By Jacob Carmody
Special to the Pittsburgh Current
Growing up, I loved superheroes. I still do, as a matter of fact. I think the biggest reason I gravitated towards the idea of superheroes is that no matter what evils and villainy they face, superheroes almost always do the right thing. Even when they do not do what is right, when they falter and fail, they eventually redeem themselves and become the heroes we need them to be. This seemingly moral absolutism fascinated me, and I ended up adopting this into my own beliefs. Perhaps it was a means to cope with my underlying depression and anxiety, but I wanted to be like these heroes I read about, and a desperate need to know what was right and what was wrong grew in me. There was a right and there was a wrong, a good and an evil, a light and a darkness, and everything else in between would somehow find its way to either side.
For a while this was easy. The right thing was what helped people, what made everyone safe at the end of the day. Whatever would end with you riding into the sunset with the world sleeping soundly was what you wanted to do. Whatever caused hurt and pain was what to avoid. What made these beliefs even easier to digest was that I grew up with little to challenge any of them. I was, and still am, a white straight male who lives in the suburbs of Pennsylvania and went to private Catholic schools my entire life. I had a set list of rules that defined what was good and just, what was needed to be good in this world. You were to go to church, follow the teachings of the Bible, and just be a good person. It was never complicated, and yet also never felt like it was the truest form of good one could achieve.
Once I reached high school, where we were still being taught to be good Catholics and follow the rules, I began to stray from what I previously believed. The more I learned about God and the Bible, the less I believed in a being who, being all-powerful, could also be all good when there was so much evil lingering in the world. Sure, my teachers and pastors had explanations for everything, I just did not believe anymore. I decided I was agnostic. I would appreciate the Church’s teachings while being able to disagree and question what I was taught. Where I thought this would bring me clarity, it only led me further into a state of moral disarray. I felt like I had the freedom to not have to follow whatever I was told unless I truly believed in what was being taught. I chose what was right, not anyone else. Unfortunately, I really had no clue what I believed in beyond the Church and God, so I turned to other sources for answers. Sources that seemed so certain and definite in what the world needed. More specifically, I turned to conservativism and politically right-winged ideologies.
Everything these radical conservative activists and politicians said made sense to my impressionable young mind. Abortion was an unjust evil, affirmative action was unfair, capitalism created the best opportunities for people, illegal immigrants were criminals by law. FOX News and other right-winged news outlets told me what was right, that you cannot let these ‘liberal snowflakes’ ruin our great nation with evils such as socialism. I had found a fight to support, a fight that felt right because it defined what was good and what was bad by going beyond what a deity that I did not even really believe in said was right. Not to mention that most of the people in my community were also conservative and held similar views. I thought I had found the villains of the story, the people and ideas the heroes were to oppose, and the answers I was looking for so long for seemed to be revealed.
If that last bit gave you a sense of distaste for my person, I assure you I do not enjoy reminiscing in how I was. Not because I think conservatives are wrong about everything or are evil people. Most conservatives I personally know are genuinely good and kind people who want our country and everyone in it to thrive and do not attribute themselves to the radical ideologies I upheld. I simply realized how narrow-minded I was at the time. Albeit I was a straight white male who never had so much difficulty beyond my own mental health issues. I never needed for anything I could not reasonably obtain through my successful parents and comfortable living conditions. Socially and financially, I was, I am, the definition of being privileged, and that blinded me into becoming radicalized on issues I did not truly understand.
Only when I went to college did my understanding of the world change. I was no longer in the comfort of my predominately rich and white suburb. I was in Pittsburgh, where everyone and everything was so much more complex. People of different races, genders, sexualities, and overall experiences coexisted, and I began to understand issues of racism, sexism, and discrimination more clearly. I could no longer hide behind the political views I once held because now I was interacting with people who knew firsthand what was really going on in this country, and it was a sickening realization. Luckily, my family is relatively diverse regarding politics. While some of my family was similarly conservative as I was, while some were less extreme and much more left-leaning, making this transition easier to digest. No one hated each other for supporting different parties, because we were family. Nonetheless, the beliefs and ideologies I held so strongly were more fallible than I realized. As I adopted these new views, I still felt I had less and less of an understanding of what was right. How could these beliefs that seemed so indestructible at the time fall apart so easily?
While my eyes widened to better understand these injustices I was ignorant to, I still felt challenged in my morals. I grew up being so privileged in every aspect of my life and did not face the difficulties and evils so many others faced. I recognized these injustices, and I did not know what to do. Was I to simply say I stood against injustice? Did I need to march with everyone in the streets in protest? All of this seemed right as well, but I still felt like my morals were incomplete and in disarray. I knew had a duty as someone who was not being discriminated to do right by those who were. I desperately wanted to do the right thing, and I still do today, but I was not right-winged or conservative anymore, and I was also not liberal nor left. I no longer had a side to tell me what to do and what to believe. I was again lost, searching for answers.
I hoped for so long I had these answers. I had turned to religion, to politics, and to my community, but the more I found answers the more I had questions. I looked to everyone else who seemed they knew what to do, but when those close to you are so politically diverse, like your brother being strongly conservative while your best friend is an Anarcho-Communist, the conflict hardly resolves. Through all my experiences and understandings of the world around me, there is so much that I do not understand. I always wanted to like the characters I read about, to be the hero of the story. Even though I could not fly around in a colorful costume, I wanted to help defend the innocent and stand against evil. I wanted good and evil to be clearly defined and the actions to stand with the good be even clearer. Honestly, I do not know if they ever will be. The world is so much more complex than that, so for now, being who I am, all I can do, all any of us can do, is to continue to try to do right. We must strive to be the heroes of our own stories, and hope that it is enough.
Jacob Carmody is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh from Mars, Pennsylvania. He is studying English Writing and Information Science. Besides writing he is also a self-taught artist, a below-average skateboarder, and an aspiring graphic novelist.