I wake up in the morning in a small red house in the woods surrounded by trees and birds. I look out the window at the doe walking with the fawn, or the woodpecker being a bastard, or the groundhog squinting upward like he needs glasses. The house is precisely the temperature I want it to be, which these days is a toasty 65˚. I watch the cardinals eat and the hummingbirds fight. These are the only other souls in sight. It’s quiet. My view is unaffected by other people. I can go out on the porch and hear the buzzing moan of the highway in the distance. The humans are going to work. No one gets here by wandering. One only gets here on purpose. There is an order here. I don’t mess with the birds, the bees, the raccoons, the deer, or the snakes, and they don’t mess with me. We have our homes, separated from one another’s, and we keep living. And when the bees, raccoons and snakes mistake my home for theirs, I have to remind them. I do make an exception for the birds. Nature, as we think of it, has her place, and man has his. I in my anthill, my cave, my nest. Nature right up against me. We're separated only to a degree, but still in touch. This is the world I live in.
I get dressed, have three cups of coffee, and am usually in my car by 8:30 am. I drive through a tunnel of trees out to the road. I glide into my position on the highway and make my way toward the city. I come around a corner on the north side of town and the tall buildings reveal themselves like kingdoms. I can see those that were named for banks, those named for cigarette families, and the one that towers over my eventual destination. Sometimes I park on a road that has six trees aligned down its side. Other times I park in a garage where rain, snow and heat won’t trouble my walk. I glide into my position on 4th Street on foot, navigating around the slow, the bored, and the busy. Downtown is a place where trees are commodities. I’ve never seen road kill south of Northwest Blvd. The few animals that inhabit this area know how to live here. Cities are designed to alleviate the impact that nature has on man. Nature is a place one visits. Pavement is how you tame landscape. Drains keep streets from flooding. Power lines are underground. On 4th Street and beyond, people live atop one another, sharing in where they park their cars, walk their dogs, and drink their beers. It isn’t smart to be a jerk here – to annoy people, to act absurdly, to pay no mind, to take advantage. There isn’t much room for that. People will notice. It’s the same deal I have with the snakes and the birds, but the space is narrower. There's a lot of bleed room in this world. So while the sharing is more, the sacredness of the boundaries might be even more than that.
A fortune of money is exchanged on my block daily. People buy experiences – a view, a seat, a meal, a chat, a coffee from South America. I observe from the window as the recently denied panhandlers watch the girls walk by in their yoga pants. The most gifted people here tend to exercise control over the natural decline of their bodies. I watch staff members of restaurants and coffee shops smoke cigarettes while their managers do proper work. Some green haired host or hostess will set up a patio, and ten minutes later their boss will come out and correctly align the chairs. People come in and trash goes out, on repeat. Gothic waiters escape to the alley for a cigarette, and then return to their compulsory voices and facial expressions. What can I get ya, boss? HAHAHA, awesome! What is this act? We just made eyes in the alley, as if to say you don’t seem like a threat. I will never need to know your name, but I acknowledge that we're both here, suffering.
I finish my day of emails, talking and thinking, and I start to make my way out. I can’t walk a block without noticing all that is wrong with it – The cigarette butts and plastic bottles, the unfinished projects, the spray-painted concrete, the un-lain bricks. This world is a constant work-in-progress. It can never be done because its purpose is progress, which knows no end. I drive my eleven miles up the highway and the buildings get smaller with every mile. Concrete plaster turns to brick. Brick turns to wood. Wood turns to vinyl. Vinyl turns into trees that obscure the view of any more houses from the highway.
Sometimes after work I don’t go home right away. Instead I go north to see family. I pull into a town where no one is buying an experience, but rather a convenience. Fast sandwiches from windows, tan lines without sunshine, and access to heaven. There’s probably one church for every two hundred people in this world. It isn’t surprising for any household to be equipped with a mower, a chainsaw, a gun, and a collection of Bibles. In this world, a homeowner takes pride in the age of the trees in the yard. Your neighbors hope that you’ll demonstrate the same submission to and power over nature that they do – accept your responsibility; Get rid of the chaos (the leaves, the weeds, the broken rain gutter) and maintain the good parts (the green grass, the stone wall, the flowerbed). Nature isn't just a force here. There's something about nature that's worth preserving, or honoring. There's something in there that is the way things are supposed to be. I venture past the used car lot, the tobacco plant, and the tractor supply store to reach either my sister’s or mother’s house. Here, it is believed that everything happens for a reason, that the burdensome is ordained, and that the status quo is a natural gift. People of this world age and swell more swiftly and severely than they do downtown. What is the point of change for the sake of change if it betrays the old and trustworthy? Billy Graham got my grandfather to stop drinking. That’s not nothing. My nephew likes trucks and digital technology. My niece likes getting in trouble. Are they wrong? The kids like chicken nuggets and pizza. Should they be more cultured? Have they ever even tried hummus? I watch the kids destroy everything as my mother investigates how I currently feel about Jesus. After a while I start to need a drink, so I make the short drive out of this world and back into my woods.
By 11:45 I don’t hear a noise. Sometimes I start the dishes just to have something to listen to as I drift off. I don’t cuddle up with anyone. I sleep on my side. And soon after closing my eyes, I wake up from dreaming stressfully about the coming day, and whatever responsibility I bear in reentering one of these worlds. When I return to the city, someone will be worshiping our attempted separation from nature, while calling us animals, if not devils. When I go north again, someone will be worshiping the conservation of our place in nature as animals, while calling us angels, if not extensions of God. I am the person who feels compelled to contend with these methods of worship when they go too far, though I gain more peace from watching the deer walk around with the turkey than from listening to the rantings of either of these religions.
I live between these worlds. I go to the city to perform, to contribute to the future, and to be liberal. To act out the behavior of innovation. I go to the foothills to remember, to appreciate, to protect, to honor the past, and to be conservative. To act out the behavior of preservation. I sleep between them to find peace with both, but to be neither way all the time.
I’m a foreigner wherever I go. My communities have spread apart viciously ever since I figured out what they were. The liberal identity is a part of a tradition that promotes the ideal that humans can live similarly, equalized, and in a way that accounts for undesired outcomes through collaborative effort. If the unideal is natural, the liberal tradition seems to want to defeat that aspect of the natural. They believe nature’s stronghold on man can be defeated. (This is what the progressives are attempting to make progress away from.) They’ve built their cities for just that purpose. They share their walls with one another, equally protected from rain, snow, and tribalism. The liberal tradition says “we’re all in this together,” because they are. Conservatives are of a different tradition, through which they decide what aspects of their world are to be shared. Their walls are their own and they decide how to protect themselves from the rain. Their neighbor’s walls are also their own, and they would never break that agreement. They believe that nature is attached to the divine, and to depart from what appears to be natural is counter to the respect that it is owed. (This is what they're conserving.) The conservative tradition says “Together, we’re all in this alone,” which is true.
Who can say that either of these perspectives is blatantly wrong? Surely a liberal environmentalist type cannot say that a conservative is wrong in admiring nature. Surely a conservative Christian type cannot say that a liberal is wrong about valuing all human lives equally.
But yet, the willing representatives of these differing traditions tend to refuse their common ground. Conservatives claim that liberals are the enemy because liberals challenge what seems like the natural order of life. Liberals claim that conservatives are the enemy because conservatives won't challenge what seems like the natural order of life enough. This is the simplest version of our current (and ancient) crisis of cultures. Both are pursuing heaven and defending against hell, but the values and group affiliations don't match.
To have an ideology is to commit your identity to a set of ideas as if it is perfect, as if it holds within it the solution to the many problems of life a priori, or as if it is God. An ideology is the ultimate solution. To it’s keeper, if it could only be achieved completely and perfectly, it would result in a proper and ideal world, state, or way of being.
It seems to me that all ideologies are made of the same psychological (or maybe archetypal) characters – A highest value, a devil, a moral responsibility, an original sin, a faith that cannot withstand scrutiny (cognitive dissonance). An ideologue cannot identify an example of their belief system venturing beyond its proper reach. To them, because it is perfect, there is no way their ideology can go too far. Their problem is that it can’t be taken far enough. An ideologue has little to learn about their perceived enemy. They think they know all they need to know about the other side. They can tell you what they believe is the objective foundation of what the other side really stands for, but they cannot tell you what the other side believes they stand for. Their goal is not to learn why the other side exists, but rather to figure out the words needed to undermine the other side, or perhaps convert its most fragile members. They consider themselves capable of teaching the other side and incapable of learning from the other side. The lifeblood of an ideologue is to only learn things that strengthen the ideology – never what weakens it. Catch phrases are also crucial. Ideologies spread best when they're easy to package and sell. These are the details *we’re* certain about, this is how it applies to you, and this is all you have to do to be on the morally correct side of your personhood, by joining *our* group. That seems to be the consistent pattern, and always in group language rather than individual.
The problem is that life is more complex than any ideology makes it seem. Solving global and local problems is complicated, yet every ideology promotes the conclusion that it is instead simple and easy, as if all one has to do is think *these things* and avoid thinking *these things,* and all will be cured. It is clear that ideology provides direction and purpose in a person’s life, but I suggest that when any ideology is subscribed to as an identity, the result is false hope, ever-expanding fear and failure, and pure despair. If one's sense of success and purpose can only be derived from achieving uniformity of thought among collections of diverse, complicated people, one is set up for quite the sense of purposelessness and failure.
I love argument, but I’m growing somewhat weary of interacting with ideologies. I usually find promise in engaging with people around ideological issue. Something about sitting with someone for the specific purpose of peacefully arguing, disagreeing, and working through a topic feels responsible, as though this is the process by which falsehoods and ignorance are dispensed with. Those nights end with the victorious feeling of having thought something I've never thought before, or having strived through sweat and panic to painfully, laboriously discover a way of explaining an idea freshly, specifically for that conversation. But I don't get to argue much these days. I worry that my friends in either world have become too rooted to peacefully wonder how they could improve their thinking. And I am not suggesting that I know the answer to what they should be thinking. But it has become controversial to suggest that they should be thinking at all, rather than merely representing the inherited ideas of the identity that they purchased in their mid or early 20s, or at birth. I will arrogantly say, I am sure that thinking is better than not thinking when negotiating with ideas. And I will suggest that if you believe that your affiliation with an ideology awards you the solutions to the largest and oldest problems in the world, you're an example of why I'm addressing this theme. You should explore the areas of thought that you would prefer to avoid. You should visit the other world and figure out why it's there.
I am convinced that it is better for our minds that we live as individuals between these two worlds rather than to strive for a uniform identity in only one. I’m convinced that the proper approach to thinking is to be skeptical, humble, curious, and willing to see what we're wrong about. I believe that principles and values should guide us, rather than affiliations with ideological missions. I believe that carefully saying the truest thing you can manage to say is better than reciting memorized phrases that reflect your ideological goals through implication or assumption. I’m convinced that those who preach certainty the loudest are the ones who have considered the least. But I am also convinced that those are the people who are truly the least interested in adapting, and thus are the least likely to scrutinize themselves. I wish them well. But learning is not only to identify what you don’t know. It is to take pleasure in knowing that you cannot know as much as you want. A learner doesn’t say that they have reached a satisfactory stopping point. Notice this among the certain and you will see the walls they erect in the face of the unknown. They rarely say "I don't know." That isn't humility, no matter how much blood they're standing in. The wounds of the certain are not justification for any conclusions they come to, nor is the arrogance that they muster.
I urge us all to notice these two worlds and learn to not settle in either of them permanently. Do your own difficult thinking. Avoid stupid catch phrases and borrowed thoughts. Avoid adopting a uniform identity – a group affiliation. Don’t think of your world as a place where WE all think THIS. Pursue a life wherein YOU labor to figure out what YOU believe, and you can say it in your own way. Live in the world you prefer, the city or the town as it were, but always be interested in understanding the other place. None of us are actually conservative or liberal. If ever there were a social construct, it is that. We are all capable of both of these extremes, and we should stop pretending otherwise. Be an individual, be careful about what you say and believe, and do not shriek and shame when you come across an opportunity to grasp what you perceive as your enemy. Your enemy is what you lack in your thinking. It's part of a truth you're afraid of accepting. Without a symbolic enemy you are free to talk honestly, because you are free to consider any possibility. Nothing true is off limits to someone who is free to think. Someone who is committed to neither god of neither world has no natural enemies, but they are certain threats to the human affinity for making gods from man’s ideas. That is the goal. Be that threat.
Don’t oppose or hate either world. Don’t be a centrist, either. Don't stand cowardly in the middle pointing in both directions all the time. Know when to step into one world and out of the other. There are right times to *be conservative* and right times to *be liberal*, but neither of these identities are so perfect that the best answer to every question you will endure in life will be found in only one of these identities. Don’t be “A” conservative. Don’t be “A” liberal. That means you're putting your mission at the front of every thought you have. It means you’re living according to the standard of that identity, rather than making choices. The same can be said for being “A” Christian, “A” socialist, “A” representative of any ideology. If you must be "A" thing, make it "A" thinker. Take your own principled position, and let it be associated with whatever side it happens to reflect. Don’t stay in the center, and don’t die in either world. Pay close attention and notice when it is time to go the other way. Define your principles first, and then notice when one of these worlds is no longer facilitating your principles.
Sit gratefully in the comfort of the progress that you're lucky to wake up in every day, having likely done nothing to earn most of it. Be determined to make your own progress according to your principles, but also be grateful for the long, difficult efforts that were undergone before you got here. Maybe our state of being is naturally beautiful. Maybe our state of being is naturally oppressive. Or maybe our state of being is naturally both of those things, and our time is better spent figuring out how to be worth a damn as individuals, and to be capable of seeing either the beauty or the oppression when the time comes. Reconcile the multiple, sometimes directly opposite ways of viewing life. Don't be certain that yours is the correct view. Achieve this by knowing your way around more than one world.