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A Religio-Political Odyssey, Part 5

Posted by Keen Observer on February 6, 2012

And so it continues…

At some point during this period following the attacks, I also found—I’ve no idea now how at this point—a left-wing blogger that I found interesting enough to read regularly. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but it was likely in 2006, and I think it was after I moved to Calgary and was looking for connections to the city of my birth. This blogger, whose link is at the right side of my blog’s home page (grrrlmeetsworld), was a southern Baptist preacher’s daughter transplanted to Saskatoon for graduate school, who became an atheist and a Democrat/liberal. The conversion from Christian Republican to atheist Democrat seemed interesting to me at the time, and I even commented a few times, though I can no longer seem to find them. I read her posts and resisted some of what I read mentally, which told me I wasn’t a true leftist, but I didn’t know what I was for sure yet. I definitely did agree with her condemnation of southern religious practices as outlined in the documentary “Jesus Camp”, of which I have admittedly only seen a few scenes. What I did see scared the crap out of me and had me fearing for a generation of brainwashed children steeped in superstition. It did, I think, help with my transition away from religion.

 [Blogger’s Note: I had thought, when I started writing this (and have held as long as I can recall) that reading grrrlmeetsworld pointed me at a right-wing blog, described below. I’ll tell the story as I believed it, but after trying to create a timeline from Internet resources, I can no longer swear positively that this was the way it happened. It was similar in some way, but the connection would seem not to be as direct. I add this little note as my attempt at deflecting potential accusations of “making shit up” or “intellectual dishonesty”, but I would have sworn this to be true before starting to verify it.]

Reading this blog, however, pointed me in an unexpected direction. Said blogger decided to take issue with something she’d heard on the radio or read in the local paper and then followed up by linking to another site at right, smalldeadanimals. I think this was in 2006 still. The hostess of that blog had commented on the subject of welfare and single moms and drugs (or something like that), to the effect of “Why should we pay for people who can’t keep their legs closed?” I’m paraphrasing, but I believe that was the sentiment/subject. I went to this blog and read the statement, as I wanted to make sure I had the context correct, because I couldn’t believe something like that would get published/make the air. But that’s what it was. Somebody said something I knew to be unpopular, but with which I agreed. So I poked around the site and read more. And more. I initially read bits and pieces, feeling as though I was being naughty for doing so, but most of what I read resonated quite strongly with me, though I have—and still do—disagree with some things that get posted there, especially in the comments.

That was effectively the beginning of the end of my conversion to conservatism. The more I read, the more I realised what I was and why some things seemed wrong to me, and the more I realised that I was regularly being either lied to or fed half-truths in the name of a specific agenda. I learned about things I had not heard before. I learned about things I had heard about before, but with additional or different information. I clicked on links and found other blogs with even more information and links that exposed further lies and untruths. Some of what I learned put earlier experiences in my life in a different light.

Of course, the more I read of how I had been duped in the media and school, and more about things that make sense to me, the less I find I want to read left-leaning blogs, because I have trouble now reading them without wanting to pull out my hair in frustration. It frequently seems to me as though the left-leaners are wilfully blind to facts and logic. Until I was trying to put this together, I couldn’t have told you the last time I was at grrrlmeetsworld, or Daily Dose. I almost never go to places like the Huffington Post, unless someone provides a useful link. Watching how the “regular” press treated different candidates in elections differently, or treated one side of the parliamentary aisle with more respect than the other really helped turn me off, when the information is available by other means for you to draw your own conclusions, ones that frequently (if not mostly) disagree with the “accepted” view of things.  It doesn’t hurt that I moved to a province generally considered to be the most conservative in Canada, which certainly made it easier to accept that I wasn’t alone in my beliefs.

As time goes on I settle more into where I’m at politically and religiously. It’s a strange sort of comfort. Religiously, as should be obvious, I am barely agnostic, still a hand’s breadth from “committing” to atheism, teetering daily, when I have time to think about it. Some things—or people—make that seem to happen more frequently. Looking up on a clear night is one of those things, though there are fewer clear nights in Calgary than there were in Saskatoon. Sometimes, a friend makes you think, or a random experience. So, I remain agnostic, but for practical purposes I’m an atheist.

Politically, I usually describe myself as a libertarian-conservative, or centre-right, depending on my mood. I am not a social conservative, though I can understand and relate to some of the positions on that side. I do tend to agree that a nuclear family is better for society as a whole, but those who would espouse freedom should understand that you can’t force that on others, nor can you force them to share your religious tenets. I use “libertarian” in the sense of a minimum of social restrictions, but I’m not a true libertarian, in the sense that pure libertarians tend to anarchism, whether or not they acknowledge that. My political views are largely thus:

  • The role of government should be as small as is possible, given its responsibilities.
  • Governmental responsibilities should be as few as possible to enable society to function relatively smoothly, and new ones should not be sought to expand power, with the possible exception of national emergencies (at the federal level). The limits should be constitutionally set, where they are not already.
    • National Defence at the federal level, including border security and oceanic sovereignty.
    • Adjudicating disputes; jurisdiction depends on level.
    • A minor level of regulation for a very limited set of problems, and federal responsibilities should never be adopted by the provinces, or vice versa.
    • Regulation of international agreements/diplomacy/similar things.
  • Spending as little as possible as needed to fulfil the mandates required. This requires limiting the size of the public service and the amount of money paid to public servants in a way that does not reward sloth or failure. With this in mind, citizens need not pay for as much, so taxes may also be kept to a minimum.
  • Charity is not the business of government. Transfer payments are a form of charity.
  • Child care is not the business of government.
  • Religion is not the business of government, nor should it have any say in government. We are a secular country, but our people may sometimes hold religious beliefs. These are likely to inform decision-making, but this should be minimised where possible. A decision for one religious group may not be good for another, but it may be good on the whole.

Beyond this list, it’s largely up for negotiation, but the public sector should never be getting mixed up in the private sector. There is nothing so bad (in terms of business, at least) that government can’t make worse, and so the opportunities for such should be limited. This also should reduce any existence of—or potential for—corruption, and hopefully reduce the number of lifetime bureaucrats that produce nothing of value.

My positions sometimes shift slightly, depending on circumstances, but these are basically consistent for me right now. I also have views on other things, such as immigration, but those are perhaps topics for other days. I won’t bother to summarise my current religious status, since I think it’s been more or less covered, but the political journey I’ve taken so far does have parallels on the religious side of things.

And on that note, I’ll declare this odyssey at an end, though in much less dramatic fashion than the original. But it’s never really over.

Posted in Alberta, economics, general, news & journalism, personal, politics, religion | Comments Off on A Religio-Political Odyssey, Part 5

A Religio-Political Odyssey, Part 4

Posted by Keen Observer on February 5, 2012

I’m getting closer to being finished, honest.

The shock of the attacks on 9/11 was still not quite enough to complete my conversion to the Vast, Right-Wing Conspiracy…I don’t think. I remember understanding instinctively that this was an attack that could not go unanswered. I knew that someone would be made to pay, and that was as it should be. But I remember having less-than-positive thoughts about the Bush administration that would not correlate to conservatism. I know now that was partly due to biased coverage in the news media, which had less of an Internet presence than it does now, by far, but it also had to do with failure to prevent the threat from becoming real.

I believed also at the time that the Patriot Act would not be a good idea, that problems would be caused. I still hold that belief and have found that it is not a fringe position among conservatives. I also did not think creating Homeland Security would be a good idea (a thought which has been borne out, in my opinion, given recent excesses and “security theatre” of the TSA). It evoked in me at the time immediate comparisons with old rhetoric around fascist Germany and communist Russia—the Fatherland and the Motherland (or Mother Russia), respectively, though this time the “-land” in question was gender-neutral. This is the kind of rhetoric the modern world can live quite happily without. I saw it in some ways as supporting my belief that Americans as a whole think a little too highly of themselves, but I also saw that between these two governmental elements there was a large opportunity for abuse of power and related problems, especially when used with the phrase, “In the name of security.”

I also saw the attacks as fairly evident proof that Muslim extremists cannot be reasoned with or bargained with…ever. Radical (or extremist) religious views are not rational and are used to excuse any action—the “God told me to” defence. There is nothing a religious extremist cannot justify. I’ll not get off on a screed here, but I will say that since 9/11 I have not viewed Muslims or the Middle East in quite the same way. A minority may be responsible for the terrorism and violence, but they are tolerated and tacitly encouraged by the so-called silent majority. This type of view can generally be attributed more towards the conservative right than the liberal left, so that was another piece to the puzzle. It also, perhaps counter-intuitively, partially validated my disdain for and separation from my own former religion, in terms of the broad strokes of religious fervour and superstition.

Canada’s participation in the Afghanistan fighting also renewed my pride in my country and its Armed Forces, something that had been largely quiescent for years. I was always saddened to hear of the death of a CF member, but I was always proud that our military personnel were out there, doing Canada proud with honour and distinction, fighting against the evil present there at the time. Definitely not a liberal perspective.

During this period, around 2003-2004, I had a job doing “media monitoring”. That is to say, I got paid to watch TV news and listen to radio news, then upload summaries rife with names and keywords to a national database. I also did transcription of some stories/items on request. I had thought this would be a good job, as at the time I fancied myself a news junkie of sorts. How little did I know. That job cured me of that affliction for a time, but it also taught me one thing: the media outlets said almost exactly the same thing on each story that was broadcast. Some outlets had different foci than others, but the differences seemed largely minor. The reporters also had similar cadences, and the word I grew to hate was “still”, as it preceded too many sentences. The reports were (and still are to large extent) structured in the same way: start with a personal angle, describe the meat of the story, evaluate (usually with alarm) the apparent problems, bring it back to the personal. Story after story, channel after channel, night after night. It was at that time that I largely switched my personal news watching to Global, as their offences usually seemed less egregious, but I still couldn’t bring myself to switch to our local talk radio station, because the conservatism of their flagship hosts sounded far too sour-grapes for my liking. But I did occasionally hear through my job opinions from them that made far too much sense to me.

I learned at some point in 2005 of an American blogger, a resident of Minnesota, who had taken an interest in Canadian politics for some reason. He blogged at a place called Captain’s Quarters—now defunct—which I found out about due to his interest in the so-called Sponsorship Scandal, the inquiry for which had a publication ban on testimony, with punishments for Canadians that broke the ban. The Captain decided to expose the Gomery Inquiry and its participants, and I read regularly. I became disgusted with the apparently-corrupt antics of the federal party I supported, which helped push me (and many others, I expect) away from the Liberal Party of Canada. I even read other articles at his site, which pionted me in all sorts of new directions that were surprisingly sensible. And at some point he was persuaded to give up his personal blog and become a lead contributor at another blog on the right side of the page: HotAir. I read it regularly, especially when it comes to American politics, but they also have a few more fringe elements showing up. This blog also broadened (and broadens) my conservative experience.

Contemporaneously, I also continued to grow more at ease with being religiously agnostic. The longer I went without weekly harangues about my basic evilness and the need to beg forgiveness for it, the happier I was. I continued my internal debates on whether a supreme being of some sort actually existed, however, and if so, was deserving of worship. I also continued to see events around me and around the world as further confirmation that somebody was horribly, horribly wrong about the nature of god and evil. And I got closer and closer to thinking everybody was wrong.

More to come…

Posted in Alberta, general, news & journalism, personal, politics, religion | Comments Off on A Religio-Political Odyssey, Part 4

A Religio-Political Odyssey, Part 3

Posted by Keen Observer on January 31, 2012

So, presuming no one is bored at my rambling yet, I shall continue…

I spent some time adrift after leaving school sans degree.  This was in 1991, when I should have convocated as a teacher, as did many of my friends.  Instead, I was somewhat aimless.  Employment prospects poor, I didn’t quite know what to do.  I didn’t much care about other things, either.  I had my first brush with what might be called depression, though it was never diagnosed as such.  I scared my family by doing a very good impression of a rock for about eight hours uninterrupted one day.

I almost left university, I should say.  With nothing better to do, I went back in the fall to take classes towards a degree in English Literature.  That kept me occupied somewhat, and I was exposed to ideas further left than my usual ones, especially in the person of a poet I met in one of my classes, one with certain…issues, let’s say.  I absorbed some of these ideas and reflected them back to the world.  I learned a higher level of analytical reading and presentation.  I honed my writing skills.  I thought about doing graduate work, but it really didn’t appeal to me, and I had certain…limitations imposed because of my math/physics grades.  I stayed out of politics, mostly, but I voted every election.  One can argue that it is a citizen’s highest civic duty, but it was never something I let slide past me, even if all I did was spoil a ballot.

During this time also, I did spend some time with my poet friend and her circle.  Except for rare circumstances, I never really felt part of the group, though.  I didn’t really understand why, except that I knew at a recognisable level that they were not my people.  Different ideas.  Diff’rent strokes.  Different aims and beliefs.  At most levels, except for occasional literary discussions, I could not relate to them as a group.  The thought of “conservatism” still left me cold, believing as I did what the media and my acquaintances told me about it and the PC Party of Canada (or Saskatchewan). and I largely considered myself a centrist or centre-left kind of guy.  I had not yet realised that I was being fed news pablum, but I did have a sense that there were gaps of some sort (at least on a subconscious level).

I ultimately finished that degree in 1994, but again had no idea what to do with it.  No job, no prospects.  Unsure.  My cousin got married that year, and the wedding was in Sydney, NS.  I went, invited as relative and MC.  Did not distinguish myself, but it was somewhat life-changing.  I had taken geology as an elective, and I got to see out east some things discussed in class, and I began to understand the story the earth tells, if you know how to read it.  This intrigued me to the point that I wanted to learn more, and so I re-enrolled upon my return:  something finally excited me.

Something else excited me:  my sister’s best friend, freshly graduated from high school.  For some reason at that ceremony, something changed relative indifference to strong attraction, to the point that while far away from Saskatoon, I kept thinking about her at fairly regular intervals.  There’s much more detail, but for my purposes now, I had something else to occupy my mind.  We started dating that fall, despite some initial reluctance on my part, and she was central to my life for 16 years, and still currently has a peripheral–but significant–effect on it.

I had goals again; I was excited; I had things to do.  With new things to keep me engaged in my life, I again started following politics more closely.  I again kept being unsure of myself.  I questioned my agnosticism.  I kept thinking things the government did were a bit stupid; in my house, however, criticising the provincial NDP government was not generally wise.  Based on things I understood at the time, the federal government, Liberal-run, seemed to be going OK, so I had no complaints.  Quebec separatism frequently came up as a topic.  For that, I saw little reason in appeasement, even with my French-Canadian heritage, so in that regard I was on the opposite side of my supposed party.  I would be unhappy with the breaking of Confederation, but I just could not see how they could be so stupid about it.  How little did I know at the time, but the press seemed not interested in portraying the true nature of the complaints, as I have now come to understand them.

I finished my geology degree program, which is where I developed a grounding in the historical temperature record.  This (among other reasons that would take up other posts completely) informed my resistance to climate change as having any human-caused component, something that set me apart from most people for a long time.  I worked as a well-site geologist for about 4 years after that, which also let me to be exposed to a larger world of ideas, including those of surprisingly-educated rig workers.

During this time, I found a left-leaning blog, one of those at right on the main page of this blog:  grrlmeetsworld.  In it (I can’t remember how I found it) the writer recounted her own political journey from US Southern Christian right to a leftist doing grad work at my university.  It interested me, and it was interesting to read how she stopped adhering to the politics she had grown up around.  A lot of the change seemed to be propelled by the Christian part of the politicking, to which I could somewhat relate, but in the other direction.  I even commented there a few times, even after moving to Calgary.  But that’s getting ahead.  I learned a lot from her, some of which she might not appreciate, but some things continued to leave me confused.

The rigs were also the milieu in which I was when the attacks of 9/11 happened.  Clear as day are some of my memories around that time, though others from that time have deteriorated.  I was just coming on shift shortly after the first plane hit.  Oddly, it just seemed like a run-of-the-mill disaster to be watched with ghoulish interest.  And I was watching as the second plane hit.  My first reaction was, “Oh. My. God.” There was no mistaking that for an accident.  My second reaction was, “Those stupid, stupid fuckers.”  I had no doubt in my mind who was responsible, at least in broad form, and I knew they had just changed the world in an instant.  I also knew that hell was coming for them.

(to be continued…)

Posted in Alberta, American, Canadian, general, news & journalism, personal, politics, religion, science, World | Comments Off on A Religio-Political Odyssey, Part 3