Browsing Tag



people who disagree with me aren't stupid

senate chamber

When I registered to vote in 2005, I registered as a Republican, and I followed the primaries closely during 2007-2008. I read a lot of papers, and magazine articles, and online analysis of the speeches and debates between the Republican candidates.

When McCain earned the nomination, I was a little dismayed. Out of all the primary candidates he’d been my least favorite, and when he announced that Sarah Palin was his running mate . . . well, I didn’t have a lot of respect for Palin. I felt that he was completely out of touch with the situation in Iraq, and I disliked that he seemed dedicated to maintaining the status quo and two financially ruinous wars. I was also uncomfortable with his response to the economy that summer. Overall, he did not inspire confidence.

That’s when I started looking at Barack Obama’s campaign. He wanted to disentangle ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan– so did I. He was advocating for health care reform and pushing for universal health care, which I never really thought would make it out of a campaign speech, but was an idea I liked; and while I thought that alternative energy “solutions” are anything but, I did think we needed to invest in research, because being dependent on gas, oil, and coal just seems like a bad, bad idea.

I read an article in Newsweek that featured both Obama and McCain, posing the exact same questions to both candidates and publishing what seemed to be their full, unedited responses. It was an in-depth article, and reading it convinced me that I did not want McCain serving as my president, and while I was still on the fence about Obama’s economic policies, I realized that the only thing I really cared about that a President could control was getting our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, that November, I filled in the little oval circle next to “Barack Obama (D)”.


Last year, when the woman at the DMV asked me how I’d like to register to vote, I answer “Democrat,” and I felt pride. I was owning my decision, owning my beliefs, owning how far I’d come, how I’d changed. How I was different. I was doing something that the 20-year-old me couldn’t have imagined.

In the six years it’s been since I first voted for a president, my political views have shifted dramatically. Interestingly enough, even after I’d voted for Obama, I still considered myself a typical Republican– leaning slightly libertarian, but pretty conservative. When I started graduate school and I met a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist, for a second I thought I might faint when she started challenging me on everything I believed about American economics.

I started doing research. I became pro-choice. I embraced government programs like SNAP and WIC. I support raising the minimum wage. I am worried about the consumer-based approach we have toward capitalism, and I’m starting to dislike capitalism in general. I don’t like how the astronomically wealthy have turned my country into a functional oligarchy. I find it abhorrent that conservatives have consistently pursued legislation that directly lead to disasters like the Elk River chemical spill. I hate the military-industrial complex and how the the balance of powers seem to be evaporating slowly, with the Executive branch consuming more and more power. I want marriage equality and for our government to recognize that gender isn’t a binary.

There’s no real label for what I am politically, so I usually just refer to myself as “liberal” because it seems like the biggest-tent term I can find. All I really know is that I’m not a conservative, not a Republican, and I sort of hate everything the Republican Party represents (I have my problems with the Democrats, too).

I got here because I started reading. I did research. I educated myself about the issues, and found out that most of the time a few simple facts was enough to revolutionize my political stance on an issue– and it’s extremely rare that I become more conservative, although that does occasionally happen.

So, when I’m on facebook, and I see a friend “liking” Rush Limbaugh’s status mocking the First Lady, I cringe. When I see others posting memes that make fun of liberal ideals like “feed hungry people” and “end police brutality” I want to scream.

Every time, I have to fight this reaction to assume that people who disagree with me are stupid. I’m usually successful in moderating that sentiment down to something reasonable like “this person is uninformed,” but that is a battle every time, and even then, it’s still not compassionate.

I want to assume that they just don’t know any better, but how patronizing is that? I am positive that there are educated, knowledgeable, intelligent Republicans. They exist.

But it’s become difficult for me to keep that idea in front of me when I see a conservative pundit spouting about something ridiculous and people I know rushing to agree or “like” it. It’s difficult because when I became informed, when I began educating myself, when I actually started doing research for the first time in my life, I became a liberal. Because that’s my personal story, it’s easy to assume that if people knew what I knew they’d agree with me, therefore they don’t know anything. But that’s dangerous, and wrong-headed.

It also wasn’t just “having more facts” that changed my mind. It was a simultaneous change in how I thought about people, and my responsibility to them. I stopped thinking in terms of individual responsibility and started seeing myself as a member of a community– and as a cis, white, able-bodied person, a rather powerful member at that. I stopped believing in the meritocracy. I opened my eyes to the reality of what it’s like not to be a white middle-class American. In a way, I feel like I grew a heart.

Which adds another layer onto my judging-conservative-people complex. Not only are they uninformed, they’re also greedy racist homophobic bastards that don’t care about suffering people. Which is also not true (at least, not for all of them).

I have to maintain a mentality that will allow me to honestly engage with people who disagree with me. If I enter every conversation I have thinking “they just don’t know anything and they hate everyone,” we’re not going to get anywhere, and it’s not just about politics– this extends to theology and social justice and relationships and… well, everything.

Social Issues

how I learned to stop worrying and love: empathy in politics


I was giving Melody* a drive back to campus and her car. All of the grad students had met up at Moe’s for dinner, and it had been a rousing time– lots of conversations, ideas being hashed out, laughter… You put a dozen humanities grad students at the same dinner table and what you wind up with is a whirling dervish of friendly discussions. That night, we’d even managed to get around to politics, and the resulting debate had been lively, entertaining, and intriguing. There were as many political stances as there were people, and I found myself feeling comfortable with my lack of political identity– no one else at that table was any more firm than I was.

But, during the drive back to campus, Melody laughingly said something that has stuck with me:

“You’re kind of required to be a socialist if you’re an English major. You don’t read Dickens or Dostoyevsky and walk away a capitalist.”

My instantaneous reaction to that was rejection: I wasn’t a socialist, and I doubt I ever would be. I no longer fell inside of the “capitalism is the only biblical economic system!” camp and I’d already given up my Reagan worship, but socialism? No, I didn’t think I’d ever think that was a good idea.

And then.

My second-to-last semester in grad school, I took a course on Utopian literature, but most of the works we studied were dystopian– 1984, We, The Handmaid’s Tale . . . For two of the projects, I worked with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which is the inspiration for Bladerunner) and V for Vendetta (primarily the film adaptation of the graphic novel). Part of studying these works was asking the question what about these works makes them dystopian? which is a bit harder to answer than one might think.

In Do Androids Dream, one of the primary themes of the book is studying what it means to be human. In the book, part of how humans identify themselves is by setting themselves against the otherness of the androids– I am not an android, therefore I am human. However, this alignment is based on the belief that humans have emotions, primarily empathy, while androids don’t. When Deckard discovers this is not the case, his identity begins unraveling.

As I worked through Do Androids Dream for my project, I found myself heavily contemplating the idea that emotions, especially empathy, are a basic human quality. And, in other research I was doing about disordered conditions and character disturbance, the more I realized that Philip Dick was right– empathy should be universal, and when it isn’t, we notice.

At least, we should.

My project for V for Vendetta revolved around comparing V’s rhetoric to Sutler’s rhetoric, with the premise that you can lie to tell the truth. Sutler almost always tells the truth as he sees it, but it’s actually a lie, and V almost always tells a twisted version of the facts that are the truth– both to himself, to Evie, and to society at large. But, I also realized that the truth they told had everything to do with the world they saw: Sutler saw a world where people were essentially bad, a world that needed a strong, moral, Christian government, or it would spin into chaos and perversion. V saw a world where people are neutral– neither essentially good or bad– but capable of freedom, of making personal decisions that affected them and no one else, with empathy to guide them.

And then . . .

I met one of Handsome’s friends from high school and college. He works with a social program in Detroit– helping young men and women get their GEDs, take college placement exams, and training them in some kind of career skill. When he talks about his work, everything about him lights up. When he talks about the people he works with, there’s love and joy in his voice. He sees the steel-edged hardness of their lives, and he believes in doing everything he can to enable them toward a more hopeful future.

We were sitting on his living room floor, playing a board game, when he started talking about Marxism, and I remember inwardly flinching when he somewhat flippantly threw out “Karl Marx is my hero, man.”

I couldn’t help myself. “But didn’t Marx advocate for bloody revolutions?”

“So what?” He shrugged. Inwardly, I cringed, somewhat horrified. How could he say so what? “Thomas Jefferson said ‘the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ Marx wasn’t arguing for anything very different from that.”*

I was speechless.

Karl Marx, and Thomas Jefferson, in the same sentence? It felt like sacrilege.

And then . . .

I met Handsome’s sister, who was working toward her degree in social work. She’s spent a substantial part of her college career overseas, and at the time I met her, was working with convicted sex offenders. She would go on to assist in a program dedicated to helping single mothers in Chicago. All I did was listen to her, and to the stories she told. I listened to her talk about how ineffective she felt, how her hands were tied against actually helping anyone because of the endless bureaucracy and red tape, how the system was infected with apathy.

After I heard her stories, I went looking for more. And I started soaking them up, and for the first time, listening to the suffering going on around me that I had no idea was there. Once the scales fell away from my eyes, I couldn’t look away. I started going back, sifting through all my old memories.

I went back to the single time I walked through the government-subsidized housing in my hometown. I remembered what I felt, what I thought, walking through that neighborhood. The absolute disdain and revulsion I felt for the people who answered their doors. Crack heads and alcoholics, all of them, I was positive. Wasting good government money on booze and cigarettes. Lazy. Perfectly willing to sit on the tax payer’s dime, laughing all the way to the bank. If a man doesn’t work, neither should he eat, I would think as I invited them to church and ask them if they were going to hell.

I relived a moment at the grocery store, when I saw a woman pulling out food stamps to buy her processed food. She should be buying meat and vegetables with that, not macaroni and cheese. I had absolutely no idea that meats and vegetables are some of the most expensive food items you can buy– until I started doing my own grocery shopping on $80 a month, and I spent most of my time in the grocery store enviously looking at fresh produce when I couldn’t afford it.

More and more, I started shrinking away from everything I thought I’d believed about economics, about politics, about society. Phrases that I’d had pounded into me started echoing louder: if you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart, but if you’re not a conservative when you’d older, you don’t have a brain. All this time, I’d believed that being a liberal meant being stupid. When I started talking about the ideas I was wrestling with, I was dismissed– as ignorant, as young, as foolish, as stupid. I was told that I’d grow out of it, that, eventually, I’d learn to see it “their way” again, and I’d realize how silly and nonsensical I’d been in my 20s.

I pray to God I don’t.

Because, out of everything I’ve learned in the past few years, the basic lesson has been in empathy, in “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

*specifically, in an an interview at the Chicago Tribune, he said “no great movement has begun without bloodshed.”