What is wrong, and why we can’t seem to fix it

Throughout most of my life I have been living under conservative governments, and the nicest way I can find to describe political conservatism is to say that it embodies the popular phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. However, as we all know there are many things wrong at present, and they need fixing. No amount of ignoring them will make them go away. This blog is about those awkward facts of world that won’t go away and which political conservatism won’t make go away either.

What I’m going to aim to do is post a blog once a week, on a Friday, so you can digest it over the weekend. The next week’s blog will either be the next in my series, or a discussion of issues that have arisen from the comments.

I’m going to have a very strict comments policy, comment will only be accepted if they are intelligent and polite contributions to discussion around the topic of the post. Everything else will be moderated.

If you find a blog here sympathetic, you might consider reading the blogs from the beginning, as they are supposed to be a more or less continuous argument.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Grumble 14: Anatomy of Conservatism

Last week I wrote about ideologies, and following on from that I want to argue that that conservatism (and any almost any other political position) isn’t so much an actual set of beliefs, independently arrived at, so much as simply a function of belonging to an ideology.

If you belong to a society you tend to follow its ideology, people who don’t are ‘dealt with’. To not belong means being an outlaw, or some someone whose ideas and actions are simply ignored because they can’t be fitted into any pigeon-hole. Ideologies are widespread features of human societies, a shorthand way of stating the agreed beliefs of society so everyone is on the same page. In themselves they can be either good (guiding societies to sustainable and sustained existence) or bad (modernity and others).

Conservatives are people who follow the official ideology very closely and blindly and define themselves by this identification. Slightly removed from this are liberals or progressives who accept the ideology, but want to quibble about the terms and think that these should be modified to slightly different outcomes. This is fine because ideologies are not monolithic, in mediaeval China or Korea, for example, there were lively debates as to what Confucianism should mean, similarly with Communism within Communist societies in the C20.

Next come social democrats who believe that society has to be actively modified towards a certain aims, though these are still compatible with the ideology. Here we are beginning to breath fresher air, and some of these people are actually thinking how modernity can turn away from the blind pursuit of growth at all costs towards ‘happiness’ and other measures of people’s well-being

Beyond this are a people who reject important points of the ideology and wish to modify it in ways which would change its fundamental character. But these are very few because to question certain shibboleths means not being taken seriously at all. So people who should be leading this re-evaluation of modernity, such a green politicians and thinkers, still timidly hide behind its goals, pretending that greater efficiency and use of renewable energy will bring humanity’s consumption below the sustainability threshold (they won’t on their own).

However, despite the fact that most of the present age’s brightest and best are well within the trammels of modernity it is still better to be at the progressive edge, because here people are a little more interested in ideas and information and change.

By contrast conservatism is nothing but a chain and ball tied to the leg of society and even the most modest change has to go through the most protracted and painful process in order to happen because of this.

Features of conservatism, besides this dead weight, resist-change-at-all-costs, include:

Religion: there is a great respect paid in some strains of conservatism to religion, but instead of this being an interest in religion for the sake of asking questions such as ‘how can we become better people?’, or ‘how can we make society a better one?’, it is for the purposes of saying ‘What “standards” are there that we can insist on to make society in the image of our imagination (ie limited)’, ‘How can we use these “standards” in order to interfere with, and govern, the lives of others?’.

Law and Order: Conservatism has great respect for law and order, but then so does everyone, after all, no-one wants a state of anarchy in society (even anarchists don’t). What conservatism particularly wants is for the law to favour the rich and powerful and for policing to be particularly intrusive for the poor. At the time of the Cronulla Riots in 2005 there were calls for the police to be given ‘more powers’, and I wondered at the time which part of rioting wasn’t already illegal. As it is the main burden on the lower courts is the over-officiousness of police in prosecutions of people for trivial offences who, if they are fined, can’t pay and continue to clog the legal system up by this inability.

However, the rare moments when the legal system does come in with judgements that favour the little people do create exquisite pain in the hearts of conservatives, and are all the more to be welcomed because of that.

Reverence for money/status/authority: conservatives love the establishment and believe that people who are rich and powerful are better, more honest, more hard-working and more moral than anyone else, despite all evidence to hand.

There is an interesting point to be made here: a recent article that I came across has argued that ‘The less control people feel over their own lives, the more they endorse systems and leaders that offer a sense of order.’ In this sense conservatives’ love of authority is due to the fact that a tiny minority of them are from the elites and naturally love themselves and their privileges. However, the rest are people who feel powerless and therefore attach themselves to authority.

Tax: Conservatives hate taxes because they don’t realise that taxes are what allows them to have roads instead of tracks, street lights instead of torches, hospitals instead of nothing and so forth. Conservatives love the idea of tax reductions, but strangely the world they call for, an over-policed society where most people are in prison, a highly militarised society with extensive armed forces, a society highly regulated so that no one can do anything that might be ‘offensive’ to conservative ‘standards’ &c &c, would be a one that would require enormous taxation to run.

Stupidity: Conservatives love stupidity and hate information. For a demonstration of this visit any climate change denialist web-site. The fact that the worship of ignorance tends to dim the knowledge of those icons of culture that constitute Western Civilization doesn’t worry them. Indeed, they may not be aware of this.

Racism/cultural supremacism: Conservatives are convinced that western culture is highest expression of humanity, though they would tend to bit toey about many of the people who make up western culture (French, Italians &c). Conservatives tend to be racists and ferociously anti-immigrant and anti-refugee. Instead of this instincts being thought of as warped expressions of a desire for a more sustainable population, these views are in fact simply inexcusable.

Fear: conservatives fear everything except fear itself: teenagers, women, homosexuals, foreigners, immigrants, other cultures, foreign food, foreign languages, change &c &c. Conservative mouthpieces, such as the gutter press and talk back radio, do everything they can to instill fear in the hearts of their listeners. The worst thing that any conservative can imagine is that someone, somewhere is getting something for nothing, at their expense, and this fear is redoubled when the recipient may be a teenager, woman, homosexual, foreigner, immigrant…. &c &c

I imagine that the conservative end of all cultures looks pretty much like this, except that in most other cultures the apparatus for co-ordinating conservatism is not nearly as elaborate.

Next Week: Anatomy of Liberalism

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