19 March 2013

People can change -- I did!

It's very frustrating to me to see people get enamored of silly ideas like a gene that makes people conservative, or other variants on the idea that liberals and conservatives are innately different breeds pre-destined by some inborn trait to follow their particular ideological path.  Such fad ideas ignore the fact that people can change their views dramatically over time.  I know this is true because my own views have changed over the years.

For a certain period of my life I sincerely believed that homosexuality was a disorder (even if an inborn rather than acquired one) that could and should be "cured" once the right therapies were discovered.  I mocked homosexuality whenever the subject came up -- not in the presence of gay people, but around people I knew well.  In those days, there was no stigma attached to such talk.  I'm embarrassed now whenever I think back on that, but I'm not going to pretend it didn't happen.

At the time of the Iraq invasion I strongly supported it.  The risk that Saddam might actually be developing WMD seemed too great (in fairness, he himself was working hard to give the impression that he had something to hide -- he was trying to deter Iran).  As it became clear that the invasion had been launched on a false premise, and as the staggering incompetence of the administration's (lack of) planning for the occupation phase came to light, continued excuse-making for the mess became untenable.

Like many intellectually-curious people, I went through a phase of taking Ayn Rand seriously.  The sledgehammer forcefulness and clarity of Atlas Shrugged has a natural appeal to a young person who has not had time to think carefully, rather than just vehemently, about social relations and what factors really go into making some people more successful than others.  The blindness and hypocrisy (and danger to the actual freedom of most people) inherent in libertarian dogma -- it took time for those things to become obvious.

Earlier still in life, I was convinced anarchy (statelessness) could work in the real world.  I sided with the Arabs against Israel.  I believed that some human races were genetically inferior to others (though I must say I was never a hater).  What can I say?  In those particular cases, sheer ignorance of the relevant facts was the whole explanation.  I changed my mind as I learned more.

I don't believe my experience is unique.  The common thread in all the absurdities above was lack of relevant factual knowledge, and an overly-simplistic view of the world.  These are failings which time tends to correct, if we let it.  That's probably a big part of why, contrary to popular belief, most people become more liberal as they get older.

Rob Portman's change of heart on gay marriage has been mocked in some quarters because it was prompted by the discovery that his son was gay -- shouldn't he have been able to see the light without needing a personal connection to drive it home?  But this is how epiphanies often work.  Most people don't seek out information that conflicts with their established views.  But they can consider it if some personal circumstance forces it on their attention.  Lynne Osterman describes her earlier anti-gay-marriage vote as "politically expedient", implying that she was not sincerely prejudiced but felt compelled to vote that way to support her party.  Now, for whatever reason, her conscience and decency have won out.  The practical result is that an enemy has become an ally.  We'll take it.

In considering the changes in the country that are working against the Republican party, we tend to be so focused on ethnic groups and their relative numbers that we overlook the far more rapid and significant changes which have nothing to do with ethnicity.  The exploding numbers of people with no religious affiliation (now up to 20%) and the rapid shift in favor of gay marriage (now 58% for and 36% against, almost the reverse of a decade ago) are examples.  Those changes aren't happening because of liberals out-breeding conservatives.  They're happening because millions of people are seeing the light that they didn't see before.

Why?  In these cases there are obvious explanations to hand.  The blunt and aggressive "new atheist" authors like Dawkins and Hitchens have made the malignancy and sheer ridiculousness of religion impossible to ignore.  With more and more gay people "out of the closet", especially among the young, more and more people know that this or that friend or relative is gay, making the old stereotypes and hostilities untenable -- let a million Rob Portmans bloom.

This is how we will win the country.  Yes, some right-wingers are hard-core fanatics who will never change, but millions of others are reachable.


Blogger Andrew Hall said...

No doubt people can change, but it's often a circuitous path from point A to point B.

19 March, 2013 05:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to believe in an immanent rapture. Now I'm part of the 20%. The reason I was able to change was because I loved reading and I was always open to the possibility of being wrong. Thank God for the Internet. If not for the net, there's a slim chance I would've come across the things that I did.

That's terrible brain science to say that person a's brain chemistry is one way because a was born that way. The brain is malleable. It's possible for us to change our brains. I imagine Kobe Bryant's brain would be different if he applied his intellect to be a politician instead of a basketball player.

There's a lot more to be said for this, but I don't want to try the readers' patience with my theories and stories.


19 March, 2013 08:07  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Bravo! Yes, I too have evolved over my life on political, social, and religious issues.

As a young married woman and mother of one child, I was a devout Catholic until I began to have misgivings and reached out to my local parish priest for guidance. As I spoke to him about my doubts and confusion, he looked at me [I'll never forget this] and said with all seriousness, "You think too much; have another baby."

It didn't take long for the significance of that statement to sink in, and I soon left all the mythology behind me, which freed me up to live a fuller and more liberated life.

I do admit that from the time I was young I've always had a more liberal and less conservative outlook on all things political.

That's not to say that everything liberal is sacrosanct, but a liberal outlook on how one's life is managed and how one responds to those in need matches my values more closely than does a Randian/conservative outlook.

19 March, 2013 08:22  
Blogger Ahab said...

I feel privileged to live in an era and a part of the world where accurate information about all these issues is easy to find. A well-informed life is a rich life.

19 March, 2013 08:23  
Blogger uzza said...

I'm suspecting---and hoping---that we may be at a tipping point on misogyny. Slavery,civil rights, homosexuality, society has shifted on all these. It's time for gender roles.

19 March, 2013 14:01  
Anonymous Bacopa said...

I grew up internalizing a lot of homophobia in the 70's and 80's, Interestingly, my mom had a gay uncle with a long term partner. First time I met uncle "D" and his "companion" at age nine, I had no clue. At 13 when "Bud" was still around I knew what was up, and never feared gays again.

And thank you Coach "E" who taught my Health class in 10th grade back in 83. Big huge black dude who washed out of the Houston Oilers with a knee injury. Here's the exchange:

"This assignment is gay"

"I'm not sure what you mean.Is this assignment homosexual? That doesn't make sense."

"No, it's just stupid."

"Maybe so, but it's required and you really shouldn's call it gay. I don't know why some people are that way and I don't care."

Of course, this was back in the era when Texas went through the "Strange Demise of Jim Crow" in the early 60's until W Bush defeated Ann Richards in '94. Sex education was legal back then.

WTF happened to Texas? I want my Texas back. And it may come back. The Dems took a huge risk by putting the Castro brothers as the keynote speakers last year. I hope the Dems plan to make Texas become the hugest swing state ever prevails. Even if the Dem's can't take it, imagine how the Republican money will flow.

And keep ind mind that Texas has a few progressive enclaves. Not just Austin, Houston is the largest city in the world that has ever had a gay mayor. And we voted her in twice.

19 March, 2013 15:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

AH: Naturally, since realizing one was wrong is usually unpleasant. Still, just so long as they get there.

Anon: Very true. I often see differences in brain anatomy pointed to as evidence that a trait must be genetic, but in many cases it isn't so. Brains do change to adapt to what they're used for.

SK: The arrogance of such clerics never ceases to amaze me. It's unfortunate that they're often looked to as counselors when most of them have no relevant skills or competence. Congratulations for seeing through him.

Of course, even though it's not typical, we must remember that some people get more conservative with age.

Ahab: That's true -- there's much less excuse these days for remaining ignorant.

Uzza: And it's especially disappointing that even the atheist community still harbors so much sexism.

Bacopa: I've been to Texas (mainly DFW) so I know it's not all like the stereotypes would have it. The Democratic party finally seems serious about turning Texas blue.

19 March, 2013 17:40  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Ya darn right people can change! I used to be a slacker when it came to flossing my teeth but since last year I've made it a regular part of my routine every night.

19 March, 2013 18:58  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

TK: Every little step helps.....

22 March, 2013 08:08  

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