- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Political Mental Map: Testimony Of An ‘Ironic Doomer’

Reader Edward Hamilton:

My early political formation was more internal than external — I spent a lot of time talking to myself silently and sometimes aloud — but all of the below would probably be on my list:

1. Dispensational “Rapture” theology circa 1980
2. The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
3. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio show
4. The emergence of postmodern/ironic anti-establishment political commentary (Rush Limbaugh et al)

We had no television when I was young and I barely had a concept of what famous politicians looked like or how they sounded, though I recognized their names. My parents were bible college graduates with a strong commitment to evangelism and deep immersion in the culture of what we’d probably call a “fundamentalist worldview” today: devotional books, Bible memory, separatism, and independent institutions (like Christian camps) designed to minimize contact with the secular world. I was exceptionally sheltered from any awareness of broader culture at a young age and thought that my world was representative of the rest of the world.

I was attuned to look for constant evidence that the world was breaking or falling apart as a validation of pessimistic eschatology. I incidentally was familiar with end-times prophecy stuff, along the lines of Hal Lindsey’s 70s-era books. I can remember feeling really impatient that the world wasn’t ending quickly enough to suit my tastes. That would have solved so many of the problems I had finding friends, feeling angry about the unfairness of childhood, or dealing with all the rules my parents were forcing me to follow.

By the early 90s, I was ready to convert to a less earnest perspective on the world, which seemed to be becoming more wicked and decadent (exactly as anticipated) with no sign of any judgment on the horizon. I started enjoying the idea of embracing an insouciant affect, and not taking the world too seriously, as a sort of rebellion against my culture. Being “political” as a teenager consisted of waiting until everyone was out of the house and then playing Limbaugh’s radio program on the stereo. I remember loving how ironic it felt, with all the constant rhetorical winking-at-the-audience, which was intensely liberating after a youth of being surrounded by people who Took Everything Very Seriously. I didn’t take anything seriously myself, and rolled my eyes at the people (at church and elsewhere) who thought they could do anything but make snarky comments about how quickly Rome was going to burn. In effect I transitioned from being a sincere doomer to being a tongue-in-cheek ironic doomer, playing things up as a sort of self-mockery of my own tribe. I was aware that this attitude was a form of decadence itself, intellectual decadence in response to social decadence, but that felt totally appropriate to me.

As an adult, nothing really moved me away from those tendencies. I never found any political figure I found trustworthy or deserving of respect, although I was clearly a cultural conservative in terms of my stylized exasperation with loosening sexual morality and the performative artificiality of politics. It’s been hard for me to recover a sense of belief in the integrity of anything outside my immediate family. I get easily impatient with the inability of other members of my church to recognize that their heroes (we’re in deep-red Texas territory here) are flawed and imperfect opportunists who would sell them out in a second. And when I interact with my former peers (siblings, childhood friends) who have become educated and moved toward educated upper-middle blue-state identities, I find them intolerably deficient in self-awareness about shortcomings of their new heroes as well. I’ve stopped thinking it’s useful to direct mockery toward sincere people; instead, I feel a sort of mixed pity and envy toward anyone who seems to have the kind of faith in temporal politics that I’ll never have — the feeling that scoring one more Supreme Court justice will break the final seal that will usher in the New Jerusalem.

I still don’t own a television, and I’m still mostly a cultural bystander (with respect to music and other entertainment media). I love science and enjoy my work teaching, and I appreciate my own family, but I don’t feel invested in anything outside that little world. For reasons I don’t fully understand, that’s very unlike my brother and sister, who are both emotionally absorbed in blue-state activist causes — my childhood wasn’t that far removed from theirs in time. Most everyone else I knew become a zealous convert to the other tribe, but I was left behind as a political agnostic, unwilling to put faith in anything.


I’m loving these posts. Other posts in the Political Mental Map series:

The original  [1]

Matt in VA’s political conversion [2]

Life is like high school [3]

4 Comments (Open | Close)

4 Comments To "Political Mental Map: Testimony Of An ‘Ironic Doomer’"

#1 Comment By Kay On November 8, 2018 @ 2:43 pm

Well, here’s another one for you. I’m younger than Rod — an older Millennial, kind of on the border between Gen X and Millennial — but despite that, my experiences and how they formed me have some similarities.

When I was *very* young (say, 4-5 years old), I had this naive idea that everyone was kind combined with a bit of social awkwardness. It did not take long at all for me to be disabused of the former. Like Rod, I suffered from torment and bullying at the hands of my peers, though mine seems to have begun much earlier, due no doubt in part to aforementioned social awkwardness. And the teachers were useless to stop any of it (sometimes they contributed to it).

In my case, being bullied across many years didn’t just make me hate and fear both The Mob and Authority, but made me quite misanthropic in general. I experienced firsthand the rampant nastiness of humanity, and I’ve never forgotten it. The fact that much of this happened during my childhood (i.e., at the hands of children) has also made me frankly contemptuous of many people’s sentimentality and romanticizing of children and childhood. Children are just like adults, except more prone to savagery. This has probably also contributed strongly to my desire not to have children, a fact that I’m not proud of — it gives me no pleasure to admit that I’m contributing to the Western gene pool’s demographic suicide — but I’m not going to pretend that it’s otherwise.

As a counterpoint to this, in my early 20s, I became disgusted with the weakness of my earlier self that had been so easily bullied, and over the course of a few years, shored up my mental and emotional resilience dramatically. This little informal self-improvement program was such a profound success that it proved to me that people can change themselves for the better through the power of their will, which has made me deeply skeptical of medicating for mental problems, and people blaming their emotional issues on outside forces generally. Sure, chemical imbalances in the brain exist, and sometimes a person’s circumstances are just intolerable, but I strongly suspect that people have a lot more power to change themselves than they admit, and most people are just too weak/lazy to do it.

I also got my undergraduate degree just as the economy crashed and the Great Recession hit, which did not do wonders for my ability to find employment. (I did eventually, but it was a struggle.) That event made me completely distrusting of financial institutions, banks, the stock market (I refuse to invest one penny into stocks), and all kinds of things. I am deeply fiscally conservative, such that I almost pathologically avoid debt whenever possible, and when I have to incur a debt, I pay it off as fast as mathematically possible. (I’d actually paid off my student loans before I even graduated.)

Politically speaking, my family was (and is) quite conservative and this rubbed off on me pretty easily, as it also fits my natural personality. I remain temperamentally conservative, though I’ve come to distrust and hold in contempt the Republican Party. (I used to support them, but it didn’t escape my notice over the passage of years that the supposed “conservative” party seems to do an awful job of conserving, well, anything.) I passed on the 2016 election, finding both candidates unacceptable. However, I voted straight-ticket Republican in the midterms, not because I have any love for the GOP whatsoever, but because the Democrats appear to have gone violently insane, so it was essentially a vote born of self-defense impulse.

All of which manifests in me being politically homeless, having not voted in the last few elections, but now back to voting R as a reaction to the rising craziness and hysteria of the left in response to Trump. But in general, my view is that the wider world is a mess, I have very little ability to affect it, and instead I just try to keep things comfortable for myself, friends and family, and those under my care, within my little sphere of influence.

#2 Comment By DH On November 8, 2018 @ 3:08 pm

My name is “DH” and I tend to think about things too much rather than doing.

That said, a lot of what takes place in this series resonates with me. I grew up as a child of the 90s in a double wide in a rural area of my state aka the middle of nowhere. My father worked construction and my mom was a SAHM until she began subbing once I got old enough.

Church was important for our family, and while we didn’t always go, I understood it had value as a child. I still recall asking about Jesus somehow dwelling in the roof of the church because I was too young to understand the whole heaven thing.

We later moved to a “big city” of 7k. So I pretty much grew up in lower middle to middle class, red-blooded American territory all along. We certainly weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich either and I was clueless to that. And happy.

Fast forward to college, where I attended a local state school. By this time, I’d grown up in the SBC and UMC with a very traditional church background. Ran into the carved out liberal professors in a Religious Studies minor and just had to get out. I was lost. I never lost my faith, but I had no idea what I was coming up against, and this included the District head of my own UMC back home. I could argue them all day long, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter because postmodernism and all of that. There was no truth, only relativity.

I had the opportunity to page at our state house and saw the political word at work. It wasn’t so bad, and even got to meet a politician who is now on the national stage. Seeing that part of the process invigorated me, but I was naive and several more experienced colleagues started teaching me about the inner workings and making the assertion that you really needed to be a little bit mean and corrupt to be a good politician.

After college, I went to work for the federal government and became an absolute cynic. I never really hit the Churchillian stage of being a young liberal, but I dove further into the Conservative(TM) Machine. Working in this particular branch, I saw some of the worst of humanity outside of war.

The disconnect for me came in how many people hated their jobs and complained about the aspects of bureaucracy, but then voted blue every single time at the ballot box. From what I could see, government really struggles with certain things and I don’t see a way to wave a wand and make it effective and efficient. (I come at thing with and understanding like Paine, that we do require government at some level.)

I was one of those kids who did not party in college. I drink some, but I can count the number of times I’ve been tipsy on one hand. I was pretty boring. I have my sins and shortcomings. As someone who has climbed the latter (a lot of people who I work with are quite well off and know nothing of my background in a trailer), it’s interesting to compare my experiences. I heard a minority student once make a comment about not being able to afford to go to Washington DC and start her career because of a lack of resources, which she attributed to race. I’m not a minority and I had, thank God, the same problem growing up.

I’m a slowly converting crunchy-con with two kids and a wife that is my high school sweetheart. I don’t have a panacea for all of this, but I will say that we are all so focused on blaming someone else and so apt to work against our own contentment.

I could write a book on our church experiences, but I see the same unraveling in our churches. There are bureaucracies and cliques. The largest church in town is currently being ravaged by one and is splintering. I am a Protestant, but Eastern Orthodoxy interests me. However, like others, I see few authorities worth my respect these days. I don’t pretend to know better than them, it’s just the wars are so petty, so tiring, and so stratified that I am weary of participating in them.

#3 Comment By Brian On November 8, 2018 @ 3:46 pm

This one resonates with me. I was actually disappointed when the Berlin Wall fell, because my whole eschatology collapsed with it.

#4 Comment By stmonicapray4me On November 8, 2018 @ 11:47 pm

John Nelson Darby’s unfortunate eschatology has led many a Fundamentalist Christian into the realm of doom and gloom predictions and soul crushing paralysis.

Ross Douthat’s book, “Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics,” expounds on the history of Darby’s teaching and its negative effects on American society.