Archive for the 'conservatives' Category

Hug a conservative

March 4, 2014

I was writing a reply to a comment on Paul Krugman’s blog.  The blog post itself was about Paul Ryan’s flawed use of citation in his report arguing against current anti-poverty programs.

I was trying to point out that conservatives probably come by their worldview “honestly,” in the sense that it probably was helpful to them.  Many of them do have personal traumas in their pasts, and somehow they found flotsam to cling to until they reached the shore.  On the other hand, clinging to flotsam is not swimming.

I think we need to address the possibility that people who find conservatism comfortable may be people who have a combination of damage and survival and don’t yet see those elements in their lives in a way that would allow them to progress beyond survival and replicating trauma for others.

I think they need more healing.  They probably don’t see it that way.

I see the challenge as being analogous to figuring out how to find a way to give a person the benefit that most people derive from a hug, but without actually hugging them.

Conservatives may yell at the downtrodden to stop being so downtrodden, but liberals tend to yell at the conservatives to stop yelling at the downtrodden.

If we assume everybody is carrying baggage, maybe we can stop adding to it and start reducing it.

Unfortunately self-protective coping devices make that tricky, as attempts to help the authentic self of a person using such devices often are redirected to the false self, and that feeds the problem instead of reducing it.

Liberal levels

January 30, 2014

I really appreciated reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today.  It’s about “levels” and “stages”of development, and today he observes the stage at which many liberals get stuck.  He’s already observed that conservatives seem to be stuck at a previous stage.

I am so appreciative of reading this because I have found myself of late criticizing a number of regular liberal commenters in the NYTimes comments threads for things that seem to me rather similar to the rabble-rousing through disingenuous techniques and a lack of compassion and respect that they decry in their opponents.  It has looked to me like similar limited process only filled with different content — liberal beliefs instead of conservative.  Maybe I understand this as being stuck at a particular level but at a slightly different stage within it.

I find myself asking myself, “Why am I taking these comments on?”  I really am not sure, I do try not to be simply reactive, I try to distinguish between a reaction and an answer to a call to act.  I don’t have the impression I will directly influence those whose comments I criticize, I do it in the spirit that for me to not do so would be worse, including for me.

I think I’m kind of used to not fitting in with particular ideological groups — neither did Willy, and we used to talk about it a lot.  I still miss having company with that.


December 21, 2013

I was writing about confabulation in response to Charles Blow’s column about the Duck Dynasty controversy, and one of my replies came too late to be posted, and I closed my browser tab, so it’s lost and I can’t even post it here.

So I thought I’d write a few words on a related issue.

I do think we often have trouble distinguishing between (1) bad intent, (2) ignorance, and (3) distortions in processing and other aspects of communication.  And I think sometimes the explanation for a situation is not malice or even ignorance but that the person is saying something not to communicate any truth but for some other purpose in the course of trying to engage in social relations.

What I thought I’d mention is that I think that just as school administrators often misunderstand student behavior, liberals often misunderstand why people who disagree with them are saying what they are saying.  I think some of the things people who wind up being politically conservative say, they say not out of malice or even ignorance, but just because it seems like the thing to say to fit the situation in terms of social expectations.  As a friend of mine would say, they are “just talking.”

Now, “just talking” can create all kinds of damage, depending on content, but to get a person to stop doing it, browbeating them with reason or morals is not terribly effective.

I suspect the habit of confabulation arises out of a number of different scenarios, including avoidance of childhood abuse and a discovery it gets positive results of some sort.  I think that to dismantle the habit, whatever is the underlying cause must be addressed.

So when liberals rail at conservatives in a way that assumes bad faith or ignorance or difficulty thinking, sometimes I think they miss the mark.  The person is damaged, limited, and doing the best they can.  But I don’t think we ignore any damage they create, I think we have to show them the impact of their use of this mode of communication while we supply them with alternative and support them in overcoming the underlying causes for engaging in confabulation.

And failing that approach at resolution, we can just not take at face value what they say and avoid situations in which we might need to.

Of course, liberals have their own patterns of thought and talk, arising out of their damage and limitations, and enabling seems to figure prominently among people who end up being politically liberal.  That kind of posture and behavior causes damage in its own way, too.

Unfortunately, the combination of the conservative and liberal profiles seems to be one of those “deadly embraces.”  How we break our civic polity out of this merry-go-round probably involves everyone trying to address their own damage.  Come the millennium.

We may be social animals, spiritual creatures, and instinctive organisms, but we are also damaged goods, most of us, and we don’t tend to function at peak operational performance.

Conservative luxuries

December 5, 2013

This is admittedly something of a cheap shot, but I can’t resist.

From our friends at The Weekly Standard, in their advertizement for some sort of cruise package they are putting together for “Conservative Thinkers” (which I take, from the context, to mean subscribers, past subscribers, people on their mailing list):  “We may be proudly conservative when it comes to our politics, but we’re liberal with our luxuries.”

No “good Republican cloth coat” for them, apparently, anymore.

A continuum

October 22, 2013

Giving a gift, reciprocal giving, profiting, profiteering, behaving greedily, embezzling.

I think these postures all exist on the same continuum.  They have to do with where we draw the line between our self and others with regard to sharing and exchange.

One of the flaws, in my opinion, with many popular forms of conservatism (whether it’s an inherent flaw with conservatism, I haven’t thought through) is that it focuses on the perceived shortcomings of other people.  Conservatives would do well to keep the focus on the self.

The other people are deemed takers, apparently, not makers.

Making may be all well and good, and even necessary and wonderful, but it matters what else is accompanying it.  Once we get beyond reasonable profits, in my list, I think we’ve got a problem.  I think we’ve created a wobble in the spin that will eventually make the system collapse and turn into a different system.

It’s easier, maybe, to see the problem at the level of relationships between individuals.  Relationships with people who take emotional support from another and never provide it, for example, collapse.  The person who has given and not received may collapse or they may figure out what’s happening before they collapse and leave or get the emotional support elsewhere.  Or it may be that friend who always asks for a more tangible favor but never does one in return.  Eventually that relationship founders.  It may be the spouse put through med school who then divorces the spouse who worked to pay the bills.  It could be the kid with the bike who takes the money to buy the sodas at the store a mile away but drinks them all before they get back to the group.

In some way there is exploitation.

At a personal level we probably don’t endorse this kind of behavior, either, whether or not we engage in it.

Why, then, should the same basic dynamic be acceptable or even laudable at the level of the group?  And why should we expect it not to have a negative impact on the functioning of the group as a whole?

Moral codes rail against greed for a reason.

Capitalism without greed I think is a very different beast from capitalism with greed, especially greed that is not even recognized by the people whose behavior is rife with it.  Conservatives, in my opinion, seem to confuse and conflate the two systems, how they work, and whether they are morally defensible.

Producing conservatives

August 20, 2013

I read Richard Rohr’s meditation this morning and thought, “Oh dear, it’s that preoccupation with the 1960s.”  I have read elsewhere a different version of this preoccupation, that the ’60s are somehow responsible for sex scandals in the Church.  I don’t think free love in the ’60s had anything to do with pedophilia.  I also really don’t believe that there were no conservatives, or people with the emotional profile Father Rohr is describing, before the impact of the 1960s.  But the dynamic he identifies may be true for some people, that I could see.  And while I’m at it, I’m going to make the point that Father Rohr’s concern, in another meditation, about our having to start from scratch in this life, melts away if we bring in the concept of reincarnation.  I know that I didn’t learn everything I know now through a process of consciously studying it in this lifetime.

Going against the grain

September 25, 2012

I get a lot out of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, but I don’t always agree with everything in them, even if I am grateful for them and respectful of his abilities.  This morning’s is an example.

I disagree that God initiates in a relationship with us, unless, of course, we want to split hairs.  What I see is that God’s love is there all the time, what initiates the relationship is when we somehow become open to that love.

While I’m at it, at criticizing people whose work I enjoy and whose presence I am grateful for, I will take this example of where I disagree with Fr. Rohr to show where I disagree with David Brooks and today’s column of his on conservatism.

I don’t think what I said about God’s love always being present is anything new, wouldn’t surprise me if Rohr says it too, I could even have gotten it from him.  Nor is our openness as key anything new, especially to more eastern spiritual traditions, I think.  But overall my approach to spirituality is a little more radical a change than David Brooks would apparently advocate, a little less prudent and incremental and respectful of continuity and tradition — I want to jettison our conceptualization of God as a cranky parent, for instance, and I want everybody to remember that everybody learns, eventually, to merge their humanness with the divinity within them — that everybody eventually becomes enlightened.  Nobody does it for you.  And that the basic tools are the same for everybody, regardless of their stage in the process — willingness, becoming more self-aware, becoming more open, getting out of the way, listening, following guidance.

What I see is, to track David Brooks’s idea that conservatism is focused now only on one of its components, is that to clear the runway and get lift, we need to do more than take baby steps, we need to do something more like leap into space.  (…we/Fling our souls into the/Pitch dark again, and/Wait for the stars/To shine.)  Faith for me is the concept that if we do, we will be borne aloft.  Metaphorically, of course; I am, after all, the daughter of an aeronautical engineer.

Because if we don’t take enough of a leap, we fall back, I think, we revert to a prior stage, even get more stuck in it for having tried to progress beyond it and not accomplished that goal.  There are risks to taking small steps when larger ones are called for.

On the other hand, to end on a more conciliatory note, as I assume Rohr and I agree on the fundamental importance of love and its eternity, maybe my spiritual approach is sufficiently rooted in tradition to pass muster with David Brooks’s notion of what kind of change is helpful.

Addressing fear

August 16, 2012

I made a comment to a comment, this morning, to a Gail Collins column about Paul Ryan’s plans for Medicare.  I talked about the fear I perceive lying behind Republican conservatism, and how instead of working on dismantling the fear itself people try to protect against the thing they fear.  I mentioned at the end of my reply how I think liberals don’t address or effectively address conservatives’ fear.

I thought I’d elaborate here on my thoughts about effectively addressing somebody else’s fear.

For example, telling someone to stop feeling fear isn’t particularly effective, I don’t think, and it usually comes across as pretty harsh and not very compassionate, which may exacerbate a fear reaction.  Sometimes helping someone shine a flashlight under the bed helps, or explaining how others have dealt with an analogous fear gives them a needed roadmap.  Sometimes it is merely a matter of exposing the person to the thing feared, of having them taste the green eggs and ham, in effect.  Sometimes it helps for the person to identify an event or image that seems to be at the root of their fear and to re-examine that situation in order to see it differently:  maybe not all large dogs are unfriendly, and maybe even the one who seemed so was just being territorial and reacting with his own anxiety to feeling challenged, while tied up in front of the house he was trying to protect, by someone who didn’t speak “dog.”

I guess, with regard to fear, conservatives, and liberals, I might start with an issue like guns or immigration and try to address people’s fears directly, respectfully, and compassionately without contributing to them or endorsing them.  I think fears can be dismantled or at least reduced, and from that would flow a change in attitude toward the need for such hypervigilant self-protection.  I think that might change the policy debates on these issues more substantially than other approaches.


March 3, 2012

In addition to introducing me to the work of Robert Graves, my high school Latin teacher introduced me to the discipline and approach(es) of anthropology (I think he was getting a master’s degree in it at the time).

I used to try to apply anthropological analysis to classical and medieval law and history.  I liked it the way it allowed me to make sense of things that hadn’t looked sensible before — like finding that there were patterns in succession to the Visigothic throne, that “morbus gothorum” did not do justice to what was going on (it was part of, and the impetus for, my original dissertation topic, which I chickened out of, in favor of one that had originality built into it but for which I didn’t have much enthusiasm — that one had to do with 14th-century dower in England, and I wrote a paper on Livy’s telling of the story of Lucretia and the validity of coerced consent in Roman law, instead).

I was thinking this morning about the Republican race for president, about conservative thinking on moral decay and strengthening the family, and about the factor of religion in the primaries.  One of the things that passed through my mind was how Mormonism, I think, sees itself as trying to make good on Christianity’s promise, and how its sometime embrace of polygamy might fit into whatever project of reform it is engaged in.  From another angle, I was thinking about kinship groups other than the nuclear family and the roles they sometimes play in social and economic networks.

So, what came out of this mixture of thoughts was the idea that maybe our insistence in our current culture of relying on a nuclear family is a point at which we might intervene when we try to identify what’s not working in our society and how to address those ills.  I forget why we came to live as nuclear families either in fact or in terms of an ideal that then influences our expectations.

Maybe work is already done in this regard, about what might be a more natural living arrangement for groups of people of different generations, genders, abilities to contribute to the unit either through caretaking or through bringing in resources like income, in our current society.  If it is, maybe we could please hear more about it in those places in the media in which we hear what the psychologists, sociologists, biologists, neuroscientists, and other favorites are doing.

The opposite of orthodoxy

January 10, 2012

I do actually understand the pairing as opposites of “liberal” and “conservative,” but what I personally find more helpful is the contrast between people with airtight belief systems and those who are more open and porous.  It’s sort of related to the contrast between ideologues and non-conformists, between the orthodox and iconoclasts.

So, I’m not sure what is really gained when people jump ship from conservatism to liberalism, or vice versa.  The trouble I tend to have is with people’s being doctrinaire and imposing their beliefs on others — that sort of dynamic is quite possible regardless of whether one is for big government or little government, EPA regulations or industry independence.

I think I’ve noted before that someone once said to me that he thought the orthodox of different religions had more in common with each other than with the less observant members of their own religions.  I suspect that’s true of politics, too.  And when people change party affiliations, I’m not sure they change personalities or emotional make-ups, and I’m not sure they don’t use the same attitudes and techniques in their new context.

What I enjoy more is taking off all the labels and disaggregating all the ideas that are usually tied up together and looking for the ideas that work, that make sense of a sort, that hold up to rigorous analysis, that serve the greater good.  I probably have the dubious advantage (or bias in favor of this approach) of being somewhat ignorant of what one is supposed to think — of which ideas are supposed to go together.  Of course, being too much of a free-thinker can leave a person with fewer sure allies and without the kind of community that people who seek group affiliation and are comfortable with it enjoy.  Willy and I would notice this when we would periodically look into private schools for our kids — we fit in nowhere, both because of family composition and our beliefs (or lack of a recognizable package of them).  We would laugh about how we were a party of two.  And we didn’t get that way on purpose, it’s just where our thinking took us, and by chance we seemed to think alike — at least about anything major (not so about things like whether dishes that will eventually need scrubbing by hand should go first through the dishwasher — him, yes, me no — or whether it makes a difference whether you soak a pan in hot or cold water — he claimed cold worked just as well, but I was never convinced, his scientific explanations notwithstanding).

Anyway, I guess I maintain that free-thinking on my own, not so much out of conviction or habit but because that seems to be the way my mind works.