No longer was I thinking of things as simplistic moral decisions where the world could be perfect if we all chose to do the right thing. No longer was it peace vs war, capitalism vs prosperity, rich vs poor, and so on. Due to the catalyst of 300 and the new ideas that flowed through my mind, what I knew as the world was turned into a more diverse, confusing, yet strangely more satisfying experience.
The World Rearranged
I used to crave fairness and justice as defined by a world that was supposed to be perfect. Resources are to be split by need. People are to be nice to each other and respect each others decisions and lifestyles. Nations are to be one, unified human race devoted to understanding and tranquility. Of course, a world that is supposed to be perfect always disappoints when something horrible happens. Those who believe in a future utopia have a hard prejudiced against those who don't, most noticeably Western conservatives and capitalists. It is Western conservatives and capitalists that usually get the blame for the horrible things of the world, poverty and war being the top. These utopians are the radicals and the radicals are the fringe of ideological thought. Radical theory is highly suspect and not very deep most of the time. I was part of that fringe. I had simple answers for complex things. I had complex answers for simple things. Quite the paradox.
Mainstream political thought is much more practical since it concerns itself with more real-world and current issues than radicals. When a bridge collapses radicals will blame capitalism or global warming or the white race; conservatives and liberals will argue over if the private sector or the public sector should rebuild it and how much more funding infrastructure should get, if it should get it. Radicals will attempt to inject grand plans into solutions to problems that deserve hard focus, like attempting to mutate society during financial chaos. Mainstream ideologies will try to solve the problem within the realm of the problem, for the most part, though that's not always the case.
The Gay Marriage Debate
Going from radical to mainstream opened up a whole world of new issues and ideas. For example, as a radical, the gay marriage debate was easy: gays can marry. There was no thinking about it. It was a simple fact that I believed that gays should be allowed to marry and everyday that they couldn't marry showed the utter hate of gays by the right wing establishment. I didn't consider that marriage wasn't a right, or that each state has its own marriage laws and regulations, or that the Constitution has no provisions for regulating marriage federally. All that didn't matter. There was only the goal.
After escaping radicalism, the gay marriage debate goes like this: the people of each state have the right to determine their social laws. Gay marriage is not like interracial marriage as sexual orientation has never been deemed a protected class by the Supreme Court under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, so the federal government cannot intervene as they did during the Civil Rights era. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments give the states all powers not given to the federal government or restricted by the Bill of Rights applied to the states through incorporation. It would be a stretch for Congress to attempt to usurp this power through the Commerce Clause, as marriage isn't exactly part of interstate commerce (except in Las Vegas, but I digress). Therefore, unless a constitutional amendment forcing gay marriage on all states is passed by Congress and ratified by two-thirds of the states, the question of gay marriage will be left to the people (through referendum, like Prop 8 in California) and/or institutions (like the courts in Massachusetts) of these states.
Now, because each state is deciding this question on its own it would be impossible for each state to approve gay marriage, let alone approve in it in identical processes. States like California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have had the courts rule that the traditional marriage is a violation of the state's equal protection clause. This has created a huge schism, one larger than the one already present, between gay marriage advocates and traditional marriage advocates. The courts have always been a very controversial way to solve social problems, Dredd Scott and Roe v. Wade are just a few of these cases. While being a major religious and cultural institution that cannot be thrown away at the whim of judges, the legal privileges associated with marriage and the denial of those privileges to gay unions in a majority of states make this a major issue that cannot be ignored.
During this change, with my thirsting for complexity, I came across a different kind of talk radio. On Sirius Satellite Radio, there is a loud, arrogant and intellectual host named Andrew Wilkow. Mr. Wilkow, a veteran of many radio stations and styles, calls himself an “individual patriot first, conservative second, republican third.” He loves punk rock as well as his country. His voice is kind of grating, he yells constantly and at the end of every segment he says that he is right and they (liberals) are wrong. Yet, unlike Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, Andrew Wilkow will spell out exactly why he is right point by point. It may take a few minutes, or it'll take an entire thirty minute segment, but Wilkow makes sure you know exactly why he believes what he believes. For months, until my roommate's subscription to Sirius expired in early 2008, I listened to Andrew Wilkow's show, and while I did not agree with every single point Wilkow made, his delivery always sated my need for complex argument.
Nearly a year after, after a move from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, I was trolling the internet for debate. I ended up on one of many political Facebook groups and encountered a young British student named Jamie. Jamie was a leftist. Jamie was smart. Alas, Jamie was a very insulting kid who used his smarts to try to prove how smart he was. Jamie failed to prove how smart he was because Jamie used his university given tools of intellectualism wrong.
Unlike proper scientific and academic methods of learning, researching to find a conclusion to a question, Jamie constantly had a conclusion first and used logical tools like reductio ad absurdum to reach it. Jamie taught me (in his own special, rude way) about reductio ad absurdum when I mistook it for a different logical tool. Reductio ad absurdum is taking someone's argument to its conclusion to show its absurdity. Jamie took one of my arguments and applied it, but only after modifying my argument to a less detailed argument so his application of the tool would be successful.
My argument was that abortion is deserving of doctor oversight because of the emotional and subjective point of view of the patient. Abortion is a major medical procedure, no matter if you believe that the fetus is a child of God or you believe that it isn't a person, and no other major medical procedure other than abortion has be ruled by the government to be solely the choice of the patient. A patient cannot request a heart on demand if their heart is perfectly healthy, just because they don't want it, so why should a patient be able to abort a perfectly healthy fetus on demand just because they don't want a child? Jamie modified this detailed argument to “I don't believe in the right to an abortion and that's what the law should be” and then took that argument to its absurd conclusion where everyone's medical choices are at the whim of government.
Before Jamie was banned from the debate group for insulting other debaters, he and I argued over the proper placement of fascism on the political spectrum. It is common knowledge in schools and in many circles that fascism is a right-wing ideology. This is based on fascism's nationalism, militarism and use of culture and tradition as rallying points. There is no question about these aspects of fascism and their place on the right-wing of politics, but those are not the only parts of fascism. Fascism is also economically collectivist like socialism and communism, which puts it on the left-wing of the political scale. I tried to argue this with Jamie, but he constantly accused me of using the book Liberal Fascism by conservative author and pundit Jonah Goldberg as my basis, though I had never read it at that time. Goldberg isn't exactly a model intellectual, and from what I had read from creditable reviewers, his book does delve into partisan attacks, but those same reviewers found his arguments against early liberalism (called Progressivism) solid and fact based. Jamie refused to listen to my argument due to its closeness with Goldberg, so I stopped debating Jamie, but not before he had gotten me interested in Liberal Fascism.
According to the book, fascism's intellectual roots can be traced back to left-wing intellectuals like William James and Bernard Shaw. Shaw coined the term “Liberal Fascism” to describe a American-style fascistic ideology that has the same economic goals as Italian or Germanic fascism, but was lighter on the police state, though not by much. In fact, the first Western nation to implement fascistic policies was the United States during World War I. President Woodrow Wilson, a man who subscribed to fascistic ideas of united culture and who was quite racist, reorganized the economy into cartels under federal control, arrested and jailed antiwar activists, foreign communists and ethnic Germans, as well as created the nation's first secret police who went so far as to have people arrested for what they said in the privacy of their own homes. This was four years before the rise of Mussolini and nearly two decades before Hitler came to power.
After reading Liberal Fascism, I became very interested in ideologies, the history of ideologies and their proper placement on the ideological scale. It became very important to know what the principles of a debater, as those principles govern what they are saying and why they are saying it. A simple reading of a debater's post doesn't tell you much unless its specifically autobiographical. Someone can be against the Iraq War for several reasons, but one can't know unless the author is adding in his or her principles in to their argument. Without ideological detail, in the case of the Iraq War, the argument could easily be that of a pacifist or a socialist or a liberal or an isolationist or a libertarian, and so on.
Ideology is very, very important in the world of politics. Listening to those who aren't as involved in politics, it would appear that people act politically based upon slights done upon them. Religious conservatives aren't trying to bring God into science class, its those damn liberal elites that pushed God out! Liberals aren't trying to change the millennium-old institution of Judeo-Christian marriage, they are just preventing conservatives from imposing their view of marriage on everyone else. Islamists aren't using terrorism to attempt to create a worldwide caliphate based upon 7th century Islamic law, they are just fighting against Western imperialism and interference. In all these instances, ideology plays a major role in the decisions of those activists (and terrorists) who are trying to reach their political goal.
In the case of religious conservatives, its quite obvious what drives their push for Intelligent Design to be taught in science class. As for liberals and marriage, that's different, as its much more than simply giving legal privileges to gay couples who wish to be legally united. Modern liberalism holds that we cannot simply tolerate those who are different than us, but that we must accept those who are different than us no matter the reasoning. Toleration and acceptance are not the same thing. A racist can tolerate a black man in his neighborhood, but he does not have to accept him no matter how ignorant his views are. Religious conservatives can and do tolerate gays all over the country. In fact, many religious conservatives love people they know to be gay as they love any of their fellow man, but it does not mean they have to accept being gay as acceptable. This gains the ire of many liberals who believe every American must accept gay as normal.
Sometimes ideology outpaces pragmatic politics. In the case of gay marriage, during the height of the campaign of the California gay marriage ban amendment , a lesbian elementary school teacher brought her students to her wedding without notifying the parents of these children. This happened during a time when gay marriage advocates denied outright that they were going to try to force schools to teach gay acceptance if gay marriage survived the vote. After the incident, gay marriage advocated defended the teacher's actions despite their earlier proclamations. The same goes for conservatives and Intelligent Design. When a Kansas school board voted to oust the controversial theory from their schools, accusations of anti-Christian bias were thrown, even though before the reversal of intelligent design it supporters that said the implementation of the theory had nothing to do with religion, but with academic freedom.
We should not ignore ideology in any capacity. It governs our presidents, our senators, our representatives, our mayors and our own beliefs. For an honest debate to happen, principles are not to be toyed with or tossed out of the equation simply because they interfere with our arguments. To ignore the deep rooted beliefs of our friends and our enemies is a mistake we have made many, many times and will make again, but the individual reader can take it with them as a life lesson.
Do not dismiss principle and belief. You may be dismissing the key to solving a future puzzle of our time.
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