Political Evolution: From Right, to Left, to Reason

Why is this person conservative, why is that person liberal? For most people the answer is in the culture of the community they grew up in. If you live in small town Texas, you will almost certainly be a conservative Christian. If you grew up in the middle-class suburbs of San Fransisco you will likely become liberal. Obtaining beliefs and positions this way is rational in the sense it helps you fit in and be accepted by the majority of the people you interact with, your tribe. However, obtaining beliefs and positions this way is a terrible way to arrive at objectively true or probably true beliefs and positions. Your beliefs themselves will often not be logical at all.

For a somewhat smaller group of people who felt rebellious for one reason or another growing up, they adopted the political beliefs and culture opposite from how they were raised. Probably out of a desire to feel special or as the result of an experience with a particularly nasty example of the local culture. This too leads to bad logic and weak evidence behind the conservative or liberal beliefs you adopt. This too makes it highly probable that many of your beliefs are objectively false.

Then there is me. I grew up in a conservative area of Texas and consequently started my adult life as a conservative. From roughly age 17 to 20 I watched Fox News, enjoyed Bill O’Reilley, Hannity, and the rest. I opposed gay marriage, favoring civil unions instead. On one occasion I went to the spectacle of a public Klan rally in my city (not as a member) and thought they made some good points. I also thought people were overreacting in their punishment to Don Imus when he called some black female athletes “nappy-headed hoes.” I thought the Bible was perfect and that Jesus was the son of God. When I was 18 the local newspaper published a conservative opinion I had. In it I described how during a basketball game when my school was playing a predominantly black school, members of my school threw bananas on court. I thought it was absurd to think the gesture could have any racial meaning to it whatsoever. I was by all accounts a conservative back then.

After a few years of community college I encountered a “bleeding heart liberal” professor (who I still love and admire). This professor often voiced her distaste for Rush Limbaugh and happily accepted the label “feminazi” which Rush leveled at all feminists. She influenced me enough to send me down the left path away from conservatism. I attended her November election party for Obama in 2012. During this time period I dabbled in Communism and pantheism. I followed and shared everything from Occupy Democrats, Being Liberal, Daily Kos, and the Other 98% on social media. I blamed every problem in life on a demonized caricature of the rich and I supported protectionism. I very much saw the political left as the side of good almost in its entirety, and I saw the right as bad and wrong in almost every way.

I might have stayed that way had I not had this pesky habit of directly confronting and considering ideas that give me cognitive dissonance. Rather than running from ideas that I don’t want to believe, I confront them under the assumption that if my current beliefs are truly correct confrontation will confirm them. Through this process I was repeatedly burned by being made a fool of after stating a leftist belief that couldn’t withstand confrontation. Being burned in this way made me become skeptical of the political left in addition to the right. At the same time, I was ascending through my psychology degree and getting a better understanding of science and reading peer-reviewed studies, the best place to find the best evidence.

I became pro free-trade and pro nuclear power. I became moderate on guns and drones. I left religion and became openly atheist. I realized Sam Harris was a good-faith rational thinker rather than an Islamophobe. I realized fanatical radicals on the political left in fact did exist, and in fact weren’t insignificant in number. I stopped romanticizing leftist revolution and populism. I affirmed that capitalism was a good thing, as long as it was properly regulated. And I became highly skeptical of complete or direct democracy.

I didn’t change any of these positions on whim. I didn’t change these because because of some desire to be an edgy contrarian centrist that wants to give off the pretense of being above it all. I changed because shallow beliefs gave way to well-supported and well-argued beliefs.

I am now politically center-left, at least by US standards (as every far-leftist is quick to insist). This doesn’t mean that my positions are always halfway between left and right. This doesn’t mean I am milquetoast in the firmness of my positions. I just lack the strong tribalism that drives me to reject nuance. I decide my positions first and foremost based on the best evidence I can find, not based on whether or not it defines me as left or right on the political spectrum; whether it agrees with my political tribe. Many left-wing people leave religion but simply transfer their love of dogma and zealotry into the political religion they then follow. I reject all of that.

What do I believe now? I still lean left. I am vehemently against anarcho-capitalism. I support virtually unlimited abortion rights. Climate change is real, illegal immigrants should be given amnesty, I want universal healthcare, I believe there is a gender wage gap, I believe anti-black racism is still prevalent, I support social safety nets, and I reject all attempts of the religious right to inflict their hypocritical puritanical morality on everybody.

However, I don’t reject capitalism. People on the left can rarely define capitalism, let alone explain why they hate it past some incoherent platitude about greedy rich people. I’m against unregulated capitalism, but investment, risk, and payoffs is perfectly reasonable when liars and manipulators aren’t gaming things. The stock market, competition, and investment are the life blood of progress. Laypersons see when greedy assholes fuck us like in 2007/8, but they rarely acknowledge the progress made in-between these busts that results from the stock market and investment. They don’t get that the net effect still leaves us ahead.

Don’t get me wrong, greedy one-percenters like those who caused the housing crisis should be severely punished but usually get off scot free. I am as outraged about that as any “revolutionary” leftist. I just happen to be capable of a non-fanatic rational examination of the situation so I know who is the bad-guy and who isn’t; what deserves to be attacked and what doesn’t. The average leftist (like the average right-winger) is dumb and just lashes out at whatever moves. Rebellion for its own sake is the angsty name of the game for them. Reasonable people, conversely, take the time to properly identify the enemy and identify the best course of action so that they can avoid shooting themselves in the foot. Populist mobs just throw tantrums and don’t fix anything.

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