September 25, 2018 | ° F

PANISH: Reconsidering long held political beliefs led me to Targum


I am not a big name at Rutgers by any stretch of the imagination. So it might seem arrogant, or at the very least unnecessary, for me to preface this column with an explanation of my personal politics. Is there a point?

In this case, there are two. The first and probably more truthful reason is that it is fun to write about yourself, and I am not one to pass up the opportunity. The second and more valid reason is that this is a bizarre moment for me ideologically speaking, a reality that my op-eds will reflect. It is bizarre, because during the past year or so I have begun to see convincing arguments on the political Right where I saw none before, while some Leftist arguments with which I have been familiar for years have begun to appear shabbier than I remembered them. The strangest part of this development is that I cannot locate a proximate cause or event that set it off. I just drifted.

This change feels all the more jarring when I recall the time, just months ago, when I could shake my head in righteous contempt at the Christopher Hitchenses and David Horowitzes of the world — those great public intellectuals of the Left who unceremoniously defected and formed the ranks of the Neoconservatives. While I am neither a great intellectual nor a Neoconservative, Hitchens’ and Horowitz’s transformations appear more intelligible now. Their post-defection writings, which once suggested to me that they had suffered severe brain damage and forgotten the erudite arguments of their youth, now intimated something else: that perhaps they had simply learned how to believe new prescriptions and thereby lost the ability to believe their old ones. 

But I cannot speak for them. The point is, that is what is happening to me. The processes of learning and unlearning have worked on me incrementally, like water carving away at rock, to reveal apparently profound changes in my political valence in the span of a year. Yet my temperament and moral intuitions have not changed all that dramatically. A slight rejiggering of emphases placed on particular values and outcomes, a faint reappraisal of causation and human agency, were all that it took for large parts of the old narrative to lose their purchase with me. In retrospect, it seems I had willed myself into a perverse skepticism of the ideologically inconvenient and an uncritical approval of the ideologically expedient. That is not to say that my own imperfect advocacy is a sign of the Left’s weakness — perhaps I was just a weak Leftist, and the movement will be stronger for my absence. It certainly did not take a murder or a war to dislodge me as it did Horowitz and Hitchens. 

Moreover, I still tend to hold unreasonable standards of evidence for ideas that I do not like and low standards for those that I do, though I try to acknowledge and correct my biases. Just because I have engaged in public self-doubt does not mean that I am cleansed like a Christian who has atoned for their sins. In all likelihood, I will keep on making flawed arguments no matter where I stand politically. If there is any potential for further growth on my part, it must come from outside of my own self-reinforcing thought process. Only through dialogue are opposing arguments pruned of their inconsistencies and fallacies, and their points thereby strengthened. The Daily Targum seems as good a place as any to pursue this process.

So far, I have studiously avoided mentioning the details of my “new opinions.” Aside from the great dramatic effect achieved by withholding gossip, my reticence has been motivated by uncertainty — how should I sum up a set of beliefs that can generously be described as “in flux”? I am still not quite sure, so I will say this: I believe that we are all imperfect, and that we must acknowledge each other’s imperfections as the very source of our humanity in order to most effectively and humanely improve each other’s lives. I believe that well-intentioned proscriptions aimed at perfecting humans by curing them of ignorance, hatred, irrationality, superstition, etc., tend to degenerate into condescension and hypocrisy and are doomed to failure (unless we utilize genetic engineering, but that is a topic for another day). And finally, I believe that Leftists often fixate on material welfare as a metric for wellbeing at the expense of dignity, trust, autonomy and spirituality. These, broadly speaking, are the bones I have to pick.

According to the old adage, a man has not got a heart if he is not a Socialist by age 20, and has not got a brain if he is not a conservative by age 40. Being 21, it seems that I’ve just managed to skirt the edge of heartlessness, though I have neither abandoned socialism all together nor entirely embraced conservatism. Who knows — maybe I will have come full circle by age 40. For now, I am open to persuasion.

Adam Panish is a School of Arts and Sciences senior double majoring in political science and history. His column, "Leaving the Left," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Adam Reel Panish

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