Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Worst Season for Conservatives

Perhaps people on the right don't appreciate any of the seasons of the year. If someone like Clarence Thomas could be bitter over graduating from Yale Law School or confirmation to the Supreme Court, surely he could find something to resent about winter, spring, summer, AND fall.

But the bleakest of all the bleak seasons for conservatives must be autumn--the time when the trees put on rainbow coats of leaves. Given that resentment over the diversity of American society is one of the most salient characteristics of conservatism, conservatives must experience the mixture of colors in the autumn trees as peculiarly distressful, embittering, or depressing. Conservatives have long been pained by the increasing visibility of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Jewish people, gays, and American Indians in American society, the global character of cities like Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, and the nearly two hundred languages spoken in the Los Angeles school system. Last year, a lot of conservatives couldn't get over the huge pro-immigration rallies by Mexican immigrants in cities like Los Angeles.

And now there's also the presidential candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for them to worry about as well.

That's why we should be particularly mindful of the mental health of conservatives during the fall season. Just as many people become depressed from the barrenness of the landscape and lack of sunlight during the winter, conservatives might be especially vulnerable to depression as they contemplate the reds, golds, browns, yellows, and remaining greens of the trees around them.

Being conservative while the trees are changing colors must require constant vigilance. It takes a determined conservative to maintain their insistence on sameness, order, and hierarchy in the face of all the temptations created by autumn beauty. In fact, it would be interesting to see if conservatives watch significantly more football on televisions than liberals. If so, it's likely that people on the right are watching more football as a way to avoid contact with the natural world at this particularly "dangerous" time.

Perhaps we should call it "Autumn Avoidance Syndrome," or AAS for short.

There's also something uncomfortably democratic about the autumn for conservatives. From a conservative point of view, fall colors are garish enough on a hillside or along a highway, but it also seems that each tree makes its own claim for attention in a manner that conservatives find offensive. In my town of Morehead, KY in the Daniel Boone National Forest, it's not only the forest that is multi-colored, but individual trees and bushes sometimes have two or three different shades. There's a bush in our yard with poinsetta-red leaves along with faded greens. Along the streets, some trees have green and yellow leaves while others have red leaves on the outer branches and green on the inner. It's very striking. On top of all that, I've seen some individual leaves that combined green and yellow as well. It's like the leaf itself has become multi-racial or transgendered.

Because the philosopher Plato identified democracy as a polis with a multi-colored nature, he would have seen the autumn in the country like the United States as a kind of hyper-democracy of nature. What made Plato a conservative is that he found this kind of variety vulgar and dangerous. Plato didn't even like "Dorian knives" because they could serve several functions and he certainly would not have liked the changing colors of fall leaves. They were an offense against his sense of the existential smallness in both God and human kind.

American conservatives are much the same way. The right feels comforted by the certainty of a god bound by the strictures of Biblical texts and especially like the Old Testament because it makes them feel more snugly enclosed. Just as they thought of the golden calf as an idol (although they did like the gold), conservatives view the liberal god of individual freedom, generosity, and social justice as false and wrong. For the more liberal in politics and spirit, autumn diversity is implied in every season of the natural and the human world. Because conservatives believe that variety means sin and degradation, they take more pleasure out of seeing it destroyed in the flames of hell or forty days and forty nights of rain.

But diversity is not only an external of our outer garments of clothes, friends, and politics, there is a diversity of the soul that is rejected by those on the right. In his Constructive Programme, Mahatma Gandhi spoke of the need for people in India to adapt Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Zorastrian into their own souls whatever their particular beliefs. Much as the autumn trees can be several shades of red, yellow, orange, and green, Gandhi wanted people to identify themselves with other religions just as much as they identified with their own. Contrary to the conservative fundamentalists of all religiouns, Gandhi insisted on a multiplicity of identities in the individual soul as a condition for the democracy and justice.

But here Gandhi makes a demand on American liberals as well. Gandhi not only demands that we value people of other races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations as much as their own, he would insist that liberals identify ourselves with the conservative of spirit as well. Given the intensity of the ideological conflicts in American society this is an especially difficult matter. But I don't see how liberals can avoid it. If we are calling on conservatives to value difference, we have to learn to value conservative "difference" as well. If the liberal at heart would be true to themselves, we would need to incorporate some of the beige hues of American conservatism into our own souls even if we still disagree on the issues of the day.

At the very least, we can extend the hand of generosity and sympathy to our conservative friends as they suffer through their most painful season--autumn.

1 comment:

Todd Mayo said...

Yes indeed, the tapestry of colors surrounding us right now must be mind-numbing for the far-right!! They do not like to see all the rich diversity among people that makes America so unique so all the different colors on the trees must be just about more than they can take.

Of course the righties can take heart. Despite the diversity that they so despise there are still divisions and despair. This division, and the numbers that back it up, tells us that great as our diversity is, we're still woefully behind. Herewith the numbers in question: African-Americans have No. 1’s that have not been remotely addressed such as: No. 1 in the poverty rate, No. 1 in the rate of incarceration,No. 1 in victims of homicide, No. 1 in victims of hate crimes, No. 1 in mortgage-denial rates, No. 1 in diabetes rates, No. 1 in teachers in neighborhood classrooms with less than three years experience, No. 1 in receiving the death sentence, No. 2 in percentage of Americans who do not have health care. (www.naacp.org) Can all this combined be a huge coincidence? No, it cannot.

According to the Schott Report, "seven of ten black youth are dropping out of high school in major cities like Chicago, New York and Miami."(www.naacp.org)

But it doesn't stop there. The Republican candidates wallow in the divide and conquer "Southern Strategy on Steroids tactics of Ronald Reagan, whom African-Americans and white people of conscience remember as the man who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and backed South African apartheid till the bitter end. It is lunacy to follow such untutored, backward thinking but they persist undaunted.

America is still No. 1 in too many areas of pain. And that works for the right wing because they love nothing more than to create artificial divisions and exploit them. They have proven quite adept at that since 1968. But we've all paid a price for it. Perhaps those who have ultimately lost the most are those who have actively embraced the idea that diversity is bad. They,their children, their grandchildren will suffer the most as that way of thinking becomes less acceptable in a nation that becomes increasingly diverse year-by year and decade-by-decade.

How sad. But the trees are beautiful no matter what anyone says.