Our country has gone through times before where fathers stop speaking to sons, brothers to brothers, neighbors to neighbors. This happened during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam Anti-War Movement. We are once again at such a time, once again a divided nation, a nation where speaking your mind may mean losing your family or friends. Dialogue is no longer open or even allowed. There is only a one-way conversation.
I started life as a Liberal Democrat. My parents were old school Kennedy-loving, civil-rights marching, liberal Catholics, but they were also hard working self-reliant types who had a deep love of this country. My father was a veteran of both WWII and the Korean War. A hand-embroidered framed quote from Patrick Henry graced the walls of my childhood home:
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me; give me liberty or give me death!”
I grew up during the 70s when being enlightened meant peace, freedom, social justice, and a joint passed among friends. However, like my parents, I started seeing holes in the fabric of the liberal message, holes which grew bigger with each passing year. By the time I had spent 15 years working in a large city public school system, the holes in the fabric were large enough to see the man behind the curtain and he was no kindly wizard.
Little by little, I found myself becoming less and less “liberal”. The excuses, the complaints, the special interests, the sense of entitlement, the race cards, the blame game, the abuses of the unions, the ever-expanding government, the political correctness, and the un-be-LIEV-able arrogance of people who had nothing of any value to offer society, but who demanded unearned respect and complete financial support, all combined to push me further and further from the left. The further I moved from the left and its myopic perspective, the more I started to realize that what they tout as kindness is really a form of disdainful superiority; that what they call freedom is really a form of enslavement; and what they called social justice is really a form of racism.
The problem is that once you start seeing these truths, you can’t go back to seeing things as you did before. I am reminded of the young adult novel by Lois Lowry The Giver. For those who are not familiar with the story, it is set in a dystopian society where there is no pain, no fear, and no choice about anything, right down to what job you will have and whom you will marry. There is even no color; life is all shades of grey.
There is no memory of life before the society was formed except by one called The Receiver of Memory. One 12 year old boy is given training to become the new receiver and so he starts to receive the collective memories of the past. He eventually starts to see colors! However, he also sees the ugly truths about his society, such as, those who do not behave or who are deemed inadequate are “released” by lethal injection, not just sent “outside” of the community as he previously believed. His knowledge irrevocably changes him and he can no longer live contentedly while pretending not to know. He can no longer un-see the true colors of the world.
I can no longer un-see the colors either. I even sometimes envy those who do not see; my life would be so much simpler if I were as obliviously content to know the world only as others have told me how to see it. I am actually jealous of the guy walking down the street with his yoga matt, Starbuck’s chai tea, and earth shoes, as he enters his hybrid car graced with COEXIST and I LOVE OBAMA bumper stickers. He is content; he is enlightened; he is right; and he is sooooo good. He doesn’t need to think about anything at all.
My friends (synonymous for liberal, since I live in an East coast city) do not understand. They think I have lost my mind or become some sort of religious/political extremist. They often just stop speaking to me. When they do speak to me it is usually to scream at me that the world is really grey and I must want poor children to die horrible deaths from pollution created by evil capitalism. When I try to explain how that is not true, they cannot or will not hear. They usually won’t let me finish a sentence.
My public school colleagues (also synonymous for liberal) suspect that I do not share their unified liberal stance on the world; they somehow sense that I am not a true believer. It makes work life tense at times, to say the least. Far too often I have said nothing to friends or colleagues about important matters, although I believe that our country and our world are at a dangerous point in time. I now speak up more often and will take whatever consequences come. What we choose to do today will impact the lives of our children and our children’s children.
It takes courage to come out of the conservative closet these days. To do so means you will be called names like racist, homophobe, bigot, Islamaphobe, creationist, Tea Party Supporter (as if that were a deep insult). You will be accused of wanting terrible things such as the return of lynchings, hatred of poor people, and imposition of strict Christian values (and you must say Christian with sneer though, ironically, liberals support misogynistic and human-rights-crushing Islamic values).
You will lose friends and colleagues you once thought were solid. You may feel completely alone. I remember that was how many of my gay friends felt when they first came out in the 1980s. Liberals may be surprised to discover that I have gay friends. They may be more surprised to find that there are gay conservatives and black conservatives and conservatives who are fighting for more freedoms not less, even fighting for more freedoms for liberals. But freedom can be frightening, just as speaking up can be frightening.
There is that other dystopian novel that feels even more relevant today than it did when I first read it, 1984 by George Orwell. In the novel the protagonist Winston Smith is imprisoned in a place called The Ministry of Love where he is tortured by O’Brien, a member of the inner party which controls the lives of all of the citizens in Oceania. His torturer insists that if the party says that 2+2=5 then it must equal 5. In our country so many people have believed the party for so long that they can no longer see the correct answers any more. The whole world can come to “consensus” that 2+2=5, but, nonetheless, the truth is that 2+2=4. I must speak the truth even if I fear the world’s reaction, even if I lose everything. I must speak the truth, because only the truth can set us free.
Dana R. Casey
Dana R. Casey is a veteran High School English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system. She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.