Friday, October 21, 2005

Chapter 2: Misunderstanding the Conservative Viewpoint

Dr. Lakoff describes "Strict Father Morality" as the Belief that "The World is a Dangerous Place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The World is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore they must be made good."

This description of the Conservative mindset (or Frame) is fairly accurate. It also closely resembles the real world conditions observed: It can be empirically shown that people are killed or injured by natural calamities, disease, wars, criminals, accidents and irresponsible behavior. Thus the world is, in fact, dangerous, and has been for centuries and is likely to remain so. Likewise it can be empirically demonstrated that People must compete for natural resources, be it by warfare, barter or by the more civilized method of a monetary system.  In addition there are obvious differences in the talents and abilities of all individuals, which will enable them to excel in some areas and lead them to fail in others. In order to establish a civilized society, some rules of conduct (right and wrong) must be established to enable individuals to predict the societal response to a given behavior. There is no civilized nation that has endured that lacked these rules, and the fall of the Roman Empire gives testament to how important they are to the continuation of a society. Finally, anyone who has cared for a 2 year child knows that they lack knowledge of right and wrong, and teaching them such knowledge is as vital for their survival in society as it is for the survival of the society. Hence, as Dr. Lakoff says: “Preserving and extending the conservative moral system (Strict Father Morality) is the highest priority”In short, the conservative world view is in tune with empirically collected facts about the common reality we inhabit.

Dr. Lakoff errs in interpreting “Strict Father Morality” because  he attempts to understand the motives and actions  of conservatives in terms of (moral) absolutes, instead of considering them to be the result of living in an environment of trade-offs such as the one presented by the real world. Lakoff arrives at these conclusions because he assumes anything considered to be beneficial or “good” by a conservative value system, is also automatically considered “morally right” by conservatives as well. This is, in fact, more axiomatic of Progressive thinking and the Progressive Frame. Conservatives believe that trade-offs are integral in life, and as such, may accept an “immoral system” if it produces beneficial results that outweigh (in the conservatives opinion) the perceived detriments of the system. Conversely, a Conservative may condemn a “moral” system, if it achieves results that they find to be detrimental or immoral. In the end, Conservatives concede, they cannot have their cake and eat it too, and sometimes unpleasant decisions are required. Conservatives also believe that there are degrees to any process, and degrees to any outcome, so they may find one degree of a process acceptable and a different degree unacceptable. Dr. Lakoff’s descriptions of Conservative Beliefs deny the existence of moral and physical trade-offs, and assume an absolute moral principle is in operation.

Dr. Lakoff asserts that The Strict father model assumes “ that the only way to teach kids obedience – that is, right from wrong—is through punishment, painful punishment, when they do wrong” Lakoff misses the fact that this is a trade-off, where the conservative will weigh the system against the result. Few conservatives believe that painful punishment should be administered in anger and few believe there is no such thing as child abuse. Most Conservatives believe in using both a system of rewards as well as a system of punishments (including physical punishments) to teach obedience to children, based on a given systems effectiveness with a given child.

Conservatives believe that “it is moral to pursue your self-interest” because “if everyone pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by an invisible hand—that is, by nature – just naturally” Lakoff applies this reasoning ad-nauseam when contemplating the poor. Consequently he says conservatives believe “The Poor, therefore, deserve to be poor and serve the wealthy. The wealthy need and deserve poor people to serve them.” and “The Wealthy have earned their wealth, that they are good people who deserve it”

Conservatives believe that Free Market Capitalism naturally results in a more efficient distribution of resources, resulting in more wealth produced at lower costs, than what might be obtained via other systems. Empirical examination of modern economies and the spectacular failures of communist systems demonstrate this belief to be in line with the real world.  However, it does not follow that pursuit of self-interest (economic or otherwise) is considered by conservatives as a moral good or absolutely beneficial under all circumstances. As Lakoff himself suggests, conservatives believe the operation of Free Markets is a natural phenomenon, without a moral significance. Most would consider sunlight to be beneficial and therefore good, but it doesn’t follow that sunlight is morally good. In general, conservatives are opposed to “if it feels good, do it” and other such self-interest first philosophies. Conservatives who are Strict-Father Christians will deny that the pursuit of self-interest is moral in any sense. Free-Market Capitalism is supported by Conservatives, not because of its moral implications, but because it provides a wider prosperity while maintaining an individuals freedom to make choices. The perceived benefits outweigh the (immoral) incentive that is provided to act selfishly. Social Darwinism is not a mainstream conservative philosophy and most conservatives recognize graft and crime present in the system (which they do feel is immoral and against the law) but accept that as a tradeoff for the other benefits.

“A do-gooder is someone who is trying to help someone else rather than herself and is getting in the way of those who are pursuing their self-interest. Do-gooders screw up the system”

Conservatives believe that individuals know what is in their self-interest better than 3rd parties, and that unless those 3rd parties take the time and expend the effort to find out what the other people want, there is a good chance their “help” will be a hindrance, though this may not always be the case. Conservatives do not consider helping to be immoral, any more than they consider self interest to be moral. They merely recognize that there is a cost of knowledge attached to helping and the term “do-gooder”, when used with a negative connotation, implies the person doing the “helping” is doing so in a way that defeats the purpose. In other words, Conservatives do not believe progressives have perfect empathy. This is yet another conservative belief that can be bolstered by facts from history.

Conservatives have a moral code that puts “Western Culture above non-Western Culture, America above other nations.”

Conservatives believe that American Culture has produced “better” results than other cultures based on factors of human freedom, prosperity, and security. Conservatives do put America First, but not for moral reasons. Instead conservatives believe that they are citizens of a Sovereign Nation and value the freedom, prosperity, and security it provides, and do not feel making unbeneficial compromises that endanger that freedom, prosperity or security is wise. In other words, conservatives make a tradeoff between wanting their nation to act “morally”, and ensuring they continue to have a nation.

Dr. Lakoff says Conservatives believe “Nature is a resource for prosperity. It is there to be used for human profit” In yet another Tradeoff, Conservatives acknowledge that survival is a matter of using the environment to create goods and satisfy wants and needs, and that there is not alternative to doing this. However, how much it is done is a matter of degree. Conservatives want the environment to be used enough that there is prosperity, but recognize that complete and wanton destruction of the environment will not be sustainable. It is a tradeoff, which Dr. Lakoff again states as an absolute moral rule.

“The moral order is all too often extended to men above women, whites above non-whites, Christians above non-Christians, Straights above Gays”

All of this is in conflict with the teachings of Christianity believed by most conservatives. Western Cultures were among the first non-tribal cultures to open doors to equality to women (Suffrage), other races (ending Slavery in the United States AND the British ending it around the world), and other religions (Religious Freedom), and these actions were all undertaken for moral reasons derived from “Strict Father Morality.” For instance, the Founding Father’s “Strict father morality” dictated the freeing of the slaves, but they made a tradeoff between ending slavery and creating an enduring nation. They understood they could not have both. When conservatives put “Western Culture” first it is because of the perceived benefits of that culture vs. what other cultures have to offer. If all cultures were equal, it would not matter if your daughter was raised under Islamic Law and Customs or American Law and Customs. However, if presented a choice, many would be very clear on which one they preferred and why.

Christianity teaches its followers to love all people regardless of religion (for instance the parable of the Good Samaritan) or race, and promotes a partnership between men and women using complementary roles that take into account the differences between the sexes. No one is presumed morally superior to anyone else; Christianity teaches that everyone is a sinner in the eyes of God. It should also be noted even in the case of Straight vs. Gay, the homosexual act is believed to be a sin, not the homosexual him or herself. And many conservatives consider the tradeoff of considering homosexuality as a sin with the value of individual freedom, and are willing to support Civil Unions and tolerate the behavior.

As can be seen by the above, Lakoff entirely misses the Conservative tendency to weigh options against their moral and practical ramifications. This implies that progressives make no such distinctions. This results in a progressive black and white categorization of behavior, where the only acceptable solutions are those that have both a moral means and a moral end as judged by a progressive value system. The idea of a compromise is an anathema to them, and further supports the idea that they see no need to make tradeoffs.



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