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"

1 comment:

Carol said...

It's not conservative vs. liberal this time. to get educated.

And yes, we are f*cked. :-(