My Corrupt and Degenerate Soul: Great Leaping Leftist!
Yes, back around 15-20 years ago, when I was a dyed-in-the woollyheaded leftist. Obviously it is not unusual for a person to leave the leftism of their youth behind as they mature (I can never bring myself to call it liberalism, since leftism is so decidedly illiberal).
But for many people it is a trivial change. They simply went along with the program when they were younger, and now go along with a different program. It's not as if they've thought anything out on a deep level. For a lot of people, politics comes down to a social club.
Yet there are others who remain hardcore leftists their entire lives, as if they have literally learned nothing in their life's journey--Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Pete Seeger, Bernie Sanders, Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, Alexander Cockburn, Paul Krugman, Bruce Springsteen, real-life meathead Rob Reiner, and so many others. What explains them? What exactly is wrong with them? Is it lack of intelligence? Clearly not. Is it psychopathology? As a psychologist it is tempting to reduce it to that, and I could easily do so in a plausible way. But a leftist psychologist could do the same thing with me.
The more I think about it, I consider it a spiritual pathology, a true sickness of the soul.
In the past, people have asked me about how my particular transition came about. I was thinking about it again yesterday on the way home from work. My CD player is broken, so I was listening to the Michael Medved show. Being Passover, it was a rerun. There were two guests. One was David Horowitz, who was discussing his then new book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.
One thing I like about Medved, Prager or Hewitt, is that, unlike, say, the amazingly tedious Air America, they try to stimulate debate by having on worthy proponents from the other side. In this case, it was Daniel Lazar, a writer from The Nation magazine. Back in the 1980's, when I was a subscriber, it was considered a far left magazine. It was actually an alternative to the MSM. Since then the MSM has moved so far left that there is probably no substantive difference anymore on a single issue between The Nation and the L.A. or New York Times. This is what I mean when I say that the Democrats are no longer a liberal party, but a leftist one.
I give credit to Lazar for being unflinchingly candid in propounding his views. Most leftists know their ideas will be unpopular if expressed in an unvarnished, un-nuanced way to the unsophisticated boobeoisie, so they dissemble, deceive, and prevaricate. But Lazar was refreshingly straightforward in expressing his views. Ironically, he confirmed every single point Horowitz made about the far left--that approximately 20% of the population that truly hates America and everything it stands for. Lazar had no qualms about openly comparing President Bush to Hitler, even emphasizing that Hitler had better reasons for invading Poland than Bush did to invade Iraq.
Lazar went on to say that he was entirely sympathetic to the insurgency, since they are simply defending their country from a hostile invasion. He hoped that they would succeed in preventing the upcoming election, since any electoral process brought about by the Americans would be a sham. He dismissed the idea that the insurgents were terrorists, pointing out that the nazis also referred to the French resistance as terrorists. "Terrorism" is just a word we made up to delegitimize what the other guy does.
Lazar said he could easily write a book about the "unholy alliance" between Islamism and American conservatism, since both involve religious fascism, violence, totalitarianism, hatred of women, etc.--all the usual bromides.
As I listened to this man, I tried to understand how someone can be so frankly sick and depraved--not mentally, but within their soul. Obviously it would serve no purpose whatsoever to debate such an individual or to argue with them on the merits of their ideas, any more than you could have a rational discussion with the typical denizen of the dailykos-huffingtonpost world. You're never going to persuade this kind of person with logic or evidence. All you can do is try to highlight your differences as sharply as possible.
I didn't mean to make this post about Lazar. Rather, his presence on the radio prompted me to once again look within myself for answers and to try and understand my own transformation. For there was a time that I would have looked up to someone like Lazar as a brave and outspoken man, a persecuted minority "speaking truth to power." How could I have been so foolish?
By definition it cannot be a matter of intelligence, for I am no smarter today than I was then. Nor do I believe that I was a whole lot crazier back then. Somewhat, but that had more to do with typical neurotic symptoms such as self-confidence, mild depression, relationship issues, etc., nothing really fundamental.
But why was I a leftist? A few superficial answers came readily to mind. One of them falls into the realm of simple ignorance. Back then, before the days of talk radio or the internet, there was no widespread access to conservative ideas. Ever since Goldwater, the MSM had succeeded in branding the conservative movement as a lunatic fringe of irrelevant fanatics. A priori they were not to be taken seriously except as a potentially serious danger. I also encountered this default attitude everywhere in my education, and never heard any alternative view articulated, except in a mischaracterized and distorted way.
I was also completely ahistorical. Or worse, there was a sense in the 1960s and 1970s that history had labored for lo those many dark centuries to finally give birth to our enlightened generation. We were superior to all of the past benighted generations, including our clueless parents. There was no sense whatsoever that the extraordinary economic and personal freedom that began opening up at that particular time had had any cost whatsoever. If only all of the stupid and violent ideas of past generations were obliterated--ideas like war, sacrifice, capitalist greed, Western religion, etc.--the natural goodness of humans would bloom like a flower.
Of course, like all leftists I was economically illiterate--or innumerate. That's the problem with the Left, since Marxism in all its permuations is just bad literature, not economics. Like socialist Europe, I knew nothing about the creation of wealth. I just assumed it. The only problem was its distribution.
Much of it was simple and crude self-interest. Thus, just like the idiot high school students of today demonstrating on behalf of illegal immigrants, I can remember "bravely" ditching my 9th grade class in 1970 to participate in a school wide antiwar demonstration. The sense of childish moral superiority could make you throw up.
I also lacked gratitude. Again, somehow there was no understanding of the extraordinary sacrifices people had made in the past to make my unbelievably easy and pleasant life possible. My father lived through W.W.II and served in the British army, but men of his generation didn't seem to want to talk about their experiences. Perhaps they were traumatized by them and wanted to go along with the ahistorical tenor of the times as a way to foster their own denial--much in the way the W.W. I generation didn't want to face up to Hitler in the 1930s.
Leftism continues to be a children's crusade against the adult world, and we are in desperate need of adults who will stand up to the children and not worry about trying to be their "friends." As a parent, you simply have to do what you need to do, because children don't really know how to raise themselves. (If I had more time, this would be a good place to expand upon this vis-a-vis Will's comment below on the spirit of rebellion that animates the Left. This rebellion is an inevitable artifact of childhood, and is oedipal to the core. To gratify it is to create a monster.)
I remember seeing Saving Private Ryan a few months after it came out. I took in a matinee in an empty theater, and remember being so overwhelmed with an implacable sense of gratitude. As I walked out into the sunlight, it was almost disorienting. What could I ever do in my life to repay those men who made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could spend a leisurely afternoon watching a movie about their sacrifices?
I don't know what I would have thought about that movie in 1985. Probably I would have devalued it. But now I am acutely conscious of the fact that I must, at the very least, live a life worthy of the sacrifice of the men who made my life possible, and to do everything I can to maintain the values of the country they gave their lives for. To do otherwise is to insult their sacred memory.
While harping on my own shortcomings, mention should also be given to my intellectual arrogance and my moral superiority. Scratch any leftist and, and they will sue you; but underneath the scratch you will find a bottomless reservoir of conviction that they not only know more than you do, but that they are a better person than you are. You are greedy, or homophobic, or sexist, or racist, or hate the poor, or don't care about the planet, while I am the opposite of all those things. I am kind, compassionate, wise, generous and tolerant.
The reason why leftist ideas are so devoid of substance is that they often come down to a simple affirmation of these self-flattering adjectives, as in the example a couple weeks ago of Jimmy Carter's abuse of the innocent elementary school student. To summarize, it went something like this: "Are you a nice person?," asked Carter. "Yes," says the girl. "Then you are a Democrat." Easy.
Back when I was a leftist, I just wanted to be "cool." This was not so much a political or even apolitical stance. Rather, it had to do with not being judgmental and not tolerating people who were judgmental. Judgmental people were uncool in the extreme. I don't know about you, but everybody I knew was cool, even most teachers.
But there is something spiritually much deeper about this stance. For what I really wanted back then was for my conscience to be asleep, and the last thing I wanted was to be around someone with an awakened objective conscience. That would have bummed me out. Big time.
This, I believe, is what explains the narcissistic Hollywood left, which increasingly exemplifies the left in general. This is a population of people whose consciences are generally deeply asleep. A disabled conscience is what allows them to lead the sort of frivolous, self-absorbed and morally rudderless personal lives they do.
But the conscience does not go away. Rather, it is simply projected in the form of an oppressive mother government that will keep everyone else from being "selfish." For the Hollywood leftist knows full well about the corrupt nature of the human soul. They know that the individual is powerless to live in the light of a higher source that is not from this world. Therefore, the only hope for mankind is to enforce a collective morality from on high to assuage our collective--not individual--sin.
When the leftist talks about how this is a racist country, he knows of what he speaks. Likewise, his obsession with sexual deviance or human greed lets you know that he is on intimate terms with them. It is a miserable condition of the soul. In deflecting responsibility and pursuing a collective solution to his own personal spiritual demons, the leftist is trying to put you out of his misery.
Your erstwhile leaping leftist, circa 1980-81. Clueless but cool, no? That's a 16 oz. Coors can at my feet, although in real life the relationship was somewhat reversed. How did this affable ne'er-do-well bluff his way into graduate school a year later? Ah, what wondrous feats are possible if you are desperate to extend your adolescence just a little bit longer!