Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Not so different
Posted by Jeremy Adam Smith
I've been pondering why this stuff bothers me so much. There was never any doubt that I would vote for Obama: I support reasonable government intervention in the economy, environmental protections, a nonviolent foreign policy, and so on. So yes, I'm a progressive. I was ten years ago, I was five years ago, I am now.
But I wasn't always a parent. And as a childfree person, I don't think I would have been nearly as disturbed by this ugliness as I am now. When I see this stuff, I feel a kind of panic sweep over me. If I put the panic into words, it sounds like this: "No, no, no, I don't want my son to grow up in this kind of world, no."
The roots of this panic are probably evolutionary; of course, we all want our kids to grow up in a safe, stable environment. When that environment is threatened, the fight or flight response kicks in.
I have no doubt that the parents in these mobs would agree with me, and, indeed, conservatism by definition seeks to slow social change in an effort to maintain stability. That's what people mean when they say that parenthood made them more conservative. It's true for me, too; in a personal sense, I have become more conservative since becoming a parent.
But political conservatism can turn into its opposite when the changes come too fast and furious. It mutates into extremism. And when in groups, people will sometimes behave in ways that fly against their individual values and morals. Social scientists call this phenomenon deindividuation.
Faced with the end of an era, the people at these rallies are feeling a sense of panic that resembles my own. They're not so different from me. And so I think we all have to pause and look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we're doing our best to create a world that is safe for children.