It’s of interest to me not only because writer/changer Lissa cites me as inspiration, but because of the description of her reaction when she first realized she was going in the direction of Left-to-Right political change:
At this point I was severely uncomfortable. As I’ve mentioned before and can’t emphasize enough, my family is very left-leaning. (As I’ve also mentioned before, they are also intelligent, loving and caring, so think twice if you’re planning on dissing them in the comments.) What if, God forbid, I became a conservative? That would be unconscionable. I’d gotten into enough passionate arguments over whether the United States had the *right* to invade Iraq; I could only imagine the difficulty it would create if I started advocating gun rights and the like.
I sent out a cry for help. I emailed my liberal, politics-following friends (good, intelligent people all) and asked for assistance. I explained that I was starting to lean toward the conservative side and asked for blogs, articles, arguments — anything that would help keep me firmly in the liberal camp. I received back a few variations of “Bush is an idiot” and “Bush is a horse’s ass.”
Lissa was asking for the equivalent of an intervention to “save” her. That’s how powerful political identity can be, and how threatening it can feel during the process of losing it.
And it’s telling that, despite her clear desire to be pulled back by the force of compelling reason into the liberal camp, no one was able to mount an argument anywhere near as convincing as the ones she was reading in the conservative media. Apparently, they barely even tried to persuade her on the force of the merits; they just repeated the ad hominem attacks on the Right. These are convincing only to the choir, not to minds struggling with issues, facts, and newly-perceived MSM bias.
My own story (read all about it here, if you haven’t already) has a slightly different trajectory. I was so naive and so convinced that liberals were—well, liberal, and tolerant of dissenting opinions—that I had no idea my change was going to cause any problems with friends or family. Perhaps this delusion was possible only because my change happened earlier in time than Lissa’s; although the process began with 9/11 it was probably complete only by 2003, and the bitterness of political polarization had not yet reached the heights it later achieved.
So it came as a true shock to me when I began to “come out”—which to the best of my recollection happened in the summer of 2004, around the time the Presidential campaign was heating up—-and discovered the magnitude of the anger in the reactions I got. But by that time my change process, unlike Lissa’s, was rather well-developed and firmly grounded.
Even if I’d found out sooner, though, I can’t really picture myself pleading to be offered arguments that would pull me back into the fold, although I can truly understand it. That feeling of being outside the magic circle of light, of being labeled by friends and family not only as a turncoat but as a deluded and perhaps even an evil person, is profoundly distressing. The wish to return to a former state of belonging is human, but there’s no turning back unless new and even more compelling evidence appears to counter the conclusions to which logic has led.
First, I offer this quote from Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting:
“Circle dancing is magic. It speaks to us through the millennia from the depths of human memory. Madame Raphael had cut the picture out of the magazine and would stare at it and dream. She too longed to dance in a ring. All her life she had looked for a group of people she could hold hands with and dance with in a ring. First she looked for them in the Methodist Church (her father was a religious fanatic), then in the Communist Party, then among the Trotskyites, then in the anti-abortion movement (A child has a right to life!), then in the pro-abortion movement (A woman has a right to her body!); she looked for them among the Marxists, the psychoanalysts, and the structuralists; she looked for them in Lenin, Zen Buddhism, Mao Tse-tung, yogis, the nouveau roman, Brechtian theater, the theater of panic; and finally she hoped she could at least become one with her students, which meant she always forced them to think and say exactly what she thought and said, and together they formed a single body and a single soul, a single ring and a single dance.”
We all want to dance in a ring, to a certain extent. It’s wonderful to be part of a coherent movement, a whole that makes sense, joined with others working for the same goal and sharing the same beliefs. But there’s a price to pay when something challenges the tenets of that movement. When that happens, there are two kinds of people: those who change their ideas to fit the new facts, even if it means leaving the fold, and those who distort and twist the facts and logic to maintain the circle dance.
[NOTE: For more of my posts on the topic of political apostasy, see this.]