In my last post, I shared three reasons I liked being a firebrand conservative in college:
- It gave a narrative to the world and my place in it.
- It made me feel manly.
- It let me feel different in a good way.
I also said I’d discuss each reason over the next several weeks. Then I didn’t update my blog for a month. I’ll admit my excuse–the birth of my second child–will seem flimsy to many of you. But now that the baby is settled and I’m getting almost enough sleep to function, I’m back to explain the first reason I loved being a college conservative.
This reason also happens to be one of my favorite words: narrative.
Related Anecdote (Trust Me)
High school biology wasn’t my best subject. My friend Tommy sat next to me, and he spent all his time flirting with Sara Hanson two rows ahead. This meant I spent all my time passing notes between them and trying to focus on the lectures over the flirty whispering.That’s what was going on the day we learned about the brain.
Tommy handed me a folded square of notebook paper with a winning smirk. Sighing, I waited until the teacher turned her back before leaning forward to Sara, then hesitated over her shoulder before tapping it. Sara turned and locked me with green eyes the color of magic, leaving me with only the sensation of a burning face before she realized what was happening and snatched the note. I resisted the urge to smell her shampoo as she giggled a response with her lavender gel pen. Then I wondered why I couldn’t be the one passing notes to girls with magical eyes. Still frowning, I turned to the window to let my angst drift into the blue.
This is when the teacher explained the different parts of the brain.
All that’s to say I only have a vague knowledge of the brain’s sections.1 But I’m pretty sure the brainstem controls all those reptilian things like breathing and eating and survival of the fittest. Higher functions like reason and logic are controlled by the… frontal lobe? Hypo-cortex? Krang?
And now, to finally reach my point: No matter where you stand politically, almost all your political views come from your brainstem.
Political discourse and Komodo Dragons
Some of us are fortunate enough to have friends on the other side of the political spectrum who will engage us in thoughtful discussion. These discussions usually lead to a broader sympathy with “the other side,” and an acknowledgement of nuance and shades of interpretation that defy easy slogans.
But those discussions are rare. Most political engagement comes from getting triggered by something bite-sized–a tv ad, a Facebook meme, a bumper sticker. And this doesn’t offend our intellect so much as our gut. The Other Side is bad on a visceral level, and Our Side is good. Just look at Twitter: a twisted menagerie of snark, tribalism, and whataboutism. Everything is knee-jerk offense, retching at our enemies, and regurgitating our side’s talking points.
This isn’t an intellectual debate. It’s two komodo dragons fighting over a cow.2
And that (finally) brings me back to the conservative narrative. Like all political narratives, it’s an attempt to foster the right reflexes from our brain stems.3
First, there’s the narrative itself. It goes something like this:
America, unlike any country before it, was founded on Christian principles. The Founding Fathers established a republic of freedom and liberty. This republic, however, needed Christian virtue to function. For much of its history, America kept this virtue in small towns, honest farmers, and old time religion. But in the last century, America started to lose its way. A new generation forgot God and did what was right in their own eyes. This led to the big government of the 30’s, the sexual revolution of the 60’s, and the continuing decline of virtue and faith to this day, with an erosion of freedom and an increasing secularism. America was and can be great, but only if those who still hold to those original principles stand strong and take back the country. And now may be our final chance to act, before our republic is gone. Forever.
Of course, the words themselves aren’t enough to capture the narrative. You need to think back nostalgically to all your happiest memories of America you had as a child–back when things were simpler and better. These are the things that trigger your brainstem into thinking AMERICA. Everything from fireworks to barbeques in the park to Independence Day parades to ice cream at the soda fountain to petting your childhood dog to fireside cocoa on cold nights. Bald eagles perched on flagpoles. Abraham Lincoln speeches over shots of the Statue of Liberty with fighter jets and fireworks. This is America. And it’s what we must defend at all costs.
Yes, I’ve presented this narrative in an overly-simplistic way. Yes, people on both sides of the political aisle will poke holes in it. And yes, this narrative comes perilously close to “Make America Great Again”–perhaps a reason why so many evangelicals cozied to Trump so easily.
But I’ll leave it there.
So now, assuming I don’t have any more children in the near future, I should continue my series next week, when I look at the second reason why I loved being a firebrand conservative.
1 And no, actually learning about the brain for this blog post was out of the question. I’m a writer, not a scientist!
2 Pretty cool video, huh?
3 To be clear, I’m talking about the conservative narrative as it existed when I was growing up in the 90’s and 00’s. This is far different from today’s “conservative” movement, with it’s Milos and Tomi Lahrens…