The Huddle is a fascinating place for discussions of an ideological nature. I think most online forums tend to get their biases in certain categories (age, race, gender, ideology, etc.) because most are geared towards a specific group of users and sometimes diversity is difficult to find. What makes the Tinderbox special is that it's contributed to by a contingent of posters from one of the broadest interests in the United States. All sorts of people watch football: conservatives, liberals, gay people, straight people, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, office managers, CEOs, athletes, fry cooks, fat ugly little Saints* fans that lie about their wealth (you know who you are) etc. As such we're able to discuss a number of issues without getting caught in the echo chamber inherent in clusters of opinion that are borne of similar background and experience.
That's why I like the Tinderbox: it allows you to throw your opinion, backed by your ideological underpinnings, and test it in the arena of dialogue. (This is the beauty of the internet: it allows such an exchange that was before nearly impossible.)
Which leads me to this. I've been considering, for quite some time, as I have seen my own positions on certain issues shift (some slightly, some quite dramatically) the extent to which the ideology of an individual is the product of the social structure from which he/she is derived. Stick with me here, that's a lot of sociology 101 terms, but it's really quite simple: if you're born into, say, Saudi Arabia, the process of socialization (enculturation, or the passing of cultural norms, values, beliefs, etc. from social institutions to the individual) will almost certainly ensure that the individual grows up with certain belief systems that are considered standard in Saudi Arabia. And this is true, for the most part, globally. It's plainly observable. When you're born into a system of belief, unless you are otherwise influenced (as happens in the field of discourse, often in universities) you are almost deterministically steered down the road of your social context.
This, of course, complicates things like religions (specifically Christianity, and even more specifically the idea of Hell and an erstwhile loving god.) It means that your beliefs are almost predetermined by the geographic accident of your location, condition, and time of birth. It means that pretty much the only reason you're a Christian is because you were born into a social structure that brought you up that way (or set you up to be easily integrated into it because even if you're not a Christian [no true scotsman, i know) the cultural climate makes it very easy.) Had you, the most devout Christian, arguging apologetics for your faith, etc. been born in Saudi Arabia, you'd be defending the honor of Allah with the same honest, passionate fervency which you now defend God. This, naturally, is sobering, and it makes you think further about sects of religions (looking at the ability of Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons to spend lifetimes arguing the provability of their respective religions' accuracy in a similar cultural climate and you'll realize that something is much bigger at play than simply "some people just cannot see the truth."
Ok at this point you're all like, good god PhillyB, what's the point of all this? And here's the TLDR for you: it's pretty clear that social structure determines belief. It is also apparent, I think, that the individual is shaped by the realm of his/her experiences, direct or learned. Therefore, your specific social structure is likely to have spawned you. Therefore, different social structures spawn different people with different belief systems. Therefore, much of our differences ideologically may be traced to differing social structures. It stands to reason, then, that understanding where each of us came from is critical to understanding thought processes that lead to the formation of ideology.
So with this goal in mind, the rest of this post is about how PhillyB grew up and how his experiences led him to believe what he believes to day (an ever-changing paradigm, as you will soon find out.)
I was born in 1985. I am 27 years old. My parents were in the Air Force, my mother was discharged after my birth, and my father stayed in another year or so and then was discharged as well. At a relatively young age (I was probably 2) my parents joined a church and became involved in fundamantalist christian movements and churches that supported similar doctrine (which, back in the 1980s, involved stuff like this.)
My childhood was shaped accordingly. I grew up in fundamentalist baptist churches that railed against rock music, the homosexuals, the liberals, the Catholics, etc. (the usual gamut of Satan's favorite ideologies and practices.) I grew up on radio programs from Focus on the Family (influenced largely by living in Colorado Springs for a number of years in the early and mid 90's) and found myself caught in a confluence of beliefs that increasingly radicalized my parents (my dad's religious piety combined with his hatred of Bill Clinton and his attraction to talk radio and his anger issues to create a rather volatile, nasty cocktail.)
During all this I was homeschooled, to avoid the liberal indoctrination that's forced into skulls full of mush (a Limbaugh term, iirc) with an super conservative religious curriculum that, as you might guess, takes everything "from a Christian perspective" and fundamentally alters important information. My history books were heavily jingoistic, my science books had scripture in the margins from cover to cover and railed against evolution, gleefully pointing out, chapter after chapter, that if evolution was true, then monkeys pounding on computers could eventually write a book, but they can't so DUH LIBERALS.)
By the time I hit my mid teens I didn't fit into society at all, I was quasi-suicidal, I hated everything and everyone (including my dad, who had been abusive for as long as I can remember, and had only recently stopped since I was now bigger than him) and sunk into long periods of depression. I had turned into a misanthrope. I was a racist and a hypernationalist and I remember distinctly raging in my journal after 9-11 about how much I hated Muslims.
I went into college through the community college system for the first two years before transferring to a university. My father was incensed that I chose a secular school system rather than going to Pensacola Christian College (hint: it's a cult) where my homeschool curriculum was created and published) but I was well armed with Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and Michael Savage and Mike Adams and all the other red-blooded American heroes who'd properly warned me of the evils of the university system and ivory tower liberal elitists bent on indoctrinating every single skull full of mush with Marxism and that other crap. I remember my mother rueing, on the morning of my first day of class, that the stupid liberal curriculum forced me to study "sociology and all that other liberal crap." I walked into that first day of class with a separate notebook that I purchased just for the sake of writing down all the liberal stuff my teacher said. On the first day I wrote down "teacher praised Communism" (she didn't) and considered it a victory. Sociology, schmociology. On my second day I had Western Civilization 101 and on the overview my teacher mentioned the middle east and "the area that's now modern-day Iraq" and I raised my hand and said "troublemakers then, troublemakers now," and felt proud of myself. I also recall saying "no one wants to share a foxhole with a ***" when the issue of gays in the military came up in a class on discourse. In my civics class, during the Bush/Kerry election, my teacher called me "speed boat" because at every opportunity i brought up the book Unfit for Command.
So that's how I started college. Partway through my freshman year I decided to join the Marine Corps. In my sophomore year I started looking at options. I decided to go in as an officer so I could finish my degree. I went to the officer selection office in Raleigh, did my application, and got accepted into a dual enrollment program that would allow me to do officer candidate school (the USMC officers' version of boot camp) over the summer, return, finish my schooling, and get my commission as a 2nd Lt. upon my graduation. I was ready to go join up and go kill some people. I hated people, I think that's why I joined. Plus I was a hypernationalist and I couldn't wait to fight for the good guys, even if those ungrateful foreign idiots didn't appreciate everything America does for them. I shipped off to OCS in Quantico, VA in summer 2005. I hit the ground running and made it through ok, but in the process I tore cartilage in both knees. The tears were microscopic, so I was able to complete OCS and graduate, but when I neared the end of my college degree, and geared up to get my commission, I found I couldn't run without major swelling. After several trips to the doc, I had my knee scoped and they found the cartilage tears and bone fragments caught in my knee joint. I had two arthroscopic surgeries to clear the joints and repair (or cut out) cartilage, and right beforehand the USMC dropped me from the program, announcing that if I could pass the PFT to get back in, they'd pick up where I left off.)
Crushed. My career was shot. I was left floating in the middle of a vast sphere, unsure which direction to go, without a point of reference. God, that year sucked. Everything went wrong. One of my best friends passed away unexpectedly. I ran into massive amounts of girl trouble that combined with a feud with a until-then really good friend that ballooned into something ridiculous. My grades went to poo at UNCG. Things were goddamn terrible with my asshole father to the point where I finally moved out and got an apartment in Greensboro. Following this I hit a period of great existential crisis: not knowing where I was going and what I was doing, I dropped out of school and tried to work as many hours as possible and save up some money to be successful and get security and financial soundness, and maybe then earn the respect of my father, whose scorn for my leaving the USMC (circumstances did not matter) was only rivaled by his scorn for my not having money and working at a Chick-fil-A to support myself through school. Sometime during this process I was endowed with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and began spending every night in the library at Guilford College after work, largely to avoid my asshole roommate, and from 10pm to 3am five days a week I'd study philosophy and theology and cosmology and astrophysics (i couldn't quite get that one.) I wanted to know if there was truth out there, and what it was, and if there was a place for me in the universe, some sort of purpose, I wanted to know what it was.
I turned into an apologeticist. It affirmed everything I believed until then and gave it a sense of intellectual backing, and I thrived upon this search for meaning and for knowledge. And in the process I began to get a real perspective on the frailty of human life and the ultimate existential insignificance of that which we hold as dear, and in the process I stopped giving a poo about tangible things, and this led directly to a decision, borne of a whim which would previously have been squelched by responsibility and reality, to abandon all my poo and move to Australia. So I planned it for a year, worked my ass off, saved every penny, bought a one-way ticket to Sydney for me and my rigged-up bicycle, and flew off to Australia, where I spent the next four months backpacking around the continent and then up into Southeast Asia, doing nothing but reading and writing and living out of my backpack. A bohemian existence. It suited me well.
I returned from the Philippines with twenty-six cents in my pocket and no job, and struggled for a while, and then got a job at a wings place, which I despised, and then went back to finish up my degree, and started bartending. During this time, the experiences I'd had abroad had opened my mind up to other aspects of the human condition and the universality of some of them that made me inherently more liberal (if only for the fact that I was willing to consider other arguments made by individuals, a direct result of constant dialogue with Europeans and other Americans while backpacking and staying in hostels abroad.) After graduating with my degree in history I kept working and began thinking and studying anew, and slowly the concrete foundation of a lot of my belief systems that I'd once accepted blindly began falling away. And it seemed the more chips that came of, the bigger they were, and soon cracks began to appear in the foundation, and suddenly there were certain questions that begged to be answered. And then I went back to start a new program that would lead to a pathway to getting a masters degree and eventually a phd, by studying archaeology and anthropology, and here the last bastions fell that kept me from considering reason, as I found I had to throw out mounds of evidence in other areas (like the age of the earth) that I had ultimately only ignored previously because of deliberately-encouraged ignorance. I was no longer willing to argue from conclusion, recognizing that fallibility of absolute knowledge, and realizing that the only rational thing to do was to assemble as much of a data set as possible and draw conclusions about a worldview from that, rather than from the bias inherent in simply relying on a paradigm inherited from my social structure.
And here we've come full circle. This is where I am now. I am a theist, and, some would argue, even a Christian (though far more would cast me out as an apostate. So be it.) But all this is subject to change as I examine the evidence out there and orient my secondary beliefs (the peripheral things affected directly by my understanding of the big questions: political beliefs, religious interpretations, cosmology, etc.) around the primary. This, I think, explains why I have done an enormous shift on a number of issues politically over the past five years that I've been a part of the Huddle.
Perhaps if everyone is willing to share, at some length, their story, a better dialogue, more articulate, more fruitful, may be had. Or maybe not. It's worth a shot, I think.
edit: i haven't edited any of this, so excuse inconsistencies, misspellings, weird flow, etc.