Way back in graduate school was the dawning of this realization, when during a lunch time walking around in downtown Los Angeles, where I was an intern, I came across a pro-life (anti-abortion) rally. It suddenly clicked in me that I was neither completely in the pro-life camp and nor was I in the pro-choice camp. To me, aborting a fetus is murder, yes. But, it is justifiable homicide. I cannot imagine women going through abortion as if it was no different from having coffee. I imagine--I have to only imagine, given that I am a male who has no idea otherwise about what it means to be a woman who discovers she is pregnant--an abortion to be a traumatic incident in a woman's life. Yet, women choose to do it because they know that is the best possible outcome. Who am I to say otherwise.
But, this take that it is justifiable homicide pisses off most in the pro-choice and pro-life camp at the same time because in most matters like this, people prefer a "either you are with me, or against me" bottom-line. By not entirely aligning with them, I become their enemy, on this issue.
Over the years, I have proceeded on to carve out my own take on most issues that matter. Which is also why I managed to piss off many colleagues, and continue to do so. I suspect that even the couple of friends who tolerate me often wonder when I am going to torch their views, right friends? That is an occupational hazard when rarely is anything so holy for me to accept it as it is.
I like to think that I am a liberal in the old traditions. Never a conservative who defends whatever just because it was the past practice. One who thinks that Socrates was the ultimate liberal before there was a term called "liberals."
The political landscape is now awfully distorted, with the "liberals" behaving so much like conservatives. "Liberal" students, brainwashed by their "liberal" teachers and friends, have advised me not to drink the water from the water fountain in the college hallways because of nitrites. Students, and a faculty on one occasion, have chided me on the plastic water bottle that I use because of BPA. I routinely make fun of the locavore movement and remind students that true locavores in Oregon then should not ever eat bananas or any tropical fruit. ...
Nothing is sacred. Nothing is holy. In a Socratic tradition, we poke and prod and explore why beliefs and arguments are weak. We are not afraid to even throw out our own bottom-line when we find better explanations.
A few weeks ago, when Lori was making sure my teeth and gums are ok, she asked me whether I grew up in an area where water was fluoridated and whether that could be a reason why I am in good dental health despite my bad dental hygiene routines. I have no idea whether fluoride was added to water before it was piped in Neyveli. Maybe there was enough and more fluoride in the water naturally. I told her I didn't know. And then we talked--I, whenever I could, given that she was working on my teeth--about the craziness in the protests against adding fluoride to water. In Oregon. In Portland, of all places. The uber-liberal Portland!
Which is why I like how this NY Times writer refers to such liberal left as the New Puritans:
the anti-fluoride coalition in Portland depended more on self-identified liberal voters than on conservatives. But there are key differences in how liberals and conservatives come by their fears. On the right, these mental illnesses stem from fear of government. On the left, their origins are a bit harder to pin down, but as I see it, they stem from an old mix of righteousness and the fear of contamination—from what we might recognize as Puritanism.Indeed! When did "liberals" get all uptight and anal-retentive as the conservatives are? And why? When did the "liberals" become such reactionary parents?
I am only suggesting that we resist thinking of Puritanism as the only, or optimal, parenting style for liberals, for two reasons. First, thinking that Puritanism—whether a preference for organic foods or natural fibers or home-birthing—is somehow constitutive of a liberal politics is rather insulting to liberalism. Most of the middle-class “liberal” parents I know have allowed lifestyle decisions about what they wear, eat, and drive to entirely replace a more ambitious program for bettering society; they have no particular beliefs about how to end poverty or strengthen the labor movement, and they don’t understand Obamacare, or really want to. It’s enough that they make their midwife-birthed children substitute guava nectar for sugar.I wonder whom I have pissed off with this post; oh well, I am good at least at one thing in life! )
But more important, realizing that Puritanism does not equal liberalism liberates us to think of another way to be liberal: by rejecting the kind of stress that comes from Puritanism. They say hygienic reform; I say the 30-hour work week and not stressing if my children eat Kix. Liberalism, as the political philosopher Corey Robin has recently argued, should be above all about freedom.