The Outstater

October 27, 2021

Youth, Alas, Is Overrated

HOW DOES ONE BECOME a conservative, or more accurately in our case a classical liberal? Progressives like to think it is because we have been brainwashed somewhere along the way. That is the kindest view. Others think we are too dumb or selfish to appreciate the Left’s vision.

Actually, it’s not that complicated. Conservatives are made by time, or the lack of it. 

Youth, someone said, is overrated. When our lives stretch out in front of us we have time to dally with socialism’s promises. Why not? Maybe it will work this time, maybe it will reorder society so all is more equitable and fair, where risk is minimized and money, hard work are no longer a concern and, most important, that an undeserving older generation is properly chastised.

There has to be a better measure of worth than dependability and productivity, we thought. Who needs economics anyway, we asked. And if necessary, we could always change course later when we were in charge.

Time, though, passes. Age is a trustworthy teacher. We are not too many years into adulthood before we notice that certain “experts” tend to be more prescient than others, that merely holding strong feelings that things are wrong, that they must be changed immediately at all cost, doesn’t always translate into workable policy. In fact, it rarely does, there are those pesky unintended consequences.

Gradually, like it or not, maturity and the pressures of adult life improve judgment and accountability. Becoming pragmatic (and boring) isn’t something for which we can take pride, and it certainly isn’t flattering, but it is the way life goes. We become discerning in the Biblical sense.

A favorite playwright, David Mamet, became a conservative in such a way at the age of 60. He traced his path in a famous essay for the late Village Voice. I urge you to read it in full but here’s an excerpt:

“As a child of the ’60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart. . . . But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was — nor is — always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it?” 

Mamet, now 73, has compiled a list of “experts” driven by the ideology of his former self. It includes Prof. Frederick Lindemann, a close adviser to Winston Churchill who delayed installation of London radar, and Trofim Lysenko, science adviser to Stalin, whose agricultural theories starved more than 10 million people. Both men were lauded to the end of their days. We can safely add to that list CDC experts, public school administrators and woke generals.

His point is that when an adolescent mindset comes to autocratic power it becomes a monster: “We are all, in a sense, fools, since no one person can know everything. We all have to trust others for their expertise, and we all make mistakes. The horror of a command economy is not that officials will make mistakes, but that those mistakes will never be acknowledged or corrected.” 

We began to cull from our lives the experts whose predictions never turned out to square with reality, who, however promising, inspirational or authoritative, turned out to be a waste of time. First to go was PBSthe New York Timesthe Indianapolis Star and the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette followed by the Republican and Democrat Parties and finally anyone even remotely associated with the U.S. Congress or the Department of Justice.

We were left with a small, motley group trying to make sense of the world as it is, trying to prepare us as much as is humanely possible for its twists and turns. Those were the conservatives, although it was a while before we dared speak their name.

Throughout, we never abandoned our hope for our fellow man or woman. Rather, we were taught by age to husband our resources in his, her or them’s defense. We could no longer justify spending days in the ungrounded pursuit of reflexive and perpetual empathy.

So, what explains Nancy Pelosi, 81, Joe Biden, 78, or Bernie Sanders, 80, or for that matter George W. Bush, 75, or even Eric Holcomb, 53? — tcl


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