A Hedonist Utopia?

It seems to me perfectly natural and right that one should become more conservative as one gets older. It’s not that there is anything wrong with being traditional in one’s youth, but youth is naturally a time for self-discovery and testing boundaries, and it’s important then to develop qualities like courage and creativity, even at the expense of making some mistakes. The older generation, on the other hand, is responsible for preserving and defending the standards and traditions that they know, from experience, to be important to the entire society.

This, though, is probably a matter of maturity rather than conservatism in a political sense. In the political sense, it is by no means true that people always move from liberal to conservative as they get older. With the prevailing liberalization of society, in fact, the default tendency is to become more liberal. This is true of many people of my parents’ generation, who when they were younger would have viscerally opposed the public acceptance of homosexuality or the legitimization of Malcolm X as a social leader. It’s true of numerous public figures like George Will. If you live in a liberal community or work in a public institution where the prevailing winds blow liberal, it is hard to sustain the constant assault on your conservative values. You want to be liked, after all! I myself was at heart pretty much liberal until the shock of 9/11, when I began to see that our inability to effectively respond to the most audacious and flagrant attacks our nation had endured in its entire history was rooted in our moral weakness. That began a process of exploration of self and society that continues for me to this day, some of the results of which are posted on these pages.

I can’t imagine returning to any of my former default liberal stances, because although I may not have figured out exactly what to replace them with, I am sure that as they stood they are wrong. It seems clear to me, for example, that if we don’t get a grip on marriage and figure out some way to get men and women to marry at a reasonably young age and stay married, family life as we have known it, and everything this has meant to us, will be largely replaced by much less nourishing and stable alternative arrangements. I don’t think this is a possibility, I think it’s a certainty. And nowadays, for most social problems, I tend to take a conservative stance – which is not the same thing as wanting to put things back just as they were in the past.

And yet it is a fact that even people who have gone quite far in committing themselves to a conservative or traditional position do reverse themselves sometimes. I’m thinking of a number of male friends of mine who are or were either conservative or libertarian. My assumption, or wishful thought, is that such persons should naturally become more conservative as time goes on and they see more and more evidence that liberalism just isn’t working. To my surprise, though, this is not always the case. One of my friends, for instance, was publicly quite active in the Republican Party up until 2008 and took quite a bit of flak for it at his very liberal workplace, but has lately been complaining about the “extremists” in that party and claiming that national health care may be a great thing. I know another fellow, in his mid-30s, who was very active in his church and, as far as I could see, a rock-solid conservative, but who has lately dropped church entirely and spends his energy trying to pick up women at clubs. (Maybe he finally broke after failing to find a wife at church.) One of my on-line friends, with whom I thought I shared many values, recently told me that he was through with the “far right” and that he thought we may be heading for a “hedonistic utopia,” which he had decided to enjoy rather than resist.

What surprises me about individuals like these is that they seem to have truthfully seen the false and self-destructive nature of liberalism and stood against it, but then somehow changed their minds, at least partially. This, to me, is more puzzling than the case of people with a liberal worldview simply holding on to or expanding that view. How can you see the truth, and then deliberately forget it?

But these persons, if they were reading this, would certainly deny that they are suppressing or forgetting anything. They see reality; I am clinging to unfounded beliefs. Or, maybe more likely: nothing is certain, and they’re choosing to be more optimistic, or to think more flexibly (OK, maybe this is not my strong point!), or to live more in the moment. Who knows how it will all turn out?

I don’t believe it, though. I can’t look at the growth of Islam in our and fool myself into thinking it just might happily resolve itself into something benign without our having to fight it. I can’t look at the efforts of “marriage equality” activists to force their relationships into the institution of marriage, and believe that this won’t harm children, families, and the larger society. I can’t look at illegal “Hispanic” immigrants marching in favor of an amnesty for themselves, and believe that my American society can assimilate their presence. I don’t see sexual hedonism as leading to anything but heartbreak, mutual alienation, and sad children or no children in the long run. A hedonist utopia? A hedonist hell, more likely.

(I feel compelled to interject here that I am no “puritan” and am quite a fun-loving person. But you’ll have to take my word for it!)

Furthermore, all these issues are connected. I believe Pat Robertson said something about 9/11 being a punishment for our acceptance of homosexuality. I do not consider that to be a factually true statement, and Robertson may be crazy for all I know, but there is metaphorical truth in it. There is a connection between our loosening up and de-valuing of traditional marriage (and other relationships and sets of obligations that transcend individual desire), and our ensuing softness and spinelessness as a society that the Muslims observed and correctly saw as an indication that we were ripe for them to prey on.

On such matters, I’m going to continue to try to show people I care about that those connections are real – and I hope this does not preclude also learning from the perspectives of others! It is not that I know much; but all anyone can do is try to express what he sees. Those who feel I’m missing something will, I hope, try to set me straight.

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7 Responses to A Hedonist Utopia?

  1. Dr.D says:

    Your friends that used to be conservative but have given up have done so because they lacked a real basis for their belief.

    The Parable of the Sower explains this rather completely and perfectly (St. Matthew 13:18-30). The conservative life is fundamentally the Christian life, and as the parable describes, not all are able, or willing, to sustain it. Some will start, but for various reasons, they fall away. It is only those who are faithful to the end that will receive the ultimate reward which is not in this world.

    We press on, doing what we are called to do, regardless of whether we appear to be winning or losing.

  2. samsonsjawbone says:

    One of the most unique, thought-provoking pieces I’ve read in a while. It’s true that even though folks tend to become more “conservative” as they get older, in many cases that’s because what was once liberal has become the new conservative.

    If you live in a liberal community or work in a public institution where the prevailing winds blow liberal, it is hard to sustain the constant assault on your conservative values. You want to be liked, after all!

    Yes, indeed; nothing new there to anyone who is well-educated and thus has spent some time in college circles. It’s hard to retain your conservatism in this milieu if it’s not anchored in something, like a traditional religion.

  3. Bartholomew (Parthalan) says:

    It’s true that some of us choose to stop fighting the good fight, for the reasons you cited and for other, more personal ones. Sometimes, family situations change, which make it very difficult not to compromise.

    Take Dick Cheney, for example: how easy was it for him to persist in opposition to homosexual “marriage” after his daughter declared herself to be partnered with another woman?

    We shouldn’t let these apostates, for lack of a better word, cause us to waver too: After all, they haven’t backed down because of some new insight or truth they’ve discovered, but because they’ve suddenly found the truth too unbearable.

  4. Liam says:

    Well summarised as ever Stephen, this in particular:

    “family life as we have known it, and everything this has meant to us, will be largely replaced by much less nourishing and stable alternative arrangements. I don’t think this is a possibility, I think it’s a certainty.”

    I did not understand this at all until I actually had children of my own. Though I should have done, as my parents were (and thank the dear Lord God Almighty still are) good people who quietly and nobly provided that nourishment and stability of which you speak.

    I still feel a certain shame at every instance of insufferable liberal indifference and contempt with which I dismissed them in my thoughts and words, when I had warmth, comfort and a full stomach thanks to their love and self sacrifice.

    I’d strongly encourage all here to read the following piece, and in particular focus on the author’s verdict on the catastrophic home life of the unfortunate Shannon Matthews.

    http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_3_otbie-british_children.html

  5. alcestiseshtemoa says:

    Well from 13 until now ( 18 ) I was switching between liberal and neo conservative and in a rebellious phase … I’m back to being a conservative … mainly for these reasons :

    – I’m a Christian and I like Western Civilization
    – The four pillars of Western civilization = Greece + Rome + Judaism + Christianity
    – Hedonism , illegal immigration , etc may look good but it is NOT … the results are destructive and they are moral vacuums and so forth

    I’m young and just look for example at one of the liberal results — http://ozconservative.blogspot.com/2010/06/generation-of-women-living-blind-to.html

    Do I want to end up like these women ? No

  6. alcestiseshtemoa says:

    It’s mostly the older generation ( 30 , 35 and up ) that are giving up it seems

    Don’t worry young conservatives exist
    We are here =)

  7. Dr.D says:

    @ alcestiseshtemoa You say that you are a Christian and that you like Western Civilization. With that combination, if you really believe them, there is no way on earth that you can opt for hedonism.

    Let me offer a few comments for you to think about, some ideas that you may not (or may have) thought about yet.

    1. A God’s creation, we are ultimately destined to return to God. Our purpose is His eternal praise and glory, both in this life and beyond. It is in seeking to do this that we actually love God; this is what it means to love God, to put His purposes first in our lives.

    2. With the ideas of point 1 in mind, it is pretty clear that hedonism is clearly out of the question because hedonism is living for self, for our own enjoyment. That is completely ignoring God altogether, most certainly not loving God.

    3. To love God requires that we also love our fellow man. This does not mean that we have to like him, but to love him in the sense of trying to bring him to God, to be concerned for the eternal welfare of his soul. We are to be concerned for his material welfare as well, but primarily and foremost to be concerned for his spiritual welfare. We should never hesitate to make evangelism a part of our efforts to deal with material needs; it is the spiritual need that is the biggest concern for Christians.

    4. Being concerned for others does not mean at all accepting large numbers of invaders into our country. It was God Himself who created the nations and divided the peoples of the world, and it was never a part of God’s plan that there be these vast migrations. This is an invasion, and the fact that most of these people do not wear uniforms changes nothing; they remain an invading army. Jesus Christ never said that His followers were to surrender to an invading force.

    5. Conservative people are consistently far more generous with their own resources than are the “liberals.” Liberals tend to think that welfare of all sorts should be a state function, so they are totally disinclined to dig into their own pockets to help.

    6. As a nation, the USA has for a long time given far more than any other country on the face of the earth to help the victims of various disasters in other nations. Look back at the records of who gave what when various problems have occurred and you will find the US always far out ahead of the rest of the world combined. That is OK because we have been richly blessed. But never let it be said that we are a stingy nation; we are not. We have been a very generous nation and we have supported the world in countless ways for many years.

    7. Actually, it is point 6 that is the cause of some of our problems in the world. The world has come to resent the generosity of the USA. Most other countries feel that it makes them look bad, and they resent our always being the one to pitch in and help. As a case in point, recently in Haiti, did you notice the French pique over not being the ones to run the rescue and rebuilding effort? Of course, they are much further away and sent relatively little aid, but they still thought that, because of their historic ties with Haiti, they should lead. It goes on and on.

    Just a few points to think about.

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