Monday, 10 March 2014

The Public Gets What The Public Wants

Something that crops up frequently in the fascinating discussions I have online is the deeper/original meanings of the words conservative and liberal, and how, while there is a connection to politics, they aren't actually necessarily political terms.

I'll save myself a lot of typing by lifting definitions straight out of the dictionary:
  1. con·serv·a·tive
    adjective: conservative
    1. 1.
      holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
      synonyms:traditionalist, traditionalconventionalorthodoxold-fashioned, dyed-in-the-wool, hideboundunadventurous, set in one's ways; More


adjective: liberal
  1. 1.
    open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
    "they have more liberal views toward marriage and divorce than some people"

Some of these terms make people bristle, but the dictionary is simply reporting what the common usage is.

When it comes right down to it, it is saying that "conventional" and "tolerant" are opposites. It's interesting then, to ask where these attitudes arise from. What makes a person prefer convention, and what makes another person say "No, there's a better way!" If I knew that, I could probably fix society. 

There are clues; some of it is personality traits, and some of it is upbringing. That whole nature/nurture blend. 

There is logic in both attitudes. It's just as reasonable to say "Look, it's worked just fine for thousands of years, so why change it?" as it is to say "We need to end this great injustice, it's time for a change." And of course, that's where all the arguments start. 

But what people forget, a lot, I think, is that this is a scale. You'd actually be hard pressed to find anyone who was fully conservative or fully liberal. Not only are most of us, in a general way, somewhere along a line.....

.....but we also pick and choose different points along that scale on different issues. It's quite common, for example for people to be more conservative with parenting, or money, or attitudes towards crime and punishment, than they are with regard to marriage, recreational drugs, or clothing. 

What happens though, is that the further right you are in your ordinary, everyday attitudes, the more likely you are that your voting patterns and support for politicians and their activities will fall on the same side. What I'm trying to say is that people vote conservative because they have conservative attitudes, rather than the other way around. At least IN THEORY. At least, if they consider it all carefully. At least if they ever think about it at all. 

What may surprise you is that what you have been taught about people being very pro-authority because they are conservative minded is twisted. 

What actually happens is that people seek a very specific level of authority. All people benefit from authority. There is a natural level that all humans are comfortable with, not too little, not too much. It varies from person to person, but it falls within a range. Humans tend to seek the order that some sort of authority brings. This doesn't mean an individual desires to be governed. What he desires is that others are governed, so he doesn't have to worry about their behaviour. He wants law and order.

In places where there is a very weak government, and there is considerable lawlessness, people either seek a more authoritarian government (confusing authoritarianism with strength) or they become very self-reliant instead (the Wild West). Both of these inevitably lead to conservative attitudes. It becomes an intolerant society because any sign of rebellion is seen as a risk to the order that is sought. 

On the other hand, when a goverment is too authoritarian, people feel opressed and sometimes look for rebellion as a way out, and as the enemy of my enemy is my friend, they embrace all and every form of dissention. This can descend into chaos, and there is a sort of "pull-back" effect.

The problem is that when people feel that need for order, that need for authority, and they are not getting it, where do they look? Who do they go to?

What we see all too often is that they jump from the frying pan into the fire. They find forms of authority that sound good (extremist religious groups, guerilla leaders) but these people are no better at running things than the weak government were, in fact usually, they are far worse.

No leadership ever achieves power without support. You could be the wisest potential leader ever, but without enough people to put you in power (one way or another) you won't get there. All too often those who get into power are not the wisest, not the best for the job, but the best at rallying support. Rhetoric and leadership are two different skills, but people are remarkably good at confusing the two.

Oddly enough, the best protection against authoritarianism is authority. If you have a system with a good set of rules, there is no need for a stricter system, and therefore no craving for one. This set of rules can be carefully worked out to be very fair, and then provided everyone sticks to it (no corruption), things should chug along nicely. Dissention will be minimal and easily dealt with.

This is why the system of government is ultimately less important than the quality of it. An excellent dictator could run a country just as well as the most democratically elected official, and possibly better, as less time would be wasted on meetings and decisions. The problem is that corruption occurs in all systems, and democratic ones have better ways to deal with it.

If your dictator behaves badly you have to oust him in a coup. And who knows what you'll get instead. If your democratically elected leader behaves badly you have simple ways to get a new one, even if you have to wait until the next election. The main reason democracy is preferred, in the end, is that it has solutions when things go wrong. And they will.

If I sound a bit cynical about leaders, it's because I am. I don't trust any of them. They all renege on promises, they all make decisions they and their cronies will benefit from despite the effect it will have on the general populace. I don't like that, but I'm not a fool. It has been that way for tens of thousands of years, and I see no sign of it changing. Some leaders are more honourable than others, but not one of them has clean hands, because you simply don't get into positions of power if you are 100% straight. It sucks, but that's how it is.

So, corruption is a huge problem, but what's worse is the apathy and foolishness of the rest of us. If we paid more attention, there'd be less corruption, and better leaders.

But not only do we tend to sit on our arses, whine about the state of things instead of doing anything about it, and elect complete buffoons, some of us, many of us, seek authority for the worst possible reason of all. To avoid having to make decisions for ourselves.

This is the part I just don't get. I can philosophize and rationalize all sorts of attitudes, but when it comes down to the inability to be one's own authority, I'm lost.

And so this desire for authority becomes a conservative position by default. Out of laziness or whatever dysfunction it is that people suffer from, whereby they can't function unless somebody tells them what to do.

Is that a political issue? No, I don't think so. I think it's a personal problem. But it BECOMES a political issue, and moreover it becomes a big issue for the rest of us, because these people vote. They lend their support to those who will happily tell them what to do. They are walking targets for the corrupt, the authoritarian, and the positively dangerous, and there are a lot of them.

Depending on your own interests and recent reading, you may now be thinking of the Tea Party or the Taliban. Doesn't matter. Same applies. People looking for authority in all the wrong places. The leaders themselves are not the problem. The supporters are the problem. They are the ones who get these idiots into power. Because they haven't thought it through. They may not have thought about it much at all.

1 comment:

  1. EXCELLENT. Caps are deliberate. I was in the middle of polishing something in the same spirit. I have a whole series planned, all meant to increase better communication across the political/cultural spectrum. But it is spring, almost. Does the world really need my blatherings more than my garden needs my seedlings? Contrary to you I must edit and polish. It all takes time. One already done in the same vein is this one: