In this post, liberal does not mean “of the contemporary American left” and conservative does not mean “of the contemporary American right” though there is at least some overlap (in other cases, they are in opposition).
I was born, I think, with something of a liberal soul. I was unusually creative even as a little sprite. I was the kid who looked at all the rules and asked “why?” even more than most other kids. This continued into adolescence. There’s nothing remarkably unusual about this. Young people questioning authority is hardly an unusual concept. I was ahead of some of my peers, and behind others.
The “behind others” may, as much of anything, have had little to do with my soul, however. Rather, I was raised in a rather conservative environment. Not religious-fundamentalist. Not even Republican – though I assumed my parents were Republicans for the longest time. Rather, a household of anti-entitlement, a little skepticism towards charity, and where rules we couldn’t understand were still rules (not just parental authority rules). My parents weren’t actually all that strict, compared to a lot of people I knew, but there was an atmosphere. They used soft influence more than threats when it came to my hair getting too long, for instance, or friends of which they disapproved.
In high school, I started making friends with a fair number of counter-culture types. They were people I bonded with, even though they had pink hair and nose-rings while I had a traditional haircut and wore button shirts. They did things it would never have occurred to me to do. I had parents that would push back when my hair started coming over my ears. They never lectured me against drugs, but rather raised me in an atmosphere where they were unthinkable.
What turned me away from liberalism, to at least some degree, is the realization that their system was right far more than it was wrong. I couldn’t live within the parameters of their world. It was never in my liberal soul to do so. But their system pulled me back from so many mistakes it was ridiculous. When my soul’s ideology ran up against theirs, they usually won. Sometimes in the form of preventing from doing something that was a mistake. Often in the form of having made a mistake by not letting their voice in my head prevent me from doing them.
Myself at seventeen and myself at nearly twice that age would not recognize one another. They would not get along remarkably well.
“What do you mean I should cut my hair? You sound just like my parents.”
“Listen, kid. You’re a freak. Don’t try to deny it. We both know you are. There are some ways that you will never be able to conform to society. But your hair? That’s one way where you can. Cut your damn hair.”
The conservatism was an anchor. Since I could never walk the straight line, it always prevented me from straying too far from it. It prevented me from being too much a victim of what I have come to see as my own poor internal judgment. My own tendency to want to knock down boundaries simply because I do not immediately see why they are there. To accept the wisdom of my surroundings, even if the actual wisdom of it all eluded me. Not forcing me to follow all rules without question, but nonetheless forcing me to come up with a strong affirmative argument any time I wanted to break them.
My parents, as it turned out, were never as conservative as I thought. My father was a district delegate for Barack Obama. My mother, another liberal soul who was mugged by reality, would tell me not to do what she would have wanted to do and, in some cases, what she did. She told me I had to go to college, though half-expected me to flunk out and was fully prepared to love and embrace me anyway. She had some strong ideas on who I would marry, and it wasn’t who she thought I would marry (Clancy is somewhere in between – she’s thrilled) and she was fully prepared to love and embrace me anyway. The ways in which they made clear they would never support me, they would have supported me in the end (within reason).
They presented me with an illusory world of conformity that, the older I have gotten, the more I realized never fully existed in the Truman household. They bucked the system in more ways than I ever realized. Like me, they had their own tendencies that were at odds with their environment. Like me, they conformed where they could, but did not where it wasn’t in them to do so (though, with them, it was more a matter of socioeconomic class than internal ideology).
Sometimes I think it is the conflict between my nature and my nurture that leaves me so… conflicted… about so many things. In politics it gets more complicated still (my conservative nurture leading me to Democratic sympathies, and vice-versa), but the squishiness you see before you stretches to many things beyond who I should vote for and which political positions I support. They go to which job I should take, who I dated, and my feelings about where I went to school and what I majored in. The natural inclination that the system should never stand in the way of who you are and the life you want to lead, and the nurtural inclination that the system exists for a reason.