris and arrogance. The other was my parents teaching me to love science. My first break with Whitopia doctrine was when I argued with my church’s youth group leader over the reality of evolution. That someone could deny something so obvious baffled me. It has been a slow and painful process since then, testing and retesting my beliefs.

Read the whole letter here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to An Example of Human Evolution

  1. Would exactly call self-criticism a conservative trait. Rather odd point of view.
    TOG

  2. santitafarella says:

    Theothergardener:

    I agree with you that contemporary authoritarian conservatism avoids self-criticism. Perhaps the writer is reaching back to traditional forms of conservatism that emphasize the inclination to the sinfulness (and, therefore, distorted perception) of the individual. “God I pray you let me know myself.” Okay, that was my best defense. I know it’s weak.

    —Santi

    • Not entirely. There’s some truth in that. But the portrayal is still off. Self-criticism tends to be a liberal, or even a radical, value, if one is talking about an adequate intellectual self-confrontation. Of course, I’m not sure why we’re so stuck on the self in this discussion…
      TOG

  3. santitafarella says:

    Theothergardener:

    I agree that self criticism is more typical of liberals, but I think that it has something to do with a deeper division between the liberal and conservative psyches. Liberals tend to be ironists; conservatives nonironists. It’s hard to be an ironist and not lapse into Hamlet-like self conflict: to be or not to be, to do or not to do, to think or not to think, to act or not to act. If you’re a nonironist, it seems to me that you might be less likely to step back from things that you’re comfy with, and that includes yourself.

    —Santi

  4. santitafarella says:

    I feared you might make that joke.

    —Santi

    • No, seriously, you’re right about the liberal tendency toward the Hamlet complex. It’s almost as if some ideology reaches in and re-contains all their concern about the poor, the dispossessed, that would otherwise result in some action more radical than paternalism. Instead we often get another round of self-regard, followed by paternalistic and inadequate policy suggestions. Somehow, if this could be short circuited, liberalism might become useful for a more robust agenda of institutional change. I think part of the solution might be for radicals and leftist activists to participate in liberal movements—healthcare reform etc.—rather than turning their noses up at these efforts as compromising half-measures. But at the same time, these opportunities must be used to point out the larger, structural problems of the corporation and global capitalism, which are tremendous and growing.
      TOG

  5. santitafarella says:

    theothergardener:

    Irony hinders activism, I agree. But I would never want to be part of a non-ironic movement. The thought creeps me out.

    I like people who are like cats—not easily herded.

    —Santi

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