Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lean to the right: Author argues it comes with age

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Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Author, author: Ron Lipsman shows off his most recent book.
Rockville resident Ron Lipsman used to be a liberal. But in 1972, he took a right turn and hasn’t looked back.

Lipsman writes about the phenomenon of growing older and growing more conservative in his latest book ‘‘Liberal Hearts and Conservative Brains: The Correlation between Age and Political Philosophy.” The Senior Associate Dean of the College of Computer, Math and Physical Sciences at the University of Maryland, he has written 11 books on math and computing. This is his first foray into the realm of political writing.

‘‘It’s always been an avocation of mine,” he says of politics.

Being a conservative and at the same time deeply entrenched in both the Jewish community and academia, which Lipsman writes are ‘‘overwhelmingly liberal,” caused him to explore his political convictions more thoroughly.

‘‘Am I typical? Are they typical? What’s going on here?” Lipsman says of the curiosities that drove him to write the book.

He begins the book with a comprehensive examination of what it means to be liberal or conservative, and moves on to discuss the past, present and future of the liberal-conservative divide in America. His ultimate goal is to prove that, of the people who switch political orientation as they age, many more go from being liberal to being conservative than vice versa.

Lipsman makes this argument largely with anecdotal evidence and vignettes about his own life experience. He describes the work as a long op-ed piece.

In one of those personal vignettes, Lipsman writes about his son having to be bused to a school he says was ‘‘manifestly inferior” to the one he originally attended. Lipsman says and his wife decided to buy their first house in Adelphi, Md., so their son could attend an excellent public school. But a new busing mandate handed down by the Baltimore Federal Court took that opportunity away.

‘‘I would say that event caused me to rethink all my political axioms,” Lipsman says.

He began changing from a liberal to a conservative, or, as he puts it in his book, he was moving away from idealism and toward pragmatism.

When people are young, they have no sense of mortality, Lipsman argues in the book, and as a result, all things seem possible. He says they often think they can change the world and attack such global problems as war and poverty.

‘‘They are young and the (often harsh) realities of life have not yet pressed down upon them,” he writes. ‘‘...But waiting to greet them in that rosy future is the sobering image of a mature person who has been kicked in the teeth a few times by the journey that we call life.”

As people age, Lipsman observes, they learn that they must pick their battles so they can make progress where progress is possible. This, he says, may mean you focus more on getting your local traffic light synchronized rather than on solving global hunger.

Lipsman has long been interested in the phenomenon of how political leanings change with age, but he says he feared in the past that writing this book would garner negative reactions from his many liberal colleagues.

‘‘Writing this book 20 years ago wouldn’t have done my career any good,” he says.

Now, however, he is more secure in his job and the political climate in academia has loosened to allow more points of view. He says he has not experienced backlash from this project.

In addition to the more than 70 scientific research articles Lipsman has published, he has two more academic books in the works. He has no further plans to write about politics, but is considering a novel.

Lipsman hopes this book changes a few minds about politics. He is careful to note, though, that there are positives about liberalism.

‘‘Young people should be idealistic,” Lipsman says, adding that they do sometimes change the world.

‘‘If you’re still idealistic when you’re 75 years old, more power to you, but you’re not facing reality.”

‘‘Liberal Hearts and Conservative Brains” is available for purchase online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.