Thursday, August 07, 2008

"The Price of Right" by Alicia Morgan - An Overview - Part 3

Conservatives and liberals agree on the need for moral behavior in society, but they disagree on the methods used to obtain it. Conservatives believe that the way to enforce moral behavior is by reward and punishment - the part of the Strict Father frame that says that reward and punishment are the tools a good father uses to instill self-discipline and self-reliance in his children. The children do not need to figure out what is right or wrong for themselves. As “good” children, they need to do as they are told by their legitimate authority, their father, who knows better than they do what is right and wrong. Then, when they are grown, they will be self-disciplined as a result of being disciplined by their father, and will become an authority figure themselves. By being self-reliant and self-disciplined, they will do well in society, and be rewarded financially for it. This is how character is built. If a child is not sufficiently disciplined or self-reliant, then his/her punishment is financial hardship. And if a child is not punished for a lack of discipline and/or self-control, then he/she will never learn to be “good.” This is why conservatives believe that a social safety net is not only useless and wasteful, but immoral! Conservatives believe providing for the poor only serves to encourage and reward “bad” behavior. Not only that, but it punishes the “good” people who have played by the rules by making them support the “bad” people.

A broad generalization of the difference between the conservative and liberal worldviews can be described as vertical versus lateral, in that in the conservative view, authority is carried out through order, like a stack of blocks, so that if any person moves out of their appointed place, the entire structure will fall. The liberal value structure is lateral – authority is conferred by purpose, not merely for its own sake (the sake of hierarchy and order) and does not need to be defined by dominance to be effective. The prime values of empathy and responsibility extend to and from all members of the group. Thom Hartmann calls it “the ‘me’ society versus the ‘we’ society”. In conservative economic theory, if each person looks to their own self-interest, the interests of all will benefit. So the conservative is expected to take care of ‘me and mine’. The problem with that is that anyone who is not considered ‘me and mine’ becomes ‘the other’ – not like us. And this, I believe, is the core cause of injustice, hate and war.

In Dr. Lakoff’s analysis of the two models, he explains how the seemingly contradictory positions taken by conservatism (which correlates to the Strict Father metaphor) fit together when viewed through that frame, and why a fact that does not fit into the frame will not be accepted as such at all - it will simply slide off. All people have and utilize both frames in different aspects of their lives, but the stronger or more dominant one frame is, the more it will tend to neutralize the traits corresponding to the other frame. Republicans long ago discovered that framing could be used to connect the conservative agenda with the deepest-held beliefs, needs, and fears of a large segment of the population.

These ideas helped me to understand why it was very difficult if not impossible to change the mind of the people who fall into the category of that 23-25%. Any information that does not mesh with the frames in place is literally not heard. In his book Don’t Think Of An Elephant, Dr. Lakoff states:

Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts that we have – the long-term concepts that structure how we think – is instantiated in the synapses in our brains. Concepts are not things that can be changed just by someone telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and then they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us: Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy or stupid. That’s what happens when progressives just “confront conservatives with the facts.” It has little or no effect, unless the conservatives have a frame that makes sense of the facts.

These ideas helped me to understand why conservatives think the way they do – but how do they get that way in the first place? Why do some people turn out to be fierce liberals, some people turn out to be die-hard conservatives, and others stay somewhere in the middle? Is it nature, nurture, or both? Why is it that brothers and sisters raised by the same parents in the same home under much of the same circumstances can be polar opposites politically? You can, of course, ask the same question about a pair of siblings raised in a home where money was tight. One might respond by spending money freely, claiming “It’s because I grew up poor, and now that I have it I enjoy being able to spend it,” while the other sibling might respond to the same situation by not spending money, and giving the exact same rationale: “I grew up poor, so I’m uncomfortable with spending money.”

Many factors are involved, a mixture that includes the personality you’re born with, the environment you’re raised in, the world you’re exposed to, the critical incidents that happen to you. It’s a mixture of nature and nurture that accounts for a personality type. We all know people who, at times in their lives, make a dramatic, 180 degree shift in outlook. Usually this shift has to do with a seminal event that causes a person to change his/her viewpoint: religious conversion, being robbed or assaulted, losing a job, having a baby, going to war - all can alter a person’s way of thinking. Others change slowly over time through a set of life experiences. Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, that many personality traits are genetically transmitted.

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