Noah (angelbob) wrote,

Long post on routine and things feeling right

A first draft, stuff that's drifting through my head.


So hey, let's talk about things feeling right to people. Because I think that's important, and because I think there's some pretty basic stuff going unsaid. I'm going to leave this post public -- feel free to link to it.

As a crunchy-granola California liberal, with most of the groupthink that entails, I usually think about people's decisions in terms of "what, rationally, could cause them to do that or care about that?" It's a very comforting way for me to think about people's decisions, but it's not right, of course. Not about me, not about other people. Some people will *change* a decision because it's obviously irrational, but I'm pretty sure such people are in the minority. Mostly, people do stuff for completely irrational reasons. And y'know, that's okay. People have been doing that for millenia, so presumably there's something to it.

When things "just feel right" to people, it might be instinct. Doesn't sleeping when you're tired, or eating fatty food after hard exercise just feel right to you? I know it does to me. But it can also be that the situation is like another time when things were good, or just worked. That's not rational, but there's nothing wrong with it. It works just fine most of the time.

But it means that unfamiliar situations, even harmless or beneficial ones, usually feel wrong. Going to an unfamiliar place is usually negative. Not always -- enough good cancels out the bad. But unfamiliar is a little tinge of "feels wrong", even when things are good. And then once you're used to the place, the bad goes away and it's familiar. Again, works fine by and large.

If you look at this country about a generation ago, people had very, very predictable lives. If you lived in a small town as, say, a farmer, you did a lot of the same things day in and day out, year in and year out. There were big changes (getting old enough to start working, marriage, having kids, slowly getting weak with age) but they were expected as well, and you heard a lot about them in advance, and more importantly, they were *big deals*. Change came rarely, and with a lot of warning.

An awful lot of people are still in that mindset, and more power to them. It's comforting, in a way that a lot of our fast-lane high-tech individual rat-race "ideal" modern lifestyle can't ever be. There are generations of folks who are basically waiting to see if that "everything at high speed" thing works out for us or not, and that's also a good thing -- it might not. Honestly, my money's on "not", though we may find a variation that works okay.

But folks who are slow to change and strongly prefer the familiar have an extra little oddity... They tend to really dislike weirdness, even when it's harmless. That may be hard for us liberal Californians to fathom, and that's okay -- we are what we are, culturally. So here's my favorite example.

In a small town in Iowa, about a generation ago, you'd have to be absolutely insane to wear, say, a red foam rubber clown nose around all the time. Because people would not only look at you askance, they'd also take it as basically a personal affront unless you had some really good reason for it. Because it disrupts the routine.

It doesn't really, of course. Their routine is the same as ever, and the red clown nose doesn't cause them any direct problems. But it's unfamiliar, and that means it feels wrong. That's what Conservatives tend to mean when they use the word "unnatural" -- that something feels wrong. We liberals like to make fun of people like that. It's why we go to such lengths to do things like prove that homosexuality occurs in nature all the time -- because we're taking the word "unnatural" too literally. Infanticide is also perfectly natural, and you don't see Conservatives standing up for that one, either. "Unnatural" translates to "it feels wrong to me", which usually means "it's unfamiliar" or "it disrupts my routine."

We don't have a lot of respect for the sanctity of the familiar or the routine here. Not if it imposes limits on our behavior. And *that* is a lot of what we don't get about vague, euphemistic phrases like "family values" and "traditional values" and "conservative values", none of which are actually values in the dictionary sense. What they boil down to is "we had a perfectly good way of doing this before you showed up. Stop messing it up."

That's a bit of a fiction. They don't act that way. That's okay. We have a number of fun fictions as well -- that our way is more rational, that we're basically fair, and that we're acting on principle instead of what feels good. Really both sides are acting on what feels good rather than reasoning it out, and again, that's okay. But we need to understand that what feels good to us isn't what feels good to them. Almost by definition, we prefer having the right to do what we damn well please, while they prefer "don't mess up my routine."

That's also why liberals and conservatives suck at talking about freedom. To liberals it means "freedom to do what I want as long as it doesn't screw up somebody else", while to conservatives it means "freedom to continue living the way we have been." In other words, freedom translates to "what feels right" for both sides. Convenient, no?

So -- when you're a liberal trying to figure out how in the world a conservative got to a particular place, it's worth considering... Which position is a larger change from the American lifestyle that the folks in question think they're living? Because that's a lot of what feels right to them.

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