“Conservative Kid Grows Up”

Ed of Dispatches from the Culture Wars just posted an interesting piece called “Conservative Kid Grows Up.” I found it interesting because, quite simply, it’s my story too. And for many of you, it’s your story as well. Here are a couple excerpts from a news story on it:

Jonathan Krohn took the political world by storm at 2009’s Conservative Political Action Conference when, at just 13 years old, he delivered an impromptu rallying cry for conservatism that became a viral hit and had some pegging him as a future star of the Republican Party.

Much like this young man, I and my fellow Christian homeschoolers were told that we were the future of the Republican Party, that we were the future of all that is good in this nation, and that we would grow up to be some sort of conservative super stars. And, like him, it didn’t exactly work out like that for me:

Now 17, Krohn — who went on to write a book, “Defining Conservatism,” that was blurbed by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Bill Bennett — still watches that speech from time to time, but it mostly makes him cringe because, well, he’s not a conservative anymore.

Occasionally I run across things I wrote in my former life, and yes, I cringe too. And it’s not just me. I’ve talked to others who have walked similar path who have plenty of cringing moments. And of course, the worst is when a parent or relative tries to sway an argument by saying “but don’t you remember when you said X?” And yes. Yes, I remember. But that’s the position or argument that I am now arguing against.

“I think it was naive,” Krohn now says of the speech. “It’s a 13-year-old kid saying stuff that he had heard for a long time.… I live in Georgia. We’re inundated with conservative talk in Georgia.”

Exactly! The irony is that my parents, etc., think that the ideas I articulated at 13 were somehow really mine, and that the ideas I articulate today I articulate only to please my peers, or because I’ve been “brainwashed by liberal professors,” etc. I was naive to think I had everything figured out, but my parents and their peers should have known that people grow and mature and form their own views.

“The speech was something that a 13-year-old does. You haven’t formed all your opinions. You’re really defeating yourself if you think you have all of your ideas in your head when you were 12 or 13. It’s impossible. You haven’t done enough.”

Yes, yes, yes. I was silly to think at 13 that I had everything figured out. And it was silly for my parents and their peers to think that I and my peers had thoughtfully formed our opinions when we were merely parroting what we had heard from them our whole lives – and indeed, parroting the only political views we had ever heard.

“One of the first things that changed was that I stopped being a social conservative,” said Krohn. “It just didn’t seem right to me anymore. From there, it branched into other issues, everything from health care to economic issues.… I think I’ve changed a lot, and it’s not because I’ve become a liberal from being a conservative — it’s just that I thought about it more. The issues are so complex, you can’t just go with some ideological mantra for each substantive issue.”

When I started changing my views while in college, my father told me I’d been “brainwashed.” But, like this young man says, “it’s just that I thought about it more.” And yet, the idea that I could simply have thought through these issues further and formed new opinion on my own is somehow anathema. And that, my friends, is maddening.

When you’re 100% and completely positively sure you’re right, and when you’re so sure you’re right you’re unwilling to even consider any other views or arguments, you end up thinking that anyone who thinks differently from you must be “brainwashed” and that any child raised on the Truth ™ will naturally and honestly parrot, adopt, and forward your beliefs. Except, it doesn’t always work out that way. And when it doesn’t, someone is bound to get caught and chewed up in the gears.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Jason Dick

    Yup! Good ol’ psychological projection at work…

  • Tisha

    I’ve been through this too, although not nearly as publicly as Mr Krohn. I’ve also had the charge leveled at me that I’ve been brainwashed by liberal professors. When I ask how 20 years of living with my conservative family isn’t brainwashing, but a few years of 15 hours/week of classes is, I rarely get an answer. I also wonder how they think my professors had time to brainwash me with liberal political views when most of my class time was spent discussing calculus and organic chemistry and molecular biology.

    • ArachneS

      This. I have said that same thing as well. Many in the Conservative right rage about brainwashing and then turn around and obsessively shelter their kids from anything different from their own point of view.

  • smrnda

    Kind of apropos what Tisha said, I never get the idea that somehow sitting in a class and listening to a professor – who isn’t going to beat you if you challenge his/her authority or disagree – is brainwashing, but that the rigid upbringing of most conservatives isn’t brainwashing.

    I get a little scared of how religious conservatives enjoy having kids get up in front of adults and state their ‘opinions’ (in quotes since it’s really the parents’ opinions.) It’s manipulative in that it takes advantage of kids’ desire for acceptance and attention and their willingness to trust the adults around them to be telling them the truth. It’s kind of insidious to use kids who haven’t had a chance to form their own opinions and spokespersons for your movement.

    Though I still think it would be ridiculous to challenge and adult who has changed their mind with a line like ‘that’s not what you believed when you were 10!’ As if not agreeing with your ten year old self is a bad thing.

  • ScottInOH

    Mark 10:15

    Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.

    I was raised to believe this was a beautiful image — trusting completely, not bothering with the details, fully investing oneself in something, etc. I still see virtue in that mindset in some situations, but it is clearly dangerous, or at least absurd, in many settings. It really does seem like a lot of Christianity, at least in practice, tries to get people to see the world as children do (and idealized children, at that).

  • Tracey

    @Tisha: don’t you know, math and science are education, which is a LIBRUL thing.

    @smrnda: conservatives and evangelicals love to put up their carefully-coached, carefully-programmed “child prodigies” to spew hatred and divisiveness, but they get all butt-hurt and scream and carry on about brainwashing when the teenage child of two lesbian moms says “I love my mothers”.

  • Kevin Alexander

    Biologists have pointed out that humans show neotenous features. If that includes the brain then it could explain conservative thought which seems to be fairly childlike in its reasoning ability.

  • smrnda

    I really don’t get the idealized version of the child as trusting, naive and ‘innocent’ (in the sense of being ignorant of adult topics – it strikes me as strange that people can commend their kids for knowing say, a lot about history but then take pride in their children’s ignorance of human sexuality.) I think it’s a projection of how adults want to believe kids are, because if children were naive, trusting, and easily impressed then adults would seem more impressive to children. Perhaps it’s a desire to disbelieve that kids might be seeing through the bullshit of the adult world. It seems that wanting to believe that kids are like that ties in with wanting the relationship between adult and child to be unequal.

    When I hear people talk about the relationships between God and the believer using those metaphors, it’s hard for me to grasp since I didn’t have that sort of relationship with any adult. I figured out my parents were fallible pretty early. If anything it prevented me from being too disappointed in them.

    I just think it’s a dangerous idea to promote – kids should be able to trust adults, but they should be able to be a little suspicious and skeptical too. I see child-like trust to be a little dangerous – kids don’t have the knowledge or experience to feel out certain situations.

  • Karen

    My parents were conservative. When I was a child, I parroted their conservative views. Mind you, this wasn’t a fundamentalist/evangelical household; this is just how relatively normal kids grow up. As I started to think for myself, and to develop the very adult capacity for compassion, my views trended more and more liberal. Now, I’m 52, and the most liberal I’ve been in my life. (S0me of us take awhile to grow up. :-) )

    Oddly enough, my husband reached the peak of his liberalness in his mid-40′s, and he’s been growing slightly but perceptibly more conservative since then. Not sure why. His experiences over the last decade have been different than mine; he stayed working as an engineer, while I took time off to care for aging parents and then to study a new discipline. I fear this is leading to a major political rift between us when we hit our 60′s…

  • http://kathrynbrightbill.com Ryn

    I’m sure that there are many of us who are glad that YouTube did not exist when we were 13, I know I am.

    • Riza

      Me too.

  • Azel

    @Ryn: Why? It’s just a tool. It can be misused or abused but it has legitimate uses such as exposing people to diverse viewpoints, dissemining information which would be difficult to obtain otherwise or advertising works which would otherwise only enjoy a confidential audience.

  • http://kathrynbrightbill.com Ryn

    Why? Quite simply because if YouTube was around when I was a teenager the things I said then would be living on for all time. There are video tapes of some of the political stuff I did as a teen but they’re in a dusty box in someone’s attic, not tagged on YouTube for me to forever have to live down. You no longer have the luxury of being a stupid teenager and having your ignorance confined to memories. Say something dumb and it lives on. The CPAC kid is learning that now, in a few years that girl who spoke to the Maryland legislature asking them to vote down marriage equality for a 13th birthday present will be learning it as that video follows her for the rest of her life.

    • Azel

      True that may be, but I see advantages to that. One, that will hopefully sound the death knell of that old gambit of parents everywhere: I didn’t do that when I was young ! Because, it’s difficult to say that when there is video proof that you did that or worse in your youth. Two, people will have to remember that people change, that your opinion yesterday may not be yours tomorrow but, perhaps more importantly, that you can’t predict what will be your opinion tomorrow based on what was your opinion yesterday. Three…as I am of the firm opinion that as part of your growth you should live and yes also be stupid, after all you learn more of your errors than of your successes, I’ll let this XKCD talk.