Thursday, April 28, 2011

Conservative Before Their Time

There's a saying about politics, that if you're conservative when you're young, you haven't got a heart, and if you're a liberal when you're old, you haven't got a brain. There's some truth to this one, and I say this acknowledging that I'm one of those old liberals.

Youth are hopeful, optimistic and have a tendency to believe in utopian dreams. So, the liberalism comes naturally. Which is just as it should be. As we age and experience disappointments, cynicism sets in. We realize how difficult it is to change the world, our dreams become more modest, and we're more likely to settle for solutions that are merely practical. Thus the conservatism.

But I'm not so content to go with this second generalization as with the other. I insist on remaining dreamy into my old age. Being optimistic and holding big dreams about our potential, as individuals and as societies, seems more than practical to me. It's dreaming that advances us, not the careful pragmatism of the status quo. Of course, reasoned conservatism has its place, but there are places where it seems so dismally out of place, and one such place is in the young.

And so, I'm a bit depressed about a recent interaction with some young folks about the upcoming Federal elections here in Canada. A multi-generational group of us was talking politics and I was shocked to hear from two young guys, both of whom I regard as intelligent and decent, that they intend to vote conservative. Now neither of them has struck me as particularly progressive, but I'd imagined that the conservative party's regressive social policies, its  poor record on environmental issues, and Harper's autocratic intolerance of divergent views would be meaningful to them. But while acknowledging some philosophical differences with the conservatives, both guys asserted that the reason they were voting the way they are is basically self-interest. One said that actions the conservatives have taken lately have directly benefited the industry he works in. The other said that he feels the anti-regulation position of the conservatives will give him more latitude in his future career.

What bothers me most is that social consciousness seems to figure so little in their views. I worry that they can so easily overlook the philosophy and the positions they disagree with; that they can declare, on one hand, that it doesn't matter to society as a whole who they vote for or who wins, and, on the other hand, that it will support their own work and lifestyle choices to support politicians who stand for values that they are against.

It's sad that they have so little idealism, that at such young ages - their twenties - they are already so jaded and cynical as to discount the importance of their own values.

I must add that there was at least one other twenty-something in that group - a young woman - who was staunchly progressive in her politics. And among other young people I encounter, the question is rarely whether they support a progressive politics, but whether they do so based on knowledge and conviction about issues and principles, or merely because it's expected. I must give these young conservatives credit for that at least, that they don't seem to merely be jumping on a bandwagon of peers. They've formed their own opinions on this. But for their judgements and opinions to be so narrowly and cynically arrived at saddens me. I truly hope they aren't representative of the generation of leaders to come.

1 comment:

  1. We are what we do. Every action I take educates me a certain way, strengthening certain propensities and weakening others. This is the only reason I have any tolerance for religion. If I live by a certain code that requires me to, for instance, thank God for the miracle of food every time I eat, then perhaps I won't take filling myself for granted, and perhaps I will occasionally realize that my good fortune in having enough to eat is not entirely due to any innate good qualities I may possess. Values take a lifetime of work is my point. You and I, Craig, were fortunate to be young in an era that fomented certain values of the importance of social justice for all; that believed in an end to poverty and discrimination; that there was more to life than amassing a large home and a new car every three years. The zeitgeist has moved on; my twenty-something children live in a much more dog-eat-dog world.