Sunday, January 07, 2007

To Political and Social Consciousness

     We all grow up with the same idea that freedom, democracy, and justice are things that should be valued. Whether this is due to upbringing or due to some intrinsic desire of mankind is something I haven't particularly thought about, but just about everyone strives for these things in their politics. What type of politics comes out, however, is anyone's guess. Differences in perspective, due to an infinite number of factors ranging from religiosity to historical background, are the cause of such a vast difference in the believed paths to these commonly agreed goals.

    My personal story is one in which my politics changed drastically while at the same time I remained faithful to the previously mentioned ideals. I went from a very patriotic two-time Bush voter to a libertarian communist in less than a period of two years. Below I will try to outline my path, as best I can, to (what I hope) is a more socially and politically conscious position.

    As I described in a previous post, I used to be extremely patriotic. I bought into the lie that our country and our government, which I believed was strongly democratic, stood and fought for democracy, freedom, and human rights. I felt that we were a beacon of hope in a dark world and that we were doing the best we could to spread those fundamental ideals throughout the world. Having believed this,it made sense that I would support our military and hope for "us" to have an ever increasing amount of control over other nations and their people. For if we failed, then perhaps freedom would be extinguished from the human experience altogether. Sometimes we may act imperialistic (I didn't realize how prevalent this behavior was at the time), but it seemed justified to me because we had to make sure that our country got the natural resources and strategic leverage to sucessful fight for freedom and democracy. The reason I supported Bush twice was because he was "good for the military". I also believed that the American people were a unified body with more or less the same interests in how our country was run and what should happen in the world. At least this was how history is usually taught in the US. As Howard Zinn puts in his amazing book A People's History of the United States:
The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media

I bought into this. I didn't realize that capitalism, by the way it forces the interests of the buyer and seller, of owner and worker, to be in direct opposition to each other (and this basic relationship propagates to affect other relationships throughout the society) makes it impossible for there to be a "national interest". And if the citizens of a nation don't have common interests, whose interests do they favor?

    So due to these beliefs, I always supported the US military and its wars. I very much enjoyed watching bombing by US warplanes on the news because we were attacking the "enemies of freedom". I also supported very high tax rates, because that would go into improving our great country. I even somehow managed to think that if I were ever rich one day that I would donate a large sum of my money to the US government, as I thought that it would go to good use (I can't really defend myself here, but let me throw out the fact that I was in high school).

    So how did this view change? It's hard to be exact, as changes in politics or religion tend to be very gradual and in some respects the individual experiencing them may not have a good sense of what is happening. To see that our government represents only a small minority of the country whose interests are opposed to the majority's and that the US government, rather than supporting and nurturing freedom and democracy at home and abroad, actually suppresses it you need to be exposed to new ideas and history that isn't usually taught and never discussed in the mainstream media. The first step then was my disillusionment with the media.

     I used to live in the south, and there the standard news station is Fox News, so that's what I usually watched. They subscribed to the same jingoistic ideas that I did, and besides, they had nice graphics and special effects. It was actually my atheism that ended breaking me free from Fox News. I was in the kitchen washing dishes while I listened to Fox News one day. They had some people come on and they started discussing whether an atheist could be President. So I went into the living room to watch. Everyone on the show, the guests, the anchors (I think it might have been Hannity) all unanimously agreed that an atheist could not be President. Atheists simply just did not have the moral fiber to do so. If they didn't have the common sense to accept Jesus, how could they lead the country? I had never been so pissed off by watching the news before, and since I no longer had any respect whatsoever for the people over at Fox News, I stopped watching it altogther. I then started watching CNN and MSNBC and also the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I think the Daily Show may have influenced me in that I began to become increasingly critical of the Bush administration (his religiosity and opposition to stem cell research also affected this).

     But for perhaps 6 months after this it's hard to discern how my thinking evolved. Some idea can be had by looking at my posts on my blog. Looking at a post from April 2005 (the first month of my blog) I made my opposition to social conservatism well known, but didn't appear particularly opposed to economic conservatism. I know at some point in early 2005 I read a book called Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America. After reading that book, I classified myself as a liberal and felt, at least for a period of a few months, very supportive of the Democratic party. Perhaps it was this identification of myself with the minority party that allowed me to easily criticize the way that the GOP was running the country. In July I made a post to my blog titled Is Socialism Superior to Capitalism?. By the way I answered the many responses that I got it seems clear that I had answered this question for myself at least a few weeks earlier and had educated myself to some extent about socialism. Then in August I made a post about Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media called The Media-A Tool of Propaganda?. The realization that the mainstream media is essentially right-wing propaganda was the turning point which shifted my sources of learning and understanding of the world from the TV to more scholarly resources like books and documentaries. And then basically due to how intersting these topics are I began to consume new information at a very fast rate, always having (and still have) 2 or 3 books waiting in line to be read after finishing the current one. It's interesting to look through my posts indexed by month and watch my political transformation happen as I learn more about both current and historical events and get exposed to new points of view.

     As I said it's hard to really detail the thought process that I went through, but I hope this gives some idea. A good deal of credit also goes to many of you in the blogging community, whom I've had a great many educational conversations with and who've opened me up to new ideas. I look forward to more dicussions with you in our shared goal of understanding more about the world around us and affecting it for the better.

6 comments:

Mookie said...

Excellent! I loved how you used previous posts, some merely questions about ideologies and not actual adherence to them, to demonstrate how you've changed over time.

Seeing how the mass media operates is definitely a major reason for a big shift in opinion. If the world I think I know is just someone else's illusion, how am I to know the real deal? That's not to say that other media like books and such don't have their fair share of non-reality, but we can safely say that we will find a lot less of it than we do on mass media.

"They had some people come on and they started discussing whether an atheist could be President."

I remember watching a short clip on ABC news in Houston about keeping "under god" in the pledge. The report was delivered with a waving American flag as the backdrop, and the US was compared to "atheist" countries like the USSR and China to show that it was a good thing to distinguish ourselves from the godless "communists". It was blatant fucking propaganda, and knowing that the Bushies do make special videos that they hand out to broadcasters, I wouldn't be surprised if this bit was one of these.

"I classified myself as a liberal and felt, at least for a period of a few months, very supportive of the Democratic party."

After my break from the jingo I also considered myself a (D). I have friends that say "The best thing people can do is vote for the democratic party", which, to me, is just as mindless as voting for the (R)s. It takes a bit more skepticism to see how the two parties are not very representative nor very dissimilar in tactics, platforms, and fund-raising. Finding something deeper and more fulfilling is harder still.

I too sometimes feel ashamed of myself for finding excuses for violence and supporting senseless and purposeless wars. Looking back, I'm just glad I have the decency to regret these thoughts. One comforting element that can be brought to bear is that the brain, even after age 18, is not fully formed*. We may respond to the world and memes differently as we get older. I don't think it's fair to claim this without having sufficient data, but I will throw out a guess that some people may never fully develop certain parts of the brain, and will therefore remain violent and ignorant, lacking empathy and long-term predictive power, until the testosterone stops flowing.

*When I was in high school, my mother refused to let me drive or have a car. I of course resented this, but looking back, am grateful. See: http://www.bridges4kids.org/articles/2-05/Post2-1-05.html

Changes in ideologies are often difficult to convey to others, for at least one very simple reason: we no longer think or feel the way we may have previously. Reminiscing on such thought patterns invariably means using them again, which is undoubtedly taxing, tedious, and even a little embarrassing. Your pretty words belie this fact, yet I understand and am still grateful for the unseen effort. Thanks for sharing.

breakerslion said...

"...all unanimously agreed that an atheist could not be President. Atheists simply just did not have the moral fiber to do so. If they didn't have the common sense to accept Jesus, how could they lead the country?"

"IF YA DON'T EAT YER MEAT, YA CAN'T HAVE ANY PUDDING! HOW CAN YA HAVE ANY PUDDING IF YA DON'T EAT YER MEAT???"

Sorry for shouting, but the two arguments are equally stupid and equally blind to their own stupidly circular internal logic.

Mookie said...

Hm, I was hoping to see a bit more comments on something that has been anticipated for several months.

Looking forward to lots of great posts this year!

Delta said...

mookie,

The best thing people can do is vote for the democratic party

Wow, it's almost as if you stole that line from one of my previous posts:"And now, what can we do? Well, the first thing is to vote Democrat in 2008"....

It was blatant fucking propaganda, and knowing that the Bushies do make special videos that they hand out to broadcasters, I wouldn't be surprised if this bit was one of these

That's the most infuriating type of propaganda. Something that's just so obvious that not only is it pure shit, but it's also an insult to the intelligence. Unfortunately for many people though, they don't feel insulted.

When I was in high school, my mother refused to let me drive or have a car. I of course resented this, but looking back, am grateful

Interesting, I can understand how you would be resentful. I didn't feel "free" until I was able to drive. But then, looking back on it, maybe the risk involved outweighs the "freedom" of going to Sonic in the middle of the night. There were many people from my high school that messed up their (or other's) lives in serious ways from car accidents.

Hm, I was hoping to see a bit more comments on something that has been anticipated for several months

Yeah, I was hoping for more feedback as well. Perhaps it will come later. I was mostly in debt to you for sharing your story with me 6 months ago.

Looking forward to lots of great posts this year!

Thanks Mookie =)

breakerslion,

Thanks for sharing that, always a pleasure =)

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adsiza said...

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