Friday, November 11, 2016

Election Thoughts

I haven't written a long form post in a long time and the blog has been neglected for a good few years. But I'm watching reaction to the election from friends, bloggers I read regularly and various other places and I feel the need to put some thoughts of my own out there.

My friends span the political spectrum from pretty left to very right. Myself, I'm a libertarian at heart; I believe in freedom to think, express, act, interact, have sex, ingest substances, make a living in whatever way an individual chooses, with the bare minimum of government. Of course some government is needed in order to allow that to happen in a civilized, well ordered society. Government needs to build roads, provide essential services and so forth. But they should always do so (in my view) in a way that recognizes they serve the individual and not the other way around.

Some of my very dear friends from the lefter side of things are truly very upset by the election of Donald Trump. I feel for you, but as someone who has this perhaps different philosophical foundation for my politics I would at least like to offer some understanding of what has happened.

We have seen massive social changes in the last 20 years and the pace of change is accelerating exponentially. When I was in primary school in Britain, blatant racism was still perfectly acceptable. Indeed many kids of my generation learned it at the kitchen table. Homophobia even more so. And nobody even knew there was such a thing as transgenderism. So I grew up with these views as did many of my generation. Now, I was raised to be polite and helpful, so I hope I never indulged in any overt damaging acts, but it's possible that I did. My point is that my belief system was thus.

Fast forward. I've evolved. I recognize the fundamental dignity of all and I find racism as abhorrent today as I found it acceptable then. Similarly for homophobia. But the key question is, how did this happen?

It happened because I met many people of many ethnic backgrounds and I got to know them. It happened because those individuals challenged the thinking of the 7 year old Clive and replaced it with thinking based on reality, experience, friendships, work relationships and so forth. It was a slow and gradual process and there were moments of discomfort along the way. Similarly, having ended up in high church Anglicanism I was surrounded by gay men, and the same process of getting to know them, challenging assumptions, overcoming the 7 year old child's thinking, that prevailed there too.

And once the barriers are broken at that personal experiential level then the mind is open to generalize this and to philosophically accept full and equal rights for all.

My children are growing up without even needing to question equal marriage, without a shred of racism because they're growing up now. Not because they're better than I was at 7. Just the passage of time.

The United States is, in many parts, a deeply traditional country, and more than that it is a country that was founded on specific values and for specific reasons. Most countries aren't founded. They just evolved over thousands of years. The United States is special in this regard and I think this of fundamental importance to remember. There's not so very many generations between the founding fathers and many Americans of today.

In addition, the US has a solid two party political system and forces its citizens into two buckets. Lean left and you're a Democrat. Right and you're a Republican. Inherently in this system nuance goes out the window. You can have nuance in the debate but in the voting booth your choice is binary. More on this later.

Now, let's look at the pace of progress, or more accurately "progressivism". The civil rights struggle was long, hard fought, and gradual. Gay liberation happened faster. Same sex marriage has flashed around the globe in less than 5 years for the most part. It's accelerating and this is a problem because it doesn't give those who struggle with any of these things time to catch up. Think about a value you've changed over time in your own life. Could you get there quicker or did you need a series of lived experiences and encounters  to get there. And even more importantly, the time *between* those experiences and encounters. Because it's in the time between that the evolution happens.

What has happened with what might be called the progressive left - and I'm afraid Hillary Clinton exemplifies this - is that having achieved legitimacy and indeed power in many spheres, they have been accelerating progress toward their (laudable) equity goals, not thinking about those being left behind. They've also used instruments of the state and law, alienating those of us like me, who even though we may agree with the goals, are fundamentally uncomfortable with the state leading us there by the nose.

In the US where tradition is *so* powerful in parts and individual freedom is the very essence of the nation, this is a recipe for disaster.

Much has been written about the so called "deplorables" and it all misses the issue completely. I was a deplorable 20 years ago. Perhaps I still am on some issues even now, as yet unknown to me. The point is it took time to evolve. In the US it takes longer than anywhere else. I'm not saying that's right, but I do believe it to be true and also impossible to change, except again by a slow, evolutionary path.

As the voices of progressives became increasingly strident and morally superior, as they heaped the "deplorable" around, they actually hurt their cause. They stopped the evolution of the traditionalists they needed to reach and change. Engage me and I might get to your place of understanding. Insult me and you lose me. Shape an endless media discourse that tells someone "if you can't instantly overcome the values you learned from mom and pop around the table when you were 7 then you're a BAD PERSON" and they instinctively fear you and your cause. Because actually they're not a bad person, they're just being human and working with what they have to work with.

So I think this has been the tragedy of the progressive cause. It's been building and we now see its culmination. Because finally someone stood up and said "No. I won't cower and say I'm a bad person just because the left says so." I'm not speaking of Trump personally here although it was only possible that someone outside the establishment could have done this. I'm saying that for the first time in a generation, millions of Americans who have been uneasy, afraid of losing their values; Americans who have been told they're bad people for feeling that way; these suddenly heard someone standing up and saying "enough." And they flocked to it. Not because they're bad people. Because they're human and they hadn't been given time, space and experience to evolve their own thinking.

Now, add into this the polarizing reality of your two political buckets and frankly you're screwed. Because these are deeply nuanced shades of grey things. But you take someone feeling vaguely uncomfortable with the pace of progress, add in 10 years of them being called deplorable or similar, then give them a binary choice for president .... do the math.

It's unfortunate that the one to give voice to this is Trump. But this essay is not about the man, this is about the values and identity of the American people because it's those that led to this point.

I see lots of protest and anger from my progressive friends. And I feel for you all.  But what I've tried to do here is to help you understand what just happened and why, and more importantly, to understand that the only path to your goals is one that seeks to gently engage those who find your values uncomfortable. To invite not to compel. To call not to legislate. To recognize that holding values you may find deplorable does not make the individual deplorable.

America will survive Trump economically and politically. But the underlying rift in values, that has to be fixed by all of you, with patience, listening, engagement and respect. Good luck.