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My political evolution: Part 2
In Part 1 I talked about the life experiences that caused me to lean Liberal. I talked about how, as I was growing up, conservatives were always, always on the wrong side of issues I cared about, and liberals were on the right side.
In this part I'll talk about how I learned about libertarianism and became disaffected with mainstream politics and both parties. That led to my voting Libertarian when I started to vote -- which was well after I was able to. I'll come to all that in Part 3. And then, in later posts, why I stopped, and started voting knee-jerk Democrat. And still later, how and why I've moved away from that.
I started college in 1960. The civil rights movement was gaining momentum. Liberals seemed like they were for "all the right thing" and the conservatives seemed reliably against them. That's what I talked about in Part 1.
There were some people who pointed to the Soviet Union, where wasteful competition was eliminated in favor of the more rational, efficient process of the centralized five-year-plan. The Soviet Union, ruined by the war, was growing faster than the United States. Or was, according to the narrative. The Soviet Union was unironically called "The Workers Paradise" by some.
Some Americans spied for the Soviets because they believed that the Soviets were the good guys, and we were not. Evidence of injustice in our country was all around. Evidence of Soviet injustice? We had copies of Pravda to read, and Pravda said things were great. And Pravda was "Truth" in Russian, so ...
I was not much taken with tales the wonderfulness of the Soviet Union, but I was influenced by criticism of the United States and probably a lot of that came from "fellow travelers" and what Lenin called "useful idiots."
When I got to school one of my classmates, and fraternity house roommates for a while, was David Nolan, one of the founders of the Libertarian party. Dave was a great writer attached to an annoying personality. He's known for the Nolan Chart, a way of framing the Libertarian view relative to the more familiar conservative and liberal views. American liberals favored more personal freedom, but at some cost of economic freedom; conservatives favored more economic freedom, but were willing to limit personal freedom. The World's Smallest Political Quiz, which Dave also came up with, is a ten question quiz that positions you in that political space. You can take it here. My results are below.
Dave introduced me (and the rest of in the fraternity) to the writings of Ayn Rand. I read the "Fountainhead" and liked it. But when I started the 1200 page "Atlas Shrugged," I could not put it down. I skipped classes and sleep and personal hygiene, and read the whole thing in one marathon session -- something around 48 hours.
People object to Rand because her characters are caricatures and her plots lack nuance. And she's got long, long passages where her characters make long speeches elaborating their (her) philosophy, which -- if you like the philosophy are way better than reading a dry text, and if you disliked the philosophy must seem a kind of torture. Everything is black and white. Her heroes even have strong, confidence-inspiring names: Howard Roark, Domnique Francon, Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, Ragnar Danneskjold, and, of course, John Galt. The villains had names that made you want to spit them out: Ellworth Toohey, Wesley Mouch, Oren Boyle. Yuck!
Of course I identified with the heroes. They were intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working people -- just like me. And her villains? They were not folks who had good intentions but caused things to go wrong because of unintended consequences. They knew exactly what they were doing. And why. Her books changed my perception of the world around me. I saw a lot of liberal programs, and heard a lot of liberal rhetoric through the eyes of Rand and her characters. And I liked them not so much.
Rand's "liberal" characters wanted to take things away from gifted, hardworking people like me, so that untalented sluggards could have their "fair share." They knew that they were parasites, and they didn't much care. Why? Because they wanted power. Seeming to care about people was a strategy for gaining power.
I'd always had a mixed opinion of government. My Dad and Mom had a small business. To keep it running they had to pay off the cops (otherwise they'd be given tickets); pay off a host of workplace and building inspectors (otherwise they'd be cited, fined, and maybe shut down); and they also had to pay off union leaders and have their workers pay dues to the union (otherwise there would be pickets in front of their place). The unions weren't part of the government, but much of their power came from government regulations that protected their rackets.
My Mom also told us stories of how she (and others) had manipulated the judicial system to get a desired outcome. A friend of ours who had a ridiculous judgement against her because the other party knew the judge. The time my Mom got a favorable verdict by appearing in court in a red dress and stiletto heels because her lawyer told her that the judge was a womanizer, and would be influenced.
The institutions that were designed to do good were corrupt. They were Rand's "moochers," and "parasites." And don't let's start on incompetent teachers with tenure, shall we?
Atlas Shrugged had a big impact on me, and I read it every couple of years after that, bemoaning my growing sense that we were living out Ayn Rand's dystopian dream of what happens when the "collectivists" take over, and there's no John Galt to save the day. I still have a hard-bound copy of "Atlas Shrugged" in my bookshelf, but it's been years since I've read it. It got too depressing and I stopped.
Meanwhile, back in the late 1960's I got my first job: as a programmer for Airborne Instruments Laboratory, a long deceased company that doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Wot! The Cold War was on, and we built devices that flew over the Soviet Union in satellites listening to Russian radars. Then we downloaded the data and processed it in order to locate all the radars and their types. This was turned into a "Radar Order of Battle." The ROB told you, if you were flying a bomber into the heart of the enemy, what route to follow to minimize contact with the enemy's most lethal weapons, and what frequencies to jam, and when, as you flew on your mission.
Meanwhile, Vietnam was ramping up. I started reading.The war-mongering Republicans and the war-mongering Democrats agreed: Kill for freedom! Stop Communism! Meanwhile the real left had a different story. Ho Chi Minh admired the American Revolution. He was admired in his own country for getting rid of French colonialism. (Anyone against the French couldn't be all bad.) The Vietnamese Declaration of Independence begins by quoting our own. Ho wrote several letters to President Truman and others, looking for help from America, bastion of freedom, ridding the country of the French.
But he was a commie. So no. Some said that his beliefs were weakly held, and that because Vietnam had kind of hated China for several hundred years, he might become an ally of sorts, and stand against China. But NO! He is a COMMIE! NO! NO!
My politics were pragmatic. I thought was was the answer when you faced a guy like Hitler. But I thought this war was stupid. And it was being fought stupidly. So during the week I worked for the military industrial complex, and on the weekends I'd go into New York and march against the war.
I remember seeing protests that I had attended reported in the newspapers and on TV. In real life I'd see maybe a thousand or five people -- some "long haired hippies", but mostly students, working folks, and people from more affluent backgrounds, carrying signs, singing ("We shall overcome" was popular) and chanting ("Hell no! We won't go!" "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today."). Across the street maybe a hundred angry, flag-waving, screaming counter-protesters. The news reports and TV segments distorted the reality that I'd experienced. They'd find a cluster of angry protesters, spewing anti-American rage and show them. Then find a couple of people from the counter-protest group who seemed respectable, and show them. And they'd give the impression that the crowds were roughly equal in size.
That's when I stopped believing anything I read in the news or saw on TV. I was there. I knew what had happened. And the media -- from very conservative New York Daily News to the faux-liberal New York Times -- distorted reality.
I ended up supporting our project on site at the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at Offut Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska because I was single, and didn't mind staying there. What's not to like. I had my own brand-new rental Ford Mustang. I had a room in a nice hotel. And I got paid more in per-diem expenses than I spent. So even a profit there.
And there I learned from guys who had just returned from Vietnam what it was really like. And it wasn't the way that you read about it in the news. Among other things, I learned about fragging -- the practice of killing a fellow soldier, usually a non-comm of junior officer -- usually with a fragmentation grenade.
I ended up thoroughly disaffected.
I got involved in Scientology around that time for a number of reasons. One of them was this: Scientology said that everyone was insane. That fit my observations. News people were insane. Politicians were insane. The military people I worked with at SAC were insane. I stopped following politics, didn't vote, eventually quit my job and became a full-time staff Scientology student and staff member. Mostly I worked on making myself more sane.
I had mixed results.
When my money ran out, I had a choice: either fully commit and join the Church, or go back to the world, and be a part time students By that time Bobbi and I were living together in England. We decided to go back home, get jobs and continue studying part-time.
I think that up to that point I had never voted, but (probably due to Bobbi's influence), I started to vote. I don't remember who the major party candidates were the first time I voted, but whoever they were I didn't like them and voted Libertarian. I don't remember what I did when there wasn't a Libertarian. Maybe no one. Possibly Democrat.