"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, January 5, 2015

“I Know What’s Best For You”–Progressive Mothering

My mother always said she knew best.  Going out with a wet head meant catching cold.  Waiting an hour before going back in the water avoided sinking and drowning; and not playing with matches avoided fire in a neighborhood of flammable rags and frame houses.  Science has since disproved most of these familiar warnings, but then again how could my mother have known? In fact her advice was an improvement on what her own mother had taught her.  The old Italians of Wooster Square had to worry about night air, the evil eye, tocca ferro – touching iron after seeing a nun – and avoiding feathers in the home.

“Watch your edges”, Mickey Fannon’s mother warned him every time he left the house. Somehow growing up in South Philadelphia edges had been a problem.  Knives had been kept sharp thanks to the grindstone of the cutlery grinder and were a hazard to little children. Front stoops rarely had working railings, and babies could crawl off the edge. Tightrope walking on the edge of curbs meant twisted ankles and convalescence. Table tops, kitchen counters, shelves, porches, and lawnmower blades all had edges to be avoided.

Mothers today are no different and simply operate within new terms of reference. Now touching eyes and nose is the sure way to catch a cold; drinking copious amounts of water cleanses the body of toxins and protects it against dehydration.  Avoiding red meat, processed foods, and carbonated drinks adds years to your life. Without a doubt these truisms will be debunked just as mal aria and malocchio were in their times, and new ones will take their place.  A mother’s job will always be to warn, advise, and hector.

It is popular today for political analysts to identify and explain the divides in American society – rich-poor, gay-straight, urban-rural, and secular-religious; but the division  between Liberals and Conservatives has been the most challenging for it has nothing to do with easily quantifiable economic measurements, DNA wiring, or cultural history.  While liberalism is more common in the Northeast than in the South, those who live in New Hampshire and Maine are more likely to be as conservative as their compatriots in Alabama.  Liberalism is thought by many to be a by-product of Christianity.  After all, Christ was all about helping the poor and challenging the rich.  Yet the evangelical churches of the South which preach a singular, charismatic relationship with Jesus Christ and are all about individual salvation and redemption have little liberal angst about poverty and human suffering.

While many if not most wealthy Americans are conservatives, most conservatives are middle or lower-middle class.  Ever since Ronald Reagan wooed Democrats with his message of strength, mission, and patriotism, the working class has been solidly conservative. Why do Wall Street and much of Main Street vote the same way?  Investment bankers benefit enormously from tax breaks, less regulation, and freer enterprise engineered by Republicans; but the working poor see few rewards.

Some neuro-sociologists have even suggested that political choice is hardwired:

In a study titled “Differences in Negativity Bias Underlie Variations in Political Ideology,” researchers suggest that liberals and conservatives may disagree about politics partly because they are different people at the core — right down to their physiology and genetics. Specifically, the researchers found that one unifying factor among the numerous differences between liberals and conservatives is the nature of their physiological and psychological responses to negative environmental features (Amy Hodges, Rice University News and Media, June 2014)

This nonsense aside, political choice has less to do with social or economic variables than with philosophy.  Liberals believe that humanity is progressing towards a better, ideal world; and that concerted effort can accelerate that movement; while conservatives believe in the ineluctability of human nature, a hardwired component which, in the interest of the preservation of the species is aggressive, territorial, and self-interested.

Given the rock-ribbed Puritanical origins of our country, an infusion of Enlightenment reason, and an economic entrepreneurial spirit emboldened by memories of the serfdom of Europe, it is surprising that the philosophy of Big Government and collective actions should have taken hold at all.

The emergence of Soviet Communism, the Great Depression, FDR’s government interventionism formed a perfect storm.  The idealism and insularity of American and European and university professors made them perfect shills for the new secular religion. They overlooked the gulags, autocracy, and stifling of individual religious, economic, and social enterprise.   Collectivization was a good thing - no buildings had ever been built by one man alone. Because human civilization had evolved through communal, cooperative action, then such action was an a priori good. 

Soviet-style Communism soon fell out of favor with European Leftists, and Euro-Socialism, a softer, more generous, and compassionate version of its parent, became in vogue.  American progressives quickly followed suit, and the new liberalism gained momentum and strength.

What these European and American liberals ignored was the individual enterprise that underlay so-called collective action. They were unwilling to recognize that communities are collectivities of individuals.  The community per se has no intrinsic or inherent value.  In their eyes government is the ideal proxy representative of collectivity.  Government is not the institution that represents individuals but the one which decides how society is to evolve.

Which all leads to my mother, edges, and the everlasting hectoring of progressives. Most conservatives wish that liberals would simply shut up.  Their shopworn, repetitive, and arrogant pleas have become tiresome and hopelessly predictable.  In today’s parlance, how did Government arrogate to itself so much authority that it can dictate fundamental beliefs.  Who said that abortion is a right and not a rejection of God’s law?  Who said that gay marriage is simply a social alternative, not the anathema stated in Deuteronomy?  Who said that government has the right to dictate children’s education or health care?

Progressives have arrogated to themselves a moral authority which they do not have. If there is no such thing as social progress – and history certainly has provided ample evidence that this is the case – then individual spiritual or secular evolution is all that counts.  Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that Individuals will sort out their relationship with God, with bullies, with sexuality, and with society. They and they alone will choose to believe in Divine or secular origins with no advice or help from government.  They can choose to ignore reason and opt for faith and can legitimately choose the Bible over The Origin of Species.

The true conservative believes that history is cyclical and repetitive because the same inescapable nature has driven human events from the Paleolithic until now.  There is no inherent absolute morality which guides our actions.  Whether God created and presides over randomly occurring events; or whether the universe is purposeless and infinitely meaningless makes no difference.  Progress is an intellectual construct.  The true conservative is a Nietzschean who believes that the expression of individual will is the only validation of human experience in a meaningless world.

So we all have to put up with liberal hectoring about global warming, the glass ceiling, gay rights, universal health care, income inequality, world peace, and social harmony. If one looks at progressivism as a secular religion it is easier to swallow.  The Catholic Church has always claimed that it is the one true religion and only adherents to its particular interpretation of the Bible and Christian tradition can ever get into heaven.

Progressives are no less religious if not spiritual in their commitment to social progress.  In other words, they like all religions claim to have a special insight into the truth.  If there were A Church Universal and Progressive, I could respect it and dismiss it.  Now I only feel pestered by irritating, nettling idealists.

1 comment:

  1. I changed my mind; you are a douchebag. Some things are right. You aren't. Bye now.

    ReplyDelete