Monday, September 29, 2008

Republicans say to Stock Market Crash, "If you ain't right, get right!": An Explanation of Conservative Morals

So today the plunge of last week started up again in the Stock Market. It seems that the legislation on the table is fundamentally refused by House Republicans, whose belief in "free market" --or something of the like-- is in complete contradiction to bailouts. Or so said the analyst today on "To the Point."

I agree with this assertion; and so, I think, would linguist George Lakoff, author of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. If this post ever gets to George, of course (a boy can dream can't he?), he can amend my assumptions. But I think it is safe to say that Lakoff's categorization of Conservative Morals in "Metaphor, Morality, and Politics," (along with being totally illuminating and badass) shows us what serious trouble we are in here.

"Conservatives regularly chide liberals for not understanding them, and they are right," Lakoff writes. "Liberals don't understand how anti-abortion 'right-to-life' activists can favor the death penalty and oppose reducing infant morality through prenatal care programs" Or, I would ad: How conservatives can ideologically oppose a program (let's stop calling it bailout-- it's metaphorically ugly) against all the global economic theory--hell, global economic fact-- that opposing that legislation will end in financial ruin?

But, it turns out, Lakoff knows how. Through a breakdown of the metaphors used by Conservatives, Lakoff suggests he can breakdown Conservative thought. We think in metaphors is the idea. He suggests that there are "roughly two dozen conceptual metaphors for morality in our conceptual systems." Liberals and conservatives both use these metaphors, but give priority to different ones. Conservative morality is based on "moral strength." Then he outlines how this concept is built. Jumping to the middle, these are the tenets of "moral strength":

  • Doing Evil is Falling.

    The most famous example, of course, is the fall from grace. A major part of the Moral Strength metaphor has to do with the conception of immorality, or evil. Evil is reified as a force, either internal or external, that can make you fall, that is, commit immoral acts.

  • Evil is a Force (either Internal or External)

    Thus, to remain upright, one must be strong enough to "stand up to evil." Hence, morality is conceptualized as strength, as having the "moral fibre" or "backbone" to resist evil.

  • Morality is Strength

    But people are not simply born strong. Moral strength must be built. Just as in building physical strength, where self-discipline and self-denial ("no pain, no gain") are crucial, so moral strength is also built through self-discipline and self-denial, in two ways:

    1. Through sufficient self-discipline to meet one's responsibilities and face existing hardships;
    2. Actively through self-denial and further self-discipline
    . . . . One consequence of this metaphor is that punishment can be good for you, since going through hardships builds moral strength. Hence, the homily "Spare the rod and spoil the child." By the logic of this metaphor, moral weakness is in itself a form of immorality. The reasoning goes like this:
    A morally weak person is likely to fall, to give in to evil, to perform immoral acts, and thus to become part of the forces of evil. Moral weakness is thus nascent immorality -- immorality waiting to happen."

He goes on to describe the finer points of this theory-- how external evil and internal evil are differentiated and combated-- but the basic idea is this: If you ain't right, get right. You are going to have to suffer until you get yourself "right." Once morality is achieved, strength and power are the natural side-effects. Is a little light bulb going off in your head? Here's some more just in case it isn't yet.

This property of Moral Strength is why Republicans support the market-- those who succeed are morally strong. Ipso Facto. They should be left in "natural" conditions so that these strengths are developed independently, and the citizen becomes self-reliant. As Lakoff puts it, the model citizen is: "someone who, through self-discipline and the pursuit of self-interest, has become self-reliant. This means that rich people and successful corporations are model citizens from a conservative perspective. To encourage and reward such model citizens, conservatives support tax breaks [etc]. . . After all, since large corporations are model citizens, we have nothing to fear from them."

How's the bulb now? Have the clouds parted? "Three strikes your out," welfare reform, all of it, are backed by this idea. If you are losing, you aren't right, why should we support you?

So Republicans will never back the losing team. They made the mess, they have to suffer it. It will make them better.

And now we have the Stock Crisis. No golden parachutes. No money to shore up a system that is obviously failing. No mention of the havoc it will reek on all of us.

The fact is that this Stock Crisis is just such a perfect illustration of the failure of moral-strength thinking-- of "free-market economies," of distancing oneself from the losers, from the morally weak-- that there is no way Republicans can metaphorically justify it without rejecting their basic organizing principle.

And that, my friends, is why we are fucked.

For more on Lakoff, here are some of his books and some youtube to satisfy your eyes.
For your ears, some depression era folk music. Get used to it:

Carter Family: "No Depression In Heaven"

Friday, September 26, 2008

Just a little Paulson romance

I loved this little tid-bit from the congressional talks over the $700 billion bailout. From the NY Times:

. . . in the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.

“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.”

Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.”

Now we all know the man can get dramatic, but this is a whole new level. I can't imagine what going on a date with this guy would be like. I just keep thinking of 19th century melodrama, Pelosi, the wry, dry-witted spinster product of some entrenched, centuries-old royalty, and Paulson, a foppish ragamuffin with a streak of true passion for the bill they two shared together, a bill that could never be. Well, maybe someday, but not tonight--when their passion was at its hottest.

"I didn't know you were Catholic Paulson. . . or that you thought I was a Virgin."

There might be more than a few issues they need to talk out.

Beck, from when his passion was at its hottest; or, at least, when he was still finishing his songs by sampling alvin and the chipmunks. Oh, the good ol' days.

"Yr Love is Weird"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On DFW's Struggle with the Illness Depression

So today, while looking through comment responses to Rolling Stone's Rock and Roll Dailies post on David Foster Wallace, I was surprised to find this statement by "John":

"According to his father, David was treated for depression for the last 20 years. His doctor advised him to stop taking medication last year because of the toll the side-effects were taking on him. Following this, his depression returned. Over the past summer, he was hospitalized multiple times, and his even tried electro-convulsive therapy to combat his depression. His father described him as recently being 'very heavily medicated'. And in the end, he could not take it anymore."

I was less surprised by the possibility that this was true (which it is: the New York Times's article on his death mentions it in the penultimate paragraph) as I was that no one had mentioned it here in the blogosphere. Or in my circle of friends. Or in the Wurtzel article I posted about yesterday-- and that was all about depression!

Maybe I didn't hear just because no one thought to mention it, or maybe because I associate with people and artists in a "counter-culture" that decries psycho-pharmacology as false and unnatural; in any case, I feel it is important that we realize that suicide was not the rational conclusion to Wallace's thinking, not the tragi-romantic end that genius necessitates, but that it was the end of a long struggle with something that he, at least, considered a real illness that had need of treatment.

I also think in a culture that, I feel, purports that medication is a normalizer that will steal your true genius away from you, it is important to realize that Wallace was brilliant and medicated. It is only too bad that, in that last year, his depression became unmanageable and the suffering of his illness unbearable.

So, today's song will be from a bastion of depression: Morrissey. I have always had a suspicion that Interesting Drug had something to do with prozac. Along with Torys and everything else. Of course.

"Interesting Drug, the one that you took, admit, it really really helped you"

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why Ask is David Foster Wallace Dead?

I read Elizabeth Wurtzel's piece on the death of David Foster Wallace this morning, and more or less had a meltdown. Not that her article was a fine portrayal of DFW-- really it did not try to say anything on person Wallace was-- but it captured, I think, what it at stake when we look at a life like Wallace's: a sense of hope that accomplishment, strength of thought and mind, will somehow stem despair.
The loss of this dogma is what is grieved by everyone in Wallace's passing, including those of us who didn't know him. It is a grief I so well avoided until Wurtzel brought me back to the essential. She writes it damningly,

"There is no happy ending to the story of sorrow if you are born with a predilection for despair."

Every fiber in my little depressed-but-trying-to-make-a-go-of-it being wants to fight that sentiment-- and every fiber does, normally -- but in a time like this, and in any time of grieving, optimism is just disrespectful to the dead.

Enter Xiu Xiu with the song of the day: Bog People.

Jaime Stewart explained the song in an interview with Pitchfork:

"'Bog People' was written in a melodramatic but truthful fit of sadness sitting on a couch alone late at night during a storm, feeling overwhelmed by a specific loss and how everyone I care for seemed to be perpetually under the boot of sadness."

Seemed fitting.