Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The dangers of being part of the non-mainstream Right

No doubt, if you identify yourself as politically conservative in the United States, the majority of your acquaintances who also identify themselves as conservatives are more or less mainstream. They are, hopefully, socially conservative on issues like abortion. They tend to have a very strong admiration for documents like the Declaration of Independence. Sometimes they are bound and determined to co-opt iconic figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., for their conservative causes. They may be reflexively pro-military, which makes it a little difficult to criticize even the extreme left-wing aspects of the military without triggering a defensive reaction. They are extremely sensitive on the issue of race. They are foreign policy hawks. And they may have at least somewhat of a tendency to make excuses for the Republican Party, even when the GOP lets them down. (Though in my opinion the GOP has pushed its luck even with the mainstream about as far as it can or even farther and is starting to lose them.) They know that Barack Obama is a disaster and can usually tell you why in some detail, though the details may vary a bit.

The whole package deal is a great deal better than dealing with leftists, and if one had the opportunity to choose, say, a child-in-law (son-in-law or daughter-in-law), one would if one is wise far, far rather have a mainstream conservative than almost any other option.

Be that as it may, there are often areas of disagreement and even friction between those on the mainstream Right and those of us, among whom I include myself, who aren't quite in the mainstream Right. In fact, we are often to the right of the mainstream Right. The issue of race makes a pretty good example: One is always debating internally about whether to come out and say, "You know, MLK wasn't really a good role model. We shouldn't idolize him so much." Even a statement like, "Black culture in America is too often dysfunctional, and this, far more than any residual white racism, is the major cause of current disparities to the disadvantage of blacks in the country" can be explosive. It's likely, at a minimum, to make many of one's mainstream conservative friends or family uneasy.

I've found that saying that the military isn't a good career decision for a Christian and/or conservative young man can provoke quite an angry reaction.

Then there's feminism. Quite a number of social conservatives have made their peace with feminism. They're too busy telling us that Susan B. Anthony was pro-life (which appears to be true) and that feminism has been "hijacked" since the 1960's by "radicals" (which in my opinion is false) to have any really negative things to say about feminism. Sarah Palin, after all, was a proud member of Feminists for Life. Which doesn't mean that I would never have voted for her under any circumstancess, but for an Eagle Forum type like me it was a little bit of a let-down.

You get the picture.

However. I've come to realize that anyone who is Right but not mainstream Right, especially if proud to be to the right of the mainstream Right, faces some unique dangers in that position, and it seems like not such a bad idea for us to admit them outright and be on guard against them.

So here's some unsolicited advice. Prologue: Let me just say right now that if you take violent exception to this advice, please never mind. Quite frankly, if you get that upset, you are probably beyond being able to profit from it. Just go somewhere else and fume quietly or whatever, but don't try to post vitriol on this thread, because it won't be published. My intended audience here is an extremely narrow one, as is so often the case: It is those inclined to "hang with" some sort of non-mainstream Right, either in person or on the Internet, but still able to see the way back to the mainstream and still able to feel a little uncomfortable about where they might end up if not careful. To you, and here I include myself, I would suggest that we watch out for the following:

--The addiction to shocking for the sake of shocking. Yes, I know, it's kind of fun to say or to read someone else saying, "Women aren't on average as analytical as men" or "Racial profiling isn't always wrong." Nor am I saying that those are false statements. But beware the little thrill you get (you know that you do get it) from seeing or envisaging the look of shock on others' faces when you say it. That is addictive. And the further you go, the more often you seek that thrill of shocking, the more likely you are to say things that are overstated or false. (Compare, "The police should be able to stop blacks on the street just for being black, and that would be good because it would reduce crime" and "Women are dumber than men." Both of which are false.)

--Also, as you seek that thrill of shocking, you are in danger of falling in with extremists who are out first to shock you and then to transform you into talking and thinking like they do. Real extremists. Kooks, in fact. Beware of this. Not everyone that sayeth, "Feminism is bad" or "The word 'racism' is overused" is a good candidate for a bosom Internet companion, much less a mentor. Great surging seas of utter nut-ballery surround the small island which is the non-kooky but non-mainstream Right. If you don't end up finding that your "new friends" are silly and borderline seditious hyper-authoritarian monarchists (whose handle initials are MM), you may find that they are misogynists, anti-semites, eugenicists, or outright racists with no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Or some combination of the above. Or worse. Friends, including Internet friends, influence friends. Be careful with whom you hang out, even electronically. If you feel uncomfortable in some company, get out. Don't tell yourself that it's just the residual effects of political correctness making you feel strange. Stop going to those sites and commenting and interacting at them.

--The miserable "satisfactions" of gloom and despair. Despair is a sin. Those of us who think that things are worse than other conservatives think they are are in great danger of committing this sin. If you find yourself constantly, unremittingly talking about negative things, just stop for a while. Talk about something else. Talk about and think about something beautiful, good, true and of good report. Especially avoid the deeply dark and bitter.

--Which brings me to...bitterness. Bitterness is somewhat different from despair. Among other things, bitterness is likely to be directed at those nearest to you ideologically who don't happen to be just exactly where you are. When some mainstream conservative says something like, "Hmm, I really think there's something awfully extreme about the homosexual agenda," resist the urge to sneer, "No, duh! Where have you been all this time, Sherlock? Have you been living in a cave?" Bitterness is rife in the non-mainstream Right. I will let you think of your own examples. Sometimes it verges on hatred for those (deemed traitors) who don't happen to have all the same hobby horses that the bitter person has or even who hasn't ridden all those hobby horses for as long as the bitter person.

--Coarse language. Maintain high standards in your writing and speaking. This, of course, is related to the love of shocking but is a special aspect of its own. The idea sometimes seems to be that there's just too much darned niceness in the world, that we need to send a wakeup call, and that throwing around coarse language is a good way to do that. Well, it isn't. Remember that if we aren't for something instead of just being against everything, we have lost our hold on a good raison d'etre. And if you have a high and positive raison d'etre (for your blog or your organization, for example), you won't need foul language to promote it.

--Coming around and just agreeing with the Left. For example, if you think that marriage was severely compromised long ago by no-fault divorce (which is certainly true) you will be likely to come under influences that tell you not to bother to oppose homosexual "marriage," because now, who cares? (See above on despair and bitterness.) If you think that "the game is rigged" and our entire political system is lost in corruption through a conglomeration of big business and big government (which has some plausibility to it, though overstated), you might, if you keep talking, come to start sounding like a member of Occupy Wall Street. That should bother you.

--A yen for destruction. If you want it all just to come tumbling down because "they," unspecified, "deserve it," or because you hope for Something Better to rise out of the ashes if only the present corrupt structure can all be brought tumbling down, if you even find yourself thinking this for a moment, something is wrong. Conservatism is not about destruction. Conservatism is about preserving, loving, and maintaining what is good and valuable. But more than that. The lust for destruction is just plain bad. When you find yourself loving destruction, you aren't just being a bad conservative. You're risking becoming a bad person. Don't listen to those voices.

--Distancing yourself every which-way, including interpersonally, from those "embarrassing" and allegedly "shallow" mainstream conservatives. You can't afford it. This world is lonely enough for, say, pro-lifers. Don't isolate yourself further because some pro-lifers don't seem to you to have a deep and nuanced enough understanding of, I dunno, the American Founding. (Many other examples could be given.) Enjoy cordial friendships with other social conservatives and acknowledge mutual goals. You might find yourself humbled, too. If this advice seems prima facie at odds with the advice above about not hanging out with nuts, well, such is the difference between wing-nuts and mainstream conservative people who maybe don't happen to dot every i of your personal alternative-right agenda or set of (alleged) special insights. One group is actually less dangerous than the other to your immortal soul, not to mention your sanity and your normal human relationships. Guess which is which?

I'm sure I could dream up more to say on this topic, but that will do for the moment. This is actually a serious matter for people, real people, in certain tiny little corners of the Internet. I'm quite serious when I say that I'm speaking to myself inter alia.

Perhaps what a lot of this has to do with is hubris. Being part of a tiny embattled clique is a very tempting self-image for some of us, but by that same token it can be a very dangerous one--the idea that we alone have the gnosis, that we alone have seen through what all these others who think they are conservatives are still trapped in.

Let's not go there. Let's stop and think instead.


Beth Impson said...

Excellent exhortation, Lydia. I am not so politically inclined and informed that this is as large a temptation in that area, but in the areas about which I do consider myself informed, having at least some wisdom and in some areas even being something of an expert, I tend toward such a terribly critical spirit. This post is an excellent and helpful rationale for avoiding that spirit, one which I need to keep in mind every day. Thank you!

Jeff Culbreath said...

What a marvelously sane post, Lydia. The sign of a healthy mind and soul.

I've had to work through nearly all of those temptations and, to be frank, am not yet free of them. Only my faith keeps me grounded.

Thanks for this post.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you, friends. I'm glad you found it valuable.

yankeegospelgirl said...

I know I felt this when mainstream conservatives were unanimously dissing Akin (and Mourdock some too, but especially Akin). I definitely wanted to rattle Michelle Malkin's teeth. "What are you DOING???" That almost saddens me more than the softness on the race issue.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, the Akin issue is a good example. Mainstreamers were unanimous in their condemnation. It was almost knee-jerk. One _had_ to say that he had made a blunder or messed up. I had a bit of a letter exchange with the President of my local pro-life organization about it. Some were really passionate about it, truly gnashing their teeth at the alleged stupidity of Akin and also sometimes Mourdock. (The local pro-life President definitely dissed Mourdock as well.)

I got a big feeling of sheep following a party line in that incident, and it was intensely frustrating. One of those situations that makes one feel a gulf widening between oneself and the mainstream.

At the same time, it seems better to try to reason with them than simply to have nothing more to do with them.

Whereas when it comes to some of the alternatives to the mainstream right, in fact, many or most of the alternatives in terms of _groups_ on the non-mainstream right, one should often have nothing to do with them, because they are centered on some core bizarre idea or other. I'm sorry to say.

Samson J. said...

There's some very good advice in this post, Lydia - I say this as a someone who's been converted to quite a reactionary/traditionalist viewpoint myself. I fell victim to many (not all) of the pitfalls you list, and I can say from experience that you are correct: they are all to be avoided and guarded against. As my favourite blogger, Bruce Charlton, said just recently (I'm paraphrasing): we need to remember that we must never, ever, ever cease being Frodo and Sam, or else the Enemy has already won, and there's no point in anything we do.