costa's hummer

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Conversion and self loathers

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11

I don't read a lot of blogs. Basically I read one other, and it's denizens' views tend to be diametrically opposite my own. I like it that way, and they don't seem to mind either, the blogger actually welcoming me and stating that another view point would help them keep their weapon's sharp. They are very intelligent people, perhaps a few years older than me, I am not sure. I think that one of the tandem that runs the show is a writer or perhaps an academic. They live on the eastern seaboard.

I operate as sort of the house liberal in the woodpile in that world and I appreciate their forbearance. Because it is never healthy to merely surround ourselves with people who echo our preconceived notions.

I mention this whole state of affairs because of a particular fact that I find curious about my conservative hosts, they were throughout the majority of their lives died in the wool liberals, the man even going so far as to call himself a socialist, who had late life conversions and have now been reborn as the most ardent conservatives.

Something about such conversions has always struck me as weird and suspicious. I can understand your values system slowly morphing and evolving, but to completely change your intellectual mindset and values seems pretty drastic and draconian, leaving the impression that you are actually a pretty miserable individual.

If you spent your first thirty years thinking a certain way and are so willing to shuck it for the new vanguard, what does that say about you as a person? And if you were so willing to cast away that which made you tick once, how does one know that you would not discard your new persona when the next wave hits? Why would one think that you had any credibility or true convictions in your former self if you could throw it away for a few pieces of gold or a shiny new philosophy?

Most of us were taught at an age that if you are young and not a liberal you have no heart and if you are old and not a capitalist you have no brain. It is an ancient truism. And we are not talking about that sort of inevitable softening. Normal evolution is a fact of life, a recognition that our idealism must be tempered somewhat by life's realities.

What I find interesting about these folks and conversions in general, whether political or theological, is that their new world views tend to be so rigid and doctrinaire. There is no acceptable nuance. God forbid that they should ever visit their former selves and take a softer, pragmatic look at anything. It is like a Pentecostal who hates himself for once being a drinker or sinner. So they can only take the most extreme positions, lest someone doubt their new convictions. There seems to be a lot of self loathing involved. I want to ask them, wasn't their anything about your selves in your former life that you still like and respect?

If one would seek a middle ground, he might be somehow deemed suspect by the new crowd. Have to prove your conservative or liberal "cred" by constantly being a dogmatic asshole. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Several prominent people have undergone these public philisophic conversions, not including the religious ones, which are in some ways more understandable. David Horowitz, Dennis Miller, Juan Williams, that ilk. Marxists, like drunkards and born agains, tend to take extreme swings. Mostly it's a matter of left to right although I think Ellsburg took the opposite tack, a CIA man who was fed up with it all and spilled the beans. I don't know if Analyst Bradley Manning ever had a prior ideology but he was reportedly horrified by the graft and corruption he encountered in the afghani government before he launched his recent wikischeme. His superiors told him to just forget about what he saw and he evidently couldn't. Now he will spend the rest of his life in jail. We live in an imperfect world.

Wholesale religious conversions are a whole new ball of wax. While one must I guess leave a little wiggle room for those people who are actually speaking to god and having full blown epiphanies, for many people it is like putting on a new suit of clothes or suddenly eating ethnic food. I have a lot of suspicion for converts to judaism. Why would you ever want to and why would you think that you actually could?

Which leads to a little story. When my grandfather died, my brother, father and I had to go to the funeral home Malinow and Silverman near Fairfax to make arrangements. We were met by a pinkie ringed, white shoe director who gave us a nonstop course of yiddish for an hour. Every yiddish word that I have ever heard and more. Hawking and the whole bit. I remember raising an eyebrow finally and asking him if he was jewish. "Well no," he said, sheepishly. "Then shut the fuck up," I politely asked him.

I am not a perfect person. I have done things in my life that I continue to be ashamed of. But I appreciate and accept the person I have come to be and the process that brought me to this point today. 

Changing my politics to the other "dark" side would be like deciding that all of the books I had ever read, all the music I had ever listened to was now completely wrong. Like suddenly becoming a Moonie, Randian or Scientologist.

I still take comfort in calling things square down the middle or agreeing with the opposition when they are correct. If it strikes you as too much one way or the other, my deepest apologies. Because I think that I have a good enough handle on who the hell I am at this point in my life. And plenty of good friends out there willing to yell bullshit if I stray.

Happy Chanukah!


grumpy said...

i've tried putting away childish things but little Grumpy still wants to go out and play...

grumpy said...

Dennis Miller's metamorphosis, from SNL to Monday Night Football to conservative talk radio host, intrigues me; every once in a while in the middle of the night i can catch his show (out of Las Vegas i think)on my bedside radio, and despite his views i still find him to be quite funny and intelligent...as for conversions, i think they happen bit by bit at first, until the ideological balance suddenly tips in the opposite direction.

Blue Heron said...

Two comments per blog post, grumps - you've hit the limit. Thanks for your contribution.

grumpy said...

you're welcome, blogmeister.

Anonymous said...

Every time I read the title of this post, I'm thinking Converse loafers.

Carol said...

Perhaps, Robert, the error lies in your point of view. BTL and Aggie changed their politics. I'm not hearing anything to indicate a change in reading taste or musical taste or love of family or any of the other parts that make up a human being. Politics is not the only thing that makes up a person, and most people don't even think about politics long and hard enough to connect what they think and who they vote for with any other parts of their lives. Perhaps in the other parts of their lives, Aggie and BTL were always freedom-loving, and it's just their politics that got a kick in the rear on 9-11 that caused their political selves to catch up with the rest of them.

Me, I've always been like this. I discovered in 6th grade that Commies lie about everything, and when I read Ayn Rand in junior high, although I did get carried away with her through high school, the one thing that has stayed with me is not accepting unearned guilt.

Blue Heron said...

Well said, Carol. You may well be right.