The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. ~ Bertrand Russell
It is hard sometimes to understand why people just don't see that my opinion about everything is so rational, moral, and just plain cool. Everything and everyone would just be soooo much better off if they'd just follow me and let me make all their personal choices and decisions.
People are social beings and naturally want to be part of some transcendent belief system or movement. In times of great upheaval and strife, the urge to be part of something that will make sense of the world and its seeming chaos is very strong indeed. The philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote about such lemming-like behavior amongst people in his 1951 bestseller The True Believer. For a while, that sobriquet became a shorthand way to say the person it referred to was beyond persuasion or reasoning with. As in, "Don't bother with John over there about the new policy. He's a True Believer in the old way."
The hardest part about believing in anything is to avoid becoming a fanatic or becoming orthodox. In other words, being locked into a particular mindset. The tendency is to trawl around looking and experimenting with ideas, philosophies, religions, and all manners of belief systems. That is what makes us human. It is also what makes us narrow-minded and intolerant as well. There is where the danger lies.
Once you settle on a particular view of something, it tends to dominate your thinking and you can easily lose the ability to see it objectively, meaning, "If I think it's right, then you must be wrong if you don't agree. Or else maybe you're an idiot, or a spy, or nuts." That is when the line is crossed. Sometimes you just have to admit that you don't know the answers to all possible hypothetical questions put to you by opponents, that your ideology or political views are not perfect in every way and may even be wrong sometimes.
Years ago I was a very left-leaning Democrat. Often times called a Liberal, although like Anarchist, the term has been distorted to the point where the popular notion of what the words define is now lost to the average person unless they are exceptionally well informed on politics.
The reason I first began to drift away from that particular worldview had to do with politics. As someone who served in Kuwait in the US Army during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, I was infuriated at the way President G.H.W. Bush invaded Somalia just six weeks before leaving office. I felt like, "WTF? What right has this interventionist Republican who was defeated for re-election after all, got involving America in another quagmire?" I thought this because after having lived under Republican presidents for all but four years of my life, I thought of the GOP as the "war party," as opposed to the Democrats, who were for peace and cooperation. And then came Bill Clinton.
I voted for Clinton in 1992 (which was the last time I voted, by the way), with enthusiasm. But over his term, he invaded or attacked Somalia , Haiti , Sudan , Iraq , Bosnia , and Serbia . That is when I began to notice a shift in my thinking. Most of the people I had agreed with about non-intervention, non-violent cooperation and peaceful co-existence began to change their tune about these values now that "one of ours" was in power.
They claimed that in fact I was misunderstanding the issues. "You see", they said," when Clinton attacks Bosnia or Serbia , it's for the Greater Good. When Clinton continues the No-Fly Zone over Iraq and the brutal blockade against them too and even does the occasional air strike or missile bombardment," my friends would say," it's all necessary for world peace. You should trust our President."
Well I was shocked. "That isn't what you said when Bush did all this stuff!' I replied. "Well, that was then, and this is now" was the usual reply. That is how Republicans, conservatives, neo-cons, war profiteers, and oil company shareholders do things. When "we" do these (same exact) things, it is for a higher purpose. We are Liberals. We are Democrats. We are Greens. We are better. "We" are True Believers too, I thought.
Soon after this epiphany, I started looking around at political and moral philosophy. I became a Libertarian Party member and activist for a while, but it seems they had their True Believers too. So in time I left them as well.
The thing about being a "Party Animal" is that they run in herds. I don't. I won't defend things if I find them indefensible just because it's "our" president, mayor, or whoever who is in office, but scream bloody murder when the others do the exact same thing.
And to tell the truth, once you get to thinking for yourself, hard as it may be at first, it feels pretty good. Nowadays I feel perfectly fine about changing my mind or shifting positions if I hear a more persuasive argument, read new information, or an idea or policy that looks good on paper doesn't seem to work out in practice.
So I am a "flip-flopper" now, eh? Say what you will, but I am not a lemming. I won't run over the cliff because the rest of the herd does. I have made wrong decisions about things, and without a doubt will again. But unlike the Party Animals, I'm not locked in to a dogma, or personality cult, or anything else.
And this suits me fine.