Inside the Conservative Mind

R & O

credit: nytimes.com

Republicans and Democrats are so far apart these days, one wonders if there is any hope left for a stable government.

In trying to understand the conservative mind, and especially the Tea Party brand, I am indebted to my friend, The Erstwhile Conservative.  In a comment on his own blog he happened to mention a site called The Patriot Post, a blend of libertarianism and fundamentalist Christianity.  Michelle Bachman would feel right at home there.  Probably does.

Back when I was a political neophyte, libertarian philosophy sounded appealing. Rugged individualism and self-reliance were simple virtues, never mind that those who approach the pinnacle of success are invariably assisted by a foundation of stable government, efficient policing, social institutions, financial principles, expensive infrastructure, and other people’s inventions. Newton’s observation applies, we do stand on the shoulders of giants, but we also stand on the shoulders of the many who served merely by resolutely doing their own small part. How easy it is to overlook them.

Virtually every facet of our lives today is balanced, more precariously than we know, atop pyramids of technology and trial-and-error engineering, and yet so many have the hutzpah to think their success is mostly their own making.  I can think of a couple of examples, both of which owe thanks to numerous inventions and government-funded R&D.

gyro

credit: popsci.com

I still remember, back in 1962, when one of our neighbors got one of the first color TV sets. It was a massive console and they were cautioned that it could not be moved even a fraction of an inch without affecting its sensitive color balance and need a technician to readjust it. Now the pictures in iPads rival the best photography.

Also in those times gyroscopes were integral to ship navigation, heavy mechanical/electrical equipment prone to occasional failure. These days the gyro effect is purely electronic, contained on a single microchip, immensely more reliable, no moving parts, and imbedded in millions of smart phones.

Evidence of the Patriot Post’s thinking on society is found in their “statement of principles”:

The Cycle of Democracy follows this sequence:
From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty (rule of law);
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage (rule of men).

Ah, if it were only so simple. This credo implies that abundance is antithetical to success, but strangely, people who advocate this can’t seem to get enough abundance themselves. Sloth, complacency and apathy do exist of course, but it’s wrong to assume that lack of success is due to a lack of character.  It is a mistake to ignore the vicissitudes that assailed the journey, and to be intolerant of those whose religions and cultures are different. The human condition is not simple, it is as complex as economics itself. Ignoring that is arrogant, and so is assuming that the quality of life on the bottom rungs is unimportant to the well-being of those at the top of the ladder.  Ladders can be shaky.

Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.  -  Mark Twain

If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen.  -  Ronald Reagan

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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12 Responses to Inside the Conservative Mind

  1. I’ve found it highly ironic in recent years with the far right supposedly loving small businesses, yet supporting – and being supported by – huge megacorporations. Though I can point to a simple point of comparison to support that “Democratic cycle”. I’ll bet you could keep a carbureted car running practically forever. These days, most people I know can barely find the gas tank! We’ve gone from cars that could barely go 100 yards without major work (and people knowing nothing about them) to cars needing some work and many people knowing how to work on them, to modern day where the car has more computing power than most 1980s mainframes and the average driver treats the vehicle like an appliance – when it hiccups, trade it in, why bother fixing it?
    A very interesting read!

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      You’re right, John, we do have a throw-away economy and that was at least a part of my point. Real goods are very cheap by historic standards, and perhaps clothes (of the Walmart variety) most of all. That, pretty obviously, is why the definition of poverty is so squishy. People aren’t wandering the streets in rags and dying in the gutters. Not yet, anyway. But we ought to aspire to a society that supports a minimum safety net that enables everyone a fair shot at the Dream. Thanks for chiming in.

  2. Jeff says:

    Good post… I would highly recommend you see “Inequality for All” while it is still in Theaters (or on secondary venues later…). A lot of the movie is familiar to the modern well-read liberal, but it provides a very good synthesis and reminds us some of what we have forgotten. On such point is that the wide division between left and right is certainly not new under the sun. In fact, the division was similarly fierce in the 1920′s the last time inequality was this great and coincidentally the last time that ability to buy political office was at the levels it is at today. The Businessman’s plot shows us that we took steps to reverse the trend just in the nick of time last time. Let us hope that the awakening we are seeing today can compare to the wakening we had last cycle that gave us woman’s sufferance and income tax amendments in the first populist wave and 50 years of prosperity starting from the second populist wave in 1933.

  3. aFrankAngle says:

    I have a difficult time understanding the current conservatives – so I applaud your efforts. Then again, part of my difficult lies in the fact that there are different factions within that group. Oddly enough, I’m fiscally conservative and a registered Republican … but only register as such until the 2014 primary – I’ve had enough.

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Your reaction to the changing nature of conservative politics is similar to my own, Frank. There’s no doubt that the country needs to get its fiscal house in order but the Tea Party’s strategy seems to be to burn the house down and start over. Not to mention the blatant demagoguery. I am heartened by your statement.

      • aFrankAngle says:

        Yep – no question about the need for fiscal order, but the hard part is making the decisions.

        As for me, I may be fiscally conservative (so the Dems don’t want me), but now toss in socially liberal (so the GOP doesn’t want me) … but although they don’t want my policies, they both want my vote.

  4. ansonburlingame says:

    Jim,

    Maybe, just maybe you have hit on a point that deserves more discussion as it COULD be one of the fundamental reasons for our political divide. today. You wrote “…..but it’s wrong to assume that lack of success is due to a lack of character.”

    I would agree that lack of success is not ALWAYS due to a lack of character. But I would suggest that in MANY cases, such is exactly the fundamental reason for lack of success, at least success in terms of being a productive citizen in a modern society, one supporting themselves and their families and not relying on the support of others.

    There are 30 million or so individuals in America suffering the ravages of alcoholism and/or drug addiction. “Fixing” ones CHARACTER, the moral choices made each and every day is the way to relieve those ravages of a disease in almost everyone of those cases. I don’t know how many criminals there might be in America, someone that routinely breaks the law and knowing full well they are doing so. What else besides bad character causes criminal actions, most of the time. I am NOT refering to the lead role in Les Miz, a man stealing a “loaf of bread”, etc.

    Just add up all the alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals in America and the number gets really big. Fix their character and those numbers go down to very small numbers, by and large.

    Then go into any public school and look at about 50% of kids in any classes. Watch them blame teachers, administrators, parents, other kids and society in general for all the “bad things” happening in their lives. Rarely if EVER do such kids ask themselves what did I do wrong to cause this mess in the first place.

    Even MLK said it, judge a man by his character and nothing else. Does that mean every “poor person” has bad character. Of course not. But how many are in such straits because THEY made terrible choices along the way and continue to make terrible choices on their own to continue their situation in life.

    Some people learn to adjust their behavior to achieve their goals, good goals in life. Others adjust their goals to conform with their actions, their behavior, ulitmately their character. A full blown alcoholic is a perfect example. He or she will give up family, home, job, you name it, over time, just to keep drinking, or using drugs, etc. Others will accept substandard situations in their lives because they are unwilling to put forth the effort themselves to improve their conditions in live.

    Progressives diminish or even ignore people in such categories, those that find themselves in dire straits for no reason other than their own bad choices or the choices of their parents. Just look at the 75% single mother birth rates, women giving birth with fathers that are by and large just deadbeats, some with kids spread all over the ghetto. As a conservative I want to “fix” those MEN. As a progressive you igore such men and only want to throw money into the hands of a mother that has no idea how to “fix herself”, which she CAN do with good guidance and a hellu’va lot of hard work on her own part.

    No wonder we cannot agree on welfare or other entitlement programs. Hell we can’t even agree on what needs, desperately, to be fixed. Somehow many people must find constructive ways to fix themselves and not be dependant on others for every need they have.

    And my God the name calling that goes around over such disagreements, the “root causes” if you will of many ills in society, today, and getting worse, I might add.

    I offer just one example for your consideration. An ex-con, a man with multiple years in prison but now out on parole and doing his best to improve his conditions in life. He has a good job and lives now on his own productive efforts. He stands and says “I hate my job”.

    Consider or imagine what I would say to that man and then consider what you would say to him, counsel or advice if you will for his situation.

    Anson

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @Anson,

      There’s no question that alcohol and drug abuse are big factors in poverty in America. But when you say,

      Progressives diminish or even ignore people in such categories, those that find themselves in dire straits for no reason other than their own bad choices or the choices of their parents,

      you are just setting up a straw man argument. Such categorical arguments are unpersuasive without specific evidence.

      I can assure you that most progressives would never advocate ignoring bad choices and would want to repair root causes. The problems of course are trying to separate cause and effect and in the difficulty in repair. How, for example, do you repair the bad choice of an unwed mother? As you mention, the situation needs “good guidance and a hellu’va lot of hard work”, but isn’t it just possible that basic assistance might be necessary to make such a recovery even possible?

      The Wiki page on Poverty in the United States says, among other things,

      In many cases poverty is caused by job loss. In 2007, the poverty rate was 21.5% for individuals who were unemployed, but only 2.5% for individuals who were employed full-time.

      Now, maybe the ten-fold difference is due to bad choices, or just maybe it’s due to, uh, lack of income.

      Instead of making unsubstantiated accusations such as

      As a progressive you ignore such men and only want to throw money into the hands of a mother that has no idea how to “fix herself” . . . ,

      you should recognize that many progressives, including the president and, for example, Bill Cosby, have been strong advocates of fixing that problem. But cultures, like merchant ships, are slow to turn. So, there’s the choice. What role, if any, should government play in this? The consequences of the answer to that are huge.

      You have said you were taking a sociology course. Perhaps you will let us know when you finish whether you still advocate, as you now seem to do, that government should abandon institutional aid and let a quarter of the population rely on charity to sink or swim.

  5. ansonburlingame says:

    My God, another straw man rebutal, when I was TRYING to explain a fundamental disagreement that is driving this country nuts today.

    I want to understand and ultimately FIX the underlying reasons whay 1/4 of our population (as I recall the recent number published was 15% in poverty, by government definition) being in poverty.

    Read Whitmore’s column in the Globe, a director of a homeless shelter, a kind and caring man whom I know personally. A street bum, drunk on his butt, can received the equivalent income of a man working for over $12 per hour for a year. Do you dispute that fact as stated by a man intimiately involved in such situations?

    I want to see the “unwed mother” FIXED before she becomes an unwed mother and MUST depend upon society for food, clothing and shelter, for herself and her single child. But then what does one do when she has MORE children, all from various “men in her life”?

    Go to the home of such an “unwed mother” and look at the conditions under which she is raising her child, WITH all sorts of government support. You know as well as I do that in many cases those kids are being raised in deplorable conditions and NOTHING is done about it except call for more money for the “mother” (in name only). What would I do in such a stituation. Put the kids in foster care until the mother is “fixed” as a matter of emergency actions. Such women do not deserve the “right” to raise a kid in such conditions, hard hearted as that may sound.

    I do not want to destroy all social assistance programs. I only want social assistance programs to FIX people, help them return to productive lives. I have observed the results of such efforts for over 14 years now in one small and very private program. There is no reason that government cannot adhere to such prinicples as well. Help people help themselves and NOT just throw money at them, money they have no idea how to use effectively and prudently.

    I have seen countless men and women crawl out from under a bridge, find a “sponsor” and learn how to regain their own bearings in life and live under a bridge while so learning for a month of so. But THEN they dust themselves off, go find the help (food, clothing,shelter, etc.) and eventually return to or become for the first time in their previously miserable lives, productive citizens living within their means and supporting themselves. If THEY can do so, well why cannot an “unwed mother” do the same thing? That program of recovery, a return to or initially learning (as an adult) how to live “correctly”, does not cost a cent to anyone other than other people doing the same thing, learning or relearning how to live their lives effectively.

    I also note you ignored my anecdote of the ex-con (AND ex-drunk) that “hates his job” and what you would encourage him to do in such a stituation. My council to him WAS, figure out WHAT you actually “hate” about your job and then go fix it yourself, starting with yourself and not just blaming others. And believe me, that man KNEW he had stated the wrong thing in saying just that he “hated his job”. WHY and what should HE do about it is the FIRST thing he should be asking himself. He had violated one of the basics of his program of recovery. He was trying to get someone else to clean up THEIR side of the street BEFORE he cleaned up his own side. I have done the same thing myself as well and it just doesn’t work very well, trying to change others while I have some claring problems of my own to fix first.

    Now go tell that to an “unwed mother” and she will call the cops!! (or social workers).

    Anson

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Sure, Anson, I understand your frustration with individual people who are irresponsible, who lack grit and determination. I too would be outraged about such. And yes, I read Whitford’s column. Those who are poor because of addiction are a special part of the problem and I am sympathetic to his point of view. However, I can’t believe there is any human being signed up for all those programs at once, or even close to it. Being a social worker has got to be one of society’s most frustrating jobs.

      I hope you note the comment made by Jeff on this post, the one about the media and how it picks the most outrageous cases to write about. And, I’m aware of your personal involvement with local drug programs because of your past comments and posts. But what I tried to address in this post is the attitude many conservatives have about the problem. They seem to think most people on food stamps and other assistance are poor because of character flaws, and I am saying that’s not the case. From my reading, most are good people who were put out of work by the Great Recession, or whose own circumstances and lack of talent have relegated them to the bottom of the food chain. And, there are way too many un-wed mothers who foolishly made an early bad choice. But, there they are and not to help them is to condemn not just them but the kids as well. I’m not willing to deny them the minimum help they need to repair their mistakes, and if I read your comment correctly, I don’t think you really are either. If the more extreme conservatives have their way, the United States will stand at the bottom of all first-world countries in how the poor are treated, and I think we’re better than that.

  6. ansonburlingame says:

    OK Jim, we are back to reasonable grounds, sort of. NO WAY do I call for destroying a safety net. But I do call for making that safety net dependent upon “good behavior” on the part of people using it.

    You wrote, again sort of, “They seem to think most people on food stamps and other assistance are poor because of character flaws, and I am saying that’s not the case.”

    My point is of course there is no “absolute” for groups of people. SOME are on “welfare” for terrible choices that CONTINUE to be made, some legal and others illegal. Others are there for no reason based on terrible choices made by themselves. I don’t believe in “luck” per se. There are always causes and conditions that result but many times we don’t understand them very well. We could do a formal and very expensive and time consuming “root cause analysis” of every case of welfare or dependence on others and Lord only knows the variety of millions of such things. But some will inevitably be shown as “slugs” and others as just people with “bad luck”.

    If we did that, really identify, correctly, the “slugs” then the issue becomes what to do with such people or “about” such people. Take the “little hoodlum” in schools, and there a a LOT of them believe me. What to do about such “moral degenerates” becomes the issue. Do you deny that some, even many are in fact “moral degenerates” based on behavior?

    Now I submit that we could have a reasonable and long discussion about what to do with or for just such people, “little hoodlums that will grow up to be big ones”. But we never get to that discussion in blogs between progressive and conservatives. We lump disdain all together in group accusations, none of which are correct for individual cases.

    Until government figures out how to deal with such individual differences and stop defaulting to the “we must help EVERYONE” I submit government will ulitmately go broke. I can show you curves of things like “welfare, retirement spending, entitlement spending, you name it that literally go through the roof in the future and you know it as well without me linking a bunch of “curves”.

    So what to do becomes the challenge. NEITHER political side has a good answer yet and neither do “good people” as well. As for the “bad ones” the left and right extremes, well I try to ignore them most of the time. They are just blathering idiots, thinking one size SHOULD fit all people!!

    Anson

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