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Left v. Right: Different Worlds Pt 4

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Conservatives take a dim view of progress. They are not so foolish as to deny that great advances have been made in science, technology, medicine, communication, management, education, and so forth, and that they have changed human lives for the better. But they have also changed them for the worse. Advances have been both beneficial and harmful. They have certainly enlarged the stock of human possibilities, but the possibilities are for both good and evil, and new possibilities are seldom without new evils. Conservatives tend to be pessimistic because they doubt that more possibilities will make lives on the whole better. They believe that there are obstacles that stand in the way of the permanent overall improvement of the human condition.

Progress is largely about correcting injustices throughout society, and to correct them, we must be aware of them. This is one of the ultimate differences between progressives and conservatives; progressives are under no illusion that we are living in a just and fair society, while conservatives, for the most part, are. When it comes down to it, injustices can only be truly addressed when the majority of citizens and leaders become aware of these injustices.

These differences are not insignificant, nor are they insurmountable if a decision is made to cooperate and compromise to expand opportunities for more of us, and thus create a more stable and secure future. Overcoming the obstacles caused by the former and accepting the latter are crucial to that better future. It's a choice, one made with full consideration for, and an understanding of, the differences.

Unfortunately, too little consideration is given to the need for correcting injustices by those preferring the conservative tradition of accepting inequalities as a price to be paid for embracing [or dismissing] the abstract notions of "opportunities for all." Here in the real world, pulling up the ladder to prevent others from climbing is an all-too-frequent legislative tactic--carefully massaged by verbal distractions--that certainly benefits some while also providing easy fodder to condemn lazy others. How convenient!

[There is] the commonly held notion that conservatives are especially likely to value tradition, conformity, social order, and consensual adherence to rules, norms, and conventions.... It is also consistent with the assumption that it is generally easier to establish common ground with respect to the status quo than with respect to its many possible alternatives and to communicate effectively by transmitting messages that are relatively simple and unambiguous rather than reflecting the kind of complex, nuanced, and perhaps ambivalent cognitive and rhetorical styles that seem to be more common on the political left than the right. (links/citations in original) *

There's much to be said for adherence to tradition and social order. A society changing its rules and principles on a regular basis is a society going nowhere fast. In a world as interconnected, advanced, and formidable as the 21st century, maintaining the framework of established norms, laws, expectations and a high level of the existing status quo seems perfectly reasonable. Chaos deliberately chosen is almost never a wise course of action for any undertaking!

But that is hardly the beginning and the end of those conversations and considerations. Relying on the distant past while simultaneously ignoring a broad--and complex--assortment of concerns, needs, perspectives, and the facts of modern day obstacles does save a tremendous amount of time.

Who needs to be bothered with assuming responsibility for the harm to others if they can't just figure out how to ... you know ... work harder, or something? Preserving more for themselves is apparently the price extracted from lazy people who keep ignoring opportunities--even ones intentionally denied. Isn't that special?

Kekes argues that 'the fundamental aim of conservatism is to conserve the political arrangements that have shown themselves to be conducive to good lives'. And, he continues, 'the conservative view is that history is the best guide to understanding the present and planning for the future because it indicates what political arrangements are likely to make lives good or bad'.

Conservatives ... have a stronger preference for things that are familiar, stable, and predictable". Conservatives--at least, the subset prone to authoritarianism--also show a stronger emotional sensitivity to threats to the social order, which motivates them to limit liberties in defense of that order".[Cited researchers on the subject - my note] ... concluded from a meta-analysis of this literature that the two core aspects of conservative ideology are resistance to change and acceptance of inequality. [other references and citations in the original]

The connection to the conservative inclination to resist change is consistent with Kekes' assessment. And consistent with the conservative personality's intolerance for ambiguity and the related need for closure, little justification or substantiation is offered. Preservation of existing "arrangements" is to be accepted as an incontrovertible fact, premised on the belief that what worked before will continue to work well. Period.

If only. Taking shortcuts is a plus ... on occasion. In matters affecting countless fellow citizens, the drawbacks are obvious, not that it matters to some. Just pointing it out....

So that may have been a quaint thought decades ago in simpler times, but that ship has long since sailed. How about a Plan B, which recognizes and appreciates the value of change and pursues the best avenues to move us forward, rather than knee-jerk opposition? We're not bringing back the 1950s....

* Political Ideology: Its Structure, Functions, and Elective Affinities by John T. Jost, Christopher M. Federico, and Jaime L. Napier at Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2009. 60:307--37 [online at] Copyright 2009 by Annual Reviews. p 311-312

Adapted from a blog post of mine

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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows I remain a firm believer in late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's observation that "We all do better when we all do better." That objective might be worth pursuing (more...)

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