Quick announcement: I’m pretty sure I’ve departed from the traditional left-wing. How does this happen?
I trace this sensation back to when I enrolled my daughter at her public charter school. Charters won’t be the basis of this post, in fact I’ve already published a piece on that back in March on Business Insider. Totally happy with it. No complaints.
I remember quite clearly the sensation of learning not only that we’d enroll her in the school, but of what enrolling her in the school meant, of how that contradicted some principled stance. I felt like I was betraying liberal principles by considering the prospect.
I didn’t dwell on this long. Knowing her mother to be a Jew who attended a Catholic private school meant I knew to expect I’d have to perform a certain number of contortions to gain access to a decent NYC education. So I didn’t dwell, indeed I expected I would have to suffer some unpalatable choices, and like any good parent, would do whatever I had to do.
The disorientation came in finding out how wrong I was. How easily my objections were surmounted. I didn’t want to like it– I remember in particular a spirited discussion in my twenties, at a bar with a college friend– a conservative, who was writing an editorial for the WSJ on charters at the time. I was outraged at the very idea. She was freshly researched and satisfied in her opinion, meanwhile I only had a vague liberal reflex, not based in any kind of background. I wanted public schools to work. I believed in teachers– was the son of teachers! Obviously, this method stood in opposition to that.
All that said, when I got closer, I found myself incredibly impressed. The teachers were dedicated, the students high-performers. I didn’t have to compromise my regard for teachers at all– just subject them to the same professional constraints I live under. The only thing I really needed to leave behind was my reflexive support for the unions.
Later, I found myself listening to the Democracy Now! podcast, as I had done for years. One of the hosts had apparently been doing a series on the same charter network. Now, I was at this point a lifelong listener, having donated to DN! for years. I owned a red DN! T-shirt! I’d had always found their reporting a little lackluster, basically just a platform to enable alternative voices, but I’d tolerated it to gain access to otherwise unavailable stories.
Hearing Juan’s takedown of the success network rubbed me the wrong way. He’d interviewed no teachers, no administrators, no parents. Just people with a specific axe to grind against the school. I had done enough journalism to know, this is not how it was done.
“Well,” I thought, “this is total horseshit.” Most damagingly, I realized that sentiment to be much broader than this piece in particular. It basically called into question a lot of essential truths that I held closely to my breast as a good leftist. The comments responses to his piece and others, and indeed, to my own, cemented this opinion. There were a lot of people out there who had not the first clue– a lot of the old me.
It was the second of a one-two punch. It’s hard to describe how it feels to have your own side’s dog loosed against you. And here’s the thing: once that dog bites, once you’re on the other side in that way, you can go back, but you’ll never be an insider again. The trust isn’t there anymore. It’s not your team anymore, and you know what? It was never your dog.
So, something happened. I was done. I quite simply ceased to think of myself as someone “of the left.” I detached. I’M HAVING MY OWN GOOD TIMES.
So, suddenly was free to look at things with new eyes.
Likewise, the Ben Affleck/Sam Harris/Bill Maher thing, which I’ll write about later. Suddenly we were somehow unable to discern violent ideologies, or as Harris puts it, “if this were done by Mormons, the left would effortlessly perceive the depth of the problem.”
Or hippies who can’t figure out how immunizations work. Seriously, I just don’t have the time.
(Yes, I recognize I’ve just done a somewhat overwrought job of describing the process of growing older. But I was led to believe that was gradual, not instantaneous.)
What happened next has been a period of reflection.
Now, I’m not going to make more of this than it is. But the benefit of assumption, of taking your side’s reflexive position, those days are absolutely gone. NO more playing for the team, I’m an independent contractor now.
Here’s what I’m not saying. I have not gone to the other side. While the politics of the far left exhausting, the right-wing is an abyss, not even worth remarking on. I’m just saying I’m going to be a lot more careful with ‘my guys’ from here on out. And the incidences of this happening– of my sympathies being on the other side, are increasing at an alarming rate. I don’t know whether to be amused or concerned.
Some revelations, on a second, harder look:
- As it turns out, I often find Glenn Greenwald irritating.
- I typically find Noam Chomsky to be morally confused.
- I’m at least as suspicious of organized labor as I am of the owner class.
- I think cops have a hard job.
- I often find Douglas Murray to be a sympathetic figure.
- I tend to want to know who is paying for things before I agree.
What the hell is going on? Am I going full-on Dennis Miller?
Is this just the turning of the earth under my feet? All of the positions I took as a young man are now centrist by comparison, common sense. Racism is a well-recognized social ill. Gay marriage is past the tipping point and now an inevitability, a question of velocity. We’ve almost pushed through the idea of white privilege. Opinions I thought of as ‘liberal’ are, frankly, ascendant in my day-to-day, completely uncontested in any serious way.
I marched against the Iraq War. I disagreed with the invasion of Afghanistan to hunt down Bin Laden. I am a graduate of the Che Lumumba Revolutionary School, for the love of God.
Have I just closed the gap in my distance to power? Gone native?
I don’t think so. I think I’m just tired of the bullshit.