This concludes a series wherein I was lucky enough to debate various issues — nominally socialism, but in reality everything — with a conservative reader named Leona. Read the previous pieces here and here. After this piece, I’m gonna take some time off. See you in a month or two.

Over our seven months of emailed correspondence, Leona and I established a relationship that was both deep and shallow. 

On the deep end, we discussed issues such as the nature of good and evil, whether or not our universe is governed by supernatural forces, and the validity of anecdotal evidence. I suspect that either of us could anticipate with some accuracy how the other might react to any subject that could come up in the news. In itself, this is not a grand revelation; read any anonymous comment below any online article and, within a couple of sentences, you’ll find yourself performing this exact same magical feat. 

The grand revelations came from Leona’s source materials. She, more so than I, liked to send links that might buttress her arguments, and those links were remarkable.

A bit of context:

When mingling with a crowd of liberal-types, the conversation will inevitably work its way thru the Perplexing Allure of Donald Trump to the Inexplicable Behavior of Our Fellow Citizens Who Refuse the Covid Vaccine. (I assume that, within conservative crowds, there’s an equivalent, but inverted conversation. I can’t say for certain, because, as a liberal-type, my very presence in a conservative-type crowd spoils the ideological homogeneity required for these sorts of — well, you know where I’m going here.)

I hate these conversations, especially when they move into their third stage: How Stupid Can Those People Be?  And when the “Those People” in question are ruralians, I start to take it personally. Not because I think I’m a shining example of a non-stupid ruralian, but because it’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest that rural Americans–who are overwhelmingly pro-Trump and anti-Covid-vaccine — embrace their beliefs because they are dum-dums. Geography might influence one’s ideology, but it does not influence the intellectual capacity of millions of human minds. 

My obvious point here is that context — peer pressure, local customs, religion, population density, and so on — is hugely influential on one’s beliefs, way-the-hell more so than one’s SAT scores.

Which is why I’m constantly spoiling liberal get-togethers with some variation on, “I’ve been talking to Leona again. And I’ve learned that, as absurd as it might seem, there’s a perfectly-understandable explanation for why people make these self-defeating choices.”

That perfectly-understandable explanation is that there’s a whole freaking parallel universe of websites and television programs and preachers and products whose entire appeal is: trust us and we’ll show you the answers to everything, and, by the way, if you stick with us you will not be tortured and exterminated after the messiah returns. 

Seriously, go to Epoch Times. Yes, it’s… weird. But don’t just look at the headlines and run screaming; dig in, watch some of their interviews. Check out Turn on the radio and listen to one of those religious stations you always skip on your way to NPR. Consider how their arguments are structured. The entire ecosystem seems to be based on statements that begin with, “Many people…” and end with, “…therefore it is so.” Think about how that might affect one’s threshold for proof/rationality/reality.

Add this all up and —

Oh, for crying out loud, I’m running out of space and, once again, I’m about the botch the landing. I always feel compelled to write The Column That Solved All the Problems. Instead, I always end up with The Column That Forgot Its Opening Paragraph.

Let’s see… Leona and I… profound/shallow/source materials…

Even though Leona and I tried to tackle fantastically complex subjects, we never delved deeply into our personal histories. Consequently, on the one hand, I feel like I know her extremely well, but on the other, she’s a mystery (for instance, what kind of relationship does she have with her kids?), and I assume she feels the same about me. It’s as if we spent seven months seated next to one another on a flight, and now that we’ve landed all that remains are some awkward glances as we wait for our suitcases to show up on the baggage carousel.

I hear the music. Fine, I’ll wrap it up, but I warn you, it’s not going to be elegant.

Let us exit the air travel metaphor. As I look over what I’ve just written, I feel like an asshole for spending all this time talking about Leona as if she were some sort of a science project.

Leona’s a human being, and I’m honored that she willingly shared so much of herself with me, and you as well.