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Failed Conservative Values: Aris Harmon on Fear and Power

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I interviewed Aris Harmon about the failure of conservative values.  He said conservatives can be very nice people but they try to maintain the status quo and are  afraid of change.  For this reason, their fear of change is easily manipulated by other conservatives such as, Grover Norquist and Abramoff, whose sole value is power at any cost.   He also sees the failure of critical thinking as the reason conservatives are so easily manipulated.

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Failed Conservative Values: Aris Harmon on Fear and Power

My name is Aris Harmon.  I live in East Palo Alto. 

There’s a real disconnect, I think, between the values of the people who vote for conservatives, who identify themselves as conservatives, and many of them are very nice people.  They are great neighbors.  They are people whom you want in your community association.

But I think what those people value, I mean, they believe the way things were done, the way they grew up should be respected.  But at the same time, because they are trying to defend that, it’s become very easy to frighten them that any new idea, anything that embraces somebody who looks a little different from them, who behaves a little different from them, it’s sort of a threat to the Republic.

And so we have sort of a different set of people who, as far as I can tell, the only thing they really value is power, and they’ve been very explicit about that, even.  They’ve really talked about consolidated power for power’s sake -- the Grover Norquists, and the – I can’t think of his name.  The one with the black hat who went to jail – Abramoff. 

And those people have a value system that looks like every tin pot dictator in history, from Nero onward.  And so I think really the failure is a failure of critical thinking and recognizing that just because somebody is other than you, that doesn’t make them the enemy.  That they are not trying to destroy the sanctity of marriage.

Really, these people say “Oh, my gosh, they’re going to destroy the sanctity of marriage.”  You know, two gay guys getting married and living in the house down the block, and you never even talk to them.  I mean, is it affecting your marriage?  It’s silly.

This sort of uncriticalness of it, where there was never any attention to the constraints imposed on them by the real world.  So, when you have people who don’t believe in evolution, don’t believe in global warming, buy the idea that we can waltz into Iraq and they’ll be candy in the streets, and don’t stop to say “What is the history of Iraq, what are the cultures that are there that Saddam Hussein is repressing – the same as the Yugoslavian regime repressed the conflicts there.

There was really sort of these appalling – every time something bad happened in the Bush Administration “No one could have known”.  And half the time, there was some big report in a magazine a month earlier.  I mean Katrina, there had been a National Geographic special a year earlier about the impending destruction of New Orleans by a hurricane.

They are valuing power and sort of anything – it’s a similar thing what’s happened with Wall Street, where anything that’s short-term benefit to wealth, power, continuing whatever it is that benefits them right now. 

And it’s like a two-year-old.  You know – gobble up all those cookies right now and never mind the fact that you’ll be throwing up next week, or in an hour.  It’s not so much a concrete thing for me.  I mean I sort of see the progressive values as having a sense of wonder about the world.  Of being interested and saying “the world is in fact stranger than we have imagined so far.  Reality will always surprise, and you should be open to that.  That’s okay.  That the world is full of wonders”.

For the conservatives, it’s full of terrors.  The conservatives see the world as this scary thing that they have to wall off at the borders.  They see dragons to be afraid of, and we’re saying, “Why reptiles, that’s cool”. 

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Founder of the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy. The Culture of Empathy website is a growing portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, (more...)
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