I was never a fanatic, political or otherwise, but to the extent that I was an ideologue, it was because I believed that whatever was wrong with the world could be largely addressed by political conservatives coming into power, and by the advance of orthodox (i.e., conservative) Catholicism. If only we turned out the liberals in our political system and within the Church, we’d be a lot better off, I thought. I was never that crude about it, because if I had put it to myself that way, I would have seen the folly in that position. So I veiled that position beneath sophistries. But it really was what I believed, and it animated my writing and the passions of my life.
Over the past 10 years, those ideologies died for me. The Bush administration and the Republican Congress shattered any illusion I had about conservative governance and the received wisdom of American conservative doctrine on foreign affairs and the economy. The deep and wide corruption of the institutional Catholic church in the matter of the systematic sexual abuse of children had a similar effect on my religious worldview. Here’s the thing, though: I did not exchange failed ideologies for competing ideologies. I did not become a liberal, in large part because I believe contemporary liberalism is even more wrong than contemporary conservatism. And though I left the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy, I did not invest Orthodox Christianity with the same triumphalist idealism that had been so central to my Catholicism. Whenever I see an Orthodox triumphalist, I think to myself: poor fool, he’ll learn — if he’s lucky.
I find myself exasperated, when I’m not bored, by people in our public life who think and act as if all would be well with us if we would just embrace their ideology. I don’t have cable TV at home, but when I’m at the gym doing an hour on the elliptical trainer, I flip around from channel to channel on the screen attached to the exercise machine. I’ve been outside the world of political argument in the mass media for long enough now to watch these talking heads with amusement and despair. Last night, for example, flipping back and forth between Fox and MSNBC, I found some truth-telling on both channels, but mostly I found a thoroughgoing sense of combative certainty that struck me as, well, a big lie. I mean that not to call the talking heads of left and right deceivers, but rather I mean to call them self-deceivers. I will grant that they’re not cynics (I could be wrong here), but men and women who really do believe what they say. It seems to me, though, that they are so given over to partisanship, to ideology, that they are not reliable guides to the truth, but rather guides to what the ideological position of their own side is, and nothing more.
This is just to say that I don’t believe the world will be much better off if the people from either Fox or MSNBC had their way. I don’t believe the people on Fox and MSNBC have much insight into why things are as they are, and more to the point, I don’t believe they really care. You don’t get on TV unless you are absolutely certain that You Are Right And Good, And They Are Wrong And Bad. I know well about how my own unconscious epistemological biases, clouded by ideology of my personal politics and religion, kept me from seeing things that did not accord with the worldview I held to. To live in truth, or to make the attempt, required giving up and ideological way of approaching the world. It is difficult to do that when you live in the middle of it. And you may live in the middle of nowhere, but if you spend your time immersed in cable television or talk radio, you are living in the middle of it.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Leaving Conservative Ideology Behind
Rod Dreher's blog on the American Conservative website has become a daily read for me. Here he writes about his recent life change: