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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Conservative Advantage

#2.  But don't liberals value authority, loyalty, and purity as much as conservatives?

Let's define liberal and conservative.  That's difficult because of various uses of the words not only in America and Europe and US and Canada, but also within the US itself.  European and Canadian use of "liberal" generally focuses on free market without government regulations but also accountable government without class differences.  Even deeply conservative Americans promote liberalism in Eastern Europe, China, and the mid-East--in fact in every country but their own.  "Socialism"in Europe (as in the Labor Party of UK or the New Democratic Party of Canada) promotes the free market but also government programs to "level the playing field," i.e. promote greater economic equality in opportunity and results. Soviet and Chinese "communism" is the market in which the Party (controlling the State) has control of capital and profits and should not be confused with socialism as it has been defined in America or Europe.

One of my mentors, Saul Alinsky, much maligned by Newt Gingrich who clearly does not know who or what he is talking about, attacked liberals and liberalism in America as rhetoric without substance and talk without action.  He was no socialist however.  He decried the American welfare system for creating dependence as would any conservative.  But he strongly believed in political and economic justice that could only be attained through organizing, both at the work place and at the living place, to hold both industry and government accountable.

The Founders of the American Republic accepted and provided for "factions" (Hamilton's term), but not parties. They ensured accountability by structuring government as a balance of powers, local and national, legislative, executive, and judicial, with a clear distinction between cultures/religions and the political space wherein private self-interests (including industries) could be contained.

But in the transition from Republic to World Power (Empire?), two contesting parties have become predominant, both beholden to large donations by the private sector (especially wealthy individuals, large industries, and their lobbying arms).  So we are in the throws of polarization, competing but similar gangs and large monied players that control the political process.

Haidt would reduce the polarization in discourse and hopefully in policy not so much through "framing" political language by attention to ideas of child-rearing, cognitive therapy, and culture (a la George Lakoff), but by recognition of the six biological foundations of morality that influence politics.  Because conservatives use all six fairly equally and liberals mainly use only three, liberals are at a disadvantage and need to learn to appeal to the other three, i.e. authority, loyalty, and purity.  Haidt has used this understanding to critique and write political speeches for candidates that help them articulate their policies and make them more appealing.

Reflecting on this, I propose a diagram that may help in understanding the polarization of ideas that advance present policy towards overcoming that polarization by having people on either side appreciate  people on the other side.

Accepting Haidt's framework, I think that Liberals use all six foundations as much as Conservatives.  They too appeal to authority (just a different one than Conservatives).  They too value loyalty--but they choose a different group with whom they most want a good reputation.  And they too suffer from "political correctness" and see themselves as pure (e.g. in eating, in conservation, in language).  Certainly it would help civil discourse if the various players understood their own interests and values and how these related to persons they see in the other camp.


But frankly, as much as I hold to the importance of language and other forms of symbolic behavior, I do not think that framing arguments or writing speeches will make much of a difference.  Our words and worldviews are captive of the institutions we have built and take their meanings within the structures to which we have uncritically committed ourselves.  The parties now dominate our politics including all its governmental and nongovernmental agencies; our economics are controlled in a corporate hegemony consisting of Wall Street, the Chamber of Commerce, and wealthy private interest lobbying associations and foundations; an American religion of economic growth structures our culture, contained in churches led by mega-church populist preachers, denominational bishops, and media moguls.

Discourse and language alone will not influence the American civil religion as Robert Bellah has long understood.  Nor will it influence our political-economy.  Only independent, self-determining organizations will challenge the institutions and structures of our society.  Voluntary associations that start with personal self-interests, shared values, and community affiliations through which people learn and fight for their long-ranged common interests and values will not only hold present institutions accountable, but restructure them to be more inclusive and just.  But of course that takes a lot of nitty-gritty work in the work place, in the churches, and on in the streets.

So as much as I appreciate Haidt's project, without the restoration of true politics and rescuing it from partisan political, economic, and cultural institutions, I do think it will not solve the American dilemma. Thoughtful inquiry in academia can assist, but is hardly sufficient.

Many of us voted for Obama as a change we could believe in.  I do not regret my vote, my financial support, or my canvassing.  But I know that unless the institutions, including the parties and government agencies change, American democracy and republicanism will not achieve its potential and will continue to sink into the plutocracy it has become.

Having fought government for over 30 years and then worked for government for over 14 years, I can see the changes that must be made and I believe I see how they might happen. But that is for another blog later.

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