Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Morals vs. Logic in Politics

The other day the local PACIFICA radio station aired an interview with George Lakoff.  Professor Lakoff asserted that Conservatives have developed ways of framing and talking about issues that appeal to the average non-political listener.  Conservatives appeal to morality.  Liberals make the mistake of appealing to logic.  The human brain doesn't work that way.  Morality trumps logic.

There is a pair of moral precepts that both Conservatives and Liberals have.  These are "self-reliance" and "helping neighbors."  Extensions of these precepts lead to many of the disagreements between Conservatives and Liberals.

Self reliance leads to the notion that everyone in America should take care of himself or herself.  No one should willingly accept help from the government.  Government payments to the less well-off encourage the abandonment of the spirit of self reliance.  Lazy people let the government take care of them.  Energetic, self-reliant people take care of themselves.  Hence, it is bad public policy to establish programs that automatically take care of the poor and unfortunate.  Such assistance should be given only in the case of natural disasters, like storms, earthquakes, fires, and floods.  Therefore, the government should turn Social Security into a private savings plan where individuals can invest their savings to provide an income for them in retirement.  We should stop talking about universal health care and instead set up medical savings accounts so that individuals can put some of their savings in a fund to pay the bills in medical emergencies.

Helping neighbors leads to an almost opposite set of notions.  Abraham Lincoln said that "government should do for people that which the people can not do for themselves."  It is the government's job to provide retirement pensions (Social Security) and free or low-cost medical care for the sick and injured.  Universal Health Care is a public good and deserves public support.  Individuals should not be forced to depend on the unpredictable swings of the stock market or interest rates to provide them an adequate retirement income.  In our economic system, workers are underpaid.  The value of their work is greater than the value of the pay they receive for it.  It must be that way, otherwise no business would ever make a profit.  Pensions are deferred payments for work done.

No one is ever one hundred percent "Conservative" or "Liberal."  Most Liberals favor Social Security and Universal Health Care but would not willingly spend years of their lives living on welfare.  Even Liberals respect self-reliance.  Most Conservatives favor emergency relief for victims of natural disasters.  They respect the notion of neighbor helping neighbor and many give generously to non-governmental organizations, such as churches, that provide assistance to persons down on their luck.  Many Conservatives argue that public welfare should be replaced by assistance provided by these organizations.

The definitions of "conservative" and "liberal" that apply to our present politics are not the definitions I learned in school nor the definitions provided in dictionaries.  The "conservative" definition of a Conservative is that he or she is a person who resists change.  Things should be left the way they are.  Changes produce unexpected results that may be worse than what we have now.  It's better to stay with the devil you know than the devil you don't know.  The "conservative" definition of a Liberal is that he or she is a person who welcomes social experimentation.  The Liberal wants to take a chance on "the devil you don't know."  The Liberal believes that the present system is intolerable and is becoming worse and something has to be done.  The definitions that relate to our present politics involve the moral issues that Conservatives or Liberals hold dear.  I have given an example: Conservative belief in self-reliance and Liberal belief in helping neighbors.  There are many others.  You are welcome to make up and submit your lists.

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