I had written this letter a few weeks ago to a dear Twitter friend and another “ex-leftist.” As promised, he had first crack at it and now I will be exposed before my peers:
I was somewhat surprised, and continue to be, by the general assumption of some that I am much younger than they expected. I attribute this to a couple of things. First, I was intensely trained in most of what is considered “liberal strategy” for a number of years. Second, I had the kind of turnaround that normally takes years shoved down my throat by reality, thanks in large part to my own irresponsibility and stupidity. As I am fond of saying, “if you can’t look at yourself four or five years ago and think what an idiot you used to be, you haven’t grown much.” At any rate…
I was born to two lifelong Democrats. My mother was a student at the University of Akron during the riots at Kent State, only fifteen miles away. My father worked for the Chrysler stamping plant and retired recently after 30 years of hard work and constant union indoctrination. Thanks to me, both voted GOP in the last election but I can’t take too much credit. Both are, to the best of their abilities, independent thinkers. For the first time in my life, I was able to get them to look at alternative media and their change of heart was quite dramatic. I am an arguer at heart, so I think that’s why I was so intensely conservative when I was in middle school. I started paying attention to politics at about age ten and that was at the tail end of the Reagan Era. I was a belligerent know-it-all, though. I had been programmed, more or less, as part of a “gifted” class in my school system who were pretty much kept away from the general populace. I was a middle-school champ in some math competition, the name escapes me. I was pushed hard into engineering and completed calculus by the time I was 14. But I wanted to write 🙂
I started hanging around the literary and artsy-types when I went to high school. I suffered a pretty severe knee injury the summer before my freshman year so I ended up joining the speech and debate team instead of trying out for football. It was in this club that I first met Misters Chomsky, Proudhonne, Marx, Engels, and the like. After an intense study of political theory, I declared myself an anarcho-syndicalist when I was a junior. That year, I also won the Ohio state debate championship, often using a syndicate-based “counterplan” in a year when the topic was health care reform. The more I argued that liberal health care reform would unnecessarily slow the movement toward an egalitarian “people’s revolution,” the more I started to believe it myself. By the end of my high school career, I was just as liberal as I had been conservative earlier, and every bit as belligerent.
Despite my test scores, I wasn’t much of a student in the traditional sense. I had a 34 ACT to go with my 1530 SAT and a 3.2 GPA. Money being an object, I decided that in-state tuition sounded like a good idea despite having been officially accepted to some of the big-name schools. I chose Miami University because I had an interest in their interdisciplinary studies program. To this day, it is still called the “Western College Program” in honor of where their students were housed – in a women’s college previously absorbed by Mother Miami. There, I was educated by all manors of academia’s various rising stars. We had professors educated at Brown and Columbia (actual Frankfurt School trainees!) and graduates of the program often did their master’s work at Ivy League schools. I gained notice from the faculty for a few “stunts” I pulled as extra-curricular activities. In my mind, I was one of the most creative users of “critical theory.” Apparently in their minds, as well.
I did mash-ups of everything from GOP political ads to beer commercials. I was quick with computers and this was the late nineties so that was doubly impressive to a faculty struggling to stay ahead of the information age. We had assignments to protest in multiple classes so I figured I’d kill many birds with one stone. I made a sign that read “we want change” on one side and “I protest” on the other. We were asked to write science fiction so I wrote a story about a human populace driven underground by global warming and ozone depletion. An evil corporation in my story intentionally destroyed the value of paper currency and cornered the precious metals market (irony!). I had to write and produce a play so I did a post-modern story about how seemingly consensual sex could actually be rape. I worked my way into parties with my professors and meetings with visiting “scholars” from every corner of liberal academe. My star was on the rise.
Then a funny thing happened. I came across Huxley and Leary. I dropped out in a big way. I had pushed the envelope of liberal thought as far as I could and now my interest turned to “expanding my conscience.” If only those old Beat writers had mentioned that consciousness expands inward. No luck, though. In a year after I first experimented with LSD, I had fully washed out of school. I made a few attempts to get back in, none successful. I delivered pizzas part-time and was a full-time member of the Midwest rave scene. I spent every weekend traveling to parties. I have said before that I’ve done enough acid to turn the pope Buddhist but the actually tally is something like 1000 standard doses on 500 or so “trips.” The list of things I haven’t tried is much shorter than the list of things I have. I believe the short list is “crack.”
I had a bad trip. Not bad for 1000 doses but all it takes is one. I was on a break from school and staying at my parents’ house. I don’t remember much of it except to say that it was like watching a replay of every mistake I’d ever made in life in slow motion with commentators who knew exactly how to expose my worst fears. I woke up in a hospital 3 days later. My parents had taken me in when they found me, I was tranquilized so much that my metabolism slowed down and I entered a temporary coma. All the while, the drama kept playing out. I was never really asleep but my mind was in a kind of constant nightmare. They say a dream that feels like it’s hours long only takes seconds. I was in an alpha-state dream for something like sixty hours. The only thing that kept me tethered to reality was something that I thought I had abandoned years before: my religion. God brought me through and for what I cannot say. I can only say that my faith in God is “unfair” as most people live out their faith and I had God’s presence exposed to me in a moment of sheer desperation.
For a while, I struggled to figure out what I was doing with my life and I had to rebuild my personality, more or less. Somewhere in the middle of that process, 19 zealots decided to fly planes into important buildings and the whole landscape of my political ideology shifted very quickly. I hadn’t considered politics after my “incident,” but here was a clear case where much of what I believed was challenged by the presence of overt and terrifying evil. There were clearly people in this world who wanted to do us wrong. It was no longer important to figure out what exactly the shape of society should look like but more so to figure out who my friends and family were and find policies that offered them protection and a chance to thrive. I went back to Kant’s “A Critique of Pure Reason” and Locke’s “Natural Philosophy.” This relearning process got my interested in the idea of civil society, rule of law, and I came to see the wisdom of the founders. Here was empiricism succeeding where logic could not explain. It was no longer important to be correct. Conservatism to me came to mean the idea that everyone’s version of “correct” could coexist given a certain limited role of a constitutionally limited state for those instances when two “rights” contradicted each other. It was simple and brilliant. I came to see that the “tolerance” that I so valued before was best protected by those I had assumed were too dumb to know what was good for them. I define my experience with the left as a study of paternalism. I know it now for the condescending, self-righteous, and utterly ridiculous crap it is.
What I do now, I do as a father. I have raised a little girl for the last five years and my own son will turn three in September. A bitter divorce typically leaves the man with a lot of time on his hands and I have no doubt that God’s gift to me of my mind means that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. If God’s plan is perfect, I couldn’t be doing anything else.
Ron Dickerhoof Jr.