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Saturday, November 8, 2014

All Politics is Moral

In a reflection on the loss by Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections, George Lakoff remakes his excellent distinction between progressive and conservative moralities which ground diverse political languages, interpretations, and policies. I think his only mistake is to suggest an identity between progressive and the Democratic Party and between conservative and the Republican Party. I, on the other hand, see that not all D's are progressive and some R's still are.

Progressive morality considers freedom as a public good that has a higher priority and is a condition for liberty as an individual good. Conservative morality does not recognize the existence of a public good (as did Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan) or considers the common good or freedom as merely the sum of individuals at liberty to pursue private interests. See Lakoff's discussion of morality and politics here.

I often tell my Cousin Vinnie that his interpretation of the "facts," his view of history, his proposals for action are completely shaped by his values, his system of morality. As are mine. He doesn't acknowledge the role that values are playing in our views of reality and our hopes for the future. He calls me and others who consider themselves progressives as stupid or even evil. But the evil I see is precisely the subordination or identification of the public good to private interests. And the stupidity is in not recognizing the difference.

I do see the Democratic Party as the best vehicle today for my libertarian cultural, socialist economic, and republican political objectives. (Notice please small "l"  "s" and "r" as I have defined them elsewhere and constitutes my definition of "progressive.") But that was not, nor will it necessarily be the case. I have voted for many a progressive Republican and hope I would have been a Republican when Lincoln was chosen president. I have fought against many a reactionary Democrat in the North and the South. I remember that it was a fairly progressive Democrat who widened the Vietnam War, which I consider one the greatest tragedies of my time, and against whom we had to vigorously organize. And in community organizing in Chicago, it was often Mayor Daley and his machine which we had to confront.

I hope that my fellow progressives will not be discouraged, will not become cynical and negative, will not become purist victims of some evil conspiracy, but will continue to act locally and nationally for progressive principles. Surprise! President Obama has clay feet and he never said otherwise. His message of hope in community was and still is right on the mark even though the reactionary rebels from the Southern confederacy have resurged in concert with large private interests of the North. And at bottom there are different warring moralities.

To quote Lakoff: Progressives and conservatives have very different understandings of democracy. For progressives, empathy is at the center of the very idea of democracy. Democracy is a governing system in which citizens care about their fellow citizens and work through their government to provide public resources for all. In short, in a democracy, the private depends on the public. . . .
Conservatives, on the other hand, have a very different view of democracy. For them democracy is supposed to provide them with the liberty to do what they want, without being responsible for others and without others being responsible for them. For them, there is only personal responsibility, not social responsibility. Indeed, providing public resources is, to a conservative, immoral, taking away personal responsibility, making people dependent, lazy, unable to take care of themselves. Removing public resources is seen as providing incentives, and individual liberty is seen as the condition in which you can carry out your incentives.

There is an international competition that has been going on for centuries, even millennia. It is not between sport teams (e.g. the Tories and Whigs, the Republicans and Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists) in which we take sides, place bets, and win and lose in various seasons. It is much more important than that. The question is whether our evolved capacity to empathy and see the other as ourselves can overcome our natural capacity to conquer the other whom we fear--the other clan, the other nation, the other race, the other religion.

Who will win that competition? It's a toss up and will be determined by our collective choice as to who we want to be. We together will choose not only through our political parties, but through our communities, churches, schools, and businesses and in our own personal approach to each other.

That's the morality in politics. We can look at it as a critical danger to be feared by our species in the light of global warming, corporate control, wealth disparity, oppression of women, Islamic statists, and military occupations. I prefer to see it, even in the past election, as a great opportunity to declare who we are and go for our common progressive future.


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