Ethnography of Liberalism : I

There used to be an academic discipline called “Ethnography.” It was an inherently humble endeavor, the description of others, of usually exotic, far away, little-known groups. I mean head-hunters of Borneo, and Pygmies from central Africa. Ethnography had little pretension to “explain” as does modern Anthropology for example. I am engaged in a continuous study of the Left. I am doing daily, indefatigable ethnography of that quaint but interesting tribe.

In spite of my public identity as a conservative (listen to my radio show: Facts Matter on KSCO Santa Cruz 1080AM, every Sunday from 1am to 1pm, also available on-line), I am proud to say I have good entries into the liberal world of my small ultra-liberal and “progressive” town. I don’t know the liberal establishment and I think it does not know me, or it ignores me. I am in daily touch with the rank-and-file though. (I will not blow my cover by telling you how. You will have to take my word for it.) Because of my previous life in academia, I also know liberals. and even progressives, outside of my immediate area. I am talking of people with whom I have personal contacts at will, not National Public Radio.

Old-fashioned ethnographers used to exploit “native informants.” Those were local indigenous people who were willing to talk, trustworthy and who, the ethnographer had reasons to believe, were well informed. Lately, I have been having short and long-distance conversations with a younger man, a very moderate liberal, a liberal-leaning centrist, you might say. I have known the man for along time. He is intelligent, very hard-working and resourceful. He has even demonstrated an entrepreneurial bent. More importantly, I know him well enough to be sure that he prizes his personal credibility. My liberal friend is a valid native informant. I am not building a straw-man to burn later in triumph.

I asked him to give me the real reasons why he voted for Obama. He gave me many. We had several longish email exchanges. At first, he had trouble understanding “reasons,” confusing them with “motivations.” Then his reasons did not stand up to superficial examination. It turns out, he voted as he did because he wanted to believe in “change we can believe in.” He also spoke a great deal of President Bush’s “idiocy.” Upon closer examination, there was no “idiotic” act or pronouncements he could think of. There were only several statements of moral distaste for war and hesitant confessions of run-of-the-mill snobbery (See my essay on this blog: “Are Liberals Just Snobs?” posted 02/1610.) My friend did not say so himself but I got the feeling that he allowed the late-night shows, with their squeaky, creaky humor, to summarize his political positions. (I am not sneering; remember that I described him as hard-working person. He has a lot on his plate) Hence the non-sequitur regarding Pres. Bush’s alleged “idiocy.”

My native informant – who may have voted for Bush earlier – seemed to have voted as much against the non-running Bush as for Obama. He is quite capable intellectually to parse the difference between Bush Republicanism and the McCain brand. I am certain he did not do it. When the chips were doing, he chose to not think things through.

Then, the conversation drifts to health care, of course. He tells me point-blank that he is for the public option. That’s because his younger brother cannot afford health insurance. My native informant is a self-made man, I know this for a fact. I am obviously a self-made man, I know for a fact that he knows it. He should know that his reasoning has no moral currency. I tell him I think he should buy insurance for his brother. I ask him what reason he could possibly have to ask me to pay for his brother’s insurance. The conversation stops. I think I know why but I am just guessing: He does not want to take the giant step that consists in recognizing that the government has no money except what it takes from us, from me, among others, and from the coffee-shop waitress who earns nine dollars an hour.

In the end, I think it all boils down to feeling good irrespective of consequences. My friend is not short of intelligence; he is educated well above average; he is well informed about the way business works. He just insists on listening to his inner child more than to his reason.

I know what it’s like although I am conservative and a libertarian. I have an inner child too. It’s just that, every so often, I take the little wimp out and beat his ass.

Watch for more Ethnography of Liberalism on this blog soon.

About jacquesdelacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
This entry was posted in Socio-Political Essays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Ethnography of Liberalism : I

  1. Nat says:

    if i am taking away $10.00 from a waitress, and, from a collective group, we get to decide on how to spend that money on”us”, i would have a difficult time deciding on if i would put that money toward a bomb, employing a young man to become a bomb dropping operator, an investment on a weapon or a drug industry, or a failing health plan…

    none of them are all that appealing, ironically, i would think the waitress herself would find the health plan is at least a somewhat hopeful and tangible choice, when housing and groceries takes away so much of the rest of the wages…

    it would seem to be a fact, that, in everyday life, hope operate people’s decisions more than facts do. How we propel beyond that limit would require further evolution or so much intellectual education and inherent care about humanity that neither this economy nor the mentality of the current mass are managing…

    this is not even getting into the confusing discussion of what legislation, which party interests, and which country and why bombs are necessary, if it is necessary etc….

    this is my first time visiting your web, and i ask for your pardon, for speaking before really understanding you.

    if you care for my feed back, (which may reflect others who visit your web for the 1st time)

    i would really appreciate if you could post explaining side notes beside lines like “Then his reasons did not stand up to superficial examination”, i want to understand what is your idea of a “superficial examination” and what facts you are applying to dispel them, so that i may gain some understanding of factual information by reading this article.

    opinions and detailed explanations side by side would shed so much light! even posted links as side notes would help.

    i believe people who often take opposite stance on an idea actually have similar esthetic desires in terms of outcomes (people all cluster in the same cute little towns…), but the gods and devils are all in the details, which are not clearly spelled out.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Hi, Nat: You are very welcome and you don’t need to apologize but the soup you propose is too rich from me to gulp down all at once.
      Let me try three ways:
      1 I agree with you about shared aesthetic results. Fortunately, in this society, there is not much dispute about ends.
      2 You seem to dispair of the complexities of morality. I think there are few complexities, Whatever you learned in kindergarten holds: Don’t push; don’t bite; don’t start fights; don’t take what’s not yours. I add: Don’t take what’s not yours even to do good. In my “Ethnography,” my friend does not realize he wants to take money from a poor waitress to buy insurance for his brother who may be much richer than the waitress, or a drunk, or simply lazy. I repeat: Why doesn’t my friend buy insurance for his own brother. I would applaud.
      3 The economy is not very hard to understand. Let me summarize: a Capitalism works; b Nothing else works.
      If you have time and if you are so inclined, you might browse my old postings where you will find many expositions of these basic idea.

      Thanks for your attention. If would help if you said how old you are and more or less where you live. It’s not required though.

  2. Pingback: Ethnography of Liberalism: I « Notes On Liberty

  3. HI Jacques: I consider myself an Ethnographer, and I have the Stanford diploma to back up such a claim. I lived for seventeen years in Marin County, hotbed of liberalism, at the same time I was a consultant to an American Indian group ,and I lived the lifestyle everyday. On my departure, I wrote a letter to The Coastal Post newspaper of West Marin. They published it, and it is available on the internet at the following address: http://www.coastalpost.com/98/7/25.htm
    I am including it in my next Book of Essays which I am preparing now for publication.

  4. Terry Amburgey says:

    “3 The economy is not very hard to understand. Let me summarize: a Capitalism works; b Nothing else works.”

    Heh heh. I guess the American Economic Review can shut down now.

  5. Hi Jacques: the book I spoke about last May was actually published in July 2013. Its title “Fifty Years in America, A Book of Essays” reflects my work as an ethnographer here and abroad. Table of contents available on my Fbook page, Helene E. Hagan, author. Book available at amazon.com, etc…Interesting research on the history of early land acquisition in California among other stories……

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