Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Friday, December 10, 2004

Back to the Beginning

Be warned, Cap's gonna take off his drinking goggles and get kinda wordy here...

I started this blog, at least in part, to provide a forum to work out political differences I have with my friend Andy. For the past few weeks I've been too busy link-whoring and chasing the blogosphere spotlight to address some issues Andy's brought up, and I really owe it to him (and myself) to get back into the habit of providing a counterpoint to his assertions, and sometimes a flat-out rebuttal where its needed.

Andy's a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, whereas I tend to take a more libertarian/conservative look at life. Doesn't mean we can't remain friends, though! He's disheartened by President Bush's re-election, but hasn't completely succumbed to the Moonbat hysteria that's gripped so many of his fellow liberals. Indeed, he's pushing beyond the rage and despair, and trying to understand the other half of America, the ones that voted in the opposite direction. I find this extremely laudable. Unlike the whiners and Democratic Underground tantrum-throwers, he's looking for constructive means to understand conservatives. Whether this is an investigation of mere academic interest, or a precursor to PsyOps remains to be seen!

His latest endeavor involves looking at the root behaviors of Conservatives and Liberals, and understanding how these dissimilar worldviews arise.

By way of explanation, Andy puts forward the philosophies of George Lakoff. Now, Lakoff's a linguist, and while it's true that language structure can set a framework for thought processes and behavior, I'm a bit leery of accepting sociological or political advice from one of his profession. Just look at how fucked up the thought processes have become of another linguist, Noam Chomsky! OK, major straw man argument dumped on you there, but it had to be said.

According to Lakoff, we use what he calls 'frames' as a conceptual backdrop by which we understand everything around us. Frames are basically a simplification of the larger world, reduced to a smaller subset that we can more easily grasp. The specific form of language and verbiage (which I'd refer to as semantics) can be used to invoke these frames.

This theory is nothing new. Robert Heinlein was greatly influenced by the early semanticians, and wrote many stories about the way semantics can be employed to set the tone of political discourse way back in the 40's and 50's, and indeed throughout his long career. For a good introduction to semantics, skip the labyrinthine scribblings of Alfred Korzybski, the father of General Semantics, and instead dig up a copy of S.I. Hayakawa's Language In Thought And Action.

Lakoff further argues that there are two major viewpoints (or frames) to seeing social structure, the Nurturant Parent Worldview and the contrasting Strict Father Model. I can't go along with Lakoff's hypothesis.

For starters, even the titles for Lakoff's frameworks are semantically loaded. He doesn't even attempt to give the two viewpoints equal standing. By using the term "Strict Father", you've already painted a mental image of Daddy Warbucks, Fagin or that asshole 'Niedermeyer' in the old Twisted Sister video.

Alternatively, "Nurturant Parent" is politically correct and gender neutral, invoking images of warm cuddles in Mom's lap sitting by a roaring fire. Puppies and kittens slurping at the teat. All that happy shit. God, I despise the word "nurture". Sounds like a mash-up of "nature" and "murder". Makes me think of rabbits eating their young, for some reason.

To counteract this imbalance just a bit, (and illustrate a point) I did a little frame-shifting of my own. Anyone catch it? Out of the 137,000 weblinks available for George Lakoff, why do you think I picked the one from the UC Berkeley news? The one with the pic of an obviously well-fed Lakoff (not too much sacrifice on behalf of the poor & the environment there!) finishing off a foamy latté while pontificating at the Free Speech Movement Café on campus? Some conservatives might now see him now not as a learned professor, but just another Bay Area uber-liberal nutbag, based solely on the way he was "framed".

As for the rest of Lakoff's ideas, let's take a look. In a nutshell... well, let me just cut & paste from Andy's blog and save myself a lot of keyboard time:
The Nurturant Parent Worldview:
In the Nurturant Parent family, it is assumed that the world is basically good. And, however dangerous and difficult the world may be at present, it can be made better, and it is your responsibility to help make it better. Correspondingly, children are born good, and parents can make them better, and it is their responsibility to do so. Both parents (if there are two) are responsible for running the household and raising the children, although they may divide their activities. The parents' job is to be responsive to their children, nurture them, and raise their children to nurture others.

In the Nurturant Parent family, the highest moral values are Empathy and Responsibility. Effective nurturing requires empathy, which is feeling what someone else feels—parents have to figure out what all their baby's cries mean in order to take care of him or her. Responsibility is critical, since being a good nurturer means being responsible not only for looking after the well-being of others, but also being responsible to ourselves so that we can take care of others. Nurturant parents raise children to be empathetic toward others, responsible to themselves, and responsible to others who are or will be in their care. Empathy connects us to other people in our families, our neighborhoods, and in the larger world. Being responsible to others and oneself requires cooperation. In society, nurturant morality is expressed as social responsibility. This requires cooperation rather than competition, and a recognition of interdependence.

Strict Father Model:
In the conservative worldview, it is assumed that the world is, and always will be, a dangerous and difficult place. It is a competitive world and there will always be winners and losers. Children are naturally bad since they want to do what feels good, not what is moral, so they have to be made good by being taught discipline. There is tangible evil in the world and to stand up to evil, one must be morally strong, or "disciplined."

The father's job is to protect and support the family. Children are to respect and obey him. The father's moral duty is to teach his children right from wrong, with punishment that is typically physical and can be painful when they do wrong.
It is assumed that parental discipline in childhood is required to develop the internal discipline that adults will need in order to be moral and to succeed. Morality and success are linked through discipline. This focus on discipline is seen
as a form of love— "tough love." The mother is in the background, not strong enough to protect and support the family or fully discipline the children on her own. Her job is to uphold the authority of the father and to care for and comfort the children. As a "mommy," she tends to be overly soft-hearted and might well coddle or spoil the child. The father must make sure this does not happen, lest the children become weak and dependent.

Competition is necessary for discipline. Children are to become self-reliant through discipline and the pursuit of self-interest. Those who succeed as adults are the good (moral) people and parents are not to "meddle" in their lives.
Those children who remain dependent—who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant—undergo further discipline or are turned out to face the discipline of the outside world. When everyone is acting morally and responsibly, seeking their own self-interest in a self-disciplined fashion, everyone benefits. Thus, instilling morality and discipline in your children is also acting for the good of society as a whole.

This idea about a loving mother and a strict father is not new either. Journalist Chris Matthews, years ago, formulated the theory contrasting Republicans and Democrats, referring to them as the "Mommy Party" and the "Daddy Party". To quote Jonah Goldberg in the National Review:
"Democrats give goodies and say "there, there" and Republicans protect the home and tell people to get off their butts."
I have no problem with the assertion that parents should strive to make the children better. He's correct there, but that's hardly a revolutionary viewpoint. Ditto for the belief that responsibility is paramount.

My specific arguments with Lakoff's ideas are in these areas:

1) Inherent Good or Evil - In my opinion, children are born neither good nor bad, as Lakoff posits. They are a tabula rasa, a blank slate. The child, in an absence of an environment aimed at socializing him, will learn to do whatever is necessary for survival, not just "what feels good". To satisfy the biological urges, acts like theft of food, violence against rivals, sexual aggression for release are all going to be driven by that lizard brain that lies underneath all our grey matter. Only with determined effort by family and community is that child going to learn what it takes to be a productive, responsible member of society.

Also, assigning values of good or evil to the world as a whole, or assuming that others do, is a very humano-centric idea. The world is what it is. Arguably, only humans can assign values of good or evil to the actions of other humans, based on their own community ideals. To label a tidal wave 'evil' for wiping away a bird nesting area, or a mother duck 'good' for caring for her ducklings is trying to anthropomorphize naturally occuring events. They're gonna happen regardless of whether humans are around to witness or apply value judgements.

As long as we're on the subject of the world as a whole, let me throw in one more point against Lakoff's premise. While it's true that the world is a dangerous, difficult place, even if it were possible to tame it, to make it completely safe and easy, on that pathway lies decadence and decline. To become a world of Lotus-eaters benefits no one, except possibly the lotus farmers. If it takes 50 more years, 500 more years, or 5000 more years, we're leaving this rock to seek out humanity's fortune amongst the stars. Cooperation will be necessary, but even more, you need competiveness, discipline, and a drive to succeed. A layabout kid who shirks his duties operating an oxygen recycler unit on a colony spaceship because "manual labor offends his sense of dignity and entitlement" is worthy of not empathy, but a swift shove out the airlock.

2) Empathetic Morality vs. Disciplined Morality - It doesn't have to be one framework or the other. In fact, it's better if it's not. My parents, and the parents of my friends, my neighbors with their kids, all have used a mix of the two frames. I know this parental behavior is not just limited to Texas. I'm fairly certain if you took a look around the world, you'll find most parents take both routes. There's a time for comforting hurts, and there's a time to lay on some hurt when the kid's fucking up.

Personally, I feel that a successful society will find a perfect blend of the two frameworks. Too much nurturing, and you get steamrolled, your women raped and your kids enslaved the next time the barbarians come knocking at the gate. Why? Because you're too wrapped up in feeling the pain of their disenfranchisement & marginalization caused by your awful, unfair Imperialist economic system to mount a defense. Indeed, to defend such a corrupt system would be morally wrong!

On the other side, too much discipline, and you end up like the Spartans, strong & resolute, but unable to carry that momentum to future generations. In the long run, you need cooperation for survival, competition for improvement. Andy recognizes there are good points in both frameworks, and he's correct. The difference between Liberals and Conservatives, therefore, is not that each group eschews one framework for the other, but that the percentage of each framework used has skewed too far off center for proper balance.

3) Promoting Liberal stereotypes - This phrase drove me absolutely bananas:
The mother is in the background, not strong enough to protect and support the family or fully discipline the children on her own. Her job is to uphold the authority of the father and to care for and comfort the children. As a "mommy," she tends to be overly soft-hearted and might well coddle or spoil the child. The father must make sure this does not happen, lest the children become weak and dependent.
If I was a woman reading that, I would be mortally offended. Does Lakoff hold such a skewed view of conservatives that he actually buys into the old "barefoot & pregnant" meme? Women, while historically voting liberal, are increasing in number as conservative voters. And it's not because their Daddy/boyfriend/husband told them to! With the rise of females in positions of authority and business ownership, they have more to protect than just their children these days. Even though Democrats had a strong hand in their empowerment, when the Donkey swings back by after 20 years to start pulling cash out of their pockets, there's a bit of backlash! To position women as weak-willed and submissive does them an extreme disservice. This, however, is not suprising from the liberal POV, where their hold on certain voting blocs is dependent on continuing the charade that minorities & women are constantly oppressed and disenfranchised.

Lakoff makes a pretty strong push to equate Conservatism with Calvinism, the obvious result being to imply that Conservatives are welded to one Puritanical doctrine. This is emphatically not the case. Conservatives are not a monolithic bloc of political & social Neanderthals. Not every Red Stater is marching in lockstep towards the Promised Land, whipping their children along the way as they sing hymns. A refusal to submit cheerfully to the pissing away of billions of tax dollars on governmental bureacracy does not mean that Conservatives fear and hate minorities, or want to oppress women, or bash gays. Most often it means they want what just about every human wants, to live, love, and raise kids free of unwanted intrusion.

So, let's perhaps re-phrase the frames. The Liberals are gonna insist on maintaining the Father figure for Conservatives, but I'll insist on substituting the "Nanny State" for the liberals. The Nanny's like the mother, in that she provides basic services, but on a paid basis, and quite often in the absence of love or respect. The Nanny can punish with impunity, not fearing long-term relationship damages. After all, when she's through with your family, there are plenty of others to go meddle around with. The Nanny doesn't want you hurt, though, (otherwise she might get canned), so she's gonna insist on wrapping you in foam padding from head to toe, and she'll keep you from doing what gives you pleasure, because you might not show sufficient empathy to yourself or others.

Sigh... In a perfect world, Dad would watch the kids while Mom beat the shit out of the Nanny before tossing her out on her ass. Maybe a few more years of the Nanny smothering us with her attentions, and we'll see it here.

One can only hope.