I call it being disconnected from the timestream.
It started when I joined the military.
Thirty years ago, I left home and the Midwest where I grew up and went off to find my place in the world. I was gone for more than a year that first time, boot camp and technical school, before I came back home for a visit. Things had moved on while I was away, but not very far. I left again after a few weeks of leave and went off to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. It was almost three years before I came back again. More things had changed, and so had I. I left again, and was again away for years. I always intended to come back permanently, but somehow I just kept going. There was always another hill, another horizon, another distant shore. And so it went, the years turned into decades, the world changed, there were a couple of wars, I got married, I had a son, and somehow there was always one more battle to be fought, one more hill to climb, until finally when I came back I hardly recognized the place where I grew up.
And few folks there remember me.
Now, when I return, briefly, to Michigan I am a stranger in a strange land.
My folks still live there, and my mom tells me about people I haven’t seen in a very long time or have never met. She tells me about the children of my cousins who now have children of their own – and I can’t get past the fact that in my mind those second cousins are only four years old, how could they have kids?
See, for me, time stopped when I left home.
I expected to return and find things the way I left them.
Instead, the children I remember are pot bellied and balding and talking about mutual funds and mortgages and what college their kids are failing out off.
I am adrift in the timestream.
I suppose it happens to all of us, in one degree or another.
Of course, the reverse is also true – for those people, and the many others I’ve met over the years and lost touch with, I am the one who has changed radically.
With the advent of social media, I have reconnected to a number of those long unstuck people in recent months.
Inevitably they all say the same thing (with varying degrees of either joy or aghast), Good Gravy, you’re a liberal! When did you change sides?
This seems to be happening more frequently of late.
Every time I write something like the previous post on same-sex marriage, people I haven’t seen in years, hell decades – acquaintances, former comrades in arms, people who I knew long ago – see it on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or some other link and write to ask when I went over to the dark side. It’s never a flood, but the nature of social networking is that it grows exponentially like neurons in some vast global brain, and when I write something that gets a lot of play people who knew me back in the day write to find out if I’ve been kidnapped by sparkly gay environmentalists and spirited away to their lair beneath an abortion clinic in San Francisco or something.
When did you change sides?
I’m not big on introspection, I am who I am and I like it that way just fine – sharp edges and all – but the fact that I keep getting asked this question made me wonder: have I changed? Inside? In my conviction. Where it counts?
Have I really changed so much that people I haven’t seen in years think that I have switched “sides.”
I believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and I always have. I believe that all people have those inalienable rights. All people, every single one, and I always have. I believed in it so much that I went off and spent most of my life defending those ideals. And so, when people whom I haven’t seen in a very long time say, “when did you change sides?” it makes me wonder.
There are things that define Left and Right, that define the line we Americans have drawn in the soil of our nation. Abortion. War. Peace. Guns. Homosexuality. Creationism. Evolution. Big Business. The Environment. Race. Sex. Religion. Entitlements. Poverty. Wealth. Government.
Things like this bumper sticker:
In case you can’t read that, it says, “Tolerance is for the person who has no conviction.”
This bit of sound-bite Christianity is taken from Christian Apologetics. It’s the sentiment of certain evangelicals, if you don’t believe as we do, you don’t count. This is an odd philosophy to embrace when you profess belief in a religion whose founder said, “turn the other cheek.” Don’t you think? For me, this sentiment brought things into sharp focus.
Have my views on those fundamental divisions listed up above changed in the last thirty years?
I believe strongly in tolerance, have I no conviction?
To answer that, I’d have to look at where my viewpoints came from in the first place.
Growing up, I was bullied – mercilessly, tenaciously, relentlessly, day in and day out, from grade school to the day I graduated from high school. It took me a while to get over it. It’s not something I dwell on these days. Time lends perspective, and while I don’t much miss the place where I grew up I realize that I wouldn’t be who I am without it. My experience is tempered by the fact that I had good family and a few good friends who were always there for me, and by the things I’ve seen since in the dark and dangerous corners of the world – no matter how wrong you think you’ve been done, there are always those who are far worse off and you’d do well to keep that in mind.
I have no compelling need to either get even or prove anything to people I haven’t seen in decades and who likely don’t even remember either me or their cruelty, but I suspect that experience during my formative years explains a number of things about why I see the world the way I do. Back then there wasn’t much I could do about it except endure – these days, I do not suffer a bully to live (which, if you’re paying attention, might help you to understand my commenting rules), nor will I stand idly by and let somebody else be victimized. Period. This is non-negotiable.
When did I become an advocate for gay rights?
I never did.
I’m an enthusiastic advocate for civil rights. I’m a passionate and unrelenting advocate for human rights, regardless of race, creed, color, sex, age, origin, station in life, or any of the other bullshit categories people use to exclude others from full participation in our society, and that most certainly includes sexual orientation. Give me one good reason why anybody should be made to hate themselves. Give me one good reason why one person should be able to define another. That’s what bullies do, you know, define others. Put them in a box. Limit who they can be. Force them into categories: Fatty, Fag, Geek, Nerd, Retard, Stupid, Ugly, Loser. Bullies make their victims hate themselves. Well, I won’t stand for it. The single most fundamental of all human rights is the right to define yourself, that’s exactly what the Founders meant when they said, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness… Noting more and nothing less. Either we are all free, or none of us are. And I am fully willing and able to stand up to any son of a bitch who says different.
When did I become so anti-war?
I never did.
I have always held that viewpoint. You think that odd for someone who spent their entire adult life in the profession of War? Willingly? Heh, you don’t know many professional military folks then. War. Violence. I was born the year the world nearly ended because a bunch of lunatics came within minutes of lobbing nuclear missiles at each other over a shitty worthless speck of an island in the Caribbean. I grew up during the Cold War, every single day pundits and politicians speculated not if we would destroy ourselves, but when – every kid in my generation grew up with the realization that the world could end at any moment because a bunch of assholes we’d never met couldn’t get along with each other. Every single evening during my childhood the TV was filled with the bloody images of Vietnam, pictures of dead and wounded soldiers and burning helicopters and body counts. The streets were full of protestors and haunted shattered warriors. I remember the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and a couple of folks I only vaguely knew bragging about how they’d cornered an Iranian student in the parking garage of the local junior college and beat the hell out of him in revenge. There, that would teach those goddamned Ayatollahs. And I thought, what the hell? How is assaulting some random Muslim, an Iranian attending an American college and who might grow up to take back his country, how is that in our best interest? How does that make any sense? Contrast that against the tales of honor and glory and duty told by the likes of Pournelle, Heinlein, Drake, Kipling, Hemmingway, and the other books I read and the stories my dad told of Korea and my uncles in WWII. It seemed to me then that war might be a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless, an evil that takes a terrible toll on both the winners and the losers. Two decades of military service, two wars of my own later, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Until there is a fundamental change in human nature, war and conflict will be a necessary evil. But it is not something to be entered into lightly or for false reasons or because of hysteria or without due diligence and thorough consideration and an understanding of the consequences. Every single life lost, on both sides, is a waste of humanity – in both senses of the word. Stand before the Vietnam memorial on the Mall in Washington D.C., run your hands over the 54,000 names inscribed there and tell me that I’m wrong. I’ll be 50 years old in a couple of months, during my life we’ve been at war for more than half of that time. All of it if you include the events of the Cold War. That’s insane. We could have remade our world into a paradise for all, we could have fed every soul on the planet, we could have raised the standard of living for every single man, women and child and erased poverty forever, we could have cured diseases and afflictions and genetic defects, we could be halfway to the nearest star by now – if we had put one tenth of the energy into ending the causes of war as we do finding excuses to kill each other. How many Einsteins, how many Galileos, how many Rembrandts are laying out there dead on the battlefield? How many Sagans and Salks starved to death in Africa this year? How many Bill Gates and Steve Jobs died of cancer and AIDS? Lost before their genius could be realized? How much of our potential have we as human beings pissed away in war and conflict and burning death? My son is now a teenager and for all of his life, every night the TV is filled with bloody images of dead and dying soldiers, burning helicopters, and body counts. Americans are still beating up Muslims in parking garages and my son hears my stories of Iraq and Libya and Beirut. Our streets aren’t filled with protesters this time around, but there are plenty of those haunted shattered warriors out there and more every day. When did I become anti-war? Wrong question. The correct question is why the hell aren’t you?
When did I become pro-abortion? When did I become anti-gun? When did I become anti-religion? And so on?
I never did.
It’s all part of a set piece. The world is full of dying children, here and abroad. They starve to death every day in unlamented tens of thousands and rot in a hundred thousand unmarked graves. They die of disease and neglect and war and poverty and abuse and slavery and a thousand other horrors. I’ve seen them. I’ve walked among their shattered bodies. Those folks who bleat so loudly about God’s will and God’s love should go out and see with their own eyes what God’s will and God’s love has wrought in the dark corners of the world – and right here in the United States. People like the Pope pray and sing and enjoin his followers to save a handful of cells unattached to the uterine wall. That pompous hypocrite. Children? You’re goddamned kidding me. There’s a place in hell for that guy, yes there is. See, I’ve walked through his home too. He lives in a palace of gold surrounded by a city-state of riches while real live living children are abused under his very roof, while tens of thousands more starve and struggle and cough out their lives on parched soil. Mega-Church pastors stand before millions of TV viewers every Sunday and lament their poverty, while surrounded by billion dollar empires of glass and steel and silver. They talk of peace and wage war. They speak of sacrifice and live like kings. They praise truth and yet decry science. They preach love and inclusion but practice hate and exclusion. They offer salvation, at a price. They speak of humility and arrogantly try to impose their will upon the world. When did I come to hate bullies? For just as goddamned long as I can remember.
When did I change?
The simple answer to that question is that I never did.
So what changed then? Because something sure did.
What has changed are the labels, the boxes people keep trying to put me into.
I tried to visualize it and this is what I came up with (Maybe those classes the Navy paid for with Tufte at Yale weren’t wasted after all):
You can click on the graphic for a larger image.
I attained the age of majority during the Carter Administration. Back then I was defined as a traditional conservative. Balanced budget. War only when necessary. Mom. Apple pie. Conservatives were doctors, engineers, scientists, the guys with the buzz cuts and white shirts who worked at NASA and got us to the moon and back. They smoked Pall Malls and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon. They worked on the assembly line at Ford and GM and they BBQ’d in their backyards in the suburbs on the weekends. You didn’t have to ask, you knew they were veterans. If they went to church on Sunday, that was their business – they never talked about it. They were Boy Scouts and Little Leaguers and members of the Elks Club. Live and let live. They were the folks who said “I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll die to defend your right to say it” and they meant every word of it.
By the time Reagan came along, people dropped the “traditional” and just referred to my position as just “conservative” with a lower-case “c.” Most everybody I knew was the same. The first warning signs came when people started referring to something called compassionate conservatism. Compassionate? As a opposed to what? Condescending conservatism? Intolerant conservatism? Screw you conservatism? Seriously, why would you have to qualify a political position in a such a manner? Unless of course, there was some indication that your beliefs were increasingly less than compassionate. Unless, you yourself, believed that your ideology was increasingly one of selfishness.
Eight years later when George the First took office, people had added the prefix “moderate” to my version of conservatism. Moderate? Again, as opposed to what? Extremism? Yeah. Funny thing, that, as it turns out…
Clinton took office and the noun “conservative” disappeared altogether leaving me with just the modifier like fractional division where certain values just cancel out. That’s what happened to me, I got cancelled out right out of the Republican party.
When George the Pinheaded ascended to the throne, we moderates were relabeled “progressives.” I thought that was an improvement. Progressive. Progress. That’s a good thing? Right? Yeah. Funny thing, that, as it turns out…
And now, under Obama, I am, of course, a homo-lovin’ red-commie anti-capitalist liberal-traitor rat-bastard who hates America (insert the label of your choice here, Fatty, Fag, Geek, Nerd, Retard, Stupid, Ugly, Loser, and so on. Go on, you know the words) – as are all Americans who don’t cling to their guns and their bibles and their militia uniforms. The entire republican party has shifted right and thrown people like me over the fantail into their wake. You’re either with us or against us. Conservatives who used to be the serious men in white shirts and buzzcuts, the men who got us to the moon and home safely again, the ones who once taught science and engineering and medicine in the colleges, are now the party of Creationism and Rapture and screw you I got mine. Live my way, or don’t live at all. I don’t agree with what you say, so I’ll have to kill you until you’re dead dead dead because you have no right to say it. None.
My views have not changed. I’m still the same guy you used to know.
I stood fast, firm in my conviction and the war flowed around me and the battle lines shifted like flowing mercury.
One day I looked up and realized that I was on the other side.
And you know what? I’m just fine with that.