I’m a libertarian-leaning conservative. I don’t talk about this at the museum, ever. It’s not because I’m ashamed of it; rather, the politics there are already so bizarre and unmanageable that people throwing their personal convictions into the soup might cause the stove to explode.
It interests me, though, how our visitors view me in my role as a volunteer at a museum dedicated to a minority demographic. Our visitors fall comfortably into two basic categories, and both view me differently:
1. Radical Libertarians: Our special interest group had a notoriously terrible experience with previous versions of the U.S. government, so it’s not surprising that gun-toting, extreme right-wingers make up some of our demographic. They LOVE our collection of bows and spear throwers, and their children are often more versed in using them than I am. They’re usually part-time “doomers” eager to hear about what plants you can eat if you’re forced to sleep rough after some disaster, or how the ancients tanned deer skins.
These people consistently peg me as a liberal sissy just because I’m a volunteer. I mean, sure, GOING to a museum is one thing, but WORKING at a museum WITHOUT PAY? What am I, a commie? As one old guy told me when I told him I was a volunteer: “So, out doing’s Obama’s work, are you?”
2. New Age Bleeding-Heart Liberals: These are almost always Baby Boomers and, by extension, former hippies. They have usually adopted a bastardized form of our interest group’s traditional spirituality in the absence of any cultural roots or traditions of their own. They lecture their children in front of me about how we need to “go back to the earth,” away from the corporations and capitalists who have spoiled it and forced vulnerable peoples into poverty.
I find these people very nice but rather pathetic. They are often vegans and so peg me as dangerously right wing the minute I start to talk about our interest group’s hunting traditions. It doesn’t help that I consider it part of my job to dispel the romanticism that has become attached to our interest group’s history and culture. These people often adhere to a utopian spirituality that involves all sorts of prehistoric prophecies (real and invented), and I try to put those into historical context. It doesn’t usually go well.
As you may or may not know, these two groups are a warhead’s-length away from thermonuclear war in modern America. However, by the flourish of some divine hand, these two groups co-exist and fraternize openly on our tours and at our events. People who would normally need to be held apart by riot police stand in the same hot dog line at our festivals and talk about the weather.The entire environment is so unbelievably bizarre that going to this little museum is like stepping through the looking-glass. Special interests sometimes make strange bedfellows. The whole country could learn something from this, somehow.
What’s interesting to me is that each group views me as belonging to the opposite group. To be honest, my libertarian, free-market ideas are a little bit offended by working without pay (“volunteering”). I do have a “real” (paying) job, but it doesn’t pay much. There are days I don’t know why I do it.
Ultimately, I guess it’s because it’s so FUN. The off-the-wall politics, the weird answering machine messages from our schizophrenic members, the little events we struggle to keep going, the small group of people devoting their time to keep this little place running, the informal atmosphere of people ringing our doorbell to get in for tours–well, I love it.
It’s an escape. And I think it’s important. That’s justification enough.