I Am the In Between

I have historically not been a very political person. I have always been (and still am) absolutely disgusted with politicians and the media’s coverage of them. Until recently, my strategy had been for the most part just to ignore the rants of advocates and rhetoric of orators. Sure, I had opinions about the role of government, social and economic policy, law, etc. But I kept those opinions close to the chest, opting not to engage with those making impassioned cases for their latest cause. I stayed aloof with a smirk and quiet amusement. I generally did not think it was worth it to quibble about the nuances of governance and instead chose to focus my attentions on other things. To a certain extent, this is all still true of my approach.

However, this election season, I’ve found myself increasingly perturbed by the strong opinions of friends, family, and public personalities. This is due in no small part to the advent of the smartphone and my constant use of it. Whenever I’m waiting for pretty much anything, I whip that thing out and check my email, then Facebook, then CNN. It is also the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning and usually the last thing I do before I go to bed. Day in and day out I saturate myself in this political circus. The good news is that I feel more informed than ever before, though my knowledge is still just a drop in the bucket on a plethora of complicated issues. Nonetheless, it seems I’ve reached a boiling point, and I have decided to use the unobtrusive platform of my blog to make a series of posts about my thoughts and positions.

Before I say anything specific about my position on anything, I believe that it may be instructive for the reader to know a few things about me. My hope is that this may serve to enhance my credibility in your eyes. When I use the word ‘credibility’ here, I do not mean it in the sense that I am very knowledgeable about political issues. Rather, the ‘credibility’ I refer to is of my diverse experiences and of the seemingly opposing forces that balance and shape my views; a ‘cultural credibility,’ if you will. I will be the first to admit that there is no such thing as a person devoid of bias. It simply isn’t possible. However, my contention is that these experiences I speak of put me in a position of having a higher than average ability to see beyond the silo of entrenched political ideology. In spite of these diverse influences, my final conclusions on some issues may very well not be what is commonly referred to as ‘moderate,’ but nonetheless it is important to me for you to know that such conclusions have not been arrived at in the vacuum of unexamined dogma.

I was born in the Minnesota, but I grew up in the People’s Republic of China. After high school, I moved back to the United States to attend college and have been living here ever since. I have spent nearly as much time in the world’s most powerful communist state as I have in the purportedly greatest liberal democracy the world has ever known. I have seen first hand and evaluated the pros and cons of more and less government involvement in the lives of its citizens. I have lived under a government that rules with an iron fist and who demands unquestioned obedience, and I have lived under a government where money is power and whose politicians are in the pockets of private corporations. I have seen what an explicitly atheistic government whose moral compass is questionable at best looks like, and I have seen the facade of religiosity that hypocrites use to their own selfish ends in order to win elections. I have witnessed pervasive corruption in both systems.

My parents are very conservative. When I suggest unquestioned allegiance to the Republican Party is not the best course, they literally think I’m joking. I recently watched one of the many ‘gay is totally as normal as heterosexual’ shows that are in vogue nowadays with my mom. She claimed that it was ‘just sick,’ then got up and left. Though we don’t talk much about politics, I am under the impression that my brother and one of my sisters are ‘moderates.’ My oldest sister is decidedly liberal, and never fails to toss in a political or social platitude or two at every family gathering. I have both conservative and liberal friends, but most of my friends are liberal — some very much so. This is not terribly surprising given my age, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people assume that I am just as liberal as they are. They sometimes look a bit befuddled when I don’t join in on their over the top mockery of all things conservative. Interestingly, I am assumed to be extremely conservative and extremely liberal at the same time by different factions.

I attended a private Christian school from 1st through 12th grade, except for 1 and a half years of public school and half a year of home schooling. We had mandatory Bible classes every day and weekly chapel. At least 90% of the curriculum was written from a Christian viewpoint. I enjoyed debating theology with teachers and fellow students. I’ve attended 2 public liberal arts universities in the United States: the University of Minnesota and Texas State University. I shouldn’t have to tell you how stark the contrast has been. The curriculum is obviously secular, and at times decidedly anti-Christian. I enjoyed arguing with my overtly atheist philosophy professor, because, well, his bias pissed me off. It is expected and perfectly reasonable that a Christian institution should teach things from a Christian perspective, but professors of a public institution should present viable alternatives and let students decide. On the whole, my professors have done a decent job of not endorsing Democratic candidates, but it’s no secret that the public university environment as a whole is ridiculously liberal.

I live in Austin, Texas, which is the most liberal city in one of the most conservative states in the country. It is apparently one of the top 100 most liberal cities in the nation, which is no mean feat given its location in the deep south. Austin is home to one of the nation’s largest universities, the University of Texas at Austin. If you exclude primarily online universities, it breaks into the top 10 in the country by enrollment. While it is no San Francisco, you are nonetheless constantly bombarded by liberal bumper stickers and lawn signs pretty much every day. But drive just outside the city limits, and you’ll feel as though you are in a different country entirely. This is Texas after all, land of gun toting cowboys and fiery Baptist preachers, or something.

Like nearly 3/4 of the population in the United States, I am white. I don’t know that there is much of a middle ground to be had here. Traditionally, any combination of non-white and white is simply considered non-white by definition, and in my experience, those of mixed race typically identify with the non-white race. It’s very rare that a person would experience being both the majority and a minority race in a single culture, though I do know examples of those of mixed race that have seen both sides of the coin by being in different parts of the country and/or whose lives span sufficient amounts of time as to experience a shift in perception about their race. All I can offer in this respect is that I am the majority race in the United States, but I was a minority race while living in China. Unlike the United States, however, the Chinese generally treat certain minority groups with curiosity and admiration. So while I was a ‘minority’ there, I can’t exactly claim that I was treated as lesser for it.

However, I will claim interactions with a decently diverse group of racial identities. The international school I attended from grades 1 to 12 had a pretty good spread of cultures, not to mention of course that it was China, where being white was to be of a very small minority. Among my friends during that time were kids from Papua New Guinea, Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Malaysia, Singapore, Russia, Australia, Taiwan, etc. In college and beyond, the racial composition of those I have interacted with most is probably just about representative of the population at large, if not biased towards minority races as well. I would describe myself as of the majority racially but having more than average experiences with and empathy for minority cultures.

While I am not middle-aged in the strictest definition, I do believe I am ‘middle-staged,’ meaning I am midway through life’s general stages. I am 29 years old. While I am still finishing up my college degree because of the career path I chose, I do not consider myself at the same stage in life as the typical college student. I am not as young, idealistic, inexperienced, reckless, and poor as the typical 18-25 year old person. Neither am I as old, realistic, experienced, cautious, and economically established as most who are 40+ years old. I have been married for 4 and a half years. In just over half a year, I will be a first time father. I have been living in my first home for 3 and a half years. Up until now, we’ve only had to really take care of ourselves. That will soon change, and so too will my attitude about my role in society. In fact, this started to change for me once we decided to have a child.

I’m not going pretend that I’ve experienced anything near abject poverty. Nearly everyone in the United States is quite a bit better off than the rest of the world. Compared to the rest of the world, we are all the ‘1%’. Therefore, when I speak of my financial position, know that I am speaking relative to the population of the United States, not the world as a whole. Relative to the country’s population, my tax records reveal that I have had some pretty lean years in which I made quite a bit less than the per capita median income. The leanest of these in memory was when I moved from Minnesota to Texas to be closer to the person who is now now my wife. I lived in a studio apartment in San Antonio that cost $300 a month. My staple food was frozen pastas from the grocery store. I didn’t have a car and instead used the metro bus system or biked if the location was nearby. I gradually grew my business and landed myself a well-paying job a couple of years later, and things have been generally going quite well ever since.

We are now slowly climbing our way out of debt from school and buying a house, and we have more economic choices to make than ever before. The stakes will be higher now as we bring a new life into the world that will depend on us for everything from day 1. Like lots of folks our age with a college education, we are in the middle class. We have debt but are starting to earn more to pay it off more quickly with the end goal of growing our savings. Economic stability and the physical well-being of my family are no longer just future goals, but present imperatives moving forward in my life.

I am the in between. Not all my positions are what are commonly known as ‘moderate,’ but the ideological forces in my life press from all sides, and I welcome the contrast. I do not enjoy the company of only those that agree with one political persuasion or economic, social, or cultural outlook. I try to understand both sides of the arguments to the best of my ability.

My hope for you during this increasingly combative political season is that you take a good look at your own ideological silos. Believing that you know better than the other side is not enough. If you only interact with those that agree with you, you will be blinded to valid arguments from the other side and less able to address them without resorting to caricaturizing their leaders, building straw men out of their platforms, and assassinating their character by taking sound bites out of context. Be fair and understanding, and remember that there are intelligent and well-meaning people behind more than just your preferred platform. Be honest about the weaknesses in your own favored platform and learn to see the positive aspects of other platforms. Even if you disagree with the conclusions of others, chances are you can at least see the impetus for the position and be able to resolve the issue in another way. There is no platform that works best for all people at all times because the simple fact is that we are not all in the same place economically, socially, and culturally. All we can do is try to make it as good as possible for the most people possible in as equitable a manner as possible.

In subsequent posts, I’ll offer a few of my opinions. I’ll try to stick mostly to the philosophy of governance rather than the specifics of its implementation. Many (most?) of you will probably disagree with me. That’s fine.

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