Not a conservative, just a conservatism enthusiast

I must confess, I sometimes feel weird about my interest in conservative thought. I guess sitting around reading The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader would make a lot of people feel more than a little bit uncomfortable, but what I feel most self-conscious about is that this sort of thing has become kind of a serious fascination. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the connections between the Tea Party, the film “The Birth of a Nation,” and the role of minstrelsy before and after the civil war, so now when I see books about conservatism I get excited and think “this is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” Awkward, right?

I have been feeling uneasy about this for some time now, but today as I was reading Mike Konczal’s recent piece, “Against Law, For Order,” it occurred to me that it’s not actually wrong for me to think about these things, just taboo in the place that I happen to live. He talks about neoconservatism in a way that I really appreciate; he doesn’t simply find an absurd quote from a right-wing politician in order to tear it apart and poke fun, rather he walks through neoconservative arguments for preemptive policing as a way to maintain order. From what I know about Mike Konczal, I’m fairly certain that this is not the sort of ideology he ascribes to, and yet he talks about it with civility.

What I came to as I read this was that I find it extremely interesting to hear about how other people think. In the case of conservatives, I think this is because I find it implausible that they all have a unified goal of being jerks and screwing people over. Everyone has their reasons for thinking they way they do and supporting the policies they support. Sometimes the reasons are obvious, sometimes obscure, sometimes rational, sometimes not, but the bottom line is that they always exist. And I find it useful to try to understand people’s reasons for doing things before I dismiss them as purely being jerks and life ruiners.

To be honest, I’ll probably still think they’re jerks and life ruiners after I understand their reasoning, but at least I’ll have a better idea of how to engage them about it. I suppose if you don’t care to engage with anyone who doesn’t share your point of view, you also don’t care to hear about their reasoning. That’s a sentiment I’ve found quite a bit since moving to Western Mass., and it makes me completely crazy — especially on a college campus.

This Bloggingheads conversation between Brown professor Glenn Loury and linguist John McWhorter really gets at the crux of what I’ve been thinking about political correctness and honest discussion. I recommend watching the whole clip (5 min), but here is the most relevant part. Loury says,

The philosophy I take is that, you know, you came here to learn how to think, not to learn a particular thing… You came here to learn how to think critically, how to evaluate arguments, what is evidence, how to come to an intelligent conclusion while complicating matters. Political correctness is the enemy of that. I mean, whatever stripe it takes. People use political correctness as a bludgeon, you know, against either the left or the right depending on what the issue might be, but the idea that you have to conform to a view because the view is popular or because you will be figuratively spat upon if you take up the opposite view — this is the enemy of thinking. Why come to a university if that’s the case? If all you wanted was cheerleading, you could have gone to a playground and formed a cheerleading group and then we can all chant a mantra together.

This is essentially what I’ve been trying to articulate for months. Being here, I generally feel like even entertaining the idea that we should care about other people’s worldviews makes me a villain. I want to be in a place where that’s not the case — not because I consider myself particularly conservative, but because I think keeping an open mind and hearing people out is important to do on occasion.

Also because I’d like to feel less guilty about reading books about the Tea Party in public.