Philosophy Book Club: Going Down

Going Down

Full Disclosure: John Tuepker was my high school history teacher and is also the uncle of Philosophy Matters contributor Fr. Jimmy Morrison.

Wide Ranging

Although I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book, what I found was a well-researched, thorough, and strong argument presented in a logical order, though the passion often overflows into exuberance on the pages. Often the text would grow larger, bolder, and more capitalized, clearly signaling the important messages, but verging on distracting at times.

One of my favorite things about this book was the attention it gave to the history of politics in this country, with an eye toward how it shaped future events. It sometimes felt like Tuepker was finally able to say the things he was never able to say while teaching in a public high school! Hands down, it is the most definitive and sustained attack against the main ideas of the Republican party that I have ever read.

Going Down covers so much material that I realized it was coming up in almost all of the conversations I was having during the time that I was reading it! The breadth of this book, without sacrificing depth, is admirable. I also was very appreciative of the way Tuepker was able to weave his own life narrative into the discussion of these topics that might otherwise have been abstract. Instead, all of the policies and bills and reforms were shown in the light of why they matter and who they impact, making the message all the more powerful.

Becoming A Democrat

Reading this book, I’ve found that my political outlook changed in a way similar to that of the author, and I think that pausing to reflect on this is important to the overall ideas being discussed. We both began our lives as Republicans, but through our education and work with community-oriented organizations like Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, we both became Democrats.

For me, an extremely important part of this process was travelling and seeing more of the world. I’ve gotten to see a wide variety of countries and states with living conditions from the most lavish to the most down-trodden. One of the things that really started to stand out to me was how much of your life was simply based on chance: where you were born, when you were born, who your family was. Of course there are heroic stories of people overcoming all kinds of horrible circumstances; however, these are the exception, and almost always also due to other chance happenings.

This forever changed the beliefs of my childhood that every person was where they were in life because of how smart they were or how hard they worked. These things do matter, of course, but not nearly to the degree that I had imagined. This realization was followed by an increased awareness of the importance of helping others who haven’t been as fortunate as I have, and that has dictated much of what I have aimed to do with my life.

Tuepker touches on this theme in his book, but doesn’t discuss it as much as I would have liked. For me, thinking about why someone moves toward more liberal ideology is an important key for thinking about where our country is and how it got there. But I digress…

On Accepting Reality

Another major theme of the book is the basic lack of acknowledgment of reality from the Republican party, by and large. This is evident ranging from discussions about energy policy and global climate change all the way to education. We’ve all heard these arguments ad nauseum, but it’s probably most prominent in discussions of global warming. Despite the large majority of scientists agreeing that humans are contributing to the pace of global climate change, most conservatives seem to out right deny that it is a problem. More recently, this was symbolized well by Karl Rove seemingly unwilling to concede Ohio to Obama even though all news stations, including Fox News, had called the state for him.

Part of the problem is that, especially with the rise of the internet, it’s easier than ever to find some “source” that supports even the craziest ideas and conspiracy theory. Working first hand in the field of education, I have also seen how much difficulty many people have with evaluating the credibility of a particular source.

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There seems to be a type of feedback loop where people end up with a belief and then only see evidence to support them. We see what we’re looking for but aren’t open to the things we’re not expecting, or even filter out those ideas that might contradict our belief system. This is true to some degree for everyone, but seems at least somewhat more prevalent for Republicans – and I say that in large part because of Fox News.

Tuepker is particularly strong in calling everyone out on this issue, starting in the introduction:

“Americans themselves have become ignorant, lazy, and unhealthy, generally lacking in the kind of value system that preserves a society for the future.”

One of the things made very clear throughout this book is that everyone can stand to take another look at the situation we find ourselves in today. It’s extremely easy to plug our ears, cover our eyes, and go on about our lives pretending like there are no problems, but as we saw with the recession of 2008, that only leads to bigger problems. It’s difficult to self-reflect on short-comings, as a person or as a culture, and Tuepker truly stands out here.

Welfare State?

As much as I agree with much of what Tupeker writes in this book, I find that he is perhaps more liberal than I am in many ways as well. Although I label myself a Democrat, that’s probably not fully accurate, and I would be better represented by some other third party.

I do share the fear of many Republicans that if all of the policies suggested by liberals (and Tuepker, in this book) were enacted, that this would lead to increased dependence on the government. And this belief is also based on what I have experienced while working with underprivileged communities. I’ve experienced people who felt entitled to government help, who intentionally had more children in order to receive higher welfare checks, and who were more than happy to live off government handouts and would rather not bother with a job.

But let me be clear, just like the heroes who have pulled themselves up from nothing, those who choose to feel entitled to support are also in the minority.

While I passionately believe in helping my fellow human beings, I do believe there is a line where we can ask too much of others for that support, and thus expect too much as well. There must be a middle ground, though. I am confident that it is possible to create systems that offer help and support to those truly in need without going so far as to encourage reliance on that support. I’m not claiming I know where that middle ground is, but if I walked away from this book with one fear, it was that I didn’t feel Going Down addressed concerns such as this.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend buying and reading this book!

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