Having studied the stories of so many political “changers” (most recently, Kanan Makiya), it strikes me how similar the paths to such change often seem to be.
Oh, the details vary, of course–different countries of birth, different turning points. But otherwise there is a marked resemblance.
It seems to go like this: an idealistic and intelligent person, who reads a lot and thinks a lot, falls in with leftist beliefs, usually as a university student. But this person never abandons his/her ability to think critically. At some later point the evidence starts challenging his/her worldview.
Because that worldview is so deeply held, the first challenges are successfully resisted. Then, growing experiences add to the doubt, and the pressure builds to the point where it just can’t be denied. The person then makes tentative statements to that effect: initially, perhaps, just among friends; ultimately, in public.
The angry and dismissive reaction on the part of former colleagues and friends is always–always–a surprise; one might even say, a shock. And this experience takes on a life of its own by underlining all the previous doubts. If those colleagues can’t even listen to the questions and doubts of a former friend and fellow-traveler, how open-minded can they be? The essentially closed nature of such a belief system–the heretofore discussed “circle dance”–becomes clear to the changer-in-the-making. And, once that line has been crossed, there does not appear to be any turning back.
As Makiya states, in a tale typical of the genre:
A tension was building up between the way the Middle Eastern world was, to my eyes, and the way our categories described it. The two didn’t match.
I’m very familiar with that disturbing and unsettling sensation of something not matching. That’s the beginning. Usually, it sparks a drive towards further reading, especially of texts from a different (or even opposite) point of view, texts that had been previously untouched and considered unworthy of perusal. Reading such texts–and seeing value in them–are usually crucial to the further development of the change.
Sometimes I think that we changers are a little bit like Tiresias (metaphorically, that is!) He was the character in Greek mythology who had been both a man and a woman, and was therefore able to understand what it was like to be on either side:
Tiresias was the son of Everes and the nymph Chariclo; he was a blind prophet, the most famous soothsayer of ancient Greece.
The most famous account of the origin of his blindness and his prophetic talent is as follows. When Tiresias was walking in the woods one day, he came upon two great serpents copulating; he struck them with his staff, and was thereupon transformed into a woman. Seven years later, she/he passed by the same place and came upon the same two serpents copulating; she/he struck them again with the staff and was turned back into a man. Some time later, Zeus and Hera were arguing over who had more pleasure in sex, the man or the woman: Zeus said it was the woman, while Hera claimed men got more pleasure from the act. To settle the argument, they consulted Tiresias, since he had experienced life as both sexes, and Tiresias sided with Zeus. In her anger, Hera struck Tiresias blind. Since Zeus could not undo the act of another deity, he gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy in compensation.
Well, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to make that analogy. But I’ve always liked the story of Tiresias, and this seemed as good a time as any to work it in.