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In Defense of Colin Quinn
Tuesday November 16th 2004, 7:34 pm
Filed under: General
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Personally, I don’t understand the Republican mindset. I don’t understand how they think cutting social spending and running up huge budgetary deficits to fund an unnecessarily belligerent foreign policy is good for the country. I don’t get why they believe there is a liberal bias in the mainstream media. I don’t see how gay marriage can be viewed as a threat to anybody. And I certainly don’t understand why anyone would think that the antiquated and overtly authoritarian business and religious infrastructures are a much more effective way of running a country than an open, participatory system that favors the populous.

Okay, I know that last one is often espoused by moderate democrats (the business part, at least). Maybe I don’t really mean “Republican”. Maybe I mean “conservative”. I don’t know. And that’s part of the problem.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a rather confrontational individual. Not the “in your face” yelling Sean Hannity type of confrontational. More of a Plato “what does this really mean” type of confrontational. I like to challenge people’s ideas and not their very existence. It’s not that I think that those ideas are wrong. I genuinely want to know why people think the things they do. There’s no better way to find the truth than to examine all of the possibilities of existence.

So, when asking myself the question “why do conservatives think the way they do?” my initial reaction isn’t to shrug my shoulders and answer “I don’t know. Because they’re morons, I guess.” No, I have to torture myself with the torturous task of actually finding an answer. Since I don’t have any conservative friends whose brains I could pick, my only source was the media, which is no source at all for the most part. I simply can’t stomach the belligerent lunacy of Bill O’Rielly, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. It’s been my experience that such reactionary people tend not to do much of their own thinking anyway, and regurgitated concepts are hardly useful in answering my question. I needed somebody whose own intellectual journey has led them to believe in the ideals of the conservative movement. I found that person, almost accidentally, in Colin Quinn.

For those of you who don’t know, Colin Quinn is a comedian. You may recall he did a stint on Saturday Night Live as the weekend update anchor. Right now, he has a show on Comedy Central called Tough Crowd, which airs after the Daily Show. It took me a while to realize he was a conservative. Like pretty much everybody else, I have certain prejudicial predispositions. It’s hard for me to come to terms with the concept of a free thinking conservative. I grew up in a Democrat household during the Reagan years, another long stretch of indecipherable lunacy that I’m sure had nothing to do with my political development (somehow, sarcasm doesn’t transfer well to paper). But, in Colin Quinn, I was confronted with just such a person. I know some of you don’t consider Colin to be much of an intellectual. He does appear rough around the edges. But, you shouldn’t let that fool you, for it’s an indication of just how intellectual he really is. We share some commonalities. We both come from blue collar families. We both have an unhealthy interest in politics (unhealthy in that we both have sacrificed some of our sanity). We both have short fuses when it comes to certain topics. And, most importantly, we are both self-taught when it comes to philosophy and critical thinking.

Right now, some of you just had alarm bells going off in your heads. How can you trust the ideas of someone who hasn’t been classically trained in logic to be genuine? Their thoughts must be full of fallacies. I would counter (being fiercely anti-establishmentarian), how can you trust the ideas of someone whose brain has been molded by a stagnant institution? Their thoughts can’t be original. Of course, the answer to both of the above questions is, you can’t. And, you shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter where people learned how to think. It only matter that they are thinking. If you want to know the validity of their ideas, look at them.

I respect Colin Quinn as a person and as an intellectual, and that made it very hard for me to hear what he was saying. Here was a person with a mind of his own who had come to completely different conclusions than I did on a vast number of topics. A man who is as vociferous and passionate about his ideas as I am about mine. I suddenly found myself arguing back and forth in my head, confronting my own ideas right along with his.

“How can he believe these things?”
“I don’t know, but he does.”
“Yes, but how?”
“I don’t know, but he does.”
“He must be regurgitating them from Fox news or something.”
“He’s not. He’s a free thinker.”
“Well, then, he’s stupid.”
“You know he isn’t.”
“Well then, he’s partisan. He has an agenda.”
“He has a lot of guests on his show that don’t agree with him and are articulate.”
“Then, he’s naïve. He doesn’t understand politics.”
“You know he does.”
“Then, he must be misinformed.”

On and on I went, wrestling like Jacob with this behemoth. Then, the kicker came. On his show, Colin and his guests, all conservative this time, started complaining about how liberals often speak to conservatives as if their stupid, naïve, or simply misinformed. Being a common perpetrator of just such an attitude, that hit me hard. Especially since that very attitude was my last line of defence in my obstinate categorical rejection of conservative concepts. Suddenly, my mind was flooded with them, casting doubt on all of my own thoughts. I was at last forced to confront the conservative agenda on a level playing field.

I suppose now you’re expecting me to confess that I found all of my “bleeding heart” ideals to be false on their face. I didn’t. Most of my ideas survived. Actually, all of them did, except for one. Conservatives are just as smart, just as informed and just as experienced as we liberals are, and it is to our own detriment that we believe otherwise. I’m not saying we should take somebody like Rush Limbaugh seriously. In fact, we should be much more vociferous in rejecting all anti-intellectual reactionaries, regardless of their political stripes. I’m just saying that we need to rethink this whole partisanship thing. As John Dewey said, in order for a Democracy to succeed, all of it’s citizens must be democratic. In other words, we must continuously participate in the conversation that is American society, and we must do so honestly and with respect for the ideas of others. If our ultimate goal is to build a society where all people have a place, we need all people to participate in the construction.

I know, sappy. I’m not saying we should cow tow to the forceful demands of the conservatives. Indeed the opposite is true, especially now that they hold the keys to political power. I may respect Colin Quinn, but I don’t believe he’s right. And I certainly don’t believe that his ideas should take precedence over my own. I still believe that our fight is the good fight, and we should definitely keep on fighting in the most positive ways that we can. I’m only saying we shouldn’t reject ideas simply because we don’t like them. Confronting a bad idea with a good one only makes the good idea stronger and the bad one even harder to defend. In such a situation, only good ideas will flourish, and hopefully, they will make all of us stronger.

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