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Neither straight nor narrow, but…

When asked where I fall on the political spectrum, I never know how to respond. My best attempts at a summary–‘contrarian’ and ‘liberal grumpy old man’–are only a little more comprehensible than ‘mongoose civique‘. I remember that when I arrived in Washington, DC, as a freshman at Georgetown I found the experience politically jarring. I had spent most of my childhood and adolescence believing myself to be near the centre, at least in America. I come from a big, Catholic (and catholic) family. I spent my formative years educated, at home and school alike, in the Jesuit tradition. There was an unambiguous expectation of  particular moral foundation, certainly, but any idea was up for debate as I worked to build some sort of ethical structure in which to dwell. In the course of those debates, I had always felt that I fell somewhere in the middle of the various extremes.

Soon after starting at Georgetown, I discovered that my entire upbringing had seemed centre-of-the-road only because we’d all been leaning so far to the left. This, of course, was a mere year before W’s election to the presidency, so it’s possible that my feeling was exacerbated by a shift to the right by the American public (or by the DC chattering classes). In any case, I took to my new leftie street cred. I became the secretary of the Georgetown branch of Amnesty, I co-chaired an AIDS charity on campus, and I got involved in Pride, the gay student group. I took courses like ‘The Church and the Poor’,  ‘Psychology of Sex & Gender’, ‘Queer Theory’, and ‘Struggle and Transcendence’. In my third year I worked with three of my friends to lobby the university to improve the treatment of LGBT students, a process that resulted in the administration creating a paid position to ensure queer student welfare, a first for any Catholic University globally. When I graduated, I spent a year in service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that a strong belief in the importance of social justice is at the core of my political beliefs.

Then, of course, I went to Oxford, and spent 3 full years in the ivory tower, thinking of very little beyond the effects of the reformation on land use and urban governance in London, and then I got a job and started paying taxes. And, contrary to my  father’s belief, it didn’t drive me to the right. I’ve always believed that taxes are the overhead due for the functional society without which our various forms of occupational specialisation would be useless. That said, I do wish that I was only ever told about my earnings net of tax–for my base salary, but even more importantly for equity grands and bonuses.

I sometimes describe my politics as contrarian. By that, I mean that I think it’s bad for any single party to be in power for too long. They are bound to lose momentum and develop unproductive attachments to unproductive policies. That said, such contrariness is more feasible in the Westminster system (where government by a single party has fewer checks than in, for example, the US). It’s also more feasible when neither of the major parties insists flocks to support crazies or idiots or crazy idiots; Republicans, I’m looking in your direction.

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