Recently, right-wing commentator and former Miss World America Kathy Zhu (@PoliticalKathy) burned down social media with her controversial statements about the state of modern conservatism in politics.
Zhu tweeted, “You don’t have to be traditional to believe in freedom and liberty. You can go to EDM concerts, you can smoke weed, you can own 6 cats, you can have colored hair, you can have piercings/tattoos, you can be vegan, you can care about the environment. It’s cool to be a conservative.”
You don’t have to be traditional to believe in freedom and liberty.
You can go to EDM concerts
You can smoke weed
You can own 6 cats
You can have colored hair
You can have piercings/tattoos
You can be vegan
You can care about the environment
It’s cool to be a conservative.
— Kathy Zhu (@PoliticalKathy) September 1, 2019
Kathy Zhu on Conservatism
She later tweeted: “You don’t have to be a Christian to be conservative, you don’t have to be pro-life to be conservative, you don’t have to hate weed to be conservative, you don’t have to be straight to be conservative, you don’t have to be traditional to be conservative.”
You don’t have to be a Christian to be conservative.
You don’t have to be pro-life to be conservative.
You don’t have to hate weed to be conservative.
You don’t have to be straight to be conservative.
You don’t have to be traditional to be conservative.
— Kathy Zhu (@PoliticalKathy) September 3, 2019
Within an hour, her fanbase and the internet itself divided, calling Zhu a patron saint of modern conservatism or everything that is wrong with establishment politicians. Some of the things inspiring the “you don’t need to be conservative to be a conservative?” responses actually have warrant. People replying to her tweet echo the idea that conservatism is about maintaining some aspect of tradition. In reality, conservatism is not about individual freedoms, which is what Zhu refers to in her tweets.
What Is Conservatism?
Ultimately, conservatism has nothing to do with the split between authoritarianism or libertarianism, which more frequently concerns itself with individual rights. Like all of politics and like most things in general, it lies on a spectrum. When people refer to conservatism they’re referring to a range of opinions and behaviors both political and personal.
What Zhu and her fans don’t seem to understand is that depending on a person’s degree of libertarianism, their conservatism may be either personal or political. Zhu’s conservatism is obviously personal, rather than political. However, many of her followers clearly adhere to the more authoritarian bent of social conservatism.
Zhu also fails to pick up on the connotation of conservative in America happens to be. In America, conservatism brands itself as authoritarian and concerns itself with maintaining a strict moral society. The way Zhu acts online, most conservatives would consider liberal. That partly, perfectly describes what Zhu happens to be. She is a left-libertarian with conservative personal values and politically liberal values.
Politics as Social Clubs
Humans have always had a tendency to treat politics like social clubs. This is not limited to political parties either, which are a fantastic magnified example of this quirk in human interaction. There is “liberal media” and “conservative media” which goes far beyond just news media.
It’s even the movies people watch. Think of the key demographic differences in terms of the audience between Black Panther and a Lifetime movie series. We see the same characteristics in music and even food and communities. This adherence to certain social roles goes hand in hand with echo-chambers and excluding people over even a small difference in real or perceived political belief.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet in 1989. Since then, people have used it to connect to others, navigate geopolitical issues, trade commodities, disseminate subversive information, exchange currency, and improve the economic mobility of its poorest users.
The internet has also birthed some incarnations that straddle the line of constitutional legality and free speech. In the early 2000s, the internet was still somewhat of a Wild West. The Silk Road, Reddit, and even YouTube were completely lawless. They let new ideas mature and allowed communities to congregate in ways they were unable to in the physical world.
But with the existence of such freedom and flourishing comes enclaves, cliques, and echo chambers. One example of this is the website Conservapedia.
The site covers a variety of topics ranging from the mainstream conservative issues of abortion, feminism, and gambling, to more left-field topics like music, video games, and “overrated sports stars”. Conservapedia writes these articles with a staunch conservative lean.
Their content goes beyond simple mainstream or broad conservative ideas and dives specifically into right-wing traditionalism and reactionary leanings. As Conservapedia defines, a conservative “is someone who promotes moral and economic values beneficial to all. A conservative is willing to learn and advocate the insights of economics and the logic of the Bible for the benefit of everyone else. A conservative favors conserving value by not giving handouts to anyone who does not really need them.”
Conservapedia makes no secrets about its bias. Not only in name but in outright action and writing they are almost comically conservative. “Conservatism” is a broad category that any individual may look at or express in a multitude of different ways.
The truth is, conservatism isn’t one ideology. Rather, it’s a group of ideologies—political, moral, fiscal, and religious—which the label conservative accurately describes.
Conservapedia has articles on what one can naively assume are apolitical topics. These include useless college majors, addiction, and love. Even these aren’t bereft of progressivism or conservatism, according to Conservapedia. They believe, on the other hand, that atheistic indoctrination is to blame for useless college majors.
Indulgent liberalism, allegedly, has caused nearly a dozen different addictions. The author suggests depression, anxiety, guilt, and regret are morally degenerative personal missteps for which conservatism offers the cure. Love is a basic and universal emotion that has the capability to bring the world together.
However, according to Conservapedia, atheism is unable to explain love’s phenomenology.
Conservapedia criticizes every genre of music from a conservative lens. Particularly, they are critical of liberal values in rap and pop. Related, they also talk about real and imagined satanic, pagan, and anti-Christian rock music. In their musical apologetics, they place a heavy existence on Christian forms of rap, rock, and metal. But in reality, it turns out there is no correlation between chord progression and political ideology.
Too Strong a Division
Politics, for most people, has near nothing to do with a person’s personal taste; but the way the media and pundits present it, it can seem like that’s all politics involves. What Conservapedia doesn’t understand, and what Kathy Zhu and her fans don’t understand, is that conservatism, existent or not, should practically be only about a fourth of the components that make up a person’s political identity. And for most people who are not directly involved in politics or activism as a passion or career, politics should thus be even less of a concern.
Loving Barack Obama does not mean one has to love Beyonce, and likewise, a love of President Trump should never prevent the purchase of a Black Panther movie ticket. This division, running as specific as pop culture, is one of the biggest detriments to real change that we must overcome.
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