Switching Sides — A Speech
As an illustration, a significant number of people changed their views of global affairs immediately after September 11, 2001. Our country was attacked by an ideology that was misogynistic, homophobic, anti-democratic, racist, xenophobic, and religiously intolerant and that sought world domination — in short was the enemy of all classically liberal society since the Enlightenment.
The majority of our people recognized this and sought to push back, asserting the values of our culture — for a year or two. Then — as that most hypocritical of ideologies “political correctness” reasserted itself — the majority of that majority reverted to type and we had the election of Barack Obama… twice.
A few of us remained changed, now open to ideas we once thought anathema, or reactionary, when we were younger. How did that happen and why was I among them?
To be honest, despite having written a book and a play about it, I don’t really know. Political change remains a mystery to me, although I think it one of the most important topics, perhaps the crucial topic, we need to examine, because without political change, what’s the point of democracy? If people can’t be persuaded to switch sides, why bother?
The reasons for resistance to change are clear to me, however. Those who change risk losing friends, family, and livelihood. Even more importantly, they face personality disintegration, the loss of self-image, the “who” of themselves. Who wants to deal with that?
I did apparently. But it was largely accidental. I was part of that majority reaction after 9/11, but, unlike others, I never looked back, was not recidivist. Part of the reason for that was my vocation. As a writer, I found it difficult to lie – particularly in print where people could easily catch me. I couldn’t write well what I no longer believed.
Yet all around me I saw split personalities, still do. The prototypical Hollywood (and DC) liberal lives two disparate lives, one public and one private. In public he or she is the greatest of altruists, in private the greediest and most ambitious of persons. The former acts as a cover for the latter, to themselves and to others.
This system is so enduring, so entrenched, that it makes political change exceptionally difficult to achieve. How do you change someone so successful, someone who has so much wealth and power while feeling so inordinately good about him or herself?
I am speaking obviously about the so-called thought leaders here — the elites of New York, Washington and Los Angeles who dominate our media and entertainment and tell the hoi polloi how to live and think. These people have little incentive for change, even though in some cases their careers are in jeopardy. The New York Times is hemorrhaging reporters, last time I looked. Still, it’s hard for them to make a connection between the current economic uncertainty and the system that nurtured them for so long.
So what can we do to encourage change, this fragile sprout of Spring when we see it? Here are some preliminary thoughts.
Be humble. Few, if any, of us make drastic alterations in our lives and thought because someone won an argument. We have to come to things ourselves — or think we have. I know this was my experience. I just woke up one morning agreeing with every Charles Krauthammer said… or most of it…. We have to own our change. These things take time and happen when we least expect them, sometimes when we don’t know they are even happening.
When you see someone who is ripe for change, encourage him or her, but do it gently, responsively, and not confrontationally. And do not look for or expect a complete ideological shift. Be grateful for what you get.