When I was growing up, being considered a conservative person seemed straight-forward. Violence on TV or nudity in movies was forbidden. Curse words like damn or hell were only muttered in private. Sex before marriage? That was a no-no (or not talked about). Children respected their parents. The government was essential to parts of daily life, but best if invisible most of the time. Spending more than you took in was to be discouraged. Trust in institutions was a given.
The suburbs where I grew up were almost all white, middle-class, and content. Problems existed, but they were abstract; they happened in other places to other people (or were kept in the shadows). Conformity was good.
Leaders that would tell the truth were expected. Decency and courtesy were the norms. America was exceptional, a world leader, and envied by everyone who didn't live here.
Now, Conservative seems to be one of those words that have been hijacked, or at the very least, is more emotionally charged than during my youth. To be thought of as conservative in 2020 carries with it all sorts of meanings.
Evangelical Christian? Probably. Belief in smaller government and a tightened social safety net? Yep. A strong military presence to keep others in line? Certainly. A growing sense of nationalism that urges us to tighten borders and pull back from contact with the rest of the world when it doesn't benefit us? Seems that way.
Obviously, words and labels and their meanings change over time. For most, conservative now seems to be a powerful, life-defining, us versus them, category. Instead of merely a definition of a particular view on how to see life, it seems to have become almost a line drawn in the sand, for both those who call themselves conservative and those who occupy the liberal camp.
My problem is the pigeon-holed view of things, with conservatism being a prime example. I am liberal about some issues but conservative in others. Unfortunately, saying I hold a traditional outlook about some things immediately puts me in the box with that label, implying that all my beliefs are in line with that philosophy. Yet, that is simply not true.
Example? I think a border that is not an open sieve is important. A country without boundaries is not really viable. At the same time, I am a firm advocate in the ability of those who want to improve their lives, to legally have a path to enter this country, a way that is straight-forward and doesn't seem punitive at every turn. We are built on immigration and are more robust with different cultures as part of our mix. I encourage controlled immigration, but nothing as barbaric as putting kids in cages or keeping families stuck in permanent limbo.
Another example? One of the government's primary functions is protecting the health and well-being of its citizens. I believe all of us deserve access to high quality, affordable health care. That means we should be given the option to choose a government-run program, like Medicare. Or, for reasons of our own, if we prefer a private system of health care, then that choice needs to be protected.
Part one of that statement puts me in the liberal/progressive box. The second part labels me as a conservative.
I guess what I am rebelling against is the simplistic way we tend to see things. Live long enough, and you are quite aware life is not black or white. There are not just binary choices to be made. Shadings of meanings, conclusions, inferences, are part of being human. If true, then why are we so quick to look for the easy way out, the either/or option?
In doing so, we divide ourselves into warring factions, that are artificial in their rigidity. They create battles when points of disagreement are the natural order of things.
We build barriers between ourselves and then get angry about the obstacles. Silly, right?