WHY CONSERVATIVES AND PROGRESSIVES THINK THE WAY THEY THINK
(These thoughts are purely the blunt, no nonsense personal opinions of the author about financial fairness and discrimination and are not intended to provide personal or financial advice).
The following blog post is based on George Lakoff’s research on moral politics. It is impossible to outline all of his findings here, so it is worthwhile to read more of his research for a fuller picture of his findings. The words in this blog post are primarily taken from the two source materials. Words in italics are those of the blog author. (This blog post was published in a local newspaper in 600 word abbreviated format as submissions to newspaper are restricted to a certain number of words). Updated August 9, 2017.
Why conservatives and progressives think the way they think
Thank goodness for local newspaper opinion letters of past few weeks highlighting why Conservatives message and Unite the Right in Alberta are failures for social democracy!
To understand conservatives and progressives George Lakoff, retired Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, in ‘Understanding Trump’ (understanding-trump) and ‘Your brain on Trump’ by Jennie Josephson (transcript-george-lakoff) states “politics needs to be understood metaphorically in family terms since we are all first governed by our families and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of family governance. Family defines the self-definitions of people and people don’t vote against their self-definition. Based on life and family circumstances neural circuitry in the brain follows two common forms of family life. One is ‘strict father family’ (conservative) and the other ‘nurturant parent family’ (progressive). All politics is moral. Voters vote their moral values. To vote against their moral values means rejection of self.
‘Strict father’ brain circuitry believes authority is justified by morality hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate, for example, rich above poor (increasing corporate/family wealth with no increase in minimum wage), Western Culture above other cultures, men above women, white above non whites, Christians above non Christians, straights above gays, corporate outsourcing or privatization for the sake of profit above unions, etc. In conservative politics poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, while rich deserve their wealth (as evidenced by almost zero affordable housing during forty year Alberta Conservative oil boom reign sung to the tune of it is what the market can bear mentality). Responsibility is taken to be personal responsibility, not social responsibility.
Poor conservatives vote against their material interests, because they’re voting for their worldview. And the reason for it is that their moral worldview defines who they are. They are not going to vote against their own definition of who they are.”
Another type of dominance to add to the list is married above singles. Singles are often invisible in the family definition and excluded in financial formulas (what-is-the-point)
“Conservatives see taxation, not as investment in publicly provided resources for all citizens but, as government taking their earnings (their private property) and giving it through government programs to those who don’t deserve it. They always want to cut taxes and cut public resources. They fail to recognize that many public resources begin with business and that they themselves benefit from tax dollars used for public good in public roads, schools, hospitals, police, courts for business cases, the criminal justice system, sewers, water, electricity, Wall Street which is utilized most by the wealthy, etc.
They want to go back to ‘old time’ values as in “the Alberta I grew up in” and “Make America great again”. They fail to realize it is impossible to go back, for example, to oil boom days when Britain and France and auto manufacturers are moving towards electric only cars.
Re conservative and progressive brain circuitry, Lakoff states “there is no middle in politics, but most people are not just all one or the other. They are what he calls bi-conceptual or moderates. Most conservatives have some progressive views and, likewise, most progressives have some conservative views. And there are people who are both conservative and progressive, but one view is usually stronger than the other. How can they both reside in the same brain at the same time? Both are characterized in the brain by neural circuitry. They are linked by a commonplace circuit: mutual inhibition. When one is turned on the other is turned off; when one is strengthened, the other is weakened. The more conservative views (Trump) are discussed in the media, the more they are activated and the stronger they get; both in the minds of hardcore conservatives and in the minds of progressive conservatives.” (The three political parties in Canada – progressive conservative, liberal and new democrat also changes the political picture.)
“Far right conservative politicians may want to turn on the minor view in the other person and USA conservatives have figured out how to do this. In fact, they set up leadership sessions to train leaders who want to be conservative to think and talk conservative.” What is really scary is that Lakoff says a fact that is set in the neural circuitry of the brain can be changed in less than a tenth of second. Trump as a perfect salesman has learned how he can take the mind off of important facts.
Lakoff states that “conservative and progressive views often determine which college they are likely to attend. Conservatives are likely to take business courses which means they will take marketing courses which teach them how to maximize marketing. There’s a good chance they will study cognitive science, that is, how people really think and how to market things by advertising. So they know people think using frames and metaphors and narratives and images and emotions and so on. Progressives interested in politics are more likely to take political science, law, public policy, economic theory, not business, and therefore, they learn a different way of thinking. They likely are not going to study either cognitive science or neuroscience. Once a worldview is established and become fixed in a lot of very complex circuits in the brain, the worldview becomes natural and automatic.” (One professor after reading Lakoff’s research has added a cognitive science course to the curriculum).
According to Lakoff, “research has shown conservatives tend to reason with direct causation while progressives have easier time reasoning with systemic causation. Examples of direct causation are Trump’s ‘immigrants are flooding in from Mexico so build a wall’ or cure for gun violence is to have a gun ready to directly shoot the shooter. Those who think climate change is a hoax likely base this on direct causation. Systemic causation in global warming explains why global warming over the Pacific can produce huge snowstorms in Washington DC: masses of highly energized water molecules evaporate over the Pacific, blow to the Northeast and over the North Pole and come down in winter over the East coast and parts of the Midwest as masses of snow. Systemic causation has chains of direct causes, interacting causes, feedback loops, and probabilistic causes, often combined. Direct causation is easy to understand, and appears to represented in the grammars of all languages around the world. Systemic causation is more complex and is not represented in the grammar of any language. It just has to be learned”.
How do conservatives get their message across?
How do far right Conservatives get their message across? Lakoff gives ten examples of unconscious brain mechanisms (98 per cent of thought is unconscious). Some examples are repetition (we are going to win, win, win so much). Then there is framing like ‘Crooked Hillary’, and repeating well-known examples over and over again like shootings by Muslims, Africans-Americans and Latinos. In his tweets, salesman Trump uses preemptive framing, diversion or deflection, attack the messenger and trial balloons (test public reaction to nuclear arms escalation).
Lakoff states that even if Trump had lost the election, he will have changed the brains of millions of Americans, with future consequences. This is why it is important that people know the mechanisms used to transmit Big Lies and to stick them into people’s brains without their awareness. It is a form of mind control.
How to fight far right conservative ideology
So, how can we fight far right conservative ideology? As stated by Lakoff responsibility rests with ordinary citizens recognizing unconscious brain mechanisms used to spread their message. Then, recognize that it does not help to repeat false conservative claims and rebut them with facts. Instead, go positive. Use positive truthful framing in terms of public good to undermine claims to the contrary. Use facts to support positively-framed truth with repetition. Say it over and over again. The best resistance is positive persistence. Talk about the public, the people, public servants and good government. And take back freedom. Public resources provide for freedom in private enterprise and in private life.
Don’t go negative. Keep out of nasty exchanges and attacks. One can speak powerfully without shouting.
Rebuttal needs to start with values, not policies and facts and numbers. PROGRESSIVES ARE THE MAJORITY (in USA) so let’s make our values clear. Progressive thought is built on empathy, on citizens caring about other citizens and working through government to provide public resources for all, both businesses and individuals. Values come first, facts and policies follow in the service of values. Facts and policies matter, but they always support values”. (The Democrats lost the election to Trump because their message was wrong).
From George Lakoff’s ‘Ten Points for Democracy Activists’ (condensed) (ten)
- Understand the basic issues (see online: ‘a minority president why the polls failed and what the majority can do’)
- Know the difference between framing and propaganda: frames are mental structures in thought; every thought uses frames. Frames, in themselves, are unavoidable and neutral. Honest framing is the use of frames you believe in and are truthful.
- Hold conservatives accountable (focus on Republican actions-minimize publicizing Trump – his image, his name, his tweets)
- Focus attention on substance, not sideshows: positively and strongly reframe Trump’s preemptive framing
- Focus on democracy and freedom (in government by, for and of the people, there is, or should be, no distinction between the public and government. Government’s focus should be on empathy, transparency and freedom and opportunity)
- Be careful not to spread fake news
- Understand the brain’s politics: All ideas are physical, embodied in neural circuitry. The more the circuitry is activated, the stronger the circuitry gets and the more deeply the ideas are held. (Use real facts to filter out alternative facts).
- Remember progressives are a powerful majority
- Be positive: frame all issues from a progressive moral viewpoint. Take the viewpoint of the public good, of the impoverished and the weak, and of preservation
- Join the Citizens’ Communication Network
Whether or not readers agree with Lakoff’s reasoning for conservative versus progressive differences is in the eye of the beholder. However, it behooves all of us to fight dangerous Big Lies leading to authoritarian conservative governance.
This is only a small insight into what George Lakoff has to say about moral politics. It also should be said that extremes on either side whether conservative or progressive can have dire consequences. Far right conservatism can lead to authoritarian governance and far left progressiveness can lead to communism type governance where freedoms are taken away under guise of all persons are equal. It also is wrong for governments to hand out numerous tax credits without looking at assets and wealth so that wealthy get tax credits and financial loopholes they don’t need. It is all about balance!
(This blog is of a general nature about financial discrimination of individuals/singles. It is not intended to provide personal or financial advice).