Thursday, May 30, 2013

Explaining Right Wing Ideology in the United States

On the surface, the conservative mentality seems more than a little delusional, but is there actually a method to their madness? 

Thanks to some dude named Tom Morris for the above!

If you were to ask me what the primary difference was between right wing ideologues and left wingers (which, in the States, are actually centrists compared to liberal parties elsewhere), I would say it’s a matter of inspiration.

Simply put, conservatives are FUELED by their hatred of liberals. A conservative isn’t so much an adherent to neoliberalism and supply side ethics is he or she is an opponent of the Democratic Party, a human being whose very identity is enveloped in a fuming, inexhaustible miasma of hatred toward leftists. Try listening to an AM radio conservative show sometimes; instead of discussing solutions or policy ideas -- or, pragmatically, how to achieve desirable outcomes pending current resources -- it’s a safe bet that what you will hear is three or four hours of NONSTOP demonization of liberals. Even back in the mid-2000s, when Republicans virtually owned all three branches of government, programs of the type were almost entirely anchored around attacks to whatever  puny resistance movements were mounted on the left. At a time when Democratic clout was underpowered in D.C., the Right still found enemies to perpetually lash out against in the form of entertainment and social activists like Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan -- sometimes, it feels like this need to berate left-wing opposition is more important to right wingers than actually, you know, implementing and monitoring their own social and economic policies.

In that, anti-liberal rancor is to the American conservative what hydrocarbons are to modern industry -- shut off the fuel supply, and everything just comes to a dead stop.

Liberals, it seems, are ALWAYS on the defensive, while Republicans are always on the offensive. Democrats like Wilson, FDR and LBJ tried to implement new economic and social models -- which, of course, were fought tooth and nail by Republican resistors -- so that by the time those policies come to pass, they’d been largely defanged or neutralized as effective programs. Clearly, this is something you are seeing with the Obama presidency -- alike The United Nations, Social Security and Medicaid before it, it’s almost certain that an Affordable Care Act-like overhaul will be necessary at some point in the nation’s future. And I’d be willing to bet my bottom dollar that, alike Social Security and Medicaid (ironically, two liberally-implemented programs that senior Republicans now deem as necessary social entitlements) the aged neo-cons of 50 years will be screaming to keep ObamaCare models in place when the next great Democratic social reformer comes along with some kooky, crazy idea that might just have the audacity to think more than two years into the future.

And with all of that in mind, you know something? Despite being vilified and constantly obstructed, liberals still don’t hate conservatives with as much soul-consuming hatred as the right wingers hate them. In fact, a lot of times, leftists don’t hate right wingers AT ALL -- it’s just that, alike that one deranged uncle that hears voices in his head telling him to put metal things in the microwave to appease Jesus -- liberals feel like it’s their duty to keep rightists from burning down the retirement home. If liberals are the nurturing, common-sense employing mothers of America -- who just want to see their children grow up as prosperous, civil individuals -- then conservatives are the beer-chugging, deer-killing, job-hating absentee fathers that don’t give a shit what you do when you’re 18, just as long as you keep your radio in your room turned down and you’re home before 11. And heaven help you if they find out you’re dating a black person…

Of course, there’s a wide chasm between what liberals generally think and what conservatives generally think. Leftists believe in collectivism and constant restructuring of social policies -- preferably, with individual economic improvement via secularized, civic-focused structures casting as wide a social security net as possible -- while rightists believe “The Lord of the Flies” is a pretty good document to found an entire sociopolitical ideology upon. Making money is good, government sucks and the government taking your money (and gasp, perhaps using it on social programs that benefit less fortunate people) is the worst atrocity imaginable -- no matter what variety of conservatism you dig, if you believe the above three to be self-evident (alongside a contentious fourth pillar we’ll discuss shortly),  than congratulations, you’ve been invited to the boys’ club.

The fact of the matter is, right wing ideology in the United States covers a lot more territory than some would initially think -- in fact, it covers ground so large that it happens to push completely antithetical sub-ideologies together, as individual values and mores secondary to the much larger values stated above become unlikely bedmates.

As you can see in the figure above, the right wing spectrum runs all the way from God-fearing, drug-hating theocratic prohibitionists -- the sort of Victorian prudes that place religious conviction over personal liberty -- all the way up to market anarchists -- godless, amoral hyper-capitalists that not only believe man is without redemption, but actually EMBRACE humanity’s Hobbesian vileness as financial virtue. Clearly, these folks ought not to be part of the same team, but since they share similar fundamental moral values -- and much more importantly, a common enemy -- they can, theoretically, put their differences aside and declare the same jihad on liberalism.

There are some differences between the two poles, of course, the largest (at first glance, anyway) being the divisive issue of religion. The reality is, outside of their economic convictions, the bookends of modern conservatism -- the Sarah Palin loving, illegal immigrant-despising and Judeo-Christian God worshipping Tea Party side and the Ron Paul celebrating, weed legalizing Reddit atheist Libertarian side -- have almost dialectically opposite social policy beliefs. While the Tea Party side tends to have your “traditional” Republican values, the social policy values favored by Libertarians are not only closely aligned to the social policy values of those dastardly liberals, but in some cases, even more extreme.

Looking at core beliefs, there isn’t a whole lot of common ground between Tea Party conservatives and Libertarian conservatives. While the Michelle Bachmann-followers of America foster a profound hatred of abortion, secularization and drug legalization, the Gary Johnson-ites of America are usually staunch defenders of those same ideals. Two of the more understated, albeit contentious, issues among the Sunni and Shiite Republicans involves military support and the topic of illegal immigration; while most Tea Partiers are damn-damn-damn opposed to comprehensive immigration reform, there’s a large contingency of Libertarian Republicans that are in favor of it. Similarly, while a near majority of Tea Partiers celebrate the military with utmost zeal, a large number of Libertarians are anti-war and would like to see defense spending on the downturn…a sharp contrast to the ideology of Tea Partiers, who believe that the military is the ONLY aspect of big government that’s worthy of funding.

The only omnipresent, hot button issues it seems as if the two poles of conservatism can agree upon are less taxation (obviously) and gun control -- that being, there shouldn’t be any of the latter whatsoever. As a social policy, gun ownership/celebration/worship appears to be the ONLY core cultural value, outside of economic beliefs, that the two wildly divergent camps can agree upon -- in fact, it’s an ideological fixture secured so tightly in both camps that one could make the argument that “gun ownership is completely unquestionable as a civil right” constitutes an unofficial “fourth pillar” of modern U.S. conservatism.

So there’s this concept called “cognitive dissonance.” It postulates that people, by our very nature, are incapable of holding two contradictory ideas in our collective heads at the same time, so as a means of relieving such mental stress, we try to find ways to push out one idea and embrace its opposite. When you look at this modern conservative coalition, however, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s an alliance COMPLETELY anchored around cherished, antithetical ideas -- in other words, an ideological system that not only rejects the whole cognitive dissonance theorem, but completely embraces it’s polar opposite (“cognitive harmony,” would you call it?)

And as such, being a conservative in this day and age entails a necessary investment in contradictory ideals.

As you can see by the examples above, “logical incongruity” isn’t necessarily a problem for modern U.S. conservatives. While one act supposedly celebrating individual liberty and right can be championed as virtue, another individual act of liberty and right can be construed as a socially negative imposition that MUST be corrected by state intervention. Thusly, the logic of “outlawing guns WON’T reduce gun violence” reigns supreme in many conservative circles, where the virtually identical supposition -- “outlawing abortions WON’T reduce women seeking abortions” is completely disregarded. The same can be said of conservative views regarding governmental powers; while federal decrees are largely seen as unfair impositions on states, most conservatives never seem to trudge up that state and local powers are often guilty of imposing FAR more impositions on the citizenry, in much more direct -- and consequential -- ways. Por exemple? Despite federal laws making abortions and adult novelties legal across the land, states like North Dakota and Alabama have decided that “state rights” matter more than federal decree, and have thus levied seriously unconstitutional impositions on its citizens. So if you’re wondering why so many sheriffs in Red State America keep yammering on an on about how they don’t have to follow national policy because of the Constitution -- you know, the same document that has the goddamned Supremacy Clause in it -- I reckon it’s just that inherent conservative cognitive harmonization in full effect.

From an ideological standpoint, democratic liberalism is a much more consistent philosophy than democratic conservatism -- mostly because liberalism anticipates and incorporates societal changes into policy ideals INSTEAD of railing against them like Don Quixote threshing at a windmill. The problem -- which, peculiarly, has become U.S. conservatism’s greatest characteristic in the modern age -- is that it’s attempting to serve two masters: unfettered personal liberty WITH unfettered economic liberty, an order where the market reigns supreme, the government limits social safeguards, and everybody is free(r) to do as they wish. The rub -- as the Great Depression and the post-Gilded Age taught us -- was that a super-unregulated market, sans government interaction, doesn’t necessarily lead to a citizenry becoming wealthier or more civil. In fact, the only times economic growth seems to happen in the U.S. is when federal impositions are placed upon an unfettered market and social safeguards are established for a citizenry…as proven here after the New Deal, here after the erection of the Great Society and holy shit, even right now, as apparent by the nation’s Consumer Price Index, which is at its highest plateau ever. And as far as civility and liberalism goes, look no further than this chart, which saw the nation’s homicide rate plummet underneath FDR, bottom out with Johnson and then decrease dramatically by the end of Clinton’s second term (after reaching its highest levels in modern history during the Reagan Administration.)

According to modern science, underdeveloped anterior cingulate cortexes are probably responsible for the existence of Sarah Palin. 

Not only does it seem as if social security programming correlates with economic upticks, golly gee, it sure seems like such investments tend to have a beneficial effect on general civility, too. But alas, that’s contra to the modern conservative mentality, which says the exact opposite of what empirical data indicates -- that less market intervention and less social services investments result in both economic and social improvements.

It’s not that modern conservative ideology seems impossibly fragmented and ignorant of real world data -- it actually IS impossibly fragmented and ignorant of real world data. Now, to what extent we can pin all of the ideology’s faults and foibles on the “cognitive harmony” theory above is debatable, but it sure seems to cover all of the bases as a potential explanation for why right wing thinking seems so…well, delusional.

And so, it may be disheartening to realize that a good half of the U.S. population subscribes to a political ethos that rejects the notion of cognitive dissonance as a mental practice, with unabashed hatred of the political other serving as the sole adhesive the glues together two utterly impossible ideological pillars together, but on the bright side? Only half of their kind want to take over the nation via an armed uprising, thankfully.


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