I think we can all agree at this point on the nature of the political climate in the United States, and how it has been carving a deeper impact on the lives of families and communities around the country. With that being said, it seems very difficult for me nowadays to perceive myself as a moderate, let alone a conservative for that matter. I remember when I was high school, being obsessed with Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom," and simply enchanted with Will McAvoy's definition of what it means to be a Republican.
"Republicans believe in a prohibitive military. We believe in a common sense government. And that there are social programs enacted in the last half century that work but that there are way too many costing way too much, that don’t. We believe in the rule of law and order and free market capitalism."
As a foreigner, I could not say, even today, that I can fathom on what it means to be a Republican, or even a Democrat for that matter. Nevertheless, as someone who harbor deep interest on political issues, and not just simply because I am a political science major, I am currently trying to understood what it actually means to place the label "conservative" over one's thinking cap nowadays.
With Donald Trump's ascendance into presidency, I began to wonder whether his actions over the past month can be labeled as genuinely conservative. But more than that, I began to ask myself whether someone with a conservative label nowadays goes no further as those who can take the necessary steps to rationalize whatever argument anyone who professes to be on their side will say, no matter how irrational, if not illogical those arguments may be. For if it is the character of a conservative (particularly in America) nowadays, then it is, to say the least, a very low standard to adhere to.
It is at this point when I encountered another frame of thought that perceive conservative through a different lens. In his academic commentary on the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Prof. Kristof Nyiri argued that it is a paradox to assimilate conservatism with traditionalism, owing that traditions, in its most basic form, are instruments for preserving knowledge in the form of oral lore, when alphabetic literacy could not be obtained yet. Instead, Nyiri argued that during its historical progress, conservatism mainly strives to preserve factual knowledge, particularly the knowledge that is needed to preserve the survival of future generations. Finally, Nyiri concluded that if conservatism wants to reaffirm their understanding of the contemporary world, it must overcome the stereotypes of the ideology as backward-looking or status-quo preserving. Instead, he claimed that conservatism should reinvent itself as a framework that is not so much political, as it is ontological and epistemological, with respect to the preservation of knowledge.
As I read through Nyiri's argument, I could not contain the bewilderment upon the stark irony as I placed Nyiri's concept of conservatism side by side with the current reality of alternative truth, denial of climate change and war on the media. Granted, there are multitudes of other arguments that could counter Nyiri's and added additional claim that there is much more to conservatism than an understanding of knowledge. Nevertheless, shouldn't both spectrum of the argument at least have a similar perspective on the importance of common-sense knowledge, and shaped the debate from there? Because at this point, it is hard to deny that even the concept of knowledge has been politicized so deeply, just as with every other aspect of life, that instead of debating around how to best preserve or extend the knowledge for future generations, this society is stagnated on the arguments around the legality of the knowledge itself.
When asked by my cousin back in Indonesia on whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I answered that I'm somewhat of a social conservative, but moderate in nature. In addition, I am economically, I'm advocating for state capitalism, with social democracy as the safety net for it. Or to put it in a summary, a lean democrat/independent might be precise for now. Nevertheless, when I took a political typology survey from the Pew Research Center, I was categorized as a Solid Liberal, which surprises me, since I always felt that I have a more conservative tendency in my judgment, as shown in my elaboration above, but that matters little. What matters more at this point, for me at least, is to reaffirm the ideology of conservatism as Nyiri have framed it. Because when both side can have the same common-sense understanding on the importance of knowledge behind the growing issues, then a more constructive debate can be framed.
But alas, there are but my opinions.