I am currently in the process of buying a house and it’s overwhelming thinking of all the stuff I will have to go through with closing coming up and then moving, dealing with having a yard, and all the little headaches of home ownership. I’ve been living happily in an apartment for the last three years, and while the house is far nicer, there are definitely some down sides. I think similar feelings are the reason for the tea-party movement. We, as a country, are going through some big changes currently and while sometimes big changes can lead to something good, change itself has a cost. How many people do you know that will put up with something annoying rather than put in a bit of effort to change it? I’ve been guilty of that. A wise man once said, “Change will only happen when the cost of staying still becomes greater than the cost of making a change.”
And let’s face it, we humans hate change. Sure there are those of us who love variety, but by and large we like our routines to stay the same. If we have to do something differently, it means figuring out a new system which involves emotional and mental investment. Often that investment pays off, but there is no guarantee of that going in. For me, moving from an apartment that I’m mostly happy with to a house that I will likely be very happy with constitutes a risk. What if I’m not happy? What if the benefits don’t outweigh the annoyances? In the apartment, if something breaks you call maintenance and they come and fix it for you. In a house, you’re it unless you call someone in and pay them to fix it.
Add to that the fact that in every change there are winners and losers. In moving out of an apartment and into a house, there may be things that annoyed my wife about the apartment that are solved by the house, while there may be things I liked about the apartment that are lacking in a house. With political and cultural change, the people who are winning are going to oppose change because they might not be the winners once the dust settles. Those who are secure and those that the current system fails will embrace change, those who lack security but for whom the system largely works will oppose it. And we see that with the protesters. The Tea Party people are better educated than average and make more than the average American, yet they’re out there protesting. They’re the ones for whom the current system has largely been working. Which is why they so vehemently hate the government in Washington that promises change. It’d be like winning the house cup after a long year of effort only to have some last minute rule change hand victory to another team.
They feel angry. “Their” country is being taken away from them and given to people who are not like them. The systems that let them be the winners and those other people the losers are being changed to favor the losers. They won the championship and now the losers are getting a first round draft pick, and it’s going to be harder to compete next season. (Ugh, did I just make a sports analogy? I HATE sports analogies!)
But there is a major problem with the white-hot anger that burns in their guts. The fact is, at least so far, change has been mild and largely in their favor. A large majority of the tea-party conservatives believe that their taxes have gone up, when in fact they have been cut. They protested tax freedom day (The day when we stop working for the government and start working for ourselves) despite it being the earliest it’s been in decades. Despite any of these changes, the winners will remain winners. They just might have to try a bit harder to stay ahead. They might not have as big a lead as they once did.
This animosity towards change that they feel is a very gut-level instinct. If people actually thought about these issues, they’d probably realize that government doesn’t have that much control of our day-to-day lives and if we who are above average in the money department end up paying an extra couple hundred dollars, it’s not going to hurt us as much as it’s going to help people who really need it. But it will hurt. Change always hurts. Even really good change can feel bittersweet. Change that is lateral or only slightly for the better can feel as bad as change for the worse. For a lot of these protesters, their lives are not being changed all that much for the better or worse, but change is being forced upon them. And they resist it. Skipping work to go protest is less painful than having change thrust upon them, even if said change does not negatively effect them much.
In a way, I can understand the conservative impulse. I’m experiencing it now. Where I am currently is pretty darn good, moving forward is uncertain. And yet, even if I sit still, the world still moves forward. If I sit still, the world will move around me until the place I’m staying in becomes completely unfamiliar. It is the paradox of the conservative movement. It is the urge to stay still when it is impossible to do so. The same people who fought against medicare years ago are the very people defending it to the death now. It’s not about policy, it’s a deep-seated fear of change. Conservatives want to go back to how it was, when things were simpler (they weren’t) and people were more open and caring (they weren’t) and politicians were honest (they weren’t.) Pushed to the extreme, they are no longer merely conservatives. They are Regressives. But I feel a bit of that impulse, that fear, that uncertainty. But I’m going to keep moving forward. If the world changes anyway, I might as well try to keep up. It beats stagnating.