The Times (And Minds) They are A-Changin’

A Facebook friend of mine suggested that I expand upon why my political views have changed over the years so I have decided to take her up on her suggestion. My former blog explained how I thought 12 years ago compared to how I think today as it relates to what political candidate for president I support. I guess for this blog, I am going to do my best to explain the yada, yada in between that led to the change.

First of all, I have never been associated or registered with either political party and my vow has always been to vote based on my own beliefs and values and not a Party line. In that regard, I guess I haven’t really changed at all. Secondly, in addition to my shift of views, I think it is also fair to point out the shift in the Republican Party in recent years. The emergence of the Tea Party has completely overhauled the landscape of this group including its core values and fundamental agenda. Being a science minded educated person almost creates a conflict automatically. It is nearly impossible to support a Republican candidate in this country unless you have some VERY extreme views about climate change, taxation, labor rights, education funding, women’s rights, humanitarian issues, immigration issues, and especially Christianity’s place in government. The fact that an entire political party is so closely aligned with a very fundamentalist sect of Christian beliefs should be a concern to more moderate voters than it seems to be. Way, way too much actual political policy and law is currently being advanced based strictly on a very narrow, literal, and often logic-less interpretation of Judeo-Christian Biblical scripture. Everything from the climate of the planet to the basic rights of citizens to the use of military force is being dictated by a set of unchangeable beliefs that this group believes they were given at birth. All you have to say is “I believe the word of God”, and that can be the end of your justification if you’re a Republican congressman or state elected official in a great number of regions in this country. And for whatever reason, the moderates in the Party refuse to challenge them. I simply do not recall this fundamentalist Christian agenda being anywhere near as prevalent or as closely and actively associated with just one of the two political parties. I know of so many people that do not have these types of extreme religious views (including many Christians) but they somehow still justify their support of this type of governing and the Republican Party. When I step into a voting booth, I simply refuse to cast a vote for a bigot or someone who openly rejects proven scientific fact based on their unchallengeable, fixed belief system.

Ok, so I have touched on the shift in the Republican Party so now I will try to go into how and why my thinking has also changed over the last 10 or 12 years. It did strike me that my friend that also knew me in high school was so surprised to hear about my change of views. I wonder, have I really changed that much? Doesn’t everybody change their views as they learn and experience new things in life? I guess it would seem to me that having different political views than you did when you were a child would be more common than it probably is in reality. Maybe the fact that the last political discussion that I had with her was a school mock election in 1992, might also explain why my change of thinking seems more dramatic than it probably actually was.

Much of the change can probably be attributed to a subject that I have touched on in the past. This is the unbelievably powerful influence of the people around you and that you interact with on a day to day basis. When you grow up in an all-white, Christian-conservative, suburban, middle class neighborhood you tend to adopt the views of those you know. When you move from the suburbs and live in a neighborhood that has a large variety of ethnicities, income levels, and religious views, your perspective naturally become wider and more varied as a result. It is human nature. I spent my youth in middle class suburbs and I have spent the majority of my adult life living in more diverse larger cities. Had I stayed in my home town or made a parallel move, there is a good chance you would not be reading this. I don’t want to suggest that you can’t be socially open-minded to other people if you live in a small all-white town. I also lived in Aspen, Colorado for a time, but as liberal as that place is, it is not exactly what you would call a melting pot and acceptance of diversity is not a community wide priority. I am also sure that there are plenty of people that live their entire life in white suburbs, but manage to stay open minded. Clearly far too many do not. As much as I love my secluded mountain cabin, and my small hometown and family, I have found that I feel more truly at home amongst the complete diversity found in slightly larger metropolitan areas. I absolutely never would have guessed this to be the case when I was younger.  It feels strange now to be only around people that share my ethnicity, and likewise, it would feel very strange to vote for a candidate that has ONLY supporters from one ethnicity. Obama and Clinton have both recently campaigned right in the diverse Denver neighborhood I call home, and the gathering crowds look like the people I see and interact with every day. Romney, to my knowledge, has not stepped foot inside the city limits to campaign in Denver, and the faces at his rallies look more like an angry clan mob than a presidential rally of all people I know.  So even if I still did approach voting from a strictly selfish standpoint, the candidate that is interested in representing me and diverse group of people where I live is clear.

I have heard a number of people say that they are voting for Romney because Obama has failed to unite the country. This is an interesting thought considering Romney is polling at virtually zero percent among blacks on only slightly better among most minorities. So when a Romney supporter says they are voting for him because he will bring people together, they clearly have a very specific idea of what they believe togetherness should look like racially.

The next contributing factor is examining evidence retrospectively and the role that the internet and reading has played in my adult life. Having the ability to pursue answers at my own direction is something that was not as present in my life years ago when I was on a guided tour, courtesy of right wing talk radio. Yes, I subscribed to a certain ideology when I was younger, but after years of evidence and some research, it was pretty clear that the results were not always as I had anticipated or as I was told. The drug war is a perfect example of this change for me. Obviously we have a drug problem in this country. Far too many have serious addictions to some serious drugs. We absolutely have to get a handle on this societally. When you factor in the unspoken war with the Mexican drug cartels as well as the millions of dollars from our country that pour out of our borders to fuel them, this absolutely has to be a national priority. Disappointingly, this subject has not been touched on a national level during this election cycle. When you are in school learning about how things work in life, bad behavior gets you detention or suspension. When someone takes drugs, which we know is bad; they should be punished by going to adult detention or jail. Then they will stop doing the drugs so that they don’t have to get suspended or go to prison. Unfortunately, unlike a child pulling hair, drug addiction is a slightly more complicated behavioral compulsion to correct and the overwhelming evidence and undeniable result of our country’s drug war is readily available and hard to ignore. I realize now that the drug war has been failing miserably from well before I originally established my beliefs in high school, but please forgive that it took me a while to figure this one out on my own. Still, isn’t it about time the rest of the country joins me in at least recognizing the utter failure of the basic plan? It is one thing to subscribe to a theory; it is another to hang on to it regardless of years of evidence that says you are completely wrong. The same type of critical thinking can be applied to past votes. When I do that, casting a vote for another Republican candidate seems like a very bad idea.

I would be a fool to not also recognize my wife’s influence in my expanded frame of thinking. We have been married for 11 years and together for 13. I don’t know how many others out there can relate, but I married my polar opposite. I am an introvert, she is an extrovert. I am glass half empty, she is half full. She likes to dance and laugh and I like to golf and smirk. In about any personality or right-brain/left-brain comparison you come up with, we are opposite and even today we rarely see any issue exactly the same. To be honest, I can’t imagine life with a partner that does not challenge my way of thinking every day. I undoubtedly do the same for her and somehow the combination works very well for us. I believe we both benefit from truly being able to see a very different way of thinking from another human being that we deeply admire, respect, and love.

More than any other way, my wife has challenged my thinking on money. She absolutely does not make big life decisions based largely on monetary influence and she never has since the day I met her. At first this presented budgetary challenges, but once we got that ironed out, I really started to see why the pursuit of money can have a blinding influence on a person’s life. Unfortunately, I was definitely heading down that path when we met. How much can I make? How much can I save? How many square feet can we buy? What job has the highest starting salary? The government is stealing my money and giving it to people that didn’t earn it! Mine, mine, mine, me, me, me! I had an uncontrollable need to strive toward ever growing and lofty financial goals which I believed would ensure my future happiness. Not that you do not have to be mindful of financial matters. Obviously, I believe this is important. But, when money (especially future money) becomes a fixation in your life, where stock tickers are watched hourly and gas prices fluctuations cause you to have to take medication, you may need to reassess things in life. Clearly this is the way the Romney camp approaches almost every single issue as do a great number of their supporters. Ironically, people like my wife that do not approach everything based primarily on money tend to have fewer problems making enough to be happy. Those that place extraordinary value in this singular and insatiable pursuit seem to never have enough.

Finally, I am sure the shift toward selflessness is apparent in my previous blog. This is primarily a result of the impact that meditation has had on my life. Learning to quiet the mind and live in the present moment has helped to reveal some of the flaws in my previous thinking and the illusions inherent in my own concept of self. I am not sure a blog about meditation or selflessness is something I want to get too far into at this point but if anyone out there is interested in learning some of the basics I strongly recommend the book, Turning the Mind Into an Ally, by Sakyong Mipham. The book and my subsequent practice have changed my life in ways I am only beginning to understand. For a lot of others out there who’s mind tortures them with endless worry and chatter, I believe that the concepts introduced in this book are worthy of at least some exploration.

In the end who knows why my thinking changed the way that it has. Maybe, the Bob Dylan in my headphones won out over the right-wing sports talk on my radio. All I know is that today’s way of thinking feels more peaceful and complete, for me than the way I thought 12 years ago. I would be a fool to promise that this won’t change, and in fact, a far safer bet would be that it will. Far too many in this country seem content to shut the door to new ideas and information once they get to a certain age or once the message of fear penetrates too deep. My one and only goal is to not go down that road sooner than my aging brain forces me to.

Learning, growing, and changing should not stop when we complete our formal education. That is when it should just begin.

A Voting Retrospective 2000 to 2012 – A lesson in Critical Thinking

What I thought then: November 2000 What I think now: November 2012
I have been working and earning a paycheck ever since I was a kid. Sure my early jobs were not too tough but I still had to be at work on time. The place was clear across town and I wasn’t even old enough to drive when I started. Most people that can’t hold a job end up getting fired because they don’t even show up for work. I am proud to say that I don’t think I ever missed a day. I have been a hard worker my whole life and no one gave me anything. I worked for it! How lucky was I that at 15 years of age my family hooked me up with a steady job washing dishes and bussing tables part time at a private country club? I never had an interview and didn’t even fill out an employment application. They knew my family so I just showed up and they handed me a broom and started writing me checks. Even though it was across town getting to my job was actually easy because my family had three cars. And if they couldn’t give me a ride, both sets of grandparents had multiple cars and so did all my aunts and uncles. Heck any one of about a dozen of my family friends or neighbors probably would have given me a ride on any given day if I was desperate.  The sad truth today is that there are literally hundreds of thousands of adults in this country that would gladly take that job I had when I was 15 but they will never have the opportunity or anywhere close to the material necessities in life required to keep it. It is so easy to take some things for granted when you have always had them. I can only imagine how different my life would be without a supportive family and 24/7 access to a reliable vehicle since birth. Hard work is about 10% or less of what it really takes to be successful in this country.
Even before I had a dish washing job, I had a bank account where I deposited my allowance money. After high school, I opened a credit card and started earning and learning to manage credit. I got my first auto loan after my first post-college job, financed a car, started socking away money in a 401k and now I will easily qualify for my first home loan. It really is not that hard just takes some self-discipline and hard work. I now know that absolutely none of my early and subsequent financial achievements would have happened without the credit and cosigning power of my parents as well as their skilled guidance in financial matters. For that I am very grateful, and lucky. The truth is that none of this would have been possible for me had I been born, like the vast majority of people in this country, to parents without credit (or money). The fact that the handling of personal finances is not an important focus of public school curriculum is an absolute form of ongoing class warfare.
I studied, got good grades in my highly regarded high school and worked hard enough to earn a degree in electrical engineering from a good private University. Yeah, my parents paid for a lot of it, but I worked during school and graduated with school loans like everyone else. I am thankful for the employment opportunities that my hard work has awarded me and I am looking forward to a long and successful career as an electrical engineer and wage earner. Everyone knows you have to get a degree to get anywhere in life and I have no idea why so many choose to not get an education. My high school course work was relatively simple since I am pretty good at short term memorization. Nothing against my high school I just think we could be doing so much more with the amount of time we spend during those years. Yes, my college degree has opened a lot of doors for me but to be honest, I don’t use the education in the least and I never have lest some basics and problem solving skills. Seems more to me that a college degree indicates a bit more than a high level of learnedness or practical working skills. It is the initiation in to a special club that is exclusive, very expensive, and gives you all sorts of privileges if you are rich and lucky enough in life to belong. When I graduated college in 1998 they were handing out good paying jobs to anyone with an engineering degree and I am glad I am not instead paying for or graduating from college at the end of a long and deep recession. Again, luck played a pretty big role and anyone that says that it doesn’t is full of crap. I hope that this changes in my life as an education and employment opportunity should not be the exclusive right of the wealthy or a stroke of good luck and timing.
Sure there are some people that legitimately need welfare and food stamps but most of them are able bodied people simply taking advantage of the system. If you take away the free stuff they will have to stop mooching off my tax dollars and go find work. This is a simple problem that has a simple solution. The number of families living in and born into poverty in this country is simply staggering.  Although there is abuse, there is no large scale conspiracy amongst the poor to fleece the earners of their money. That is a complete lie perpetuated by millions of corporate, right wing, political dollars. Unfortunately, this message is easily soaked up as truth by those such as myself 12 years ago that have a fairly limited exposure to the realities of the life of the 47%. If educational opportunities leading to good paying jobs are there, the people will take them just exactly like I have in my life. The propaganda message that somehow the poor are the cause of our country’s economic problems instead of the result, is a sad reflection of the true face of greed in our society. Unfortunately, this problem and its solution are about as complicated as they get.
There is no such thing as God. There is no such thing as not God.
I am so happy and proud that my country has the strongest and largest military in the world. No way is anyone going to mess with us regardless of who we elect! Our ramped up worldwide rhetoric and constant chest pounding and illegal warfare under 8 years of GOP leadership has made the USA a continuing and growing target for worldwide hate and terror. Although under Obama we have made small but very positive strides in ending the wars and improving our badly damaged reputation around the globe, the last decade of offensive style warfare has been more devastating than I could have possibly imagined. The number of dollars spent and people killed or wounded is unthinkable. Romney has taken up where Bush left off threatening the world and emboldening our so called enemies.  If we truly want to lead the world in something how about we give peace a chance. Please.
Seriously, I don’t have a problem with gay people. I just think that  marriage is between a man and a woman and I don’t understand why a civil union is not good enough for them. I use to be a thoughtless, small-minded jerk.
Al Gore is the most annoying man on the planet and voting for George W. Bush represents my best bet for ensuring that a guy like me gets the absolute most out of life. I am scared to think about what happens if the bleeding heart liberals get into power! Al Gore is still the most annoying man on the planet but I now know that getting the most out of life has absolutely noting to do with a “guy like me” way of thinking. Romney is of the same cloth and elitist character as G.W. and he embodies the exact same ideology and supporting staff of characters.  I will not be fooled by his sudden late political shift to the center. There is too much at stake for far too many people. Not just guys like me. Literally millions of lives are at stake just like there were in 2000. Had I only known. I now understand the true definition of “liberal” and I consider any such label directed at me as a high compliment. I am also truly happy to say that fear no longer jades my political thinking. Getting to that point has been harder than I would have guessed but well worth the effort.
If I keep my nose to the grindstone, someday I will be rich and living on Easy Street! There is no such thing as Easy Street (or someday), and even if there were, I wouldn’t want to live there because the neighbors would all be assholes!
I have worked hard my entire life and I deserve everything I have in life because I earned it. Sure others may not have been born with as much but that is not my fault and my family should not be responsible for anyone else’s family’s problems and poor decisions. I was dealt a full house in the game of life. Not a royal flush, but I would have to be an idiot to screw up this hand. I know and appreciate how truly lucky I really am and how unlucky the vast majority of the world is in comparison. I hope to not waste the opportunities that I was given by taking the easy path of thinking and acting selfishly in life. Although I don’t shy away from who I was or how I thought, the pitfalls and result are clear. I refuse to stop learning and growing and I imagine my blog 12 years from now may be quite different than today’s. I have a long way to go, but my path is clearer now than ever before and I am optimistic and accepting of whatever may be for both myself and all other inhabitants of the earth.