The Change

I met my new friend for lunch today, and talking to her made me remember how I stopped being a liberal.

Those first moments of opening a book by a conservative author, my hands shaking because I was so sure I was going to find some terrible bigotry there. Turning on Fox News for the first time and feeling deep shame that I was about to hear some horrid racist, anti-semitic, bigoted garbage. I actually locked the door to my room in a house where I was alone because I was so scared of what I was doing. Twenty years of conditioning and one-sided propaganda weighing on me and making me fear that I was doing something akin to visiting a get-together of the Klan.

And then the confusion and the befuddlement of not hearing or reading any bigotry. And instead finding calm, reasonable arguments that – oh, the horror of horrors – actually made sense.

I had begun this journey to prop up the faith in the liberal dogmas that were taking a beating every day from observing the cancel culture, the growing fanaticism on the left, and the barrage of obvious lies in the media. I had this hope that “the other side” would prove to be so unapologetically horrid that I could justify continuing to be on the left.

I went farther and farther in, seeking authors I knew – because everybody around me always said so – were the scum of the Earth. I wanted reassurance that they were, indeed, horrid scum. And the more I read and heard, the clearer it became to me that “the other side’s” narrative was more grounded in reason and logic. A lot more.

It was a feeling akin to finding out that the family you grew up in wasn’t your real family and had actually kidnapped you in infancy and lied to you your whole life. It was one of the most profound intellectual and emotional experiences I ever had. And the worst part was that I was completely alone. There wasn’t a single person I could talk about this.

Yes, I told this story here before but I still haven’t fully processed what happened. I now have completely new friends and a very different sense of self, which is hard to embrace when you are past forty. But I think the value of my story is that it shows what an impenetrable bubble exists in intellectual circles. In twenty years in different parts of the continent, different schools, continents, age groups, etc I never heard even a hint of a possibility that you can vote Republican and not be a hateful person that wants people to die. Or that the concept of “a conservative intellectual” isn’t an oxymoron. That should be very disturbing to everyone.

22 thoughts on “The Change

  1. I saw the title and thought for sure you’d be talking about menopause…

    How do you go twenty years without encountering conservative ideas as stated by conservatives, though? That is… I can’t comprehend how that is possible. I grew up in a very conservative region, but my best friend across the street had parents who were save-the-whales granola liberals. We knew quite a lot of liberal people and we thought they were a little loopy about certain topics, but never thought they were horrible people.

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  2. I think you tend to be very passionate in your beliefs. To me it doesn’t feel like a switched a side. I just do what makes more sense to me. Yes, I changed some of my convictions but I still like my Democrat-voting friends (though they do sound naive to me now when we talk politics). In the end it’s like Chomsky says, Republicans and Democrats are one big business party. I refuse to let them influence things that I can control: who is my friend and how I interact with people.

    In general, the worst thing one can do is to declare allegiance to a party. If people stopped aligning themselves Republicans or Democrats, we would have a whole country of swing voters and the politicians would be more inclined to work harder for you to get your vote.

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    1. I so agree. Tomorrow if Republicans start dropping bombs and locking us down, I’ll abandon them with ease. My allegiance is to myself, my family, and my principles.

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    2. I personally am committed to being a swing voter for this exact reason. Although I don’t see there being any chance of me voting for a Democrat for president anytime soon (I could see myself sitting out or voting third party though.)

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  3. But you’re in Spanish. Lots of people in Spanish are conservative. Also in other literary fields, notably Classics. And university wide, typically there are a lot of conservatives in fields like political science, law, engineering, and more. // You have talked about liking Reagan and Thatcher when young. How would you classify them and how have your ideas changed since that time?

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    1. Everybody loved Reagan and Thatcher in the USSR because they were against the USSR. It was a totalitarian regime. We had no knowledge of these people’s domestic policy or neoliberal tendencies. What we knew and what we cared about was our own oppression. Today, of course, I’m very anti-neoliberal, as we all know. The paradox is that I can afford to care about neoliberalism and am in a position to write books about why I don’t like it thanks, in part, to Reagan and Thatcher. The irony is not lost on me.

      Maybe there are other people hiding in the depths of academia somewhere who think as I do. But everybody is so deep in the closet, so terrified that how do I find them?

      I was always deeply pro-gay rights but now I have a very personal understanding of what it must be like to realize that you are different and that difference must be kept secret because if the truth comes out, you will be destroyed.

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      1. Well, my very subunit, with 7 people, has 2 Republicans, 4 probable mainstream Democrats although 2 of these vote Republican sometimes, and 2 left of Democrat. I could go on, back to Dad’s grad school friend, a Republican, a Berkeley professor, who we kind of grew up around. That’s my most immediate present and most distant past, and I could point to many more but generally speaking, there are whole swaths of campus, typically, that are quite conservative. Of course, I live in a very conservative area, I mean, we were the most conservative city in the U.S. in 2020, and you’re in a different atmosphere. I’ve been thrown out of my ceramics studio over politics, they say I “don’t deserve to be American,” and so on.

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            1. It’s part of why I’m depressed and hiding (the other reason being an abusive collaborator, I just finally extricated myself from this project). But do you really think you’d be destroyed? I used to have this department chair, https://camws.org/robert-j-edgeworth, whose Republican credentials were stronger than this blurb allows. Quite an interesting person, pleasantly eccentric. There was always someone concerned he’d not support this or that because of being Republican, but as people who actually interacted with him knew, it was never true, he’d support anything academic/legit. I found him quite fun–he read interesting speculative fiction, believed in the possibility of spontaneous human combustion (which is a literary trope, as he pointed out), had interesting ways of figuring out how to grade bad students fairly but without flunking more than the system could sustain, knew an amazing amount (you didn’t have to open an encyclopedia, you could just ask him), supported minority and women students and sometimes even faculty, allowed me to give my weird avant-garde classes, etc., such that–why not be friends or at least friendly? I mean: he was eccentric, so he was off in his little world, but he’d have been just as eccentric a personality if he’d had different politics.

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              1. My husband and I already made a plan for when I get unpersoned and become unemployable. It’s Maccarthyism. You read about it in books and then ta-da, it’s right here.

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              2. No, it’s not McCarthyism, which I remember. It’s more like junior high school in-groups and out-groups, or like dealing with a certain kind of Southern and Midwestern Christian, who are supercilious and ostracize all those not “saved” … silly sorority type stuff. You don’t have to worry about your job, and you may well get further promoted

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              3. It stops being silly sorority stuff once the entirety of institutional power gets behind it. Those Midwestern Evangelicals have no institutional power. They can’t force the army to hold obligatory sessions on their dogma. They can’t ban atheist books from Amazon. They can’t deplatform a sitting president because he says something he doesn’t like. They can’t get your bank to report you to the FBI for being in a location they don’t want you to be. And so on.

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              4. On the other hand, it’s hard to get elected to office if you don’t belong to certain churches, and so on, although it’s not as de rigueur to be a certain type of Protestant as it once was.

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              5. “On the other hand, it’s hard to get elected to office if you don’t belong to certain churches, and so on, although it’s not as de rigueur to be a certain type of Protestant as it once was.”

                I expect that custom to be completely obsolete one or two elections from now, the way things are going.

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              6. “I expect that custom to be completely obsolete one or two elections from now, the way things are going.”

                Probably the other way around. As people lose confidence in the political system, nation etc they align less with the national group identity and retract back towards the next most important group identity, which can be race, creed, religion, language group etc depending on the circumstance. If history serves, judging by the kinds of patterns we see in conflicts in the middle East, Balkans during the 1990s etc religion and the opinion of religious leaders will become more important in the US, not less.

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              7. “…the opinion of religious leaders will become more important in the US, not less.”

                This is also possible. I keep feeling like we must finally be at the leftmost swing of the pendulum, and that it must start back the other way any minute now, and I keep being wrong. But it’s just as wrong to take current data and extrapolate a straight line out to infinity.

                In your scenario, I’m full of curiosity to see which religious tribes must be placated. I have a feeling they’ll not be the same as before.

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              8. “This is also possible. I keep feeling like we must finally be at the leftmost swing of the pendulum, and that it must start back the other way any minute now, and I keep being wrong. But it’s just as wrong to take current data and extrapolate a straight line out to infinity.”

                If it follows the pattern where I live, it’ll stay where it is and just get more ridiculous while more and more leftists are cannibalised/turn on each other.

                “In your scenario, I’m full of curiosity to see which religious tribes must be placated. I have a feeling they’ll not be the same as before.”

                Imo they’ll probably be the same, though with more power. When the world is full of uncertainty and randomness, people seek the familiar.

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  4. “No, it’s not McCarthyism”

    Only in the sense that McCarthyism came from a coherent political viewpoint (maybe mistaken but coherent).

    Wokeism is simple infantile tantrums (aided and abetted by the kind of financial and corporate interests the left used to despise).

    “It’s more like junior high school in-groups and out-groups”

    Say that at MLA and report back on what happens…

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  5. I feel like I’m currently going through what you describe in this post. There’s a blog I’ve been reading/commenting on for many years now, and I’m starting to feel like I’m no longer in step with the community. You posted about the recent article in the NYT about the meltdown at Smith College. It was discussed on the blog in question and I was stunned. People are going through ridiculous gymnastics in order to conclude that firing these low payed custodial workers (over an incident where even the college’s own investigation concluded that they did nothing wrong) was a righteous act of racial “reckoning”.

    It’s really disorienting. I’ve commented there for years and even though I’ve never met any of the commenters in real life I thought I sort of knew them. 😦

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