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Friday 18 October 2013

An analysis of the Conservative Paradigm

Today I was going to write something about comparing Lords of Olympus to Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, but I found myself distracted by an article, and especially commentary about the article.  The article was about how the head of the conservative lobby group Freedomworks said that "Obamacare" is bad because insurers should just charge the seriously ill more rather than expect healthy people to have to pay more to cover the chronically ill.  In the interview he also stated that while he doesn't think its the fault of someone born with a congenital illness, he feels that they should get help from "loved ones, family, a church, a neighbourhood", and said that the expectation to pay for universal healthcare makes people slaves.

Interesting. It was the comments on G+, however, that got me interested; wave after wave of liberal posters expressing outrage and disbelief, not being able to understand how conservatives could be such "monsters", and general confusion of how anyone could think like that!  The thing is, I think that a lot of liberals out there really literally don't understand how conservatives think, because there is such a huge paradigm clash.   The brainwashing of either group is so different, it starts from such different logical assumptions, such different memes about what's good or what's bad, that the liberals can only see the conservative viewpoint as that of "monsters" and vice-versa.

So, as a magician who has transcended the bondage of paradigms, to the point that I regularly get accused of being a fascist reactionary by liberals and of being a marxist scumbag by conservatives, and more importantly to the point that I can see just how badly you both suck ass in the ways you let paradigm overrule pragmatic reality, please allow me try to educate you liberals out there on how the Conservative paradigm works, vis a vis health care as our case-study:

To explain the conservative mindset, by which I really mean in this case the U.S. conservative protestant mindset: they view personal and community charity as laudable, and state-imposed charity as not.  The reason why they say things like the above without thinking themselves monsters is the same reason why they also vastly outstrip self-described liberals in terms of charitable donations per capita. 
That is to say, they believe that charity should be voluntary and based on a community, and not obligatory and imposed by a government.

Why? What's the difference to them?

First of all, there is the view that charity is one of the most important 'christian' virtues; and that it becomes meaningless if the option to give or not give is taken away from you through state-imposed welfare systems.  If everyone HAS to give it doesn't "mean anything" to them, because the point isn't so much about making sure everyone gets helped (see below) as it is about making sure the GIVER has the opportunity to make a free-will choice to do something spiritually laudable.
Or to put it in simpler terms: yes you care for the person you're giving to but you're not really doing it FOR them. You're doing it for Jesus. And for that to matter, it has to be YOU who makes the choice, and you can also make the choice NOT to give.  Government-imposed health care taxes take away that option (I mean, you can give more on top of your taxes, and again, conservatives DO give charitably WAY more than liberals do; but you can't "not give" anymore; you can't decide that someone deserves your charity or doesn't, instead someone else takes your money and decides for you).

Secondly,  its about "fairness".  Just as liberals have an almost insane obsession with "equal" (and more recently, with "tolerant"), conservatives have an almost insane obsession with "fair"; which in both cases can lead to some pretty absurd extremes that tend to defeat the purpose.
A liberal might think that the "fair" thing would be for everyone in the country to have basic access to medical services (but that's because they're confusing 'fair' with "equal").  But to a conservative, that's just not the case; because its not "fair" that some people have to work hard only to have their hard-earned dollars taken away from them by the government while some deadbeat who does nothing is allowed to get free medical treatment (that he "doesn't deserve", see below) without doing anything to earn it.  Its "unfair" in that the right to property is sacrosanct, and the government is confiscating our property (money) to give it away to other people. 
Now, if you actually sit down and talk to a conservative, they will be quite ready to admit that of course there are cases of people who work very hard with more than one job and still couldn't possibly afford health coverage in America's fucked-up system. They would also admit that of course there are also people (little kids, the elderly, those who are disabled through no fault of their own rather than by "lifestyle choices") that really need health care, and that are in no way just "deadbeats".  That's why they argue for the need for community to step up.  But accepting the reality of those peoples' existence does not preclude the bigger issue that they know there ARE people out there taking "UNFAIR" advantage of the system.  And that's intolerable.  Because just like a liberal will generally, when pushed to the wall, claim that its would be better for a large number of people to be unable to achieve their full potential (and thus be harmed in the process) than any one person be treated unequally, so too will a conservative claim that it would be better for a large group of people fail to get medical treatment than for even ONE willfully deadbeat slacker to get free money (in the form of healthcare) from their pockets "unfairly".

That sounds callous, but again, the point a conservative would make is that it shouldn't be the government's business to give health care in the first place; that should be up to the FAMILY, the CHURCH, and the COMMUNITY.  Why? Why are those better? Because, they will tell you, those institutions do not give out their services "equally" like some deranged marxist; they are able to Judge who "deserves it".

There, our last point: it is inherently part of the point for conservatives that health-care in the hands of family, church or community would NOT reach everyone. That, to them, is ultimately a good thing.

Because those institutions Judge.  They don't allow for "deadbeats", they're "fair" in that they will help those who really need it and cast out those who don't "deserve" it.  People without a family, or a church, or outside of a community, are immediately suspect because they are not under the supervision of the pillars of tradition that ensure compliance to societal norms.  A conservative will very strongly agree that the community (including the churches) needs to make certain that it stretches out far and wide to make sure it can help anyone who "really needs" it, they have no problem with that; but again the point is that by default if you do not have a strong social network within a church and community and find yourself helpless because of that the question is WHY were you not within these institutions in the first place? What was wrong with you that you had no church, no family, and no community around you to give you charity in your time of need? Accidental isolation can sometimes happen but a lot of the time, a conservative would guess, it was that you did something to DESERVE being ostracized, that you are in some way in violation of society's norms, and therefore do not deserve society's protections.  Just as it would be "unfair" for taxpayer's money being used to fund deadbeats, it is also only "fair" that if you make "lifestyle choices" that don't keep you centered within the norms of society, then you made your choice to be a "weirdo" of some kind and probably haven't "earned" the right to be helped by the community.  If something bad happens to you, you probably "deserve" to not get help, because you chose to not be part of the "normal" society that you're now demanding help from.

And that, liberal ladies and gentlemen, is how the conservative paradigm works, and why they can say these things and feel morally justified.

Tread carefully now,  or I might just have to do a liberal version next.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Egg + Brebbia no.7 mixture


  1. As a self professed liberal I would love to read a liberal version of this.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I concur with Steven as well.

    One thing that compounding this is the impact of technology on affluence. As technology increases productivity you starting running into the morality of the Good Samartian. If you see an injured or sick person beside the road the moral things to do is to help the regard of how you feel about the individual.

    If society finally has the wealth to aid everybody at some level with a detrimental life circumstance (injury, sickness, old age, etc) don't we have the moral obligation to do so?

    I know the liberal viewpoint would be all over this as this would fit perfectly with the idea of people should be treated equally. However the hard work would advocate measure to do this even when it would be huge detriment or impoverish everybody (like Marxism). I am talking about when it clear that the wealth is present and the productivity will support it.

  4. It is in fact the conservative's obsessive need to pass judgement and choose who "deserves" their largess that I find repulsive and in its manifestations borderline monstrous. All to often the judgement of deserving is withheld from anyone is isn't like them.

    I understand their viewpoints and I found it to be self-absorbed and solipsistic.

    1. Read what you just wrote and ask yourself do you really want to live in a society that dictates to whom you can and can't give money, time, or resources too? To freely judge is a fundamental characteristic of being a free person. A person not able to do so is no better off than a feudal serf or a slave.

      While I believe the United States is productive enough to provide at a certain level for all. I am going to be damn cautious about it as I am not going to hand my freedom over to Harrisburg, or Washington either. There is too much bullshit on both sides of the debate.

  5. The irony of this is that the more the conservatives get their own way, the more dangerous the spectre of these "deadbeats" actually becomes. If there's a social safety net for those people who lose connection to family, church and community (and I think conservatives - and people in general - lose touch of just how easy it is for that to happen) then even if family, church and community let them down then they can still get food and a roof over their head. If there's no social safety net, then someone in that position ends up with literally nothing to lose, and whilst conservatives might say that people dependent on welfare end up soft and indolent, I'd much rather they be soft and indolent than hungry, scared, and backed into a corner, because people in the latter position tend to do extreme, terrifying things to ensure their personal survival. Robbing a 7/11 when you can just get basic supplies with food stamps isn't a stellar idea; robbing a 7/11 when the alternative is literal starvation is a no-brainer.

    It's also notable, of course, that part of the conservative paradigm is about actively exiling people from family/church/community. Most obvious example at this particular time: people being disowned by their families for being homosexual (and indeed there are plenty of communities in the States where you wouldn't be welcome in your own church, or even walking down your town's main street, if it were known you were gay). Which I guess comes back to your point about judging.

    So the conservative paradigm claims to be against these "deadbeats" but at the same time behaves in a way which is nigh-guaranteed to create them and push them into dangerous levels of desperation. Scary.

    Of course, in some parts of the world at some points in history conservative communities had mechanisms for making sure those they considered "deadbeats" stopped being a problem permanently. Lynching in the US South wasn't a state-sponsored affair - it was the whole "judgement of the community" idea you're talking about here taken to a horrifying extreme.

    Which I guess is the take-away lesson from here: family and community can be just as tyrannical as the state, though the tyrannies tend to manifest in different ways (spontaneous violence vs. gulags and execution chambers, for example). In principle, it should be easier to get away from the tyranny of the community than it is the tyranny of the State - but of course, if the conservative paradigm gets its way then ditching your community will mean burning your social safety net, so whilst there may be less red tape involved in leaving your community it may not be viable to do it (especially if the culture is such that communities are reluctant to give chances to complete strangers). The tricky situation the US is facing is that the Constitution is very clear about how it limits the power of the state, but doesn't have comparable provisions for protecting people from the excesses of communities which turn against them in an alarming fashion.

    That's why on balance I believe in a social safety net that's provided by the state. Communities can exile people for fucked up reasons (being gay, having the temerity to report the high school football team stars for raping you, I'm sure you can pull out a dozen horror stories from small town America along those lines), and whilst that's horrifying, it'd also be an intolerable burden on freedom to force communities to keep people around when nobody in that community actually likes them, just as it would be mad to force estranged family members to be nice to each other. Equally, though, falling out with your small town's culture or having a fight with your family shouldn't be a literal death sentence.

  6. "Why are those better? Because, they will tell you, those institutions do not give out their services "equally" like some deranged marxist; they are able to Judge who "deserves it"."

    I would challenge this, and say that they are better because they are voluntary. Rather than using money to operate that is being taken from others through force of law (and in some cases, actual force), families, churches, and communities help others out of resources that are volunteered rather than commandeered.

  7. Nice article. I would love to see a liberal version as well.

  8. "conservatives DO give charitably WAY more than liberals do"

    That's just not true. Studies show that they give comparable amounts, but to different sorts of charity - conservatives to religious charities, liberals to secular ones.

  9. The Margolis study has some significant and questionable flaws of its own. For starters, they chose to ignore Utah entirely. That's a bit like doing a study of gamers and ignoring Pathfinder players.
    They also ignored D.C.

    The end result is that this seriously skews their figures to make conservatives seem less giving (by removing all the charitable mormons) and liberals seem more giving (by ignoring the considerably uncharitable Washingtonians) than they really are.

    If that's not enough, it also took its data of what constitutes charitable organizations from the IRS, which ignored all churches from the list. So it did not include giving to churches, many of whom do in fact engage in a considerable amount of charity.

  10. " to the point that I regularly get accused of being a fascist reactionary by liberals and of being a marxist scumbag by conservatives"

    Maybe you're just a marxist reactionary :)

    As a card-carrying bleeding heart liberal, I'd love to see you do the same for liberals

  11. I'm really not a marxist reactionary. I just don't fit into any major grouping on the political spectrum. The closest would probably be a 19th century classical Liberal.

  12. An honourable stance, if rather a vanishing breed today

  13. Sorry, but there is one small flaw in your analysis, medical care is not denied to anyone in the US. If you show up at the emergency room, they are required to treat you even if you cannot pay, So the issue is actually not about the medical care, it about who PAYS for the medical care.

  14. I don't see that this fact (which I don't dispute) really changes any of the analysis.

  15. I did say it was a small flaw :{). The difference is Liberals like to portray conservatives as heartless bastards who want poor people to die. When the truth is, conservatives just don't want to be forced to pay for other peoples health care. It's more of a propaganda issue.

  16. I agree, conservatives don't want people to die. They do sometimes think people DESERVE to die; but of course so do liberals (some liberals believe that 95% of the earth's population deserves to die because its their fault we're not "sustainable").
    The fact is neither conservative nor liberal would usually be going around saying they WANT people to die (even though, again, both do sometimes).

    Conservatives don't want to be forced to pay CERTAIN other people's health care. Most conservatives are ok with the idea of paying for the health care of children, or the mentally disabled, or mentally disabled children, or very old people, or army veterans who lost limbs in combat, etc. So the issue (for MOST conservatives) isn't strictly about not paying for anyone else's care; rather, its about FAIRNESS: about not having to pay for the care of someone else who they feel DOESN'T DESERVE IT because they were "irresponsible".

  17. Coming late to the show ;)

    But the situation has not changed the slightest, and is the same here in France (where the Left parties have a similar "equality-oriented" way, and the Right parties a "fair-oriented" one).

    In France, our health system is based on an obligatory tax : when you work, a part of your salary goes to the 'Social Security' (another to the 'Retirement Funds', and so on). So when you go see a doctor, you may pay about 23€, but are reimbursed 70% (about 15€) by the 'Secu'. Great ! Problem : the Secu is LOSING money (11 billion € in 2011). Ouch. And where does the problem lie ? In that an 'equal' system is probably used 'unfairly'.

    But we are not going to remove it, and change it will be tough, because we are deep in the 'equal' mentality, and its many trappings, often qualified as 'social'.

    Social Security.
    Social rights.
    Social fights.

    I don't say we should forget 'equality', but I 100% agree with you when you show that there is a deep misunderstanding between those political positions, and that we are brainwashed on thinking one is better than the other through our education.

    French Educational System (I don(t know how it works in the US) is VERY influenced by 'equality' (heck, it's in our national motto : 'Liberty, equality, fraternity') and social fighting. Classrooms are often ranks of pupil doing the same thing at the same time, and needing to pass the same exams to go further - at least until about 14-16 y.o.) BUT it is also the cradle of elitism and meritocracy, suffering from the overwhelming importance of grades.

    So I agree with you here, and wonder how we could arrange things, and make things work.