“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” ~ Albert Einstein


“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.” ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I’ve had this article in my list of drafts for days now. I had planned to use part of this article with a rant on Wisconsin, union busting, and general conservative Republican lack of empathy on women’s issues.

Quite frankly, I’m just not in the mood to write the post any more, so I’ll just provide the text and link to George Lakoff’s article, “What Conservatives Really Want.”

— Dedicated to the peaceful protestors in Wisconsin, February 19, 2011.

The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.

The individual issues are all too real: assaults on unions, public employees, women’s rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, voting rights, food safety, pensions, prenatal care, science, public broadcasting, and on and on.

Budget deficits are a ruse, as we’ve seen in Wisconsin, where the governor turned a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions, not just in Wisconsin, but seeking to be the first domino in a nationwide conservative movement.

Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the president has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives.

Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.

In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy: Empathycitizens caring for each other, both social and personal responsibilityacting on that care, and an ethic of excellence. From these, our freedoms and our way of life follow, as does the role of government: to protect and empower everyone equally. Protection includes safety, health, the environment, pensions and empowerment starts with education and infrastructure. No one can be free without these, and without a commitment to care and act on that care by one’s fellow citizens.

The conservative worldview rejects all of that.

Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have 174 bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility.

But where does that view of individual responsibility alone come from?

The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don’t have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally.

The market itself is seen in this way. The slogan, “Let the market decide” assumes the market itself is The Decider. The market is seen as both natural (since it is assumed that people naturally seek their self-interest) and moral (if everyone seeks their own profit, the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand). As the ultimate moral authority, there should be no power higher than the market that might go against market values. Thus the government can spend money to protect the market and promote market values, but should not rule over it either through (1) regulation, (2) taxation, (3) unions and worker rights, (4) environmental protection or food safety laws, and (5) tort cases. Moreover, government should not do public service. The market has service industries for that. Thus, it would be wrong for the government to provide health care, education, public broadcasting, public parks, and so on. The very idea of these things is at odds with the conservative moral system. No one should be paying for anyone else. It is individual responsibility in all arenas. Taxation is thus seen as taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who don’t deserve it. Taxation cannot be seen as providing the necessities of life, a civilized society, and as necessary for business to prosper.

In conservative family life, the strict father rules. Fathers and husbands should have control over reproduction; hence, parental and spousal notification laws and opposition to abortion. In conservative religion, God is seen as the strict father, the Lord, who rewards and punishes according to individual responsibility in following his Biblical word.

Above all, the authority of conservatism itself must be maintained. The country should be ruled by conservative values, and progressive values are seen as evil. Science should not have authority over the market, and so the science of global warming and evolution must be denied. Facts that are inconsistent with the authority of conservatism must be ignored or denied or explained away. To protect and extend conservative values themselves, the devil’s own means can be used again conservatism’s immoral enemies, whether lies, intimidation, torture, or even death, say, for women’s doctors.

Freedom is defined as being your own strict fatherwith individual not social responsibility, and without any government authority telling you what you can and cannot do. To defend that freedom as an individual, you will of course need a gun.

This is the America that conservatives really want. Budget deficits are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life.

What is saddest of all is to see Democrats helping them.

Democrats help radical conservatives by accepting the deficit frame and arguing about what to cut. Even arguing against specific “cuts” is working within the conservative frame. What is the alternative? Pointing out what conservatives really want. Point out that there is plenty of money in America, and in Wisconsin. It is at the top. The disparity in financial assets is un-Americanthe top one percent has more financial assets than the bottom 95 percent. Middle class wages have been flat for 30 years, while the wealth has floated to the top. This fits the conservative way of life, but not the American way of life.

Democrats help conservatives by not shouting out loud over and over that it was conservative values that caused the global economic collapse: lack of regulation and a greed-is-good ethic.

Democrats also help conservatives by what a friend has called Democratic Communication Disorder. Republican conservatives have constructed a vast and effective communication system, with think tanks, framing experts, training institutes, a system of trained speakers, vast holdings of media, and booking agents. Eighty percent of the talking heads on TV are conservatives. Talk matters because language heard over and over changes brains. Democrats have not built the communication system they need, and many are relatively clueless about how to frame their deepest values and complex truths.

And Democrats help conservatives when they function as policy wonkstalking policy without communicating the moral values behind the policies. They help conservatives when they neglect to remind us that pensions are deferred payments for work done. “Benefits” are pay for work, not a handout. Pensions and benefits are arranged by contract. If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them.

Democrats help conservatives when they use conservative words like “entitlements” instead of “earnings” and speak of government as providing “services” instead of “necessities.”

Is there hope?

I see it in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands citizens see through the conservative frames and are willing to flood the streets of their capital to stand up for their rights. They understand that democracy is about citizens uniting to take care of each other, about social responsibility as well as individual responsibility, and about work — not just for your own profit, but to help create a civilized society. They appreciate their teachers, nurses, firemen, police, and other public servants. They are flooding the streets to demand real democracythe democracy of caring, of social responsibility, and of excellence, where prosperity is to be shared by those who work and those who serve.

George Lakoff is the author of The Political Mind. His website is GeorgeLakoff.com.

More later. Peace.

Music by The Heartbeats, “The Knife”


6 thoughts on ““A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” ~ Albert Einstein

  1. I love a spirited debate!! My brain is going mush from too much ICARLY! I agree with your point on how hard teaching can be. These kids are out of control and most of them,not all, are not being taught right from wrong. There is no such thing in today’s world. If it feels good – do it.The “who am I hurting” attitude is ruining our youth and world. I heard a great analogy on that thought. Let’s suppose that a person is addicted to drugs or porn.The do both in the privacy of their own home, alone. They’re not hurting anyone are they??? Wrong. What about the parents of the daugther in the porn film? Or the family of the drug addict? that worries everytime the phone rings or they hear a siren. That’s hurt, yet the person causing it has not physically harmed anyone.The Biblical references to the man being the head of the house does not mean women are any less of a human. It simply means that’s God purpose for man, to provide for his family, protect them and help them live a christian life. Most non Christians take that completely out of context. The Bible says the man puts God first, then his family. Same thing for a woman. But again, we are in a feel good society, so if it doesn’t “fit” we say it’s wrong. I feel this way, I personally believe in God and his word, if I’m wrong and he doesn’t exist, then when I die, I’lljust be dust. But if I’m right ( which I personally believe I am) I get to go to heaven but if I deny him, I will ( no maybes there) go to Hell. What I find interesting is people will believe in the devil- psychics, tarot cards,possession- without hesitation. But the mention of God brings wrath – my favorite is “you believe in something you cannot see?” well, you can;t “see ” the devil either.

    We need to get back to basics – you punch a teacher in school, you are out- period, 17 and in the 8th grade? – out, sorry, you’re wasting space and time.

    As for the State raise, I haven’t seen one in years.



    P.S. Thanks! I have no one in my world to have intelligent conversation with – GRIN!

    1. Sarah,
      I completely understand the mush syndrome. I, too, am a victim of it. I know that we sound like our parents when we bemoan the youth of today, but hey, they had a problem with long hair, rock and roll music, and free love. We face weapons in backpacks and lockers, kids who learn how to build bombs from the Internet, people who have never been taught basic manners, sex that can kill if the wrong STD is transmitted, drugs that are easily available and much much worse than pot, and on and on. Porn does hurt a lot of people. The end user doesn’t think about this, but the females who are forced into porn are victims. The kids who are abused are true victims. Yes, there are willing participants, but the porn that people clamor for, will pay big bucks for, involves youth.
      I’m not going to debate the Bible with you. You know that. I respect your beliefs. The part about organized religion that really bothers me is when it becomes part and parcel with politics. The two must remain separate. This country was founded on a belief to praise without fear of recrmination. We no longer have that for religions that are not within the Judeo-Christian rubric. That bothers me a lot.

      State raises? What are they?
      Love back.

      1. Point(s) well taken. Teachers cannot teach-how can you when you’re worried about being a victim of violence? I know a teacher who teaches in Portsmouth. He told me that his job is to simply teach the kids to “take tests”. Remember when we actually learned??? And where held accountable when you acted out, didn’t do your work or smarted off in school??

        The public school system is a giant daycare system. This is why my grandkids go to private school. And teachers like you are suffering because you are not allowed to do your job.

        Love again,


      2. What really bothers me about this whole school issue is that by not making education a priority in every city, state, and the country, we are acknowledging that we actually care very little about the future of our country. We rank so far behind other comparable societies in our reading and match comprehension. We don’t have a public school system that really teaches; the few bright kids usually get by on their own and try not to get held back by the rest of the class. There are so many bright, young minds out there who cannot afford to go to private school and as a result of the failings of the public school system, will not get the education they deserve. It’s all a vicious cycle: we have teachers who do not care any more, or who simply cannot afford to invest themselves in the job, or who don’t know how to do their job; we have parents who do not get involved in their kids’ schooling, and we have young adults who think that they are entitled to everything without working because they’ve been shuttled through a system that basically moves them through like herds of wildebeests.

        We have a government that doesn’t see the important of music and art in the school, that views these things as a luxury, which just reflects more of the whole belief system in teaching to test, which is a load of crap. Children should have well-rounded educations: they should be taught geography and music and art, and they should learn who the famous explorers were and learn a foreign language. It’s called a classical education, and it does not exist any more, and that, my dear friend, saddens me more than anything.

  2. This person left out a few points. The “nice” folks protesting sent death threats, trashed the areas they were in ( I’m confused, aren’t they supposed to be loving, peacful, concerned about the earth folks?) I actually heard one say “kill them, kill them all”. refering to conversatives. I’d like to ask them this – you feel it’s ok for someone who comes in, doesn’t do what is required of the job, ( I actually have a friend is a union worker and told me that his partner on the job – SLEPT during the shift, when he complained he was called a “scab” and told to shut up – they both made the same amount of money) make the same as someone who doesn’t pull their weight?? Teachers cannot pass basic skill tests they give to the kids. Sorry, if I do more than my fair share at work, I expect to be compensated. If you’re just “sliding by” at work, you should be fired and not be protected by the unions. These are the same people who threaten, beat up and harass workers who opt to cross lines and work.

    And unless this person who wrote the article has fully read the Bible, he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

    My feeling is this – work, get paid. If I event a better mouse trap and make a zillion dollars, I get to decide how to spend it. Sharing with people who are on the dole and have no intention of getting off their hineys to work- deserve zilch.

    Just saying.

    1. Sarah,
      Always refreshing to have an opinion from the other side. Let’s see . . . death threats? No one has the right to make death threats. I think’s that’s pretty obvious. There will always be bad apples in every bunch, no matter which side of the aisle they herald from. Yep, the building got trashed. Lots and lots of people stayed in it for days and days. It’s going to smell. Trash cans are going to be overflowing. I’ll bet the bathrooms were pretty rank, too.
      Do I feel that it’s all right for anyone to slack on the job, to take advantage of his or her position, to make it so that someone else has to do more work? You know the answer to that. No, I don’t, under any circumstances. Most of the time, I was the one picking up the slack. I’ve never worked for a union, so I really cannot speak to that experience. That being said, I still believe that the governor of a state does not have the right to union bust. If this country is not going to have unions, then that’s something to be decided not by one person.
      Now the teaching side? The firefighters and police side? Here is where I have to say a big whoa. I watched a lot of people on the right talk about what a cake job teaching was, how teachers got off by 3 in the afternoon and went shopping and had summers off. You and I know that’s a bucket load of bullshit. Teaching was one of the hardest jobs I have ever had. I worked all afternoon, some weekends, and most of the teachers with whom I worked picked up summer jobs. I didn’t see anyone getting rich teaching. And to break it down and say that the benefits package was equal to $25k or so was so out of line. If you take any position in any company, and then assess the benefits that go along with that position, it comes to between 12 and 30 percent depending upon the size of the company, whether or not health insurance is offered, etc. I used to do cost proposals to the government, and I know how to calculate the benefits portion of a salary. Trust me when I say that those teachers earned every penny of their benefits.
      When I worked for ODU, I had good benefits, but for four years in a row my supposed raise went back to the state because of budget cuts. I never saw a dime.
      When I taught public school, I was hit by students several times; I broke up fights, had to contend with a girl who was pregnant at 12; regularly bought food and supplies and brought them in to school to give to the students. That wasn’t covered by my salary. As for those who cannot pass competency tests, no brainer. They shouldn’t get jobs. There are too many people out there who want to work.
      As to the Bible, I’m not a scholar, but I know that the references he made to the male as the head of the household, the one who decides, etc., is in the New Testament quite a bit, and to use the patriarchal reference as an analogy for our system of government is not far-fetched. Yes, we have women politicians, but as compared to the number of males in power, there are far fewer females. It comes from sociological training. We were established as a patriarchy, and as a relatively young country, it’s going to take a lot more time to get rid of that way of thinking.
      Just saying back.

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