Ruminations On The Right

   I spent 50 years in bleeding-edge IT work. I was very good at what I did, probably in the top 10-20 people in the world at one time. I credit that not particularly to brilliance or training but to the fact that I am basically a creative person who happened to hit the computer world at a time when it was in flux. It needed creative thinking because a new world was being made possible by computers and we were creating new ways of doing many things, from business to science.

   I spent 25 years of those 50 years at SIAC, the IT subsidiary of NYSE and was lucky to work there with some exceptional people. SIAC was widely recognized as not only a leader in the use of technology, but also a great place to work. It was a well-deserved reputation, chiefly because during its ‘golden years’, it was run by an execptional individual, Charles McQuade. Any corporation takes it cue from the top, and Charlie was first and foremost a decent, honorable and caring human being – and he ran the company accordingly. We busted out butts for SIAC because SIAC treated us well. When my wife was hit by a car and spent weeks in ICU and months in hospitals for multiple surgeries, I took off whatever time I needed and SIAC was completely supportive. So when SIAC needed a piece of code working by next Monday, I worked non-stop from 6am Thursday to 4pm Sunday to make it happen. We both did the Right Thing and nobody kept score or nitpicked.

This human-centered attitude on SIAC’s part was undoubtedly simplified by the fact that it was a not-for-profit company with no shareholders to answer to. NYSE needed something done and gave SIAC whatever we said we needed in order to do it. In theory, this should have put NYSE in the driver’s seat, but in fact, they needed us to keep them operational and SIAC ran itself as it saw fit.

   Of course, all good things come to an end and SIAC is no more but I do keep in touch with a few ex-colleagues via Facebook. One recently started a ‘SIAC Alumni’ group on FB and 50 or so folks surfaced. They recently had a get-together in Brooklyn to reconnect and reminisce about the Good Old Days and probably bitch about the current state of affairs.

   I haven’t been down there since McQuade retired in 2002, but was considering the 13/4 hour drive just to see a few of the people I worked closely with for a long time. However, I began to follow some of these ex-colleagues on FB and realized how incredibly kneejerk right-wing they were, almost to a man. I ultimately decided to skip the ‘reunion’.

   Now one might expect that people in the financial industry would be inclined to be conservative, but one might equally expect people in a creative field – which IT was in those days – to be less rigid and even more progressive, having spent years inventing and teaching others how to think differently about how best to do things.

   They are all great people to deal with on a day-to-day personal and professional level, but I realized how much of that is simply social conditioning rather than views and attitudes developed by their own experience and thought. Almost all their tightly-held convictions are the result of blindly accepting what they were taught. They believed their parents and teachers; they believed Madison Avenue and their politicians; they believe Faux News and the Empire.

   Considering further, I realized that of the people I’ve dealt with over the years who were exceptionally good at what they did – from computers to dentistry, medicine, law, etc – most were very conservative politically, socially and culturally. What’s worse, they think that their professional ability and success stem from superior intellectual ability – they think they are successful because they are smarter than the average bear and therefore their political and social beliefs are similarly the result of their superior mental prowess.

   I contemplated why people of obvious intelligence could so blindly swallow the American Pipedream; why they uncritically bought the MSM version of the world. It occurred to me that the common thread between right-wing [non]thinking and professional skills might be a matter of personality rather than sheer brainpower. They all functioned professionally pretty close to OCD mode and their predilection toward obsessive behavior meant they were very meticulous with and hence good at their jobs. It also meant they were obsessed with Order and Predictability. They want their jobs and their lives and the world to function smoothly and uneventfully and they are threatened by any disruption; a computer software glitch, a root-canal going bad, a lost legal case, a lost war, a financial collapse, a gay child, an angry [poor] community…

   I speculate that such a need for a predictable world and fear of disruption stems from a lack of self-confidence in their ability to successfully deal with life on an ad hoc basis. If they can’t know in advance and devise a plan, they feel they are screwed. Ultimately, of course, they are screwed, since no one can predict 100% and one disruption or another will someday catch up with them and they will be helpless. It’s rather like depending on antibiotics and sterilizing one’s environment instead of being exposed to various pathogens and developing one’s immunity.

I guess the moral of the story is that we need to develop confidence in our ability to fly by the seat of our pants and cope with whatever life hands us. We will not then need the world to be rigidly predetermined., which leaves us free to be more flexible in our thinking and deal with the world as it is as opposed to the world as we would like to pretend it is.


10 Replies to “Ruminations On The Right”

  1. I suspect your friends are not as well-off in retirement as they expected to be. IBM is not paying out on its pensions what was promised to its workers in the 90’s, and many other companies have followed suit. Health benefits for retired people have also been cut back, the assumption from corporations being that much of this burden should be put on the shoulders of the government. 401k’s imploded after 2008, and older investors did not have the luxury of waiting for the market to come back to its previous levels (which has taken six years) – they had to cash out some of their holdings at the bottom. If they owned bonds, they did well for awhile after 2008, but the rollover problem is now severe; you can’t get 5% to 7% yields on bonds anymore, even for the very riskiest junk debt.

    You colleagues might be reacting to their disappearing retirement security, and looking for scapegoats for their problems. There are plenty of politicians and right wing media people ready to point them in a particular direction: immigrants, lazy food stamp freeloaders, welfare queens, or whatever non-white group can be dredged up as the enemy du jour.

    Romney gave us an inadvertent look into the thinking of conservatism when he talked about the 47% who mooch off everyone else. That concept hasn’t gone away just because Obama won reelection. I hear about it all the time from my retired friends and relatives, and it shows up on Facebook almost daily from even family members in their 30’s. This social and political division is getting worse as the slow-moving depression grinds on and chews up everyone’s wealth. It’s amazing when you think about: financial needs are getting worse, yet the right wing wants people to suffer even more if they are on the wrong side of the wealth divide. Even people who are on the cusp of poverty, but who have this mind set, constantly talk about how whatever entitlements they are getting (especially SS and Medicare) were earned by them, but today’s Food Stamp recipients are completely undeserving of help. It’s a form of individualism morphed into a strain of selfishness among half of the population. We’d all like to think that when everyone is standing on line at the food pantry, attitudes will change, but I wonder if that is true.

    1. We’d all like to think that when everyone is standing on line at the food pantry, attitudes will change, but I wonder if that is true. Numerian
      I used to think that would be so. But the anti-police brutality demonstrations going on tell me another story. There will be no mass uprising, just easily managed skirmishes.
      Most of us have been tamed, not all, but most.
      I would further venture a guess that most do not even understand the reality of their existence.
      I’ve spent most of my life trying to understand that very thing, with a modicum of success.

  2. I think it’s really important to know who we are and what we are the product of.
    We are, first and foremost, a product of our educational system.
    Sometime after the fifth grade I came to despise school, teachers, and the social aspects of which I was inept and awkward. My few attempts at university just reinforced what grammar and high school embedded.
    Understanding the public educational system goes a long way towards liberation; because that leads one directly to history, genuine history. It also goes a long way towards understanding society, its inhabitants, its government, politics, and intolerance.
    Liberal, conservative; republican, democrat and most of the rest, are two sides of the same coin.
    Leaving the U.S. accelerated my quest for information free of western (U.S. dominated) bias. Not listening to, watching, or reading any U.S. MSM and seeking out the views of mutitudes of international media has been eye opening.
    Education, which has nothing to do with school, is the key to everything, IMO.
    Below is a link to a book by John T. Gatto, The Underground History of American Education is just the latest in revealing knowledge not commonly known.

    One note, once you start (DL) an audio chapter you cannot pause it or go back to catch something missed. At least I haven’t figured out how to do that. If you try, it will start again from the beginning.
    I cannot recommend this book too highly; it’s pure gold.
    Gatto’s book speaks to the infantilizing of students of U.S. public schools; purposeful delaying of maturity to ensure results.

  3. Your notion dovetails with my own experience. As a teenager I was pretty well informed (compulsive newspaper reader) but pretty conservative, yearning for order. Over time I became more comfortable in dealing with chaos and unplanned surprises, and also much more progressive in my political views.

  4. BTW: A question arose privately about my reference to “Harry Truman’s Hoopla”.

    Seems HST was campaigning on a Lakota reservation. He climbed up and sat on a corral fence to address the Indians.
    When he promised them better schools, they shouted, “Hoopla!”.
    When he promised better housing, they shouted, “Hoopla!”
    When he promised them jobs, they shouted, “Hoopla!”
    Each promise received a rousing “Hoopla!”.
    Truman was pleased and figured he’d learned at least a little bit of Lakota. As he got down from the fence and headed across the corral, one of his hosts said, “Be careful Mr. President. Don’t step in the hoopla”.

  5. Thinking a little more about what you wrote. On the reunion and how some of your colleagues appear to be knee-jerk right wingers—many of my present colleagues are this way now and much as you describe in that they are very good at what they do and focus keenly on it, everything else being sufficient social skill to get them through the day. For more than a few, this is their second or third career, and for others a second retirement job. So here’s what I wonder: if it is true that people tend to protect their “wealth” more vigorously when they age, and since right-wing politics caters to such people , maybe that’s all there is to it: I got mine and I’m keeping it.

    I know many of my colleagues well enough to know they do not like government (though their present jobs depend on it); don’t like integration (though their jobs demand civility and equal treatment for everyone); they resent poor people of any kind who clamor about what is wrong or use services guaranteed by law (even though they serve these same people directly or indirectly). I don’t see them conniving to deceive or short-change anybody, but it irritates them and their informal talk reveals their resentment: “I worked for mine. I planned and saved. I didn’t ask for handouts. Why can’t they? Why is it when I drive down Martin Luther King Drive in the middle of the day, I see able-bodied men and women walking around, or lounging around on their front porches, or at the convenience store? What do they do all day?” Etc., etc. My guess is that if you were in Ferguson right about now, this is what the right-wingers are saying. I would also guess it is the people between the ages of 35 and 55 who are saying it with the most conviction. Whatever these people have, they feel it is earned and threatened. I have tried to engage some of them in conversation. I have tried diplomatically to mention some of the blindspots in their perceptions. It’s true that they frequently parrot back whatever they heard on Fox. It is also true that they do not know history at all. Like you said: they believed their mothers, their teachers, and the movies John Wayne made.

  6. I was raised in curious circumstances in the South. I think my parents were extremely tolerant people and that was a function of their own experiences, but I think the dominant experience for them was the Depression. I do not know many right-wingers who were also Depression-era young adults or children from the United States. The oldest right-wingers I know are from the Korean War generation. I’d be curious how you all reflect upon the demographic profile of right-wing thinkers and doers.

    1. It’s an interesting question that was raised in some of the comments to another post.

      My parents came of age in the Great Depression. My mother came from a very self-sufficient background which carried with it a good deal of self-confidence. She never expected life to be a rose garden. Hard Times were just a reason to buckle down and get it done. She was an FDR Democrat, unbigoted and charitable.

      My step-father, on the other hand had high hopes of an education, which vanished when the economy tanked. He spent the rest of his life bitterly resenting intellectuals for their education (and justifiably for their condescending attitude toward the uneducated) and for those who did managed to escape the life of hard physical work he was stuck with. He was one of those who – to quote Joe Bageant – “showered after work rather than before”. He was very bigoted in speech, less so in the event: badmouthed blacks and Mexicans but treated his black and Mexican customers well. (I once pointed out this discrepancy and he said “Oh, Joe and Pedro are okay – it’s the other blacks and Mexicans I don’t like.” It was always the generic blacks and Mexicans – conveniently not local – who aroused his ire). He was very GOP and would have considered Rockefeller leftist and Ike only given grudging respect because of his military service rather than his political positions and actions.

      Generally speaking, those who know hard times themselves are more tolerant. I don’t think it’s a generational thing per se, although some generations may indeed have life easier or harder than others, If you watch panhandlers on the subway, you might notice they have better luck bumming a quarter from a black passenger who can less afford to be charitable than from the affluent white guy who spends more for his latte than the black does for lunch.

  7. I’ve been pretty much anti-authoritarian since I discovered at an early age that my idols had feet of clay – or maybe Harry Truman’s Hoopla? It made me look very carefully at what They said and motivated me to make up my own mind.

       At IBM 1963-1968 when the computer world entered a new phase with the advent of the Systems /360. Major hardware & software problems; major [unpaid] overtime. For one 6-month period I averaged 140 hours/week (and had 2 days off). Lived in Greenwich Village at the time and all my hippie friends couldn’t understand how I could work for IBM, while all my IBM friends couldn’t understand how I could live among all those hippies. I ignored them both and kept on doing my own thing.
    My expertise, BTW, does not extend to many non-creative fields. I’d love to know more about economics, for example, but would be bored to death learning it. Like Churchill, I always enjoy learning new things but don’t always enjoy being taught. 😀

  8. Actually, if my (subjective) experience is any guide. When I was working crazy hours, particularly doing 8:30am-2am days seven days a week, there was not much time or energy to expend on current events. If the government I voted for was in power and I felt prosperous (and tired), I tended to be accepting. If a party I opposed was in power, I tended to be negative in a passive way. Today, I am retired and I have the time to check out various websites and form my own opinion. Consequently, I also have moved much further to the left since my retirement.

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