Monday, August 11, 2014

The Conservative Mind

Social and political philosophies have tremendous impact on one's world view. One's role in society (should individuality or community have priority), the belief of the purpose of government (to protect our borders or to help people) and the opinions about the healthiest way of life for society (based on freedom to make our own decisions or based on a sense of fairness and equality) are of such fundamental importance that they influence many decisions we make every day. There are two other presumptions even more basic and far reaching than these: the belief of sovereignty of the universe (God or nature), the opinion of the nature of humanity (are we basically good or selfish).

Possibly even more basic that these five aspects of one's paradigm and even more powerful is one's emotional disposition. Emotional baggage can cloud any mind and make a person unsusceptible to reason and fact. Together, these six aspects of one's paradigm impact probably every decision one ever makes.

I propose every belief, every decision and every reaction to life we have can be traced back to one or more of these fundamental suppositions. These beliefs are not usually taken lightly. In fact, we typically have a heavy emotional investment in deeply rooted beliefs. Emotion seems to have a greater impact on our world view than does reason, which suggests we are more emotional creatures than we are rational. Political propaganda demonstrates this emotional component of paradigm quite easily.

We often decide when something is true or untrue simply by our emotional reaction to it even if we have no idea what is going on. On many controversial issues caricatures are invented to represent opponents or opposing ideas, and those caricatures are often criticized or demonized under the pretense the real thing is being destroyed. A cursory look at modern American politics presents one clear picture: Democrats are good and Republicans are bad. Or we might phrase it as liberals are compassionate and conservatives are greedy. Neither of these pictures are actually true but the caricatures presented to us are widely accepted as fact without having to actually know anything about the reality behind them.

Conservatism acknowledges life is fundamentally though tragically unfair. This observation is based on the natural selfishness of human kind - even when poverty or greed or religion or crime are not factors, people still often do selfish things. A desire for security in this environment moves us to the next logical step, that to survive in this unfair world we must protect ourselves. But optimism works simultaneously with the need for security, as proven by our belief that some degree of security can be attained, and this is necessary for the attempt to build our own lives. The optimistic belief that building a life is even possible in an unfair world is the foundation of individual self interest.

Additionally, our social natures lead us to live in groups, often surrounding ourselves with family and friends. The development of civilization has lead us to gather in even larger groups such as towns and cities. But family and friends exacerbate the need to protect ourselves (now including those we love), especially knowing that life is unfair. This increased desire for security moves us beyond a primitive desire to reciprocate harm to an even stronger desire to prevent harm in the first place. This brings us to the necessity for law and the means to enforce it, which we call government.

The desire to survive in this world with family and friends and the means to protect them is grounded in the assumption that one must take initiative in all these aspects of life, which is the seminal American precept of freedom. Religion, when not abused, is often a means of smoothing interactions with others (providing moral and ethical codes) and of retaining a more realistic perspective (we are not the most powerful force in the universe and there are some things our limited intellects may never comprehend). This has undoubtedly contributed to the self-sustainability of society. These observations and assumptions make up the basis of the conservative mentality.

With this frame of mind it is easy to conclude there are things worth believing in and things worth fighting for. The conservative uses several virtues to aid in a productive and secure life. We can frame each virtue has having two sides: freedom and responsibility; self reliance and community living; discipline and compassion; self interest and helping others; self improvement and acknowledging our limitations; faith and tolerance; justice and forgiveness; honor and integrity; competition and cooperation. Experience and history have shown us any aspect of life can be abused, but that such abuse does not automatically negate the value such things bring. Family, individuality, religion, private property and freedom to make one's own decisions are generally all valued by conservatives. This conservative ideal recognizes the unpleasant realities of life while also striving for something better with the realization that good also exists in the world and that good is worth pursuing.

The Modern Liberal appears at odds with each of these tenets of the conservative ideal. We should distinguish between a more traditional liberalism, which actually values individual liberty and other things, and the Modern Liberal. It seems in the paradigm of Modern Liberalism the world can be made fair. The means of accomplishing this universal fairness seems to be the elimination of anything that could cause people to view themselves as different from anyone else. In the leftist worldview disagreement leads to arguing or distrust and, in turn, these things lead to an "us versus them" mentality. In this Modern Liberal mindset, as long as people distinguish themselves from others society will be plagued by poverty, crime, war and injustice. And so the ultimate aim of Modern Liberalism is to destroy anything that a person might call truth so that there is nothing left to cause disagreement, and subsequently any of the social ails that damage society.

Challenges to religion, the concept of family, private ownership of anything, individual liberty, individuality and even the value of human life culminate into a modern, elitist arrogance that rejects anything which conflicts with the ultimate aim of a completely egalitarian society.

Rational thought and the ability to make good decisions are considered a danger to this leftist aim. If you try to distinguish between something that is healthy or unhealthy (i.e., life styles) they call you judgmental or bigoted. If you try to plan ahead and improve the quality of life for those you love they call you uncompassionate. If you take the initiative to create something that benefits others but also try to benefit yourself from it you are called greedy. As long as people are permitted to make their own choices the ideal leftist world-community can never be. And so their conclusion is not that their ideal may be flawed but that anything which detracts from achieving their aims must be destroyed.

Modern Liberalism preaches life is not inherently unfair but is made so by the greedy and selfish - and that the accumulation of wealth is evidence for these societal poisons. This belief assumes people are not naturally selfish but instead are naturally good. The Modern Liberal does not believe fairness is subjective but an innate desire of all - and of course the leftist definition of "fair" is the only one permitted. He/she will gladly embrace the fact that achieving their aim of an egalitarian society requires causing great harm to a great many people because eliminating inequality in the world is inherently good. The pretentious concept of the "greater good" outweighs even common sense solutions to real problems. Any improvement in the quality of life for one person distinguishes him/her from others, which damages the group mentality. And so wealth must be denigrated along with the concept of truth.

The subtle attempts to achieve an egalitarian society begin with tearing down what conservatives believe in (such as portraying the United States as no better than any oppressive country in history) and building up that which conservatives reject (a "terrorist" is really a freedom fighter, an insurgent, or something else more benign sounding - and the only reason we fear them is because of a lack of understanding). The Modern Liberal does these things with a sincere belief that a sense of community can be built with such reach and depth that war, crime, poverty and injustice can eventually and totally be eliminated, that life can be made fair. To achieve this utopia the people of the world must be persuaded to reject any belief that conflicts with this worldview, and in essence reject anything worth believing in.

The not-so-subtle attempts to build this egalitarian society were made famous by the likes Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, Adolph Hitler of Nazi Germany, Mao Zedong of communist China, and others. The sophisticated efforts to build an egalitarian society, often concealed or disguised so as to avoid the stigma of labels such as socialism or communism, are necessarily averse to individual freedom and naturally lead to the oppressive regimes of past communist and socialist governments.

It is not difficult to find evidence in support of these observations. Because conservatives see the world through a perspective that there are things worth valuing we often end up seeing problems with Liberal opinions. Because of these problems we often oppose left wing public policy, from the minimum wage (an attempt to redistribute wealth more in line with a left wing worldview) to welfare (an attempt supposedly to help the poor, but which usually ends up trapping people in a cycle of poverty and family brokenness).

I don't know of anyone who actually opposes helping people. Most of us want to make the world a better place. But what "works" for improving society is also a subjective concept. Conservatives do not accept the naive notion that good intentions must necessarily result in good outcomes. The law of unintended consequences leads conservatives to insist any attempt to help people should result in actually helping them, not harming them, and that efforts must be made to avoid causing harm. To blindly follow the desire to help with little or no effort made to avoid causing harm almost inevitably results in harm.

John Lennon's "Imagine" is a good example of the left wing paradigm. It shows a glimpse of the Modern Liberal's idea of how society should be. As long as one avoids critical thought about what is said in the song the lyrics sounds good. But if one insists on thinking about the song problems arise. Conservatives usually have a different reaction to "Imagine" than do Modern Liberals. Let's take a closer look. On the one hand is Lennon's vision of utopia, and on the other is a common reaction of conservatives.

Original lyrics by John Lennon

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

What conservatives hear

Imagine there's no God,
the material universe is all that exists
imagine we are the highest intelligence
enjoying yourself is the only thing worth doing

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Imagine there's no government, individual ideals, marriage, family or religion
there's nothing worth caring about more than yourself
imagine there is no disagreement on anything
so there's no need to protect yourself

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Never mind this utopia can only be achieved by oppression
Marx and Engels never saw their ideas put into practice
anarchy is the best way to live
under one world order nothing is really worth believing in

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

Smart people don't dig property rights
if you can survive without a community hand out you are greedy and evil
I call you friend or brother while I take whatever you have
I can do what I want when fairness is forced upon you

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Never mind this utopia can only be achieved by oppression
Marx and Engels never saw their ideas put into practice
anarchy is the best way to live
under one world order nothing is really worth believing in

It is doubtful anyone embraces the conservative paradigm 100% as I have described it here. Likewise it is unlikely any Modern Liberal objects to 100%. In fact, we may all borrow to some degree from both or perhaps different world views. Seldom does anyone completely meet the expectations of an ideal to which they subscribe. But the fact remains that patterns emerge in philosophical thought. Large groups tend to form based on certain ideological tenets they share. In American culture the two largest groups are called "right wing" and "left wing," among other labels. Both sides of this battle claim to be working for the improvement of society, which also turns out to be a subjective goal. For conservatives this means protecting the right of the people to make their own decisions as much as possible. This one aim affects countless other decisions, from compulsory government aid and taxes to what should be taught in schools. History shows forcing fairness on the people results is mass misery and in many cases mass murder.

We do not all possess the same desires, talents, ambition, goals or assumptions. We do not all choose to use each day in the same way. No government leader knows what is best for you better than you. Even in an unfair world people can be taught respect and compassion and wisdom and other virtues without an overbearing government forcing upon us a counterproductive one-size-fits-all solution to every problem. Because of the unfair realities of life we have learned to value that which is good. This, again, is subjective but history and experience have taught us the balance between social order and freedom works best when the pendulum sways toward the power of the individual, not toward the power of government.

This is why America's founders took a unique approach in creating the United States government - our constitution does not define each right the citizen enjoys, it establishes the powers and limits of the government. The defacto position of the men who invented the United States was that the people have the right to do what they please as long as they do not cause harm to others. The U.S. government does not have constitutional authority to do what ever it deems necessary for benevolent goals. Our government has a limited purview which is frequently violated in this modern nanny-state environment.

There are admittedly many problems in the world. But conservatives have faith that people who work together are more likely to establish good and just goals and achieve them if only they are allowed to do so. The natural self-interest to survive and live well can produce a productive community of such abundance that prosperity over flows, as evidenced by American capitalism. Government involvement often hinders such aims and even pushes society in the opposite direction. It is true that religion and other organizations can be abused and produce undesirable results. But government suffers from this problem as well. It makes no sense to believe abandoning religion and running to the government for guidance will have any better results.