|Robert G. Ingersoll was a famous free-thinker (photo: Mathew Brady, Levin Corbin Handy)|
It is extremely uncomfortable to take unpopular positions and say things that others don’t want to hear. If you consider yourself a liberal you have a self-conception that's predicated upon a concern for victims and a desire to provide for those who have less than yourself. If you're a conservative you might view yourself as someone whose brand of humanism encourages the notion of self-reliance. Less government is better than more since it forces people to pick themselves up by the bootstraps. Less government and less regulation also make individualism more possible. Whichever side of the fence you stand on, eventually you establish a comfort zone in which you exercise your values. The problem comes when you find yourself inadvertently questioning some of the positions that might have been at the heart of your own program. You might hate Bill O’Reilly’s politics, but find his verbal suggestiveness with women a far cry from more extreme forms of abuse which are ubiquitous in the media and the academic or corporate worlds--and literally any situation where the cocktail of power and sexuality is brewed. If you're a conservative you might find yourself cast adrift in the no man’s land of health care legislation. You dislike big government, but you can’t abide lessening Medicaid benefits that mean that people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder might not be able to afford life saving mediations for diabetes, heart disease or cancer. As either a liberal or conservative crossing the literal or metaphoric aisle, you may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being regarded as a heretic in the world of like-minded people in which you generally operate. When society is polarized, as it currently is, divagations from the party line tend to be viewed as a form of treason. The lone voice in the crowd, that of the free-thinker, is something that few on either side of the political spectrum want to hear.