Jordan welcomes political science professor Dr. George Ehrhardt for a discussion about the differences in and surprising similarities between their political ideologies.
Interviewer: So I know I'm supposed to do this all evergreen. I think that's what they'd call it, but I won't do that this time. I don't want to do that. It's August. It's the dog days of summer and it's hot. It's hot, everybody's cranky, everybody's angry, and I'm not talking necessarily about climate change. That's not what I mean. It's hot outside. It's like summer of '66, '67, '68. Is that kind of hot, and it's ugly out there, but I always like this time of year for me, at least in the beginning.
I think to myself, the semester's about to start. Everything is possible again. I'm about to kill these classes. I got this thing or that thing or whatever going on during the semester. Everything is possible. Then I turn on the TV and everybody hates somebody. It's depressing, and if you look at CNN, if you look at MSNBC, if you look at Fox News, if you listen to any number of the other ridiculous podcasts out there, not this one, but if you look at any and listen to any of the other ridiculous podcasts out there, you would think that we are just as polarizing as different as we ever were, and maybe we are.
I don't know, man. I look up there at Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and I think, wow, you know what? I'm really not like her at all, but you know, maybe not. Maybe not. I wouldn't be surprised at all if she was listening to Cash Rules Everything Around Me, you know, singing woo. I wouldn't be surprised, but I don't know. I don't know. I don't think we're as far apart as the world would have us believe.
And that's why I had on political science professor Dr. George Earhart. He talked with us on this episode of the podcast. I wouldn't at all suggest that he's at home singing Negro spirituals when it all suggests he's listening to Public Enemy. But I wouldn't be surprised, I would not be surprised if somewhere on his playlist, Kendrick was telling you to be humble. Enjoy the show.
So Dr. George Earhart from Political Science. Welcome. It's great to have you.
George: Thanks. It's great to be here.
Interviewer: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, about you, where you're from, how you got here?
George: Yeah, sure. I'm originally from Iowa by way of Japan, actually.
Interviewer: By way of Japan.
George: When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I really wanted to do, but I had a Japanese roommate. He said, "Oh, go to Japan. You get tax free salary. Go teach English." It wasn't good times economically, so I went, what the heck? So I went over there, lived for a few years, ended up getting married.
Interviewer: You went over to ... It was an idea and you were like, hey-
George: The government has a program to hire by [crosstalk 00:02:47] went over there and I'd never been there before. But I just sort of took everything and went.
Interviewer: You just went.
George: Yup, ended up ... I had brought my skis to go into the mountains. And the strap broke in the middle of Tokyo airport, kicking it across the entire length of the airport. So it wasn't a good start, but ended well.
Interviewer: Yeah. And you got married over there or you met someone over there?
George: That's right.
George: So that eventually blossomed into marriage.
Interviewer: So how long were you over in Japan?
George: About five or six years total. I was there for a couple of years and came back. We got married and she had never lived away from home. So we wanted to live in Japan by ourselves first, then come back to America for grad school. [inaudible 00:03:23] gone back and forth.
George: I taught over there and whatnot. So about six years total.
Interviewer: Six years total.
George: Yeah. We've gone there and back. One of our kids was born there. We try to go back often.
Interviewer: Cool, man. That's always one place I've wanted to go in my life.
George: Save your pennies. It's not cheap.
Interviewer: No, I can't imagine. Travel isn't cheap in general anymore.
Interviewer: Oh man, I've traveled all over the world, but I've always wanted to make it to Japan. I've never made it. How cool is that? Is there anything that you picked up from there that is meaningful from you that you carry with you even today? I mean, aside from having a child that's been born there. You know, besides that.
George: It's interesting. One time ... As you can see, in shorts and a t-shirt, I'm a pretty casual guy. Japan is not so casual. I mean, when you're there, you're a young foreigner, single or attached for, you can do whatever the heck you want because Japan's a very rule bound society but rules don't apply to you. But then once I got engaged and my wife said one day, "My brothers are kind of embarrassed that you wear shorts all the time." And all of a sudden it was like all the walls just kept closing down. I couldn't tell my fiancee, "Well, tough luck for your brother."
Interviewer: I mean, you could. There'd be consequences, I'm sure.
George: Right. So all of these sort of ... In America we say, "Oh, you know, don't give into peer pressure and you know, stand up and do all of your own thing and say no to when people tell you to do this or that." But it was really interesting to me. The culture there is very different and sort of how that culture all gets applied. I never thought it'd be my wife saying her brothers are embarrassed, sort of a means of, I don't know if social control is the right word, but-
Interviewer: Well, I'm just imagining like how you're introduced to that rule. My brothers are embarrassed by you as an interesting way to get introduced to rules. I'm just thinking about that relationship piece of, oh yeah, just so you know, your brothers-in-law are not fans of your outfits and stuff like that. Wow, man. What else? Like what else do you feel like you've gotten from that space?
George: You know one thing that surprised me ... I'm from Iowa, like I said.
George: And Midwestern culture is a bit different, but in many ways, I thought Japanese culture would be very, very different. I went over there, I didn't know very much, and so at first everything was just really weird. But the longer I was over there more, the more I feel like in many ways sort of the culture. I'm from the Japanese culture in many ways more similar than say Iowa and New York or Iowa and Europe, for example.
Interviewer: How so? Like what ways did you feel that?
George: Some of the things like how we talk? I was always taught growing up, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything.
Interviewer: Keep your mouth. Yes.
George: The idea of snark or sneering at somebody, that's like third grade stuff. Right? And in Japan it's very much the same way. You just ... If you don't have something nice to say, just keep your mouth shut unless you're drunk, and then the rules don't apply as much. But you know, but you go to someplace like New York or a European friend and they're just like boom, say stuff straight out.
Interviewer: Right, right.
George: Japanese people have this image that Americans are, like, that we say everything straight, but not in Iowa, we don't. So I'm actually much more comfortable in Japan and doing things Japanese ways.
Interviewer: How weird is that, that Iowa and Japan, for you and your experience, Iowa and Japan were more similar than Iowa and New York?
George: Yeah, which surprised me, that's for sure.
Interviewer: That's really kind of an essence of one of the things I wanted to talk to you about today, is these differences and similarities. I have an agenda in this world. My agenda is to facilitate, create, engender, I don't even know the word for it, but to create a space where there's empathy and connection rather than or in addition to difference. So that's really one of the big things I wanted to speak to you about.
Why I wanted you in here and just to identify myself as, in case that anyone doesn't know, I identify myself as not quite Karl Marx liberal or whatever that is. I don't even know the language for him if I'm totally honest, but I identify myself as, at the very bare minimum, a left leaning person. And I wanted to, in this atmosphere, to have a conversation with someone who does not identify as me. So just throwing that all out there. How do you identify politically for you? How might you identify?
George: I'm a registered Republican. In many ways, I think of myself as a fairly radical conservative that, you know, you think of Appalachian rural conservative. In many ways, I think I'm sort of farther off in the conservative direction. So I'm probably about as conservative as you're going to get, I guess, on this campus.
Interviewer: About as conservative as you're going to get on this campus, which is good. I think you're probably ... From how you've explained it, you sound about as conservative as I am liberal, somewhere. It's like general, if that is such a thing. So what does that mean for you and how did you end up in this space?
George: Yes, fair question. So last semester I actually taught a whole seminar on a semester long freshman seminar on this.
George: There are so many, there are as many ways of identifying as conservative as there are people who identify as conservative.
Interviewer: Say that again?
George: There are a lot of people who think a lot of different things who all identify as conservative. So just because I say, "Well, this is what it means to me," doesn't mean it's going to mean that to the person that comes in next.
Interviewer: It's not monolithic, it's not ... Conservative is not a thing that everybody kind of agrees to, hey, we're all on this thumbs up kind of thing. Okay.
George: To me, I guess the very basic level, I think of it as sort of a humility, that that man is not God. There's a lot of stuff we don't know, we can't know. Just because we want the world to be a certain way doesn't mean that we're gonna be able to make the world that.
George: One of the things that struck me in this class I was teaching, we were talking about tradition and whatnot. When I asked the students, do you think that you are more moral and more enlightened than your parents and your grandparents? And the number of students who said yes, I am more moral, I am more enlightened than my parents and my grandparents. I was sort of taken aback.
Interviewer: That more of them said they were.
George: That more of them said they were. Obviously, I have faults, and my parents have faults, and my grandparents have faults, but to say that I, my 20 year old self or my 18 year old self like in this case, I know more about morality and I know more about the world than my parents and grandparents, struck me as exceedingly arrogant. To me at least, part of being conservative is saying, "Well maybe we don't know." So we think about politically-
Interviewer: Maybe you don't know.
George: Maybe we don't know. Accept that we don't know, but not just that, but accept that we can't know. So for example, say we want to do something. Do we get the best people in the world together in a room and figure out the best plan and implement with the best resources? Or do we just say, "Oh, you people out there, go try crazy stuff, we'll just see what works, because I don't know what works in advance."
And so I think for me, a lot of what my political sense is, I don't know what's going to work in advance. So let's just go out and try a lot of random stuff, you know? And so sort of lots of small scale stuff. I think also, there's the classic line in conservative writing is small platoons. Everything happens in small platoons. We learn how to be good people. We learn how to think about the common good. We learn how to have empathy. We learn all these things that we as humans should have, right? We learn that in what we call the small potatoes, the family. We learn it not-
Interviewer: Small communities. [crosstalk 00:10:43]
George: But I would say for me think of concentric, it starts for little tiny kids, it's not really a community, it's just you know, mom and dad or your siblings, whatever. And then as you get older, you sort of, not because you're told to, but because you see your mom and your dad taking care of you and taking care of each other and the siblings and whatnot. I'm a big believer that kids learn not by listening but by watching and imitating. And so we imitate that behavior in our family.
And then we'd go to our sort of wider social setting and then once we're however old we are, we watched them there, we learned that, and that sort of expands outward as we grow. But in order to grow up as people who care about others, people who live in community as we should live, we need to grow up in those small platoons, you know, family, church, club, whatever it is that we have. I think it's those small communities that make us the people that we are when we grow up.
Interviewer: And that piece, what you just said, that really resonates with me about, you know, we learn in those small platoons in the family, that we learn best by watching what our parents, siblings, were watching what they do. We learn best through imitation. We learn best through those relationships, those kind of primary attachment figures. We learn best through them. That really, I'm with you there. I'm with you there. So then when you're talking about those concentric circles and it's broadening out. It's getting bigger and bigger. What's after that? Like after that platoon, I don't know if you grow out of it or you grow, you expand beyond it, but what's the next circle, do you imagine, beyond that?
George: There's where I think we started to part ways. When I think about that, I think in terms of like it's private associations we might say in political science. That might be ... There's sort of this famous book written about bowling leagues, or it might be church, or it might be any sort of club you're in or your team, that sort of thing. It's those organizations that were part of, I guess those small communities, to use your word, that aren't public. They're not the force of law behind them, [inaudible 00:12:42]
And so as we grow out, we go through those. And so to me at least, part of being conservative, I worry a great deal that we're losing that layer sort of between the individual and public organization like the state.
Interviewer: We're losing the layer between the individual and the public organization.
George: That's right. So whether it's losing family, whether we do see declines in things like participation in clubs and activities and whatnot.
George: Churches, of course, are on a decline. Not to say they're special necessarily, but as one of these organizations that we're seeing. Again, going back to what conservative means, I think there are a lot of conservatives who think this is a good thing in the sort of liberty because, at some level, families can hold us back, right? Like my brothers-in-law.
Interviewer: They can.
Interviewer: They can hold us back.
George: And so all of these organizations, like, I don't know if you're from a small town or not, but small towns can be pretty constraining place.
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
George: And so you can argue for liberty. Liberty is really important and so we should free people from these little tiny towns where they can't break free and be themselves.
Interviewer: You want that space to grow to get out. That sounds familiar.
George: Maybe that's not a place in conservativism where I am. I think America's gone sort of too far in that direction. I think we now fetishize the breaking out in the individual.
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:14:04]
George: I think we now fetishize the breaking out in the individual and being sort of your authentic self, regardless of what is going around you. I think humans do flourish best when you are in these communities, where you have, I don't want to call it constraints or whatnot, but some degree of people saying, "Well, this is sort of how we as a group live," and if you need to go and be some other community, then go there, fine, and live as they live. There is some meaning to living as your community lives.
Interviewer: You're a political science professor, so you have language for these things, and I'm being honest. You have language for these things, that I just don't have. How is what you just said any different than the liberal idea of the community? How is that any different? I mean, there could be. I just don't get it.
George: Yeah, I can see the little terminology point, I guess. When we think of liberal, we think of liberty or freeing up the individual, the autonomous individual now, at least in political science.
Interviewer: Sure, okay, okay.
George: The term liberal, often in public conversation, we think of as sort of on the left. If you said you were on the left, that would mean liberal.
George: But, there is sort of communitarianism, right? Which I think when you say liberal and the left, I don't think of those as the same thing.
George: There is a part on the left, I think, that is about individual autonomy. Now the whole sort of, very sort of sexual trans revolutions that are happening are, I think, a left impulse to individual autonomy. At the same time, there is on the left these communitarian social bonds.
Interviewer: Okay. That's not what you're talking about.
George: No, that is, but I think both sides are struggling with this. How do we make community meaningful and have these limits? Because they restrict individual autonomy and we're all sort of heirs of John Locke and Adam Smith, and we all believe that individual autonomy is good, at least to some degree, right? Because we don't want to go back to the Middle Ages.
Interviewer: I definitely don't want to do that. I'm going ahead and go on record and say that's not my thing.
George: That's right. For me, at least, I see that, where is that line between living in that small, confining small town, versus going out and being totally autonomous in New York City? What I talk about as a radical conservative, I think I'm much more on the small town or the confining is okay side, rather than the ...
Interviewer: But is it confining though? I still get on that word, that being in a small town, a space like I think I'm understanding what you're saying, being in a small space is somehow confining and can hold you back, I just don't see that. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're saying. How is that confining?
George: Well, you have to wear long pants.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
George: Or your brother-in-law's going to ...
Interviewer: Oh, ha, ha.
Interviewer: Sure. But how is that, say, any different than in a big space, or a large space with lots of people? Lots of those smaller communities pushed together, that you have to look this certain way, or you have to be this certain way. How is that any different than those messages? Maybe there is a difference, I just don't see it.
George: Sure. I think in a place like New York, just the stereotype of New York City, you have much more freedom to be ... You have to look a certain way in this, but you can find other people, if you want to look a different way, you can find other people. If you want to be a different sort of person, you can just go to other circles.
Interviewer: Yes. Right.
George: Whereas a small town in Iowa, for example, there aren't so many other circles that you can hop into. There's sort of one circle.
George: Now, I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing. Like I said, I'm sort of on that side. I think being in that community helps to sort of make what you do meaningful. It sort of helps you figure out who you are.
Interviewer: It makes what you do meaningful, being in the smaller community.
George: Yeah, because those acts and those practices and whatnot do have meaning within that context. It sort of makes you part of that group. There are little rituals that you do, that to outsiders seem silly, but they confirm your membership, your status. A lot of the uncertainties of, "Who am I? Where am I going? Why am I doing this, you don't have to deal with when you know that stuff, as part of that group.
Interviewer: Right, right. Then again, maybe I'm confused man, and I'll be honest about that, but I'm trying to figure out how that's different than what I think.
George: Sure, sure.
Interviewer: I really honestly want to understand how what you're saying is different than my idea of finding value in whatever space we're in. Value in all spaces. That, that's my goal, to ...
George: I guess the difference would be, going back to my you can't do certain things or there are limits, I think that's an admirable goal. But I don't think it works in some spaces. I think once you start saying, "Okay, we can do this in any space," just on a practical level, pragmatic level, that, that would be wonderful if we could do that, but I just don't think we can. Partly, I think maybe a deep difference between us is boundaries.
George: I think that it's okay for communities to say, "There's a boundary around us, and this is who we are." It's porous, people can move in and out, but that it's not some sort of, we think of it as all inclusive, anyone can be a member, sort of hop in at any time and they're a full member. I think communities have the right to say, "Well, this is who we are and what we are, and we don't have to change just because someone moves in. If they want to move in, they have to become part of our community or make a shift."
George: I think one difference, may be in that notion of inclusivity and boundaries. I'm okay with boundaries.
Interviewer: But you're okay with boundaries to the extent that they can be porous. They can be firm but flexible, maybe? Like, "This is who we are, this is kind of value system. You can come and be a part of it, but these are our kind of rules. This is what we are. IF you want to be a part of us, you're going to have to conform somewhat, at the very least to a minimum to our satisfaction, that you're going to have to conform to our space."
George: Yeah, that's right. Because if it's not, like I said, we go back to the Middle Ages.
Interviewer: I'm imagining my family. I'm imagining where I'm from, I'm imagining ...
George: Where are you from?
Interviewer: I grew up back and forth between Raleigh and Memphis, Tennessee. When my parent split when I was young, I would live a few years here, live a few years there, back here. Ended up graduating in Raleigh, so primarily I guess I'm from Raleigh. Even though I have a hard time deciding what that means for me. One of the things that my parents, particularly my father, would impress upon me, he always had these cliches, good God, just cliché after cliché.
George: That's what my kids are going to say 20 years from now.
Interviewer: Yeah, just bang my face against the table. Oftentimes, they would revolve around faith, and religion, and blackness. Whenever I'd have a potential partner that I would bring to the house, and I didn't bring many because of this very thing. Because he would have messages that, "This person, whoever you're bringing, okay, they can come in, but they're going to have to understand the rules." There were rules he had, like I said, around faith. There were rules he had around gender roles, things like that.
I think if you had have asked him where, particularly before he passed, where he landed in terms of left and right, conservative and liberal, he would have identified himself as more on the liberal side. He has that idea, that same thing that you're talking about. Where there are these rules, "There are these rules in my space or in this community space, and we're not going to change them. I'm not going to change them. How do you feel about that?"
Anyway, I bring that up because that is, as somebody again, where I position myself politically, those are the kinds of things that are in me too.
George: Let me ask you then, because there's something I heard from the African American students in my class, that back in the 1950s and 60s, the Republican party or the Conservative Coalition at the time made a decision to support segregation, and it has left this sort of scar on politics ever since.
Two African American students in my class, said more or less similar things to you, as what you just said, and said, "You know this actually, this conservatism stuff sounds a lot like what I and my family have always talked about." I don't know what to make of that. Clearly we can't go back and undo what happened in the 50s and 60s, but at the same time, I do feel like what I hear from African Americans about that, the community of blackness, if that's ...
Interviewer: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
George: Does, in many ways, sound very similar to what I believe.
Interviewer: It is. I believe it absolutely is. Again, I don't speak, I can't speak for all black people, all African American folks, I want to make that clear, but it often sounds familiar in those areas. While I may position myself and my father may have positioned himself as this left leaning, whatever those words are, we had those elements. Those elements of conservatism or whatever the case may be, exist in our spaces. Just like I would argue that the elements of whatever I am exists in your spaces. It's not monolithic, as I was saying in the beginning. It can't be.
Regardless of how conservatism manifests for you, you are in a liberal space, if that's the right word, liberal space, that is relatively speaking it is a liberal space in western North Carolina. Sure, we have this idea that we're super liberal here, but we have no idea, I don't think.
Anyway, how did you get here then? How did you get here having these views, having these beliefs and these values, these truths in yourself? How did you get here?
George: As an aside, we think of a liberal community here, for most of my life, I played competitive Ultimate Frisbee, and now I coach the women's team and a high school team. There are very few communities in America more progressive than the Ultimate Frisbee community. I know.
Interviewer: Hold up, hold up, what now?
George: When HB1 passed, and the sports organizations were thinking about, "Should we pull out of North Carolina?" It was just immediately, the Frisbee governing body pulled out of tournaments in ...
Interviewer: Ultimate Frisbee's where it's at, huh?
George: Where it's at.
Interviewer: That's the best sort of liberal ...
George: That year, you had the HB1 year at the national tournament. Then they had these rainbow colored discs that all the teams were using. I've been sort of marinated in progressivism, and sort of basically my whole social life and most of my adult life. Coming to App, it wasn't that different from anything else.
Interviewer: Ultimate Frisbee prepared you.
George: That's right.
Interviewer: That's awesome. That is awesome.
George: App in particular, I just came here because they gave me a job. It was that decision to go into academia, I think was ... I originally wanted to go into government. I wanted to go work for the Foreign Service. I was at George Washington up in DC. I was interning at the Commerce Department. I just realized at the end of that, that I did not want to work in government anymore. It was just not what I wanted to do, but my theory courses were fun. I said, "What the heck? I'll go get a PHD and go teach."
One thing led to another, and I ended up ... I was at Miami of Ohio for a while, and then I came here in 2005.
Interviewer: It was the job, it was a job.
George: It was the job.
Interviewer: It was a job.
George: In political science, the job market is not such that, except for a few stars, you get to pick places. It's a job.
Interviewer: Sure, sure.
George: My mom, at the time, had a quilt business. The initial job search didn't go that well, and I was almost to the point of, "Well, I guess I'm going to go into the quilt business for my life." Then finally this job opened up. I guess the Miami Ohio job opened up, and then I came here.
Interviewer: It was just the job. I definitely recognize that. As much as I appreciate App for being App, there was a job here for me.
George: That's right.
Interviewer: There was a job here.
George: That's right, that's how it works.
Interviewer: I'm happy to take the job. I'm happy to take employment. I'm just trying to survive like everybody else, man.
George: It's been nice. We live out west of town, in Valley [Curses 00:26:15] Nice community out there. We started homeschooling. There's a really active, nice homeschooling community here.
Interviewer: A homeschooling community?
George: Yup, pretty large. Part of the reason why I've never really thought seriously about searching for another position was once we were sort of integrated into this homeschool community, I didn't want to pull the kids out. The high school kids that I coach, that's where they are. I don't want to leave them.
Interviewer: You have your platoon.
George: Yeah, I do.
Interviewer: You have your team.
George: I'm pretty happy about that.
Interviewer: I respect that. I respect that. I would describe the political environment right now, and that's nationally, internationally, state wide, and even on this campus, and I would describe it as toxic, from my perspective. I'm curious for you, for somebody who has different values, different beliefs, different truths than I do, I guess different, how do you see this environment? What do you see going on? How would you evaluate it? If that makes any sense.
George: Yeah. This may sound strange, but I think it's a lot like during the 60s, not the late 60s, but certainly the early 60s. You think in the 50s, there were sort of people who got to say, what is okay to say on TV, for example. What is okay to say in public? What can you do? What should these people do? How should they act?
They started to see that was breaking down, and they started to get worried. They started to get, pounding their fists on the table. Meanwhile, sort of the proto-hippies, people were starting to realize they could kind of cut free.
In a lot of ways, I see that going on right now. We see more and more, I think the roles are reversed. The people that were the hippies are now sort of in charge of what's okay in culture, who dominates culture. They're saying, "This is how it has to be. This is how we have to act. This is how we have to talk." More and more ...
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:28:04]
George: Way it has to be, this is how we have to act, this is how we have to talk. More and more people are saying, “No, we don't have to act like that. We don't have to talk like that.” So, like it did I think in the sixties, I think that starts to get nasty when people that think they should be in charge are being given the middle finger.
Interviewer: Sure, sure.
George: Then the people giving the middle finger, of course they're not in a mood to be civil and friendly. So we talk about, with Trump and whatnot, this breakdown in civility, I think part of that is a reaction to being told, “This is how it has to be.” So to some extent I see this as a pot that's boiling over.
Interviewer: It's been building up to this.
George: Yeah, I think so.
Interviewer: So then my question, or at least my thought, is we have those folks who are tired of being told that this is how it is and this is how it has to be, and maybe this is my binary kind of way, but which side is that? Who is being told that?
Interviewer: Because I would argue it's me, and then others would argue it's them. It seems that a lot of folks are feeling some of that.
George: Yeah, that's probably true. For me at least, I look at it in terms of who ... The people at the top of the culture, media-
Interviewer: The top of the culture?
George: You know, academia, we set a lot of that. Sort of longterm maybe, but we set a lot of the tone. Certainly journalists, right, TV reporters, all of that. Hollywood. So to me, I see it as those people. The day where you can produce a TV show Father Knows Best is long gone. So I see those people as ... The celebrities in Hollywood that give us speeches at the Oscars about how we should all behave and how we should all shape up.
Interviewer: It's interesting to hear you say that they're at the top of the culture, I would not call them at the top of the culture. Top of the culture, in my mind, I look at folks ... Politicians, I'm imagining the people that make the rules and enforce the rules.
Interviewer: I guess I don't see those folks, like an Oscars speech, I don't see them as making the rules. They have commentary, sure, they have power, I'm not saying that doesn't exist. But they don't make the rules.
George: Yeah, because the rules aren't legal rules. But it's things like, “Can you say this on Twitter without being demonized? Can you go and donate to Proposition 9 in California and still have your jog afterwards?” So it's people like that, can you make this kind of movie and sell it?
When I think of rules, I don't think of ... It's going back to the example of the brother-in-law. There's clearly, legally I can wear whatever the heck I want as long I cover myself up, right? But there was a rule that said I had to wear long pants. So I think of those sorts of rules and culture as opposed to legal. Clearly, I would agree with you that that's what I said was not true about the top of the political system. I think both sides are up there. But in terms of popular culture, popular discourse I guess.
Interviewer: Those are the ones setting the tone, setting the tone-
George: Thought leaders, if you will.
Interviewer: So then how do they function differently, and I don't know if this is an abstract question that can be answered, but how do they function differently than small platoons, and in those small communities, where there are rules about what can be said and what can't be said and what can be done and what can't be done. How are those two things different? Help me understand that then?
George: I think they're very, very similar. I think just that one is national and one is essentially small community. We're in the States, you remember Footloose, the original Footloose?
Interviewer: Yes, sir.
George: Back in our day, I think that was a lot more meaningful because we still had these more social rules, so for that hero to go out there and flaunt these rules to go dancing and stuff, they remade it, but can you imagine any of our students thinking it's a big deal to go out there and dance?
George: No. But awhile ago it was. Clearly, those are the sort of rules that we're talking about here.
But what I would say is that ... America's a big, diverse place. When you have a national culture saying, “This is what we all have to be like,” which is what we do right now, that creates problems that doesn't happen when there may be one set of rules for living in Ash County, and a whole different set of rules for living in San Francisco. And I think that's okay, I think that's how it should be. I think people who live in Ash County can go ahead and think, “Our community should live one way,” and San Francisco ... You may not like it from Ash County, but that's their community and they can live how they wanna live.
Interviewer: And you don't think that there's space for that?
George: I think there is less and less space for that in today's America.
Interviewer: Okay, okay. So then what are those things that, for you and your ideas about conservatism, and understanding that you can't speak for everybody and I can't speak for everybody in the way I identify. What are those things for you, those truths, those values, those pieces, that you want everyone to hold and have and be able to have power over? What are those things?
George: I was thinking about this, I think if I were to pick one it'd be that we live in a created world. And I don't mean this in the sense of Young Earth creationism, but in the sense that we're not a bunch of random molecules, random atoms. I believe that God created the Earth and he sent Jesus Christ, but to some extent I'm not concerned ... Well, I don't know. My wife is a Buddhist, so we're not [inaudible 00:33:50], but that there is an order to the universe, and that we as humans are made for and by that order, and that living a flourishing life involves aligning ... Being part of that order.
It isn't about going out there and breaking all the rules and finding your authentic self, except in the sense that I think your authentic self is in accordance with that order. So things like biological reality is ... Going out there and flaunting biological reality is not the way to live a flourishing life.
I think that notion that there is an order to reality. And I respect that different cultures understand that order differently, and you can debate about to what extent they share certain commonalities and so on, that's fine. But if I were to pick one, that would be the first one.
Personally, I see my faith in the belief that not only did God create the universe, but he also loves us all so much that he sent his son. And I think we, however imperfect we are, need to strive for that as well. And obviously loving everybody is not something that comes easy to all of us, but that we all need to have grace, in the religious sense, I think grace is a very important and very underrated truth of how we live. I see grace as a willingness to accept others' faults and to forgive. Ultimately, forgiveness is at the heart of grace, I think.
Interviewer: And I think that really connects to what I was, at least in the beginning of this conversation, one of my things that I try to do engendering empathy and facilitating empathy, that sounds to me like what you're talking about. That you are that loving and that acceptance or forgiveness, or whatever, that is ... For me, that's a human condition deserving of all. Everyone deserves that.
So again, I come back to that point of ... It seems like at least a little bit, the language may look a little different, but I think we're talking about the same things, and then the idea of what you said around, “I do this in Ash County, that's me, that's just what we do in our community. And you have that space to do that out in San Francisco, that's you and that's your community.”
George: Well let me answer, so the question is, “How are we different?” Right?
Interviewer: Yeah, I really am trying to get there, man.
George: Let me go a little applicable sciencey, but we normally think about the left-right spectrum. Some people are in the middle, and some people are on the extremes. I don't think that's accurate, I think in many ways it's more of a circle.
Interviewer: Yes, yes.
George: So I think you and I are in many ways at one end of the circle, and there are other people up here, and I would argue both of our candidates from this past election are up here at the top.
Interviewer: I would agree.
George: So to say that they're between you and I, I don't think is right. I don't think we're on a continuum, I think we're on a circle. Now, we can make little technicalities with that, but ... I think there's some truth to what you're saying.
Interviewer: It sounds to me there's space for both of us, there's space for both of us to feel and think. As I have said to my father before he passed, and my mom to her [inaudible 00:37:22]. I fell off the church bus many years ago, but there is space for me to exist where I am, and space to you exist where you are, and when you talk about order to the universe, at the very least I connect with you there. And I think there's value in that, man. I think there's value in what we share there.
George: Yeah, and the tricky part then, is it okay ... What if you do have other communities out there that you really disagree with their practices, and you think their practices are harming people, whether in their community or not? Do you in Ash County, for example, if you think San Franciscan practices are harming the people, is it okay for you to be quiet? Is that love for you to be quiet, or is it love for you to go out there and say, “Hey that's wrong, you need to change.” Conversely, for people in San Francisco, if you're saying, “Hey, what you do in Ash County is hurting people there.” Should I be quiet? So that's the question.
Interviewer: Yeah, and that's a tough balance to find. At what point does my truth, does my value system say ... Can I be quiet and just have my different feelings, or do I then have to go out and actively engage in keeping you from doing that thing? That's a tough balance to find, but I also think there's more similarity in where that comes from than there is a difference. So I may not believe like you believe, I may not think of it in the same way that you think, but ... I too am struggling with that balance.
George: One answer to that, or possible answer to that, may be in terms of ... We put those borders at the edge of communities, that for people in my community it's legitimate for me to say, “Hey, this is how we live here.” But that someone in San Francisco, maybe it's not legitimate, it's not my community, it's not my place to say. I can gossip with my friends in Ash County about those weirdos out there, but still, my moral authority, if you will, ends at the border of my community. And then conversely, they can complain about me, but their moral authority over how I live ends there.
Now, going back to race of course, does that work? Ultimately that may not work. So that's why ... That's the answer that seems logical to me, but in the end can you really sustain that in situations of real wrongdoing?
Interviewer: It's hard. So is there anything else you'd like to add or say to this space?
George: Sure, one of the things, going back to that circle business ... My wife sells pastries at the farmers' market, so first I wanna put a plug in, we'll be out there with the bells and whistles and croissants and tarts and everything.
George: But farmers' markets to me are fascinating. As we think about the typically progressive customers, and typically very conservative vendors. Here in Boon, certainly, other places too. That's one place where I think these two meet. They're both all about localism and community and coming from both ends. So plug in for the farmers' market, it's a really I think great place for this sort of thing that we're talking about.
Interviewer: I don't ever remember having met you before in this space, I'm not even sure I've seen you before. You've been here for years, and I don't know how many times I'll ever see you again, but I am encouraged by being able to have this conversation with you, and I would encourage anybody listening this to make space for these conversations. There are real differences, sure, there are things I think I have a hard time distinguishing how we think and believe on. But there are real differences I'm sure that exist in how we see, especially on that last piece you're talking about is it sustainable, is that functional to have one community to be okay, and another community to be okay when there's real wrongdoing.
There are those differences, and that's difficult, but I think there is value in having these conversations, and being willing to just sit down with somebody who happens to more than likely think a lot different than me, or at least it may appear that way. So I wanna thank you sir for being here.
George: No, it's been great, I've enjoyed it. Thank you.
Interviewer: Thank you so much.
PART 3 OF 3 ENDS [00:41:49]
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.