How I Became A Conservative

My journey through college was the opposite of the typical one: I entered as a liberal and left as a conservative.

I started in the fall of 1996, which is when I saw Spike Lee’s movie Get on the Bus on opening night, as well as when I arrived two hours early to a rally so I could be in the front of the audience to see Hillary Clinton campaign for her husband’s reelection.

A lot of big things brought about my evolution: becoming a father, reading more widely and deeply than ever before, getting in the habit of going to church regularly, starting to work with young people as a teacher in training and thereby seeing the world without the one-dimensional rose-colored glasses provided by the youth-oriented media culture that had made me a young liberal in the first place.

But one small incident stands out as maybe more formative than anything else.

In class one day, a discussion went off topic and got into something political.  I wasn’t part of the debate: on one side was a group of several frat guys and on the other was one straight arrow.

The frat guys would usually come into class bragging about their beer-fueled hedonistic adventures, in a cloud of high-fives and braying laughter.  The other guy was a bit of a preppie stiff, I thought, so I tended to sit by the frat boys and hang on their stories.

From random comments here and there, it was clear that the frat boys were on board with all the liberal dogma of the times.  The other guy didn’t get into it much, but he clearly felt differently.

I only remember them having a direct, full exchange of ideas that one time.  Actually, it wasn’t much of an exchange: the frat pack parroted out some blithe liberal cliche or another, directed towards the square who dressed nicely and worked harder, and he responded politely but firmly with ideas and evidence to the contrary.  The frat gang tried to rebut him and save face, but the debate was over almost as soon as it began.  They were soon reduced to smirking, rolling their eyes, and shaking their heads: such was the strength of their argument.

The teacher who had allowed and watched this bit of conversation–I think we’d all seen it coming for a while–thinned out the tension by smiling and saying to the conservative kid, “Wow, you really know your facts.”  His quiet but casual reply: “I have to.”

I saw the truth of what he meant.  There it was, right in front of me: liberal gangs tended to jump on shallow bandwagons and berate those who didn’t conform.  It was the conservative minority who were the real rebels, and who really had the weight of reason on their side.

Nearly two decades of study and experience have borne that observation out.

I never got to know that guy well, and I’ve long since forgotten his name, but he’s one of my heroes: he stood up against bullies and countered their ignorance with brilliance.  I can only hope to someday inspire anyone like he enlightened me.

The LDS Vote Dissenters And The Intolerance Of The American Left

At this weekend’s global General Conference, the annual sustaining vote for our church’s overall leaders had an unusual wrinkle.  Tens of thousand of Mormons there in person–any many more watching online–said yes.  But about seven people stood up to say nay.

This was a planned protest vote by a group called “Any Opposed?”.  According to their web site, they seem to have wanted an audience with the Apostles so they could air their grievances.  They might have been surprised when the conducting officer, President Uchtdorf, referred them to their stake presidents.

Perhaps they didn’t realize that the church has grown far too large for the old policies of the 70’s to be practical anymore.  (Hopefully they then learned from Elder Cook’s talk on the subject.)  Perhaps they didn’t know that this is the procedure outlined in the Church’s official Handbook of Instructions:

If a member in good standing gives a dissenting vote when someone is presented to be sustained, the presiding officer or another assigned priesthood officer confers with the dissenting member in private after the meeting. (emphasis added)

If they’d really read the handbook, they’d know why dissenting votes are asked for in the first place.  From the same paragraph cited above:

The officer determines whether the dissenting vote was based on knowledge that the person who was presented is guilty of conduct that should disqualify him or her from serving in the position. (emphasis added)

The point of a dissenting vote is to reveal that a nominee for a calling has been cheating on a spouse, or beating children, or getting drunk every night, etc.

But, again according to their own web site, the dissenting voters weren’t accusing leaders of such immoral behavior.  They were protesting the fact that the Church holds opinions contrary to their own about (surprise!) gay marriage and the role of women in the Church.

So their dissenting vote had nothing to do with unworthiness, much less an attempt to find answers or engage in dialogue.  It was an attempt to blacklist people who disagree with their political views.  They wanted to publicly punish and suppress those who are different from them.

This, of course, has become the modus operandi of the American Left these days.  (See here for some recent examples, though there are many, many more.)  The mindset of too many liberals today has become one of automatic righteous indignation towards those who dare to dissent from their party line, with a reflexive response to censor them.

Actually, in the eyes of those who gave the dissenting votes, our general Church leaders really are immoral and thus unworthy to hold office.  Our leaders have committed the ultimate sin, after all: they don’t confess loyalty to the creeds of liberalism.

Such is the “tolerance” of the American Left.

We Have To Stop This Troubling Trend In The News

I read a lot of news from both sides of the aisle, and I’ve noticed a huge trend across the spectrum that panders to the worst in us all.  It debases everyone and it needs to stop.

Below are two examples, both about Indiana’s controversial religious liberty legislation, one from the left and one from the right.

Consider this current headline from left-leaning Salon.com: ‘The right’s ‘freedom’ meltdown: Why GOP still doesn’t get what liberty actually means.”

And then here’s a current headline from right-leaning Twitchy.com: “How does this Ed Shultz RFRA must-see meltdown say it ALL?”

Apparently, everybody’s having meltdowns these days.  At least in the eyes of those who disagree with them.

Browse the rest of those sites, or any of the countless others like them, and you’ll see plenty of titles with the same hook: Hey look!  These people with different opinions than us are a bunch of rage-filled idiots, too blinded by their own ignorance to realize how stupid they are!

I’m a conservative, so I don’t think all ideas are equal.  I do think many people are wrong.  I strongly believe that we need to vigorously debate issues.

But I do not believe in demonizing opposition.  No, this is worse than demonizing: this is dehumanizing.

The proliferation of these titles for articles shows how catchy they are with readers, and that makes me very sad.  We should be able to argue without wallowing in the mire of juvenile, ad hominem attacks.

I avoid much of the mainstream left media for the same reason that I don’t listen to right-wing talk radio: it’s all just a narcissistic echo chamber where predictable parrots preach to their respective choirs, everybody patting themselves on the back for being the smart ones.  Very rarely do we see any news anymore with any real analysis or reflection, much less mature introspection.

I keep up with the news because that’s part of how I reach out into the world, but most of the time the news just wants to hold up a flattering mirror to ourselves, paired with a gross caricature of the dangerous “other” next to it.

Such tripe is a travesty, and should be beneath us all.

Please join me in not patronizing any news source that indulges in such tactics.  Thank you.

“My Grandfather Had a Life”

This essay will turn eight years old next week.  In the age of constant bombardment by media content, we’re lucky to remember anything specific from last week, but I think about this one essay all the time.  It is that important.

My title comes from this quote: “My grandfather was born in 1888 and he didn’t have a lifestyle. He didn’t need one: he had a life.”

Among the many other great parts:

I suspect that my grandfather’s life was real in a sense that my father’s life hasn’t quite been, and my life is not at all.
The crucial difference is my grandfather’s lack of self-consciousness, and that self-consciousness is a hallmark of the perpetual, infantilised adolescents we have all become, monsters of introspection hovering twitchily on the edge of self-obsession, occasionally aware that the life that exists only to be examined is barely manageable; barely, indeed, a life.

Note that the article ends with some very sane–and therefore radical–truths about adulthood.

Required reading.

Notes and Quotes: September 2014

EDUCATION

I’ve always said this: teachers don’t leave because of bad pay, they leave because of poor working conditions.

WSJ: Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher.

 

HUMOR

I suspect I find this funny for reasons other than those the artist had:

shirt

 

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

Gioia’s intro to Finnegans Wake

WSJ: Shakespeare as a Life Coach.

14 Reasons to Read the Classics

Fight the Moral Madness: Read Charles Dickens to Your Kids

 

LIVING WELL

Fun parkour video.

I’m a sucker for great astronomy photography.

Beautiful photo of contrasts.

Sunset AND a castle?  Wow!

Here’s a chart I found online with some good productivity ideas:

how-to-be-productive_530adf38cc928_w1163

 

POLITICS AND SOCIETY

Ten Ways Mormons Can Celebrate Independence Day”  Good advice for all of us, for every day.

Great essay about defining conservatism–required reading for all poli-sci wonks.

On conservative literature–a good start.

The complicated politics of Shakespeare.

On ostensibly conservative college students being intellectually stunted:

“They cannot think with a conservative worldview because they have had limited exposure to conservative values. Children spend thirteen years in a school system which was founded upon progressive ideals about education and which increasingly promotes statism. For eighteen years the entertainment industry communicated to them an equally progressive worldview. From all sides children are taught to believe in the inherent goodness of humankind and to cherish the values of tolerance and diversity. There is no good and evil; there is just diversity. There is no justice and truth; there is only tolerance for other opinions. Democracy has become a good in its own right instead of being founded upon virtue. When democracy becomes its own end, any atrocity can be justified by a majority vote.”

Great comment on an Instapundit link about politically biased professors:

I noticed that back when I was in university: the liberal students were so used to everyone around them validating their opinions that they didn’t learn to make good arguments; the conservative students knew they needed good arguments, so they learned to make them,

The unfortunate part comes when these liberal students go through many years of schooling, get loads of validation for twittering about the talking point of the day, and then turn into incredulous, raging jerks when an adult conservative makes a point contrary to their ideology.

 

Why We Need Definitions, Borders, and Boundary Maintenance

Cross-posted from Millennial Star.

 

PART I: INTRODUCTION

Can you define the word “chair?” Seems simple—let’s say it’s a small, raised platform that’s supported by legs and which typically has a back against which your torso can rest. That definition brings to mind a single, simple, useful picture—in short, a conservative ideal of chairs.

But might that seem too restrictive?  So let’s say a chair can have variations. Chairs with wheels are chairs, too, and shouldn’t be judged for being different! Those tacky old chairs that are shaped like a giant hand? Those are chairs that demand to exist as they are—a chair that lives on the fringes of society and is getting tired of being mistreated.

Maybe accepting some natural variations is morally decent, though, right? But now we’re on a slippery slope. There are some people who claim to be more high-minded than the rest, who embrace diversity and tolerance as the greatest values, and who therefore feel driven to constantly expand our understanding of chairs for us, for the good of those would-be chairs which have been marginalized and for those of us who are too culturally dull to know that we had many more chairs among us in the first place.

Is not, they indignantly say, a chair anything on which one might reasonably sit?  Is not a bean bag a valid chair? A couch? The ground itself? Well, perhaps, we’re inclined to say, for we see many of our peers nodding at the wisdom of this, and feeling good about ourselves for being such pioneers of inclusion.

And now we’re solidly in liberal territory (liberal, after all, connotes expansiveness above all—the eternal obsession with widening existing things). Once we’ve established that the very surface of the world could be called a chair, for it can kind of serve a similar function if forced to, we have given a green light to the radicals who insist that it’s a moral imperative to recognize as a legitimate chair anything and everything that could ever conceivably be used for sitting. The hood of a car, a rock, a stack of books: all chairs.

By this point, much of society has decided that—in line with the warped thinking that has gotten us this far—virtue lies in defending the most extreme minorities possible. Life becomes a contest to advertise our righteousness by campaigning for the most imaginative visions of chairs.  The tops of skyscrapers, piles of razor blades, the backs of sleeping grizzly bears: all are supposedly just as valid as any other kind of chair.

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Notes and Quotes, June 2014

Education

  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.

 

Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.

 

 

Living Well

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How to Get a Letter to the Editor Published

Before starting this blog, I used to vent my thoughts by writing letters to newspapers. I’ve probably had about two dozen printed, but haven’t done many in recent years.

I actually wrote several before I had one published. After that, I hit on the formula, and most every letter I sent after that was printed somewhere.

Here’s my formula:

1. Always start by referencing a specific article or previous letter that recently appeared in the publication. Random rants are the stuff of blogs, not op-ed pages.

2. Keep it short. No paragraph should be longer than three simple sentences. You might be burning to pen an intricate analysis, but it’ll never see the light of day.

3. End with a memorable sound bite: a pithy quip, quote, accusation, or call to action.

A King With No Majesty

A local high school has elected a female prom king, and nobody can say why it’s a good idea.

This isn’t about gender or sexuality or any manufactured PC trope. It’s about meaning, and the lack thereof.

Things like this prove what many of us have been saying for years: if society keeps up the shift to basing values on superficial trends, we’ll end up with people who are incapable of defending positions with consistent logic.

This young woman and her fans are celebrating their courage for doing absolutely nothing. Her cause is random, so her victory is empty. She didn’t do this to make anything better, or even to make a point at all. She did it because it gives the
appearance of rebellion, even though this protest has no actual content.

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“Global Uniformity”

Prophetic words from 1995:

“I think cyberspace means the end of our species….Because it means the end of innovation….This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death.

“Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they’ll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand on a big continent, and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behavior. We innovate new behavior to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups.

“Put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, it becomes impossible. That’s the effect of mass media—it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same.

“Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there’s a McDonald’s on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there’s less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity—our most necessary resource? That’s disappearing faster than trees.

“But we haven’t figured that out, so now we’re planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it’ll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity.”

–Michael Crichton, The Lost World

Narcissism Now

The Santa Barbara shooting has me thinking about the seriousness of entitlement mindsets and the danger they pose.  America’s been complaining about spoiled, self-centered youth for generations now, but has it reached a tipping point?  A point where the children are failed–if not actively reinforced–by parents who essentially share their warped views?

Two examples from the current semester:

A young man and his father arranged a meeting with me to complain about how a low grade on a final exam lowered his semester grade from an A to a B.  There was no cogent argument made that this was inaccurate grading, just an expression of dissatisfaction with the result, plus an implication that I was obligated to agree and give them the A they wanted.  The fact that this meeting was taking place ten months after the fact–late in the following school year–didn’t faze them, either.

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10 Current Political Questions Answered By The Founding Fathers

The Federalist Papers are a collected series of essays that originally appeared in New York newspapers from 1787-1788, during the period of debate and ratification for the new Constitution.  In them, the series’ three authors–Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay–very clearly explain the nature of the Constitution and how it was to be implemented.

Their authority is, of course, unimpeachable.  Hamilton would become the first Secretary of the Treasury.  Jay would become the first Chief Justice of the United States.  And Madison, the primary architect of the Constitution itself, would go on to become our 4th president.

Here are some of our most auspicious Founders’ answers to ten pressing issues of the present day:

 

1. Is America a multicultural society, or a basically homogeneous Christian nation?

Answered by John Jay: “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country, to one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…”  –Federalist #2

2. Should American government be more Democratic (populist) or Republican (representative) in nature?

Answered by James Madison: “A pure Democracy, by which I mean, a Society, consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischief of faction.  A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole….A Republic, by which I mean a Government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”  –Federalist #10

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Politics and Society Notes and Quotes, April 2014

Latina actress faces public hounding, loses job after appearing in ad for conservative candidate.

New Zealand school ditches safety rules during recess; result:

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.

Real diversity in the face of one-dimensional stereotypes: gay Christians engage real world in discussions of chastity, marriage, identity, and larger cultural perspectives.

More diversity in the face of one-dimensional stereotypes: Multiracial conservative families respond to leftist snark about racist conservatives.

From Amy Chua’s “What Drives Success?” New York Times, 1/25/14

It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.

Any individual, from any background, can have what we call this Triple Package of traits. But research shows that some groups are instilling them more frequently than others, and that they are enjoying greater success.

It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself. Add impulse control — the ability to resist temptation — and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.

Ironically, each element of the Triple Package violates a core tenet of contemporary American thinking.

 

FAMILY ISSUES SECTION

“Being Married With Kids And Young Now Deemed ‘Alternative Lifestyle’”

NYT columnist gives impressively reasonable proposals for improving family outcomes in US.

Narrative and logic show what used to be common sense: family brings more satisfaction in life than comfort and fun.

Liberal author admits divorce and unwed parenthood lead to inequality and suffering for children, but insults conservatives about it, anyway.

 

GAY MARRIAGE SECTION

Gay marriage supporter calls out bigotry against traditional marriage supporters.

Gay writer who supports gay marriage calls out bigotry against traditional marriage supporters.

Gay marriage supporter defends idea that traditional marriage supporters are not all bigots.

56 pro-gay marriage writers sign statement condemning the persecution of those who disagree.

The Five Worst Problems in America Today–2014 Edition

I’ve been thinking for a while of revisiting the watershed essays I posted in 2008 and 2009, but I was pleasantly shocked earlier this year when I read an excellent piece by Victor Davis Hansen that already did it for me.  Hansen’s essay “The Last Generation of the West and the Thin Strand of Civilization” covers almost exactly the same ground that I identified six years ago.

The fact that two men of different generations independently see the same writing on the wall cannot be insignificant.

Hansen cites examples for four of the five areas that worry me–the only missing item is, oddly, my number one.  But more on that shortly.

Here are quotes from Hansen that correlate with my first four categories of American decline.  His original has links to evidence–please read his essay and read his links.

 

#5: Government Size and Spending

“The fourth-century Greeks at the end pasted silver over their worthless bronze coins — “reds” being the protruding noses and hair of the portraiture that first appeared bronze-like, as the silver patina rubbed off. The bastardization of the currency fostered many books on Roman decline. More worthless money for more people was a sign of “crisis” — analogous to our own quantitative easing and $17 trillion in debt.

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“Culture Trumps Politics”

Mark Steyn, as always, is way ahead of the curve here.  By the time most of my fellow conservatives figure this out, I fear, we’ll be even more of a consciously inconsequential minority, a marginal annoyance with little functional power, than we already are.

*****

Where the Action Is,” National Review, 3/10/14

You can’t have conservative government in a liberal culture, and that’s the position the Republican party is in….Liberals expend tremendous effort changing the culture. Conservatives expend tremendous effort changing elected officials every other November — and then are surprised that it doesn’t make much difference. Culture trumps politics — which is why, once the question’s been settled culturally, conservatives are reduced to playing catch-up, twisting themselves into pretzels….

Culture is the long view; politics is the here and now. Yet in America vast cultural changes occur in nothing flat, while, under our sclerotic political institutions, men elected to two-year terms of office announce ambitious plans to balance the budget a decade after their terms end. Here, again, liberals show a greater understanding of where the action is….

So, no, I’m not particularly focused on a Tuesday in November in 2016. Liberals understand that it’s in the 729 days between elections that you win all the prizes that matter, on all the ground conservatives have largely abandoned.

What Is the Future of Conservatism?Commentary, January 2013

The Democrats used their brutal Romney-gives-you-cancer/ Ryan-offs-your-granny advertising in Ohio as bad cop to the good cop of Obama’s cultural cool. The trouble for conservatives is we have no good cop. That’s to say, we have no positive presence in the broader cultural space where real people actually live. We have all the talk-radio shows and cable networks we need, and the rest of the country is happy to leave us walled up in those redoubts. But culture trumps politics, and not just in the movies and pop songs, grade schools and mainline churches, but increasingly in the boardrooms, too. Instead of giving your hard-earned dollars to help drag some finger-in-the-windy squish with an R after his name over the finish line every other November, conservatives need to start fighting on the turf that matters. We risk winding up like the Shakers–dependent on conversion while eschewing all effective means thereof.