Privilege Blog

Digging For Origins, Or, Saturday Morning at 11:01am

So. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been drafting a piece for my Medium page about how I developed my political beliefs. Let me admit, it’s been hard. Super hard. Once I dug in I realized that I believed several things about politics and the economy without any more grounding than personal experience and emotional inclination.

This writing is an iterative process. I write down what I believe – about the safety net, for example – and then I sit and try to figure out my thinking. Occasionally I remember some data I used, but not often. And then, this is the hardest part, I try to locate the origin of my belief in my past. Because if we don’t use data, shouldn’t we excavate our non-data-founded reasoning?

I’d say deconstruct, but you can’t deconstruct what you can’t even see.

A woman on a Facebook thread once told me, I paraphrase,  she believed in building the wall because her housekeeper said the new immigrants were bad. The role of the personal anecdote to reinforce innate biases.

I’m still writing, still editing, still trying to make the piece useful. Why? Because while my specific beliefs aren’t particularly edifying, perhaps the process of self-examination can be. I hope if we question ourselves, we won’t be so defended when questioned by others, and collaboration might become possible. Or if we understand where we differ, not in opinion but in our understanding of the facts that predate opinion, maybe those who study will get guidance on where to focus.

I wonder if the stalwarts here might help out. Can you locate those moments when you made up your mind? Have you catalogued your beliefs and in that process understood their origins? Or do buried thinking, reactions, events, drive everyone?

Say it isn’t so. Say this has been only my own failing, and the rest of you had done your homework before now. If this question feels too weighty to answer, that’s OK. Just tell me it’s too hard to respond and at least I won’t feel like such a dodo for finding this almost too hard to write.

Have a good weekend everyone, much affection radiating out from here in Northern California.

65 Responses

  1. Wow. Some pretty heavy thinking on your part. Afraid I can’t help you much with this, other than to say I was very politically inclined in my college days. Now in my dotage I am apolitical. Hugs to you, your conscientiousness is admirable.

  2. Hello Lisa, I think that current events in politics (not just the election, but recent years together) have shaken up our complacencies in general and made us ponder the scope of our feelings on various issues and how our attitudes were forged. We all had fairly standardized systems with which it was easy to pigeonhole events. But now we see the total system as much more complex, and the smallest decisions as more far-reaching than we can comprehend. But as always, my gut tells me when the decisions out there are mean-spirited rather than rational, generous or high-minded.

    1. @Parnassus, All so true. I have lost all complacency, that’s the good news! And, I suspect your gut is very good at judging when things are are “mean-spirited rather than rational, generous or high-minded.”

  3. Well, I’m not sure about a lot of things these days as my decades accumulate, including my pet theories and opinions. It does seem, though, that some of us veer towards questioning while others seem more inclined to embrace acceptance of or, at least, resignation towards that which appears immutable. Both attitudes merit consideration, but I’m afraid, as hard as I try, I just can’t keep from excavating (great metaphor, by the way!) my own impulses and hidden biases.

    The more I know, the less sure I become of my inclinations and judgements. I sometimes wish I could return to those heady days of my twenties when I understood everything and felt so confident in my thoughts. Data existed to reinforce my convictions instead of causing me to wobble and doubt myself. Maybe that’s the hard truth of becoming an adult in mind as well as body? Maybe, in my seventies, I’m finally leaving my state of arrested adolescence? See–more questions…

    1. @Marilyn, But maybe moving on from this – “Data existed to reinforce my convictions instead of causing me to wobble and doubt myself” – is how we become wise? Self-awareness is both calming and nerve-wracking. Such thoughtful words.

  4. An abortion at 18 in 1973-I was an upper middle class teen who figured pregnancy would never happen to me- through Planned Parenthood has made me a staunch defender of what they do. It was the right choice at the right time. I was woefully unprepared to bring a child into the world, had many plans that would have been derailed, and had a boyfriend who immediately dumped me. Never once regretted it, still say it was one of the best, smartest decisions of my life. The boyfriend and I have reconnected and are great friends. He also agrees it was wise and appropriate for our lives at the time. We both were able to finish high school, go on to college and become productive citizens married and with children of our own. (But not married to each other…we aren’t that great of friends! ) I had some resources…cannot imagine what someone with no resources would do. Planned Parenthood saved my life.

    1. @N.E.N., It seems that almost anyone who has ever been through an experience like yours feels as you do. I think that some personal experiences we use to reinforce our already held beliefs, and some are so weighty that they actually change our minds. Thank you very much for speaking up with such eloquence.

  5. We are born fact and belief-free, and pick them up along the way.
    To me, it’s fascinating why some people will cling to beliefs, that are essentially fairy-tales, after the age of 7, rather than switch to facts.
    But why we choose this set or the other is most probably the path of life – parents, school, etc. – and in some cases the veering to the opposite side.
    And than there’s knowing, which even though, in my humble experience, tends to a ridiculously small sliver of the cake, is the real thing among all the comings and goings.

    1. @Dalit Fresco, To me, it’s fascinating why some people will cling to beliefs, that are essentially fairy-tales, after the age of 7, rather than switch to facts.” I agree. This is what I’m trying to prevent in myself these days. Reexamining my beliefs, checking them against anything that can be known for validity.

  6. I come from a family of all liberal Democrats, grandparents, all of them. My earliest memories are of being in a stroller campaigning door to door for Adlai Stevenson when he was running against Eisenhower. I went with my mom to picket lines when workers were on strike against supermarkets for unfair wages. My great uncle was one of the lawyers who defended a few of the Hollywood Ten, entertainment professionals who were boycotted for supposedly having Communist ties. So….I don’t know how much real deep thought I’ve ever put into my own beliefs – they’re just so ingrained in me – part of my DNA I feel?

    1. @Kathy, I have this same background. However, going to business school, listening to my professors, and then working in Silicon Valley, definitely injected some more conservative ideas into my thinking. Now that I’m starting to looking more deeply, I find I think the more liberal thinking of my childhood might actually be better supported by data than the free-market enthusiasm of business school. I admire your family and their record enormously.

  7. While I am a thinker by nature, I know that some of my thoughts and beliefs have been picked up both by osmosis and by listening to my parents. At the same time, some of these beliefs I did not go directly to (beliefs of my parents), some of them I discarded only to return to or return closer to as I aged. I also read – a lot, on many subjects and from different viewpoints. One thing I read a number of years ago, as a column in a newspaper, has stuck with me and given voice to my own, sometimes, mushy thoughts: young girl is speaking to her mom about the inequality in the world and the need to redistribute wealth and resources so that everyone has what everyone else has. Mom told daughter that since she felt so strongly about inequality and since daughter is a straight A student and her brother is a C/D student, daughter should give up some of her As to her brother as “it’s only right that you both have the As”. As one can imagine, daughter was quite upset with this thought and immediately said, “that’s not fair! I worked hard for my grades. Why should I give them up to my brother who isn’t working at all?!”. Mom replied, “ah”.

    1. @Jeannine, I’d probably characterize this as an aphorism that reflected and characterized what you’d already come to believe, as opposed to one that catalyzed/built them.

  8. Wow!
    And wow!
    I’m sorry,I don’t think that I could help you
    Agree with Marilyn (and with Socrates or Aristotle btw :-))
    Maturity,experience,accumulated knowledge (consciously and subconsciously)….- a lot of views and beliefs (my own,others….) are open to question again and again
    Thinking about it-I usually make quick decisions (prefering to have all the facts straight,if possible),it is contradictory,isn’t it?
    You’ll figure it out,I’m sure :-)
    “If we knew what it was we were doing,it would not be called research,would it?”(A. Einstein)
    Have a wonderfull weekend

    1. @dottoressa, I do the same, gather as many facts as seem to be available, then decide quickly. I guess I’m just going back to 35-year old decisions to see if any more or better information has surfaced in the interim;).

  9. Paraphrasing from a book whose name I do not recall, everyone is walking a tightrope over an abyss. Some are aware of what lies below and some are blissfully unaware. I believe the times when we fall from our paths and see the abyss influence us the most. It is easy to see things as black or white with no grey in between when life experiences (or biased news) do not challenge the beliefs instilled by our family and social circles. I agree wholeheartedly with Marilyn, that over time things have become less clear to me. My adult son was diagnosed with a mental illness and has spent time homeless and in psychiatric institutions. As a child of privilege who previously thought the homeless should “get a job”, he has a whole new perspective and would give anything to be well and working. Somehow when his private school “fed the homeless” for Thanksgiving, they saw only “others”… not people who could be them. His experiences have changed both of us profoundly and influenced our political beliefs.

    1. @Vicki, “I believe the times when we fall from our paths and see the abyss influence us the most.” Yes. Yes. I am sorry for the pain your son and your family must have experienced. I hope society and medicine can find a way to help him feel more happiness. Thank you for sharing this.

  10. I am exhausted after a stressful week at work, and incapable of matching your depth of thought. One thing that I have experienced is that after long, open, and thoughtful discussion with certain people who are firmly on the “other side,” we have found that we basically want the same things, we are in agreement on the important fundamentals. The differences? Usually they have to do with opinions on the best way to accomplish what are our common goals. In my case, usually I believe that government should have the major role, while they have no confidence in our governments (federal, state, local). Why the difference? usually these people have small businesses and their opinions have been informed by experience.

    Not sure this adds much; it’s all I can come up with at the moment.

    1. @Marie, Very insightful. It takes a lot of listening when talking to anyone on the “other side” to rise above points of conflicts to a shared viewpoint. I suppose everyone is going to say they want good people to have good lives. Anything more specific than that I admit I rarely find much to agree with – good for you. And, I do see how small businesses find regulations onerous. I’d be curious to hear more details in terms of which regulations cause the most problems. Maybe tweaking regulations would produce more benefits than we know now.

    2. @Marie, as a small business owner and apparently a compulsive small scale entrepreneur based on my track record, I’d be happy to answer the question about which regulations but it’s the wrong question.

      It’s not any one regulation, it’s simply the cumulative effect. One business owner may deal with a dozen different agencies, each with one (or more) persons dedicated to implementing one/twelfth of the regulatory pie, each agency wanting forms and reports and fees and compliance with tomes worth of regulations.

      It is the inevitable result of shifting burdens for responsibility from individuals to government as individuals have sought refuge from risk, and government always eagerly accepts power. The unintended consequence is the pressure on business to either become large enough to bear the overhead burden of compliance, go underground, or just keep your head down and hope you don’t get caught for some obscure piece of missing paper.

  11. Another very interesting question! My father was a scientist who taught us to question everything and base our beliefs on hard data. He would assert a hypothesis and attempt to prove it. In the political realm, his hypotheses were driven by a liberal Democrat point of view, which was consistent with the way he was raised and his life experiences. He would listen and try to understand opposing views and then would either change his mind or kindly express his disagreement. I try to follow his measured example but I’m not always successful. I think it’s because I’m more driven by emotions.

  12. When considering an issue that requires a political stance, I always start with “Cui bono?” – i.e., who benefits from the situation as it is, and who gets screwed?

    Once I have established these two poles, I can look at benefits and drawbacks along the spectrum running between them – and hopefully determine whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, or vice versa, depending on where the individual is on the spectrum.

    Then I ask, if I want to minimize the drawbacks, or maximize the benefits, what actions to I need to take to do so effectively? Or is it enough just to take a position, but not feel required to actually DO anything? And how entrenched are the interests of those who benefit the most from the current situation, vs the power of those who benefit the least? How will this affect what needs to be done?

    (I could supply examples, with everything from undocumented immigration to Planned Parenthood to the “carried interest rule” so beloved by hedge fund managers – but I don’t want this to turn into a political diatribe!)

    Needless to say, I am not always this rational about my political choices, but it helps to try …

    1. @Victoire, Oh that is exactly what I am trying to learn how to do. I have been lacking facts on who benefits – economic policies involve such large numbers and so many concentric circles it’s very hard to know what accomplishes what. But I feel that information is out there, some of it, and I just have to keep looking.

      It does help to try:).

  13. I grew up in a staunchly Republican house. I voted for Regan, happily. The corners turned for me when I served in the Peace Corps, and then attended graduate school in the Bernies home state. For me it was the realization that my life path was not going to lead to riches and as such I needed to worry about health insurance, how much taxes were etc. My husband and I struggle with 2 kids that have significant learning issues (tutors, doctors, testing) and I wonder about eating cat food when we retire and how the hell we’ll pay for college. While my parents continue to be well off, I am no longer part of the parental gravy train that pays my nephews HS tuition (but not my kids). They remain staunchly, even gleefully, Republican. It was a gradual change and realization based on true information as we say to kids in libraries when talking about what lives on the non-fiction shelves. The fact is our middle class lives feel taxed and burdened and yet we have a nice house in a 4 season climate with decent schools and have health insurance. We are privileged – but not nearly where my siblings landed.

    1. @Jb, “what lives on the non-fiction shelves.” If only life had a little more Dewey Decimal coding to help us figure that out. I can imagine the Peace Corps being a transformative, foundational experience, rather than one that simply confirmed what you already believed.

  14. PS: I forgot to say that one must consider the nature of the benefits/drawbacks, such as social, financial,emotional, psychological, etc, and the relative importance of these to any given individual or community.

  15. Fascinating set of ideas above. My random thoughts below:
    My mom, who politically active when I was in high school in the early ’70s, said that Republicans were like businessmen, orderly and efficient and Democrats were like families, messy and loud. My parents were one of each. In my experience I found liberals to believe that if they talked long or loud enough, they’d convince others to believe what they believe because they were so obviously right.
    Now I tend to believe that social order changes more organically. Twenty years ago I was accused of promoting a homosexual agenda simply because of my profession. Now we have gender neutral bathrooms in our local high school, instituted without fanfare-it was the right thing to do. There were no marches fighting such social change in our community, only a few instances of hand wringing that led to the realization that, oh, our daughter, son, nephew, niece, parent, neighbor was gay or transgendered, and the world did not end and we still loved them. I have to admit that I feel sorry for folks who want to return to the black and white world of Ozzie and Harriet. We can’t go back, only forward, and forward seems precarious and dangerous to these folks.
    When my son was in high school he was mad at us for not buying the cool video games and systems that his friends had even though it seemed we were wealthier than they-we said he didn’t need them but that he was free to earn money to buy them for himself. In his junior year he went to Haiti for a week to help build a house for a family. When he returned he understood, viscerally, the difference between a want and a need. This realization has guided his life ever since.

    1. @Carol, I think the behaviors of the two parties has changed so much in the past 20 years. But party politics aside, I am glad your high school was able to institute a sensible no-fuss bathroom policy, and that your son had a chance to see a world outside his comfort zone. I think travel is often the single most enlightening experience one can choose to have. And I emphasize choice, because those fall off the tightrope moments probably teach us more but they are not chosen.

  16. Most of my political opinions come from the statement “minimize suffering”. And, especially since becoming a parent (cliche, I know, but there you have it), minimizing the suffering of children, especially. And not just children within our borders, or color, or socioeconomic class…

    So, actual example: I will vote for parties who support things I think will help those goals (decent minimum wage, public health care, education, etc). I have a calender reminder set twice a week to hassle my representative (provincial and federal) to shape up (they have a duty as a representative to live up to their campaign promises, but I have a duty as a constituant to express my opinion about their record…) but I will also donate to international organizations who minimize suffering (doctors without borders) and who help children (share the meal), and I’m reaching out to our local school and working with the principal to set up a food pantry (difficult times and a school of varying socioeconomic classes; a lot of kids survive mostly on school meals, but have younger siblings who aren’t in school and also need more than they get during weekends and breaks… so: food pantry.)

    Basic belief carrying through to action.

  17. For me it varies, particularly by topic. This sounds terribly pretentious, but the things I do feel like I have partly in hand are substantially because instead of binge drinking or experimenting with drugs, I went a bit nuts on [non-academic] philosophy in my late teens and early twenties; a lot of listening and asking “but *why* do I/we/they/you assume that?” and “what happens if you follow that principle further?” and “why do we feel that way about this?” and such. And then the habit of occasional back-to-basics inquiry still sticks, to some degree, even as view-altering experiences and nuances (and wrinkles) accumulate.

    I would note, as an aside, that trying to get down to first principles can be hazardous; if one is very, very open, one is also often open to various kinds of trolling or predation (aka: experimenting with philosophy is not always safer than experimenting with drugs!). And it will never be complete; any individual human being’s life history is sufficiently complex that you’ll never get all the way down your motives and influences at this time, and that has to be okay; think, do, rest, repeat?

    Neither writing nor inquiry are perfect-able, but trying quite hard (and then letting it be, at the right point, wherever that is) is a good thing?

    I hope this goes well for you.

    1. @KC, ” if one is very, very open, one is also often open to various kinds of trolling or predation (aka: experimenting with philosophy is not always safer than experimenting with drugs!).” I know this is true. I try to remain open but protected – often I fail at protection. I’m not quite at letting it be, still in the trying quite hard phase, but I will absolutely remember your words. Thank you.

  18. I trace my political views back to Sunday School. I vividly remember learning about the Good Samaritan and the Golden Rule, and it still seems to me that those are a pretty good place to start. At the same time I’m personally what I guess you could call conservative, or maybe it’s a Puritan streak: I believe that people need to take responsibility for their own actions, and I see value in hard work.. Plus I studied enough economics to call myself Keynsian, and I view the rule of law as the centerpiece of our democracy. Many years ago I accepted an award on behalf of my law firm for our work on transgender rights; I think I shocked one of the people who attended when he asked why I did the work, and I replied that it was because I’m a Christian. Admittedly I’m not doing exactly what Jesus says – I certainly haven’t given up all my possessions to help others – and I’m not nearly as religious as what it might sound like from what I’ve just written. But II do try to keep those Sunday School lessons in mind when I think about politics, and I think it has served me pretty well.

  19. It seems to me – and many of the comments above confirm this – that personal convicitions are shaped by a combination of family traditions (which always come with an emotional by-catch), personal experience (including studies of various kinds) and oberservation (quite often observation of the lives of others whom we perceive as less privileged). All three things a continually subject to chance (although mostly within a certain range), therefore convicitons may also change over a lifetime. Most people consider it normal to be radical in their youth and more conservative (or hesitant) as they approach old age. In my case it is quite the opposite. i used to be much more careful when I was young. It was not that I was afraid of stepping on people’s toes or getting myself into difficulties, but I was terribly afraid of being wrong. There were always more facts to check, more different opinions to take into consideration in order to make sure I had it right. Now that I am old I know that I never can have all the facts (even if we agree about what that is), and my decisions and opinions are as temporary as everything else in life. This does not mean that my convictions are likely to change in an arbitrary manner, but rather that if I want to act on them I better do it now, with the information I have at this moment. (Which, in the end, amounts to something quite similar to what is described by Roselyne aboce.)

  20. Sorry, typos: In line 8 “continually subject to change” (not chance). Freud?
    And the last word must read “above”, of course.

  21. i don’t have a concrete “aha” moment, and yes, this question is hard because you’re asking for a pinpoint in time when actually my beliefs feel individually like grains of sand.

    but i do tend to approach social policy from a spirit of gratitude, realizing that circumstances beyond my control allowed me to be born a white woman in america and that those who were not did not choose those fates. thus requiring compassion and understand, and yes, a willingness to help.

    that said, my liberal (progressive?) tendencies are paired with a healthy dose of libertarianism. see? nothing is easy.

    1. @jane, because i did not proof-read before clicking submit, please read “understand” as “understanding”. and hopefully, that is the only typo. i hate typos yet am guilty of them regularly!

    2. @jane, I too have a progressive/libertarian thing going on. A spirit of gratitude has to take us in the right direction, if we believe that human beings can be good by nature then appreciating our circumstances would seem to me to lead only to more good.

  22. What a great post! I can’t wade too much into American politics because I don’t live there so I’m in the cheap seats (or the really expensive ones, depending on your viewpoint :-)) But as for my political sense of self (and social values), I’m entirely issue-specific. There are so many issues I don’t understand well enough (because there are too many to be on top of) and I won’t go there. But I’m happy to overthrow party mentality if I don’t agree with the issue. I’m one of those people who has voted for all of the parties (Liberal, Conservative, NDP) at some point – if not provincially, then federally. I mean, and I can’t believe I’m writing this!, I did NOT vote for the federal liberals in the last election (I didn’t vote for Harper – don’t worry!) because I disagreed with Trudeau’s pre-election stance on Bill C-24 (re: immigration in Canada).

    Of course, as a public servant, I cannot discuss my core political beliefs (whatever they are). I must be neutral. Which is why it’s interesting that I really am neutral from a party perspective. I’m all about the issues. I guess my values align with my job.

    I generally vote for the person who loses, if that makes any difference. I think my friends would define me as a left-wing conservative. My window onto policy creation and the workings of government makes me pretty realistic. I choose not to lose my idealism and I feel I’m in a good seat from which to influence its continuation.

    But I can assure you, my version of conservative (the way I’ve voted least often over the years) is very distinct from what you may imagine. By American standards, I’m a serious Democrat.

    One thing I do love – my father and I have pretty well come around to the same political beliefs. When I was young he was so conservative (not socially) and I was very liberal. The other day, we had a discussion about education policy and he was to the left of me?!? It helped me to reconsider my own perspective!

    Also – it’s really impossible to stay up on everything. Don’t waste a minute feeling uninformed! You are increasingly informed and every new piece of info you gather will give you better perspective on the last, and on the whole. I’m SO uninformed in the scheme of things and I watch the academic news shows and look at the headlines (and, natch, I spend all day on Provincial politics) but there’s only so much you will ever be able to know. Just keep learning. I think that’s the wisest commitment to oneself.

    1. @K-Line, Sounds as though your work in politics is a Good Thing – given that you can remain so focused on the issues and the positions versus party politics only. And I hear you on, “Don’t waste a minute feeling uninformed!” and I take it as an impetus to learn more and more as you say.

  23. Reading Les Miserables in eighth grade. Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Texas where black people were relegated to an alternate entrance as well as the balcony of movie theaters.Remembering the”white” and “colored” drinking fountains at Weingarten’s grocery store. Isn’t that rich—a bigoted Jewish-owned chain? Growing up in Texas which was shamefully late in complying with the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, as well as eliminating a poll tax that kept poorer U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote. How could I be anything but a Democrat?

    1. @Linda Swearengen,
      My understanding is that Texas was Democrat controlled until the 1990s. It was the Democrats who disenfranchised blacks and minorities in Texas during the 60s.

    2. @Jeannine, In the context of this post and this comment thread, I would ask – how did you come to this understanding? Because it seems that Texas history should be well-documented, and therefore we should be able to understand pretty clearly what happened, it would be helpful to have the rich contradictions articulated.

    3. @Linda Swearengen, I particularly appreciate the Les Miserables mention! And I think others, with a different emotional makeup, might have seen what you saw in Texas and simply assumed it was that way for good reason. But thank you for the personal stories. Of these things are we made.

    Really sad how he PUT IDEAS into peoples HEADS……………
    I have FAITH IN YOU……………..

    1. @LA CONTESSA, Thank you. And I agree, I think speech cadence is a huge convincer for many of us. I believe one of the reasons that so many had issues with Hillary Clinton was her speech pattern and the tone of her voice.

  25. This is a great post, thoughtful, reflexive, and it’s generated a wonderfully rich conversation. Unfortunately, this is such a busy time for me that I can’t join you in thinking aloud about how I arrive(d) at my political convictions, but I never want you to feel like a dodo! ;-)

  26. This is such a wonderful and thoughtful post, followed by many thoughtful and insightful comments. It increasingly seems to me that our thoughts and beliefs are shaped by so many things, from infancy, if not actually before that, as we are not born into a vacuum. The trick is to question, and to be willing to turn over a few rocks.

    It seems the older I get and the more I know, the less certain I become, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, as if I am becoming an indecisive old fool, although it is possible that this is exactly the case. It just seems that the more facts I learn, and the more rocks I uncover, the more I discover the landscape I thought I knew and took for granted is almost a foreign country, and even more rocks lie in my path, meaning there are more assumptions that I took for granted as fact, both about myself and my place in the world, if not the world itself. I do believe it is important work but if we are to see beyond the smoke and mirrors that shape most of our beliefs we might learn we have more questions than answers.

    I grew up in a very conservative family in a very conservative place. I moved to a very liberal place and both places and environments have influenced me. If I’ve learned anything it is that most people absorb beliefs as if by magic and rarely question assumptions, and I’m sure that I have many opinions that have formed the same way. I try to deconstruct, but as you so aptly point out, “you can’t deconstruct what you can’t even see”.

    1. @Mardel, It is like digging in a field that has a layer of smooth soil, maybe a rock or two, and when you dig up one of them you see it was in fact an outcropping of many more. So you keep digging. And fools are sometimes used to signify wisdom, so, let’s do that;).

  27. My beliefs about social justice come from several places. I was raised by two Greatest Generation left wing Democrats to think for myself and question authority. I read widely even as a child, and I think YA books like Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Wrinkle in Time, and when I was a bit older, The Lord of the Rings, had a big influence. Defending someone who is being bullied, speaking out when someone says or does something anti-Semitic, racist or sexist, doing volunteer work, and contributing to charity are all things I have done all of my life and will continue to do for as long as I am able.

    1. @Wendelah, I am so happy to hear about your commitment to social justice, and, so fascinated to hear about the impact of fiction. I read a lot of books, but I’d never before thought maybe they affected my worldview. I am going to have to consider. Thank you.

  28. When I made up my mind – hard to isolate. A pivotal moment was during the Viet Nam war (not yet even called a war, officially), when my own ability to reason won out over my previous tendency to extend trust and the benefit of the doubt toward elected officials and their judgment. A lot of it had to do with simply finding it impossible to believe the various rationales for our participation, my observation of our official ambivalence as it was expressed militarily, and my understanding that I was just as qualified as others to anticipate what might happen in the future, despite my youth. The gradual maturational process that had occurred so far, which showed me that feet of clay could indeed exist even among those toward whom I had previously extended complete and unwarranted trust (unwarranted because we are all human and capable of mistakes) sobered me considerably. It forced me to realize that I was entering the stage of needing to speak up rather than copping out and letting others do the talking/objecting – and I was becoming cynical enough to be able to distinguish between appeals to reason and appeals to emotionality so as to distract from reason. Yet, after this maturational milestone, I wish I could say that I have willingly and consistently assumed the implied responsibilities – my excuse is that life has got in the way, and until now, I had little doubt that the fundamentals of this country (such as the Constitution and the principles upon which it is based) were both safe and sound. Diving more deeply in order to determine why I believe and react as I do, I have discovered unflattering psychological tendencies and what appear to be elitist preconceptions as well as principles that still make sense. I have faced a realization that many of those with whom I agree share “upper class” characteristics (such as higher education and a regard for grammar) that aren’t all that snobby, but I also react quite negatively toward what I perceive as deliberate ugliness in speech and demeanor. That is, I find that I am aesthetically repelled by many of those with whom I disagree intellectually, and it makes me suspicious of myself. I’m still working on this, and I look forward to reading more of your explorations.

    1. @marsha calhoun, I was too young (or too naive) for Viet Nam to affect me much – although the turbulence in the US in reaction definitely affected me. It was the first experience I had understanding that the world wasn’t always friendly. I can imagine what it would have been like to really face what was happening.

      I agree, separating aesthetic snobbery from moral judgments of others is an important task, especially if you are from an upper class family where “good taste” was seen as a virtue. I know whereof I speak;).

  29. I’m neither a republican or a democrat. I’m a political atheist. My political sentiments were greatly informed by being a small business owner that was unpopular with the government.

    For 13 years, we helped American citizens get prescription medications from Canada, and we did it safely. People came to us who could not afford to pay the highest drug prices on the world.

    You remember how both Bush and Obama and every other politician running for president always said we needed to legalize drugs from Canada? And then they’d get in office and do nothing because they’d accepted campaign funds from Big Pharma.

    I could tell you stories about the utter bullshit we put up with from our government – stuff they didn’t want to publicize because they’d look bad. It all ended when they forced us out of business for actually helping people. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of big government. The bigger the government, the more incentive special interests have to sway them in ways that hurt citizens and help the special interests.

    If understanding is what you’re after, the best book I’ve read about our recent political outcome is “Listen Liberal – or whatever happened to the party of the people” by Thomas Frank.

    Should be required reading for all Americans. It’s an eye-opening primer to understanding the policies that over time led to half the country feeling betrayed and alienated. Unquestionably the best well-documented explanation I’ve seen.

    1. @Anon for This, I can only imagine how frustrated you must have been to have your business taken away, especially when support for your efforts had been previously expressed, and so many people benefited. That is exactly the kind of personal experience that does shape political beliefs.

  30. I have the opposite, anti-abortion story, as I was born in 1970, prior to legal abortion, and I was adopted by a family that was very loving.

    Later, I reunited with my birth mother and now I know her family, we are friendly but not close, as we all missed 40 years together and are still mostly friendly strangers. Plus, I have my own family that I belong to.

    It is interesting that my biological maternal grandmother was very pained by the adoption, and and volunteered for Planned Parenthood for many years. I think she was gladdest when I was “found” later on. I am anti-abortion, and glad to be here to say so.

    Personal experience comes in all forms.

    1. @Karen, Yes it does. And your experience in contrast to the one above illustrates precisely why this is such an intractable issue.

  31. I continue to admire you, despite never having had the privilege of meeting you. But I just like you. A lot. Thanks.

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