Origins of Political Beliefs

From: J. Hughes (
Date: Fri Apr 27 2001 - 10:10:18 MDT

> Hi James,
> If you're willing, would talk a little bit about how you came to your
>political beliefs? How have they changed over time? For
>example, were you raised in a politically active family? What books have
>most influential for you?

I'm a pomo-universalist when it comes to politics and values. I.e. I
acknowledge that my politics and values are products of a particular time
and place. My parents were middle-class liberals, sympathetic with the
civil rights, feminist and anti-war movements. My mother was elected
President of Ohio State U's student body, where she attempted to kick ROTC
off campus and integrate the frats, and she went to Cuba to meet with
Castro after the Revolution. My father was a militant atheist and Blue
Cross executive who supported national health insurance. I grew up in the
Unitarian Church, joined the Yippies in high school, became a bisexual
radical feminist (would have been a lesbian separatist but for the
unfortunate accident of being a man) and world federalist, flirted with
Trotskyism, and then joined the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
while attending Oberlin College, itself a leftist crucible.

I spent two years after college working for a Buddhist development
organization in Sri Lanka - for a while as an ordained Buddhist monk -
where I developed a severe allergy for racialism and nationalism, including
alleged progressive varieties (e.g. IRA, Zionism, etc.), and renewed
commitment to secular radical democracy and world federalism. Organized for
the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in Kyoto for a year, then came back to the
University of Chicago for a PhD in Sociology. Studied under James Coleman,
Adam Przeworski, Ed Laumann, and William Julius Wilson, and drank deeply
from the trough of rational choice theory, albeit reluctantly.

Organized the U of C DSA chapter, took over student government, founded and
managed a national zine called EcoSocialist Review (1988-1996), and served
on the Chicago DSA executive, the DSA national executive commiteee and
youth executive committee. Put up the first websites for the Socialist
International, DSA, and Progressive Caucus of the House of Representatives.

Became interested in transhumanism/extropianism when I started writing
about bioethics and genetic engineering while teaching at the University of
Chicago's Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. I found bioethicists and most
of the Left, especially the Greens, too Luddite on medical technology.
After closing up the EcoSocialist Review and moving to Connecticut with my
wife and kids, I started Changesurfer Radio as a vehicle for exploring and
defining a "left futurist/democratic transhumanist politics".

Are my politics the only logical extrapolation of incontrovertible laws of
nature? No. But I think I'm pretty open-minded, and have seriously engaged
with libertarian challenges to social democracy/democratic socialism since
college. I became an advocate of drug legalization in the 1980s, which
meant being race-baited and condemned as a petit bourgeois wanker by half
my comrades. (They agree with me now.) I'm a market socialist, as are most
socialists today, in that I acknowledge the important and inescapable role
of markets as efficient communication mechanisms between firms and
consumers, supply and demand.

And since my political frame of reference is European and Latin American
social democratic politics, I often find American left politics woefully
ignorant of the real compromises that building a majoritarian and
economically successful social policy requires. I think my political views
are a good explanation of history, and that my policy prescriptions are a
pragmatic program that will lead to improvement in the human condition.

But there is no certainty in values or politics, Rand's A=A
notwithstanding. I think its ultimately a leap of faith.

Thanks for asking.

> What beliefs, if any, have you modified as a result of participating on this

None. The level of histrionic shouting and anti-statist bellowing that
passes for political discussion on this list has never really penetrated my
ideological defences. Although perhaps if I read more than 1% of all posts
my mind would soon be pureed into a blend of Hayek and Friedman. But I
doubt it.

Dr. J. Hughes
Changesurfer Radio

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:59 MDT