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Political beliefs and opinions are a dime a dozen. But how sound are they? And wherein lies their basis?

A Political Quiz and Its Implications

Let’s take a quiz, shall we? Only six questions. Try to answer as honestly as you can and jot your responses down.

1. How do you feel about political correctness?

  1. I think it’s value is way overblown. Occasionally, it may be right to call a spade a spade.
  2. Civility should be the rule of every polite conversation. There’s no sense, besides, letting strangers know what you really think.
  3. I have no use for it at all. I regard it a hindrance to honest dialogue and opening lines of communication.
  4. It’s a very useful social concept. It shows the extent to which our society has progressed.

2. What’s your view of liberal education? And do you think the parents should have a right to influence the curriculum at public schools?

  1. It all depends on the curriculum. Some course should be eliminated for being useless. But generally speaking, the Board of Education should decide.
  2. We had definitely had enough. The present bent of all public educators towards liberalism only corrupts our youth.
  3. I have full confidence in our public schools and liberal arts colleges. If the parents do their job at home, they have nothing to fear about the future of their young; each person should be free to decide what they want to do with their life.
  4. I think it’s perfectly all right for our children to get exposed to new ideas and vistas. They’ll have sense enough to ferret it all out among themselves.

3. Do you belong to any private clubs or associations? And do you believe they should be free to implement their membership requirements?

  1. I don’t personally, but I believe they should be free to do so within reason, as long as they’re not discriminatory.
  2. Yes, and we should keep it that way. A person has a right to associate in private with whomever he or she wants; discrimination is not even in question.
  3. I have no use for them. I meet with people who share the same interest as I, but it’s very informal. It’s not a club.
  4. All clubs and private associations are discriminatory by their very nature. They should all be abolished.

4. If your only son or daughter were of the mind to enlist in the Armed Forces or in the Peace Corps right after high school, which would you prefer and why?

  1. Peace Corps. It’s good experience.
  2. Armed Forces provided they be safe. It they apply themselves, it could lead to a career.
  3. I’d talk to them first about some college; then they could decide what they want to do.
  4. Definitely Peace Corps! The military is a corrupt organization, and no child of mine has any business being part of it.

5. How often do you associate with people of a different political persuasion and/or ways of life?

  1. Frequently enough! They don’t bother me at all.
  2. I have no use for them. I keep to people who think and believe as I do.
  3. It’s a challenge to be confronted with different points of view; that’s how we build bridges.
  4. I have no tolerance for people who are stupid and think only of themselves; they’re backward.

6. How comfortable are you to express your opinion in public when you know that most of the group would disagree?

  1. Somewhat comfortable.
  2. I avoid being with people who do not think like me. It’s a waste of time.
  3. Quite comfortable, especially if the issue is an important one!
  4. I have no problem expressing what I think, but sometimes I see no point. People don’t listen!

It's fairly obvious that one use of this set of questions is to determine your party affiliation and/or political persuasion. In general, answer "b" is indicative (roughly) of a conservative state of mind (and the Republican Party affiliation, if any); responses one, three and four (again roughly), of different degrees of a liberal mindset or leaning toward the Democrats. There’s another statistic, however, which is implicit in the aforementioned set of questions and answers: it pertains to one’s psychological traits/characteristics and/or their natural inclinations. Attitudinal studies are no longer in vogue — George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, is one of the few to keep the tradition alive (see, for instance, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think) — but they’re just as important a measure of a person’s state of mind, I daresay, as those which aim at recording their expressed, more “objective” positions. In fact, they’re much more closely related that most people suppose. My purpose here to examine this relationship in some detail, especially as it pertains to our political beliefs.

Let me backtrack for a moment. I recently relocated to Kentucky from sunny California, and it’s been a culture shock. Apart from there being any lack of venues for socializing and meeting people -– the kind of amenities we all take for granted in any metropolitan area and the Bay Area in particular -– the few people I do meet, my own relations included, are of a definite conservative bent. It’s my first real exposure, you could say, to a “conservative mindset” not in any abstract or ephemeral sense but up close and personal. And let me tell you: it’s not a pretty picture.

Which leads me to a crucial distinction: we can’t equate our political positions or views that are acquired as a result of our life experiences, deliberation and rational processes with those that are inbred so to speak, a by-product of our upbringing, cultural milieu, etcetera, and which are rooted besides in our personality, character and emotional makeup. There is a world of difference between the two. The first-mentioned set of views may be quite sound in their articulation and conception and do full credit to their many exponents; the second is anything but. Oddly enough, neither side is immune to caricature here: there are as many inbred conservatives, I’m certain, as there are inbred liberals. It just so happens, however, that the conservative bent of mind lends itself to greater ridicule. Both are equally scary.

I'll cite one episode which literally opened my eyes and prompted this piece. We had visitors for Xmas, family mainly. Among them was my brother-in-law’s nephew along with his father and stepmother.

Joe is a bright 23-year-old. He has already done two hitches in Iraq, is presently on leave and in school for Apache-helicopter training. He’s a warrant officer, besides. With six or so years already under his belt, the next fourteen years of a military career should be a cinch. The pay is good — close to $4,000 a month as best I could surmise — and if he keeps his nose clean and stays out of harm’s way for the remainder of his term, he should retire before he reaches forty with full pension. Not a bad life, you say, for someone who can still supplement his income in a variety of ways: teaching helicopter flying or flying one yourself are the most obvious possibilities.

The problem is, he’s uneducated. Not an original idea in his head. Enlisted in the Navy at sixteen, then in the Marines. No further education to speak of. When I tried to engage him in a conversation during Xmas dinner, trying to open his vistas and make him think, his father intervened. He felt it was incumbent upon him to protect Joe, to save him from unsavory influence, from corruption that might set in.

These are our modern-day heroes. They take ‘em in early and indoctrinate them. The values of patriotism and serving one’s country are inculcated and may the devil take the rest. The supportive parents consent. They consider it a point of honor that their children might atone for their own perceived or imaginary failures or actualize their own latent and unrealized ambitions.

How sad! Wasted bodies and wasted minds! No, I don’t blame Joe at all! I blame his loving father for being so small and inconsiderate of his son’s welfare. It’s below petty. It’s criminal, I should say. To this day, I’m fuming over the fact. I think it’s abhorrent.

So where am I going with this? That we had better realize, and the sooner the better, that much of what we espouse so freely nowadays on the pages of this magazine or that blog, much of what we mouth off about, is nothing but rationalization of our sick minds — of our less-than-perfect upbringing and somewhat stunted development, I should say, of our basic emotional makeup; that it’s self-serving to say the least! So we had better be wary of this before we drag others into this spiral of flawed thinking colored by the need to justify ourselves in our own eyes. There’s too much at stake.

How do we get around the circumstances of our birth and upbringing which literally stifle us and brand us for life?

Obviously, we can’t change our parents, the place we grew up, or who we are. Psychologists tell us that by the time we reach five, we’re already well-formed and set for life. Certain character traits and predispositions are pretty much written in stone. We’re either introverted (more or less) or extroverted, timid or adventurous, practical or idealistic, shy or outspoken; and these are just some of the attitudinal traits which are part of our emotional makeup and which practically determine how we will feel, think and act.

The first step is to become aware of who we are and where we come from. Reflection and self-knowledge are always the first step for they presents us with options, with possibilities and choices heretofore undreamt of. The next stage is one of growth, and by that I mean emotional growth first and foremost, for there is no growth or maturity other than emotional maturity. There is a hierarchy to our emotions, from primitive or base to those which are finer and more noble, depending on the object toward which they’re directed. It’s at this point that human development can truly take place, for only then can we choose.

The thing to be aware of is that emotions always rule. The presumed conflict between emotions and reason is greatly exaggerated: only a few brave souls are truly exercised by it. Most of us take the easy way out and follow the path of least resistance by letting our emotions dictate what we'll say or do. Any rational or logical argument, besides, can be turned on its head. I have done it many a times, and so have you. Facts can be bent to reflect one’s state of mind or present inclination. Moreover, facts never convince!

“You have to win hearts before you can win minds!”

There is a deep truth to this saying and we had better pay heed. The trick is to get our emotions in order. Think nobly and highly and reason will follow.

I’d like to think on virtues — equality, justice, fairness, and yes — love! If you think on these things, you’re unlikely to go wrong. You may be off on a minor detail or two, nothing that Politics 101 couldn’t straighten out, but that’s no biggie. You’ll be right overall! In any case, I wouldn’t presume to try to reconstruct society along lesser lines; and I’m certain neither would you.

Long ago, I made a decision in my life that it is more high-minded and noble to be other-directed rather than self-directed, that taking the side of an underdog represents a more enlightened state of being. I haven’t always been true to this principle but I try. Unlike my many allies on the Left, however, I don’t presume to play God. I don’t have all the answers, nor do I think that my answers would instill peace and harmony in the Universe. Just like anybody else, I falter and I stumble. But at least my conscience is clear and my heart in the right place. And that’s good enough for me.

PS: You’re welcome to take rest of the quiz courtesy of Quizrocket. It’s similar in structure to the one I’d devised. They’ll text you with the results on your cell phone.

About Roger Nowosielski

I'm a free lance writer. Areas of expertise: philosophy, sociology, liberal arts, and literature. An academic at a fringe, you might say, and I like it that way.

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