Conservative Mind Expansion

An average conservative head is a complete mess these days. But it’s a creative mess. They have learned so many new words and names and concepts they haven’t heard of before and are so eager to share their newfound knowledge that they remind me of a teenager who has just discovered Nietzsche. They walk around dispensing words like socialism, Marxism, Objectivism, anti-colonialism, quoting Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and even Saul Alinsky. But I commend them for the mere curiosity and interest in learning new things.  Why shouldn’t we celebrate when the unassuming inhabitants of Midwestern and Southern towns are now conversing in terms that you would otherwise hear at a preppy College Libertarians soiree?

I’m happy this is happening: I rejoice when people learn new things and concepts. As much as I would like to be a snob I don’t have a pedigree for it. A long time ago, when I just arrived to the US and was so short of funds that the only living arrangements I could afford was “low income housing” area in Phoenix Arizona, I made friends with a bunch of poor white folks. Back then, as I was in my early 20s and wild-eyed and excited about new “scene” and new people and new things, I absorbed my new experiences like a sponge. I was also inclined to award the trailer park occupants the same traits as I myself possessed and I did not think of calibrating my message to the audience, as I tried to engage them into conversations about Carlos Castaneda, whose books I was devouring at the time. I’m sorry to say that my enthusiasm did not stir equal interest in my acquaintances – they had other ideas about mind-expansion. But I, in turn, still carry a hint of white-trashiness in me, like fondness for Lynyrd Skynyrd. And I never learn: many years later, while traveling up Mekong River in Cambodia, equally enthusiastic and seeking to play a clever back-and-forth with references, I attempted to quote “Apocalypse Now” to locals only to be met with empty stares.  

For this reason I enjoy how Newt Gingrich speaks whenever given a microphone: he does not fit his words to the audience. He’s like an out of order jukebox – you never know what it is going to play next, but you know you’ll be entertained. His monologues are a “raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.”  He metes out ideas (Moon colony) and names (Saul Alinsky) without fear to be considered crazy (too late for that) or bumptious. Newt Gingrich and various Tea Party leaders like Dick Armey and his FreedomWorks are vanguard instigators of this development. Both of them use Saul Alinsky’s name to advance their agenda, albeit one as an example of what to fear, the other – as an inspiration. They are like Pygmalions, carving new enlightening concepts onto the rock of conservative orthodoxy. Copies of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” as well as copies of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Thomas Paine were widely popular at the zenith of Tea Party activism. That’s quite some reading list. I even heard that the suggested reading list of Tea Partiers included Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist and atheist.  To be fair, Bakunin has been equally quoted by OWS as well. Bakunin in his ideology is not far from Noam Chomsky.  I do not blame that an average Midwestern Bible-Belt citizen, while having expanded his vocabulary, can’t quite put it all together. The insane brew that is being concocted by the modern conservative leaders includes leftist anarchists, community organizers and conservative economists and at the same time has to be somehow reconciled with the Divine and the US Constitution. Clearly, there’s some serious soul-searching going on. How much simpler the times were for conservatives when the required reading just included the Scripture.

I think everyone has to go through Ayn Rand phase. Some will stop there thinking they found answers for everything, some will move on, accepting some of her ideas (atheism) and rejecting others (aggressive self-interest) or visa-versa. What matters is learning and thinking process in itself. Republicans used to be a monolith party who dared not speak ill of each other. They used to routinely fall in line. Now various factions are ready to tear each other into pieces. The three pillars on which Republican Party has stood for more than 4 decades are beginning to reject each other like foreign tissue: Evangelicals, Wall Street and neo-cons. Evangelicals no longer want to be in bed with Wall Street; Libertarian wing via Ron Paul no longer want to be involved with foreign entanglements; and national security buffs, given recent successes by Obama Administration and if they’re honest with themselves, should really vote Democrat. The unlikely coalition that somehow was maintained for decades by various maestros and tricks is cracking at the seams. Is it, perhaps, because folks have been exposed to ideas and think of concepts they haven’t before? It’s a fascinating process, regardless of where it leads them. It’s like we’re witnessing the birth of the new party, a Big Republican Bang. If economically disadvantaged who habitually vote Republican finally see that corporate interests are not aligned with their own interests, why should we, liberals, care where this sudden epiphany comes from: us or Rick Santorum? When conservatives quote leftist radicals, imagine the journey that a few curious minds can embark on!

Oh, what times.


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