Beaton column: How I went from Marxism to conservatism
As an impressionable 17-year-old in 1973, I enrolled in Engineering School at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It was the end of the Vietnam protests and the start of streaking. I did a little of both.
I did it because it seemed cool. Chicks didn’t dig guys in ROTC uniforms, and so I wasn’t one. I decided that I was instead a Marxist.
What’s more cool than dressing up in a Che Guevara costume and taking stuff from successful people you envy and giving it to your friends to make yourself popular with them, all while taking a cut of the proceeds?
It would be just like the song “Imagine” with “all the people sharing all the world.” And I would be the one to allocate the shares.
Besides, it pissed off my dad, so it had to be cool.
The Vietnam draft ended the year before I was eligible. I often boasted that this temporal happenstance saved me from a long vacation in Canada. I don’t know what I really would have done if I’d been drafted — I’m guessing I’d have been too chicken to go to Canada — but I liked my line about the saved vacation. It was cool.
My hair was long, my bottoms were belled and my skull was thick. I had sideburns. For a while I had a moustache. I smoked a pipe and I might have owned a suede beret. I played the rebel, with one eye always in the mirror.
I even voted for Jimmy Carter.
After graduating, I went to work for Boeing in Seattle. It was a blue-collar town back then. Everyone was unionized including the Boeing engineers. I found an older, conservative workmate who served as a dad substitute. I taunted him with Marxist nonsense.
That Marxist nonsense bit me in the butt when I was asked — told, really — to join the engineering union. It was my first experience with what we now call “identity politics.” I refused to join because I wanted to be judged on my own personal merit.
But even as this tiny counter-revolution germinated in me, I still cultivated Marxism. A little hypocrisy, after all, is a small price to pay for coolness.
After a couple of years of this preening, I went to law school. I was told we would be taught to “think like a lawyer.”
As it turned out, thinking like a lawyer just meant applying rules and logic to facts. I learned more about “thinking like a lawyer” in undergraduate physics classes than I learned in all of law school.
One thing law school did teach me was to grow up. I stopped caring what the cool kids thought, and started thinking for myself. I started thinking about political issues with the same analytical rigor that I had used with legal issues and, before that, with engineering problems.
And I realized that, while Marxism sounded nice, made people feel good about themselves and was “cool,” it was an utter failure in solving societal problems.
In fact, Marxism typically makes problems worse. So, too, with Marxism lite in the form of socialism, “liberalism” as Americans have corrupted the term and, more recently, “progressivism.” (Have you noticed how they keep changing their brand as soon as people catch on to them?)
Witness how Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs created a permanent underclass. Witness how the recent obsession with “diversity” and “inclusion” has created entire fields of monolithic political correctness such as academia, journalism and nonprofits where diverse thinkers are largely excluded, censored and even vilified.
Witness how giving free stuff to vagrants has increased vagrancy. Witness how student loan programs have encouraged kids to take on crushing debt to pay outlandish tuition at colleges where they’re indoctrinated more than educated.
Each of those programs was well-intentioned. But economists would say that these unintended consequences are to be expected. If you subsidize a behavior, it’s natural to get more of it. To expect otherwise is like pouring water into a glass and expecting the level not to rise.
Interestingly, that principle seems not to penetrate the progressive mind. The reason, I think, is this:
Progressives are like me in 1973. They’re not trying to solve problems. They’re trying to look cool to the world. Failing that, they’re trying to look cool to themselves; they’re trying to feel good about themselves.
And so each failed government social program is not a failure at all to a progressive. Because by their metric — did it make me look cool and feel good? — it was a success.
I get that. I was there 40 years ago.
But now I have a different take. I now realize that spending other people’s money on destructive programs for the purpose of making myself look cool is not cool, despite what the group-thinking cool kids say.
That’s why I became a conservative. My aim is to solve problems, not to milk them.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us.
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