On becoming a right-winger

No I’m not talking about people like David Beckham or Theo Walcott here. I’m talking about political stance. There is supposed to be this saying somewhere that goes “if you are 50 and liberal, you don’t have a head. If you are 20 and conservative you don’t have a heart” or some such. I probably first heard it some three years back, and ever since I’ve wondered why I’ve always been a right-winger in terms of my political stance. And I perhaps now have the answer.

The “social” component of rightwingery is not difficult to explain – from the ages of eight to ten, I was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They used to have shakhas close to my house in Jayanagar, and I would go there primarily to play Kabaddi. And I don’t think it was anything to do with what they taught us there, but maybe because the seniors there campaigned for the BJP in the 1991 elections (and my parents also then supported the BJP) I became a “social right-winger”. I’ve mostly been a supporter of the BJP since then, and if I were to vote (my name mysteriously disappeared off the voter list between 2004 and 2008, and I haven’t got myself re-registered) today I’d still vote for the BJP.

I’m much less of a social conservative now than I was maybe five years ago. I can probably describe myself as centrist – a position that is inadequately represented by any Indian political party. And it is possible that my current support for the BJP is reinforced by their economic policies during their regime earlier this decade. Which brings me to the more interesting question – about why I’ve always been an economic “conservative”.

I didn’t have an answer to this till recently, but I wonder how much it had to do with the fact that 1. I don’t have any siblings,  2. I was a topper in school.

I tend to believe that the lack of siblings helped define clear property rights for me at an early age – it is easier to divide up toys and other stuff among cousins than among siblings. And when you are convinced of property rights, you are much less likely to believe in stuff like “common good” and stuff.

As for being the topper, I’m reminded of how the class would plead with the teacher to make the exams easy, or to postpone assignment deadlines. Me being the topper, however, would have none of it. I would look at situations like those to RG (IITM lingo derived from “relative grading”) the rest of my class, and would always end up campaigning in the opposite direction (this continued till I was in IIM – when I was no longer the topper – I would encourage professors to set tough papers while the then toppers would ask for easy papers – the irony!).

While others were struggling to add two digit numbers, I would be showing off my skills at adding six-digit numbers, and encouraging the teacher to move faster. I considered myself to be “elite” and thought it was beneath myself to do what the “proletariat” did – postponing assignment deadlines or going slow in class. I would not be a part of the “class struggle”. I was a “have” (and I knew about property rights) and I would fight to retain my advantage.

So one objection to this theory could be that a lot of commies are topper-types. But here, we need to make a distinction. What if they were toppers like the ones that we had in IIMs – those that would clamour for easy papers, those that would do things the done way, and do better only because they mugged more? (I never listened to anyone. for example, I considered it beneath myself to add 5 to 4 as “five in the mind and six in the hand” and counting off fingers – while my competitor for topper used to happily do that, in public). My proposition is that those that became “radicals”, and were topper-types, weren’t that radical after all when they were young. If they were, they would’ve never turned left.

10 thoughts on “On becoming a right-winger”

  1. If this is about left liberals amongst your peers, I agree with your analysis but liberals on the whole… am not sure.

    Remember the recently assassinated naxal leader — Saketh Rajan, who was originally from Mysore?

    He was a sole kid belonging to a family that started the very first petrol bunk in Mysore and they were filthy rich. He too was a topper through out and joined India’s best journalism school after doing BA in Maharaja’s college.

    From what I’ve heard, he was rebelliously elite in his class like you and became an ultra liberal.

    OK, may be, filthy rich and dirt poor households create maoists and middle class doesn’t.

    1. might have to do with a rich vs middle class upbringing. again i’m not sure, and as i’vementioned in another comment here this is not a definite predictive model. just trying to understand why i am the way i am

  2. I would ask America is follow more liberal economic policy and India to follow more conservative economic policies. As far as social policies go, I am very liberal. I would categorise myself as a liberatarian with a liberal inlining (on the Nolan’s spectrum). That aside, here, the school topper analogy holds because the assumption of level playing field can be easily made at school level. But when it comes to real economy, that assumption is completely false. This post will be more complete if you explain the transition from school to being an adult, too.

    1. I’ll try to take that up in another post. I think that has to do with my movement to extreme-right (socially) when i was in IIT, etc.

      but i don’t ever recall being in favour of government intervention or socialism of any kind. so need to try and figure that out.

  3. I guess then, I would be a counter-example. Topper in class, math wizard (adding 6 digit numbers? pah. try multiplying 4-digit numbers by 3-digit numbers), rebel (turned atheist at the age of 9) and like you never believed in following rules or mugging up stuff. I even used to mentally derive most formulae from first principles before using them in exams – partly because I didn’t trust my memory, but partly because in principle, I didn’t approve of blindly applying anything.

    But even today I still remain a commie, at least at heart. One condition that I don’t satisfy is I wasn’t the only child of my parents.

    1. hmmmm. probably that you have siblings means that you didn’t get that idea of property rights (in whatever form) that I did when I was young.

      Then again, I’m not saying what I have here is the perfect explanation, or an accurate predictive model. I’m jsut trying to rationalize the way I am.

  4. major cognitive dissonance!!!
    somehow you seem to miss the point that goldman sachs survived the crisis die to socialism for the rich.

    define socialism first, if it is about free market, then definitely a private cash flow channel from fed would not be considered as free market

    1. oh i’m all against “socialism for the rich”, “bailouts” and all such shyte. I believe in free markets, not capitalism, if you know what I mean.

      AIG shouldn’t have been bailed out, Bear shouldn’t have been bailed out, it was a good thing Lehman was let to fail, etc. etc. on a similar note, I’m not in favour of government-funded backstop (Fannie/Freddie) for home loans.

      I hope you get the point

  5. Referring to your line in the first para, the joke (I’m sure you know this, but in any case) is that a conservative is a liberal who got mugged and a liberal is a conservative who got arrested..

  6. I’ve heard that quip about being a liberal at 20 and a conservative at 50. Nevertheless, I think that it is desirable to be a “conservative” in youth and a “liberal” in middle age.

    At the age of 20, one has to be strongly driven with a healthy belief that hard work and talent will pay off. As one grows older, we are able to better appreciate the role of luck in one’s life and accept the fact that some of us are indeed less fortunate than others. Hence the need for a more compassionate and inclusive economic policy.

    I suspect the world will be a better place if the youngsters were more conservative and the elders more liberal.

    Another important factor that defines one’s political leanings is the degree to which your surroundings/social milieu is homogenous. If you’re a “have” in a relatively homogenous society, you’re more likely to be a liberal. (Eg: Gult toppers are often liberal, given the relative cultural homogeneity in Andhra culture across castes). Whereas toppers in TN/Karnataka are much more likely to be conservative (given that the cultures in these states are far more heterogenous).

    Cultural homogeneity also explains why Sweden is more “liberal” than the UK and why Kolkata is more liberal than Mumbai.

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