Two years ago, editor Matt Lasley invited me to contribute regularly to this paper. I had to think about it, really. I was officially retired. However, I didn’t think long before I decided: ‘Yessir, I’d be honored to write for your newspaper. Thank you very much, Mr. Lasley.’

Then, as always, I questioned my motives. Why did I want to write for the paper? I remembered the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. It claims there are “three types of incentives—economic, social, and moral—and most incentive schemes include all 3 elements. For example, people may avoid crime due to a mix of economic incentives (to avoid being fined or jailed), moral incentives (to do what’s ‘right’) and social incentives (to be seen in a good light).”

Surprisingly, perhaps, money (economic) isn’t always the strongest incentive. For example, volunteer firefighters risk life and limb, not for pecuniary gain or profit, but because they deem it a noble, (moral) worthwhile avocation—and possibly because it elevates their social status. Firefighters are seen as heroes by their neighbors, friends, and family.

Money certainly wasn’t a factor in my decision to write this biweekly column, and it’s probably not raising my social status. As a progressive liberal Democrat, I’m in the minority here in Grayson County.

According to the Kentucky State Board of Elections, there were 18,880 total registered voters in Grayson County in November 2020. Two-thirds — 12,520 — were registered Republican, and 67.7% of them voted. Just 5,129 — about one-fourth — were registered Democrat, and only 56.2% of them voted. (1,231 were registered as Other.)

Mostly I do this for moral reasons. I want to contribute to my community. I’m not unlike a hospital volunteer. (We oldsters like to think we’re still useful.) It’s also a good way to exercise my mind. It’s far too easy for old people to grow stupid.

Writing is always a great way to learn. In Literary Hub, “ ‘Write a Sentence as Clean as a Bone’ and Other Advice From James Baldwin,” Emily Temple shares Baldwin’s words and wisdom:

“ ‘When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway,’ Baldwin said in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review.”

One of the things I’m trying to find out is why most of rural Kentucky is Republican. At a very early age I learned that Republicans are for rich people and businesses, and Democrats are for the poor and middle class. Most of rural Kentucky is poor or middle class. So why are they mostly Republican?

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, the younger generation (my generation) broke from their parents on various issues such as religion, support for the Vietnam War, and the legalization of cannabis, to name just a few. During the ‘80s, Huey Lewis and the News had a big hit with their song, “It’s Hip to Be Square.” The song reflected the trend to return to, and conform with, more traditional “square” values.

A Gallup Youth Survey asked teens to compare their social and political views with those of their parents. While a fifth of U.S. teens (21%) say they are “more liberal” than their parents and 7% say “more conservative,” 7 in 10 teens (71%) say their social and political ideology is about the same as their parents.

“Today’s young people are exceptionally bonded to their parents,” says Phillip Longman, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

Indeed, nowadays most young people adopt and adhere to their parents’ politics. The (progressive liberal Democrat) politics of our adult children are very much aligned with ours. However, their political beliefs are entirely their own, and they arrived at them through careful study and observation—not because they wanted to imitate us, or because they were too lazy or stupid to form their own opinions.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Blindly and stupidly adopting the politics (and/or religion) of one’s parents without serious scrutiny and careful evaluation is the last thing I would want.

Sometimes one’s party affiliation seems not unlike the UK/UofL rivalry, (back in the day when both teams were awesome). Most Kentuckians were (and are) UK fans because UK usually won more games. Everyone loves a winner, so UK claimed the majority of fans. And most people want to be in the majority.

The Asch conformity experiments studied the extent to which individuals conformed with or defied a majority group. About one-third of participants would give a plainly wrong answer in order to conform with a majority of confederate subjects, or stooges, who deliberately gave the wrong answer for the purposes of the study. About 75% of participants conformed at least once, and 25% of participants never conformed.

Ultimately, our political differences and disagreements aren’t as extreme as we might think. In Psychology Today (7/30/2018), “Facts About Minority Opinion vs. Majority Rule: Do the vast majority of people truly disagree with one another?” Rob Henderson writes: “Politics are more polarized than ever. But most of us are not political extremists.

“According to a May 2018 Gallup poll, 43% of Americans consider themselves “Independents” while 26% and 29% consider themselves Republicans and Democrats, respectively. Where does the illusion of extremism come from?

“Do the vast majority of people truly disagree with one another, or are they just conforming for fear of the social consequences?”

According to a Gallup survey: “A majority of Americans, 57%, say there is a need for a third, major political party, while [only] 38% of Americans believe the current two-party system does an adequate job of representing the people. These views have been consistent since 2013.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming against the current, fighting a losing battle, butting my head against a wall, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, tilting at windmills like Cervantes’ Don Quixote. And I wonder: Why do I do it?

I draw strength and inspiration from author James Baldwin: “Remember why you write. The bottom line is this: You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. In some way, your aspirations and concern for a single man in fact do begin to change the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks or people look at reality, then you can change it.”

Millimeter by millimeter, we can change the world.

Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.

Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.

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