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This conservative says it’s OK to disagree

This conservative says it’s OK to disagree

I wish to respond in a general way to the two columns on the Opinion page of the Dec. 27-Jan 2024 edition of The Smoky Mountain News — to Scott McLeod’s and to guest columnist Rob Schofield’s. 

I know that Scott McLeod welcomes contributors who disagree because he and I disagree politically yet he’s allowed me to contribute articles as a guest columnist. On the other hand, I am certain we both agree that it is good to have a place where important issues can be discussed without disrespect. I hope with him that SMN can be that place.

And so in that spirit I turn to the article by Mr. Schofield. As with Scott McLeod, I suspect that Mr. Schofield and I would have different opinions about many political issues.

I fancy myself a conservative. The conservatism I adhere to is the one defined by Sir Roger Scruton as “the love of home.” And so for me, the word nostalgia is not derogatory or delusional or denialist but instead it’s family, faith, forgiveness, cheerfulness, good humor, peace, purpose — something that might be better described as tradition; i.e., that which has been adhered to by the multitude of people who don’t happen to be walking about right now (to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton).

After all, the idea that things are always in general getting better, an idea popularized by Hagel and Marx, has its critics, me among them. For instance, if things were always improving, why have so many civilizations come and gone? Moreover, if today’s society is always better than what preceded it, then was the antebellum Southern slave society the highest peak of civilization to that point? That’s hard for me to believe.

And going back to 1968, one good thing back then was that over 70% of Black kids were born to two-parent families. Somehow today you can’t point this out without being called racist, which is not dissimilar to how Patrick Moynihan was vilified when he produced his 1965 report on the state of the Black family in which he expressed his concern that the Black two-parent-intact rate had dropped to 70%. It had been even higher during the worst of the Jim Crow era. In 2020 it was 37%.

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Here is where critics of conservatives label us racist because we think intact Black families are a good thing. Really? Has it gotten to the point where if you advocate for intact Black families you want to return to Jim Crow? Ridiculous. We know that any kids, black or white, brought up by two-parent families do better than those from single parent homes, yet to say so can get you labeled racist or patriarchal or misogynist or anti-feminist, or whatever, but we all know it’s true. Or perhaps you don’t. If so, can we not discuss our differences without categorizing and calling names?

We have become so divided in this country that it has become a cliché to say so. Consequently, it’s hard to know where to start. What I long for is a time when we can stick to our principles and yet be willing to learn from each other, and perhaps change our minds.

I suggest some ground rules:

1. No labels. Listening instead of labeling. No more words ending with, “–ism,”  “-ist,” “-ic,” or “-ia.” 

2. No more adherence to ideology.

3. Humility first.

We need people who disagree with us and who are willing to engage with us. When I argue for my side with people who agree with me, I become further entrenched in my own opinions. Since over the course of my life I’ve been wrong about 90% of the time, why would I want to strengthen my ignorance? One thing I love about my wife is that she disagrees with me on many issues. She’s also right 90% of the time.

There’s a character in Anthony Trollope’s “Barchester Towers,” a Mr. Arabin, who when asked what he thinks, says, “It is the bane of my life that on important subjects I acquire no fixed opinion. I think and think and go on thinking; and yet my thoughts are running ever in different directions …”

Sounds pretty wishy-washy for a conservative, but I am Mr. Arabin. I guess that even for my firmest-held opinions, I’m only 52% to 57% certain. Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but I suspect most other people can relate.

In conclusion, I’m uncertain what I’m after except to express a viewpoint that differs from many of the guest columnists to The Smoky Mountain News. And I want to support Mr. McLeod and his efforts to provide a platform for different opinions. Maybe I’ve only stirred up my critics. I didn’t mean to. I’m sure I could have expressed myself more clearly. I want to be a part of an effort to reduce the division in our country starting with my neighbors in WNC.

(Steven Crider is retired physician who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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