An oldie (March 28, 2005) but goodie, bound to stir up the comment section (why do I post controversial stuff on Fridays when the traffic starts coming down?)
WHAT SHOULD WE CALL THEM?
First, who is “them”? Second, why should they be “called”? Third, who are “we”? Fourth, why “should” we call them anything? Finally, “what” is the appropriate name? These are all interconnected questions, dealing with the current US political environment, and the notion of “framing”.
In his book Moral Politics (MP) and later, more explicitely, in “Don’t Think Of An Elephant” (DTOAE), George Lakoff struggles with the nomenclature. He is not entirely happy with words “Conservatism” and “Liberalism”, but cannot think of anything better. Thus he has to explain, every time, what he means by those terms.
I have used, for the same reasons, these two words, and also found I needed to define them in every post. Whenever I did not, I invariably got a response from somebody who considers him/her-self a “conservative” or “liberal” but does not recognize him/her-self in my descriptions.
What Lakoff does in his books (and I follow his lead) is describe POLITICAL (thus here-and-now-realistic assesment of) conservatism and liberalism, NOT the historical, theoretical or philosophical versions. He shows, early in MP, why he does not agree with Rawl’s description of liberalism, for instance, as it is a misleading and unrealistic description of liberalism as it is understood and practiced in America today.
Over time, in order to draw the distinctions, I started using clumsy terms “core liberalism” and “core conservatism” to describe what I am talking about. Still not good enough, though, and for the same reasons.
Some people use the term “neo-conservative”, but that has a very specific meaning inside the Beltline and describes only a small subset of politically powerful individuals, not the conservative movement as a whole. Additionaly, neo-conservatism is almost entirely defined by its foreign policy agenda and ignores other elements of current American conservatism.
Likewise,terms like “Rapturists”, or “Millenarianists” also describe only the extremes of Religious Right, not the conservative movement as a whole. “Reactionaries” will invoke a positive frame in some people, as in “reaction to action” (the action, for instance, coming from so-called “activist judges”). If they are “reactionaries” what are we? Actionaries? Activists? No, that is a bad frame for us.
I suggest we should use “regressives” for them and “progressives” for us, with some caveats (that I will get to in the end). I have already seen around the blogs that the term “progressive”, to a conservative, means something even loonier and crazier than “liberal” – and we all know that the L-word is badly damaged already. To these conservative bloggers, “progressives” are wild-eyed Deaniac anti-war pinko-commie America-hating terrorist crowd, compared to which the good old liberals are almost palatable.
Still, the two terms (progressive and regressive) have an inherent frame, i.e., a frame that does not require knowledge of Greek or Latin etymology of the word to be grasped, or a full understanding of political history of the two ideologies. Both denote a movement through time: one implies that the world improves in time, the other that the world is getting worse over time.
Additionally, the word Regressive may invoke the idea of developmental regression (i.e., something like a potty-trained child pooping in his pants again), or even retardation.
Different views of time are inherent components of the worldviews. Progressives think in terms of “time’s arrow”: human activity, locally and for the time being, organizes chaotic matter into complex structure – humans are seen as anti-enthropy agents of history, making the world better and better. One glance at history of human civilization is sufficient to demonstrate that this view is correct: you are not going to die of plague, will not be thrown to the lions in the Colliseum, will not be sold into slavery, will not have to buy your future wife, will not expect to live to a ripe old age of thirty, will not get slaughtered with a halebarde on a cold foggy morning during some battle over a few acres of land in Lower Saxony.
The Regressive view of time is that of “time’s cycle” but with an interesting spin to it. It is not just a recurring history. No, the world starts in its most complex and perfect state and it SPIRALS down into decay and chaos. It is enthropy in motion. No surprise they tend to not understand The Second Law of Thermodynamics and try to use it against evolution – they are incapable of fathoming a build-up of complexity. Also, they love to point out cases of excesses (e.g., in TV entertainment), or negative by-products of progress (e.g., “diseases of civilization”), as “proofs” of their worldview, and willfully ignore all the evidence of real progress.
They are often found spinning some elements of progress as something that is negative, e.g., increase in secularism, gay rights, gender equality, decreased interest in joining the military, affirmative action, etc. But they are honest about it – they truly believe that these advances are actually bad for the society, because they contradict their Strict Father moral code. They really think that these societal advances are immoral.
Opposition to evolution is another aspect of their view of time: they cannot see how complexity can arise over time. To add insult to injury, they erroneously envision evolution in terms of “progress”, i.e., in terms of appearance of perfection (meaning us) at the end – it is just a temporalized Great Chain Of Being. They are just mentally incapable of understanding that a blind iterative process can result in greater complexity out of its less complex precursors – witness endless debates on Panda’s Thumb, Pharyngula and other sites devoted to fighting Creationists.
Although real Regressives actually think that the world is slowly going to hell and that a mystical Golden Age was a reality at some point in the past (50, 120, 350, or 2000 years ago, depending on the particular person and particular question) and seriously doubt that humans are capable of altering this trend, the term “progress” still denotes hopefulness – and it is all-so-human to hope for a better future, even if one does not believe it is possible. We need to capitalize on this. Even if they keep believing that the world as a whole is decaying, they may still like the idea of temporary improvements of their OWN PERSONAL lives. Once they die, the world is free to go to hell, but until then, why not enjoy some progress? Remember: what they see is not a straight downward arrow but a spiral. It allows for occasional recurrence of “good” on its way towards the final “bad”.
WHO ARE REGRESSIVES?
I have seen progressives make distinction between the Religious Right (i.e., social conservatives) on one hand and the Neocons (i.e., economic conservatives) on the other. They think that these two groups are separate. I say that these two groups (actually three: political, business and religious conservatives) are parts of one bigger whole, with individuals differing only in emphasis and strategy, bur not in their core moral beliefs.
All Regressives are, at their core, adherents of the Strict Father model of morality. All their beliefs and actions come from that same core. They only look and sound different on the surface, and fight their fights in different arenas. Ideologically and politically they are monolithic, as evidenced by the connections between them that one uncovers when one starts following the money: who is financing whom. It may seem hard to swallow, but your sweet Bush-voting Limbaugh-listening uncle is the part of the same organization as Tom DeLay, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and David Horrowitz. Either convert your uncle or be prepared to fight him – do not make excuses for him just because he is your uncle or because he is sweet. He is NOT BETTER than the other members of the organization.
So, where does the error of dividing Regressives into separate groups come from? It comes from history. The social, business and political “conservatives” did not agree on much in the 1950s. How come, if I stated above is correct? Because only the religious/social conservatives were true adherents of the core conservative moral system. The business world and the GOP leaders have departed far away from it and the Religious Right did not like that at all.
Often when you ask a self-professed conservative, someone you know and like (perhaps a family member) why is (s)he a conservative and what defines conservatism you will get an answer in a form of a list of ideals that the person considers to be defining of conservative ideology. This list usually includes stuff like individual freedom, individual responsibility, fiscal responsibility, non-aggression in foreign affairs, freedom of religion, adherence to free market, small government, and rule of law. The notion that these ideals are defining conservatism is an error of historical contigency. Those are the LIBERAL planks of the GOP platform from the mid-20th century.
At the time, the GOP was a mix of liberal and conservative positions, but it was nominally a conservative party. Thus, many people who remember those times believe, erroneously, that EVERYTHING that GOP stood for at that time is conservative. In fact, what they usually pick as defining conservative ideas are the liberal elements of the GOP program. They tend not to like the truly conservative ideals: ruthless competition, theocracy, packed courts, racism, anti-immigration, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, aggresive foreign policy, fusion of business and government, fusion of church and state, rule by fear, bloated military, top-down control of citizens by snooping, etc.
When you look at that last list, doesn’t it remind you of something? How about modern US history circa 2000-2005? Yes, you are right. Starting in about 1965., with big steps occuring in 1980 (Reagan election), 1994 (Gingrich revolution), and 2000 (Bush election), the GOP has, one by one, got rid of all its liberal planks and replaced them with conservative ones.
That is why the Religious Right likes the GOP now and drives the votes for it. That is why the whole conservative movement (religious, business and political) steps in unison today. That is why they are so dangerous. And, looking at their platform, the proper name to call them is “Regressives”. They are not interested in rolling back just the latest court decisions on abortion, gay rights or teaching of evolution. Their true goal is to roll back last 150 years of progress AT LEAST! Their goal is to destroy modernity, and eradicate all traces of The Enlightement. They’ll be perfectly happy with re-instituting slavery – just dig deeper into their “private” writings and ignore the overt platforms they announce publicly when one of them runs for office, for instance. Just go and read the stuff on the Orcinus blog for a few hours – you’ll scream in horror. It is THAT serious.
It is of paramount importance for defense of civilization – this is not hyperbole – to understand that this is now a unified monolithic organization. It is a grave error to tackle them in isolation, each group one at a time. Creationists, anti-choice doctor-killers, oil-company CEOs, GOP senators, KKK, gun-lobby, gay-bashers, Christian home-schoolers, Horowitz’s assault on academia, Dobson’s childrearing manuals, white-supremacist militias…those are not separate organizations. They are just parts of a bigger whole. And so is your sweet Bush-voting uncle.
Debating Creationists about fine points of evolution, debating anti-choice crowd about neural development, debating militants about the facts of no WMDs in Iraq…all those miss the point. They are drawing us into meaningless discussions on superficial details and make us not see the forest for the trees. Their strategy is to scatter our energies, while at the same time attracting different kinds of people with different lures. Stop attacking the trees. Step back and take a look at the forest and figure out how to cut down the whole thing.
Strict Father childrearing philosophy mostly does not teach or preach – instead, it provides an environment that results in the emotional and moral development of a new Regressive. The basics assumptions about the world are a) that the world is a dangerous place that cannot be made less dangerous through human agency, b) that the world is inherently competitive, and c) that one’s survival is dependent on one’s ability to win in the competition. For this, one needs to be “tough”. To be tough, one needs to be self-disciplined.
Focus is on obedience and discipline. The system is based on the erroneous assumption that discipline leads to self-discipline. But, the real result is the development of dependence on the external source of moral authority.
The moral behavior is based on folk behaviorism: the stick and carrot approach. Thus, a Regressive will refrain from doing something for which he can get a punishment and will do stuff for which he can get a reward. The problem starts when nobody is looking… Just check the crime stats for “Red States” or Red areas of all states.
To get around this problem, Regressives try to inculcate their children into religion as God is always watching, thus the external source of moral authority will be omnipresent. The problem arises with those who get enough wordly education to stop taking God too seriously, yet are successfull in business or politics, thus feel powerful – there is nobody above them to punish them. They have lost the external focus of moral authority and are likely to do monstrous stuff with clean consciousness – stuff that no self-respecting liberal would ever dream of doing.
Here comes a big misunderstanding between Progressives and Regressives. For Regressives, individuals who have succeeded in competition, be it in business or politics or whatever, are by definition the best, most moral individuals, the pillars of the community. They can do no bad. They are rightfully revered and emulated by the lesser humans. They got to the top through hard work, goodness of the heart and highly moral behavior. When one of those people ends up in jail, the “flock” is always stunned, as this flouts one of the basic understandings of how the world works.
On the other hand, Progressives are always suspicious of people on the top. They know that nobody got rich through hard work. It is impossible to amass large amounts of money without it being taken away from other people (or the Earth). Some kind of exploitation is neccessarily involved. Thus, causes of wealth are a combination of ruthlesness and good luck (though smarts, hard work, creativity and good will may be also involved, at least initially). Progressives are never surprised when a CEO goes to jail.
Can someone raised in one ideology switch to another? A lot of people believe that as one ages, one is likely to turn from a liberal to a conservative outlook. I believe the person stays the same but becomes RELATIVELY more conservative as the world becomes more liberal through the actions of feminists, environmentalists, desegregationists and other progressive forces.
However, some people do “switch”. For instance, power and money are corrupting, and if the parenting (by Nurturant Parents) was not very effective, one can go with the “wrong crowd”, start loving money too much, and turn conservative, but usually only in SOME areas of life.
A large personal trauma can lead to an existential crisis. Of course, there is always a crowd of smiling, superficially nice religious freaks that come to the rescue. The person, not immunized well enough in childhood, becomes religious and accepts SOME aspects of conservative ideology.
However, the switch in other direction is much more common. Leaving one’s village, going to college, and travelling the world tends to open one’s eyes. Once your eyes are open, you cannot help it but accept at least SOME aspects of liberal worldview.
However, these mid-life switches are rarely complete. As a result, most people are a combination of Progressive and Regressive ideology, one applied in some areaa of life, the other in the others. There is no such animal as a Moderate. Lakoff estimates that about a third of Americans are complete Progressives, about a third are complete Regressives, and the remaining third are a combo – thus can be picked for votes by both GOP or Dems depending who is more effective in any given election year. The combo-people are those who vote split tickets – the swing voters. Thirty percent is a HUGE proportion, not a tiny sliver that pundits tend to think about when they talk about swing voters.
Full transformation from one ideology to the other is usually a two-generation process. Let’s say that a Regressive goes to college, starts dating a Progressive and accepts SOME Progressive ideals. They get married and have kids. One parent is already fully Progressive, and the other is trying hard. The result should turn out to be a Progressive kid. It goes the same in other direction.
As the tide of history moves away from Regressivism and towards Progressivism, more conversions are happening in that direction than in reverse. The Regressives are aware of this and are fighting their last big fight. Their goal is not to win an election, or to stave off their inevitable extinction. They know they can survive ONLY if they completely destroy all opposition (meaning all modernity) by all means neccessary, including murder. They are working on it really fast and hard, while we complain about the Creationists or the media!
So, what if your sweet Bush-voting uncle is really in that combo third of the country? Should you call him a Regressive? I say Yes, as long as he enables Regressives, votes for Regressives and aligns himself with the Regressives. He is part of the problem, not part of the solution. His attitude is a danger to society. If he does not like the name, perhaps you can get him to think and change his ways. He will be welcome then.
The Strict Father model of childrearing has another serious developmental consequence. The child is stuck at a developmental stage in which one is capable of making connections between cause and effect. The child is incapable of developing further and understanding how a system of many inetracting parts can lead to an effect for which there is NO SINGLE cause, i.e., it results from interactions, not from one element. Thus:
A Regressive is mentally incapable of understanding a system in which A, B and C together cause D, without any one of them being the initial cause. In other words, the Regressive view is hierarchical, while the Progressive worldview is interactionist. We can rewrite the schemce above to look like this:
is superior to
is superior to
is superior to
It is completely consistent with Regressive worldview. After all, the one who is the most powerful is capable of causing that whole chain of events, thus is the most morally superior. Let’s take some examples, i.e., replace the letters A, B, C,… with real words. How about this one:
is superior to
is superior to
is superior to
This is the Great Chain of Being. Evolution by Natural Selection is an interactionist system – thus beyond what Regressives are mentally capable of understanding. The Bush Of Life (or even the Tree Of Life) is not something they can understand. They only understand hierarchies.
Now, take a Regressive who is not religious:
is superior to
is superior to
is superior to
is superior to
is superior to
is superior to
is superior to
Of course the poor are the lowly immoral scum and should be left to die – if they were any better they would have risen higher in the hierarchy….because a hierarchy is all there is. Let’s move to politics:
is superior to
are superior to
GOP Governors and local officials
are superior to
are superior to
Bush is God. Bush is CEO. Bush is DNA. How can you possibly dare question the motives of that greatest of the greatest human beings in the history of the Universe?
Do you now see the affinity between social, business and political Regressives? Those who can succeed in business think in terms of business hierarchy: richer the better. Those who can succeed in politics think in terms of political hierarchy: the order of succession. Those who cannot do either find solace in religion. They think in terms of Great ChainOf Being. Yet all three deplore evolution because it is anti-hierarchical.
Moral Order is an essential element of Regressive worldview that stems directly out of inability to think outside of hierarchies (please click through that link for a long detailed explanation of the concept). Out of all pairs of dominance hierarchy described in that post, by far the most important is the moral order between men and women.
Regressive view of the human society is similar to the one seen in baboons. There is a linear hierarchy with the Alpha male on top. Everyone wants to get the girls, but only the top guns can. Men will do anything for sex. They see that in order to get the girls, they need to get to the top of the hierarchy. They can do that by getting rich. Or they can do that by becoming politically powerful (which also makes them rich). Or they can do it by becoming famous (which also makes them rich). If they know they don’t have it in them to succeed in either of those strategies, there is solace in religion: there will be girls for everyone in Heaven, and in the meantime there are strip-bars, porn and escorts (and occasionally pretty, young nieces too afraid to call the police).
I have written at length about the importance of sex, gender and marriage on the development of male anxiety in Regressives, so scroll down to posts with titles like “Femiphobia Again”, or “Hooked on Hooking Up” etc. for more. It is fear of modernity and everything it brings, particularly equality, of which equality of sexes is the key, that is driving the Regressives nuts.
Loss of male dominance (over the past century or so) is the cause of important male anxiety (femiphobia), which is, in turn, pre-cursor for all sorts of other fears: homophobia, xenophobia, racism, nationalism, i.e., the wish to go “back” to some imaginary times in the past when white American Protestant males ruled the roost.
Science is threatening, as it is fully modern, as well as the very basis on which modern liberalism is founded, including the notions of equality. Evolution is threatening, additionally, for it evokes fears of “missing links” who, translated into “fundamentalese” are “Big Black Uncles Who Are Stronger Than Poor Ole White Me And Have Bigger Dicks And Will Steal Our White Women”.
Femiphobia is a complex argument and I cannot do it justice here in this small space, not even in the longer posts (quite a few of them) I have written perviously on my blog. One really has to read Stephen Ducat’s “The Wimp Factor” to hear it from the horse’s mouth, together with the references to actual research. What I have tried on my blog is to push people to read the book, but not in isolation.
I suggest that Ducat’s book be read in the context of (or in conjunction with) Lakoff’s “Moral Politics” (not “…Elephant…”, which is a superficial pamphlet), Parenti’s “Superpatriotism”, and E.J.Graff’s “What Is Marriage For?”. If you take Lakoff’s notion of “moral order” (see above for the link) and focus on relations between sexes following Ducat, see it through the prizm of machismo the way Parenti does, then look at the historical progression through Graff – you end up seeing a more complete picture: how different, seemingly disparate pieces of the puzzle start falling together.
IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
In order for them to “win” a temporary repreive from the forces of history that are inexorably pushing them onto the history’s
ash-heap, Regressives have to: a) pick a powerful country (USA – done), b) take over the government (done), c) take over the legal
system (almost done), d) take over the military (almost done), e) take over the media (done), and f) take over the schools (not
done – barely beginning).
If they want to survive another generation they have to do the f). Horowitz, Creationists, abstinence-only folks, Christian homeschoolers, NCLB-pushers, seminaries, Bob Jones University, Discovery Institute, anti-choice crowd…all those are prongs of their multi-pronged strategy to take over the educational system and ensure their own reproduction/replication into the next generation.
Educational system is our last bastion and the one that is most difficult for them to infiltrate, as the liberal education is, almost
by definition, anthitetical to their worldview and methodology. They do not know how to teach – they preach. We have to
understand that this is one Big Force and fight it as such, not one issue at a time (abstinence here, creationism there), but as a
Whenever you are talking about any one of their “issues” make sure to always connect it with everything else: if you are debating creationists, make sure that your audience hears, from you, repeatedly, that it is not just about Natural Selection, but also about abortion, militarism, illegal wars, snooping on US citizens (Patriot Act), Religious Right, hatred of gays, anti-choice, doctor-killers, anti-science, anti-reality, anti-modernity, anti-rationality, anti-Enlightement, anti-equality, Terry Schiavo’s artificially mantained corpse, undermining of democracy, stacking the courts, destroying the environment, mis-educating the children, eliminating Social Security and Medicare, outsourcing, wasting of taxpayer’s money, the new GOP love of Big Government, Fox News lies, fear and hatred of everything and everybody, etc, etc, etc. Make sure, through repetition, that your audience sees the connections over and over again.
I am sure that they are making deeper inroads into schools in some places than the other, but I believe that Education, as an institution, is inherently much more resistant to the “Strict Father” moral order than other areas (government, military, courts, etc.). To use Lakoffian metaphors, most teachers are “Nurturant Parents”, most academics are liberal (for a good reason: they tend
to be rational), the way the system is set up is to nurture the sense of community, fairness, sharing, diversity, etc. Have you been to a school lately? It is all about saving the environment, not starting smoking, learning about distant countries’ cultures. All that stuff is anathema to the Regressives but will be difficult to uproot.
And what do they have to put in place instead? Disciplinarian preaching. They will institute real Inquisition in the USA before they manage to force their ideas of education into real schools (apart from ‘their’ schools and seminaries) – the tradition of US liberal education runs too deep. What they want is so far from any definition of education that it will be almost impossible for them to push it pass the parents, teachers and officials – it’s too transparent (I hope…..).
This post has gotten too long. On the other hand, I feel like it is not long enough. There are many things I only touched on briefly and superficially. If you have a question or a comment, it is likely that I have already written the response before, so please click through the various links in this post before you mount a full-blown attack. If, after searching through the blog you do not see the answer to your question, please ask, and I will try to answer as soon as I can and in as much detail as possible.
Update: Here is the follow-up, as a response to comments on the original post.