The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'conservatism'
An article looking at the hypermasculine, testosterone-pumped vocabulary of Australian politics today, in the post-uppity-sheila age:
This past week, such figurative phalluses have been flying with particular prominence, with Tony Abbott suggesting that you don’t want a wimp running border protection (it is uncertain what that says about defence minister David Johnston), The Australian asking its readers to judge who is the “better man” between General Angus Campbell and Senator Stephen Conroy, and Conroy being accused of not being able to “man up” and apologise to Campbell for accusations of a cover up.
There is an element of conservative thinking that joins these dots. Professor of cognitive linguistics George Lakoff talks about the fundamental underpinnings of what he loosely defines as “conservative” and “progressive” mindsets. The conservative mindset is framed by the “strict father” model of thinking - that children learn through reward and punishment, and that the parent, particularly the father, is meant to mete out these. The idea of male, fatherly competence is central to this system of thought. It goes to the larger sense of the man as the strict, authoritative father figure, the competent provider. It goes to “adults” being “in charge”, being “fiscally responsible” and having “operations” rather than “policies”.
Manliness is no longer necessarily stoic and stolid, it must also be virile and athletic, preferably with explosions. Thus, when a naval error occurs near Indonesia, it’s a “missed tackle”, it’s why the process of dealing with desperate refugees becomes Operation Sovereign Borders, which couldn’t possibly be run by a wimp. It’s why the Abbott election pitch was all about “real action”, and the response to climate change is all about “direct action”. It is why, when a young kid gets whacked in front of a nightspot, it’s a “coward punch”, somehow implying that to punch someone square in the face is an ennobling act for all concerned.(Earlier: Australia, the steroid-soaked neighbourhood bully of the Pacific.)
Meanwhile, Australia's shift to conservatism in gender roles has extended even to the realm of ceremonial anachronisms, as Australia is the only Commonwealth country which has not yet passed amendments to royal succession laws favouring male heirs.
Researchers in the US have found a possible genetic cause for liberal political orientations. The DRD4 dopamine receptor gene has already found to be connected to neophilic tendencies (i.e., novelty seeking), and now it seems that those who have it are more likely to develop liberal political beliefs—though only if they have many friends during adolescence:
Lead researcher James H. Fowler of UC San Diego and his colleagues hypothesized that people with the novelty-seeking gene variant would be more interested in learning about their friends' points of view. As a consequence, people with this genetic predisposition who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average. They reported that "it is the crucial interaction of two factors – the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence – that is associated with being more liberal." The research team also showed that this held true independent of ethnicity, culture, sex or age.
Fowler concludes that the social and institutional environment cannot entirely explain a person's political attitudes and beliefs and that the role of genes must be taken into account. "These findings suggest that political affiliation is not based solely on the kind of social environment people experience," said Fowler, professor of political science and medical genetics at UC San Diego.Of course, whether the gene would manifest in, say, social-democratic liberalism or guns'n'dope libertarianism would probably be influenced by cultural context. I recall reading about twin studies which showed pairs of twins raised apart holding similar political beliefs, though. (Or similarly structured; perhaps one could imagine, say, an authoritarian rightwinger growing up to be an authoritarian Stalinist, or a radical Marxist to be a radical Thatcherite neoliberal, in a different context.)
Controversy has erupted in Britain after it emerged that Prince Charles used his personal influence with Qatari royalty to sack modernist architect Lord Richard Rogers from a development in London. Charles has been an outspoken critic of modern architecture and advocate of neo-traditionalist styles, and even created a model village to showcase his ideas about "proper" architecture, and then designed (or perhaps art-directed) the fire station. Charles' preferred replacement for Rogers is Quinlan Terry, a peddler of honey-hued neo-classicist kitsch.
As worthy of comment as Charles' architectural preferences are, there is more at stake. For one, Britain's constitutional monarch is meant to refrain from exercising powers over the day-to-day business of government. (This is the flipside of the monarch being above the sort of probing criticism that politicians and policymakers should expect; in a modern society, hereditary authority should be at most purely ceremonial.) Charles is not the monarch, but is next in line to be, and this case is worrying. Whilst his preferences for chocolate-box architecture may be quaint or risible, he is also an advocate of potentially harmful pseudoscientific theories such as homeopathy. Were he to grow comfortable with using his influence to guide the system, could we expect to see, for example, NHS funds being diverted away from tested medical care and into the pockets of quacks and charlatans? And would the prospect of his interventions in, say, education or transport or finance, should he decide to have a hand at such, be any less troubling?
As Labour in Britain toys with the idea of giving 16-year-olds the vote, an advisor to the (recently resigned) premier of Victoria has come up with a uniquely Australian extension of this: giving votes to all children, to be exercised by their parents until they turn 18. Thus a two-parent family with three children would have five votes, which would break the crippling stranglehold of selfish childless people on the political process and introduce a new era of "family-friendly" policies.
Curiously enough, the proponent of this policy, Evan Thornley, is not a religious right-winger, but a member of the Fabian Society, that very Britishly pragmatic socialist organisation which once had George Bernard Shaw as one of its members (and, during the Cold War, was accused by Bircher types of using its shadowy influence over the Labor Party to implement "Sovietisation by stealth").
There are, of course, numerous problems with this proposal. Were it to be adopted, politicians would start bidding for the votes of large families by giving them more money, taken by punitively taxing the suddenly all-but-disenfranchised non-breeders. (What are they going to do, vote for someone else?) This would result in a system which effectively regards not having children as deviant behaviour to be penalised; once this is a matter of bureaucratic fact, the culture would soon follow. And then there is the likelihood of a bias towards large families bringing with it a bias towards religious conservatism; all of a sudden, Victoria would look like the repressively paternalistic 1950s white-picket-fence dystopia John Howard didn't quite succeed in building.
Of course, that's if such a policy were ever adopted. There are practical problems with implementing it, such as deciding which parent gets their childrens' votes. Granted, they could be split in half (with each parent in the 3-child family having 2.5 votes), though this proposal effectively changes the paradigm of democracy, from one comprised of voting individuals to one comprised of voting families. It has echoes of the top-down "strict-father" model of the family so favoured by conservatives, and at the heart of the culture war in America and Australia: it reinforces the idea of a family being defined by a chain of authority residing in the head of the household. Granted, it does not define a head of the household, though it is a short distance from accepting the paradigm that votes are allocated per household, and not per individual, to accepting that the votes for all members of the household are cast by the head of the household.
Mind you, given that Thornley's boss has suddenly resigned, this proposal is likely to be even more dead in the water than it was before. Unless the Howard government decide that it has battler-rallying potential and put it to a referendum, or else Rudd decides to use it to outflank the family-values warriors on the right.
An interesting piece (from a US ex-Republican) positing a single axiomatic principle, originating in the Puritan experiment in the American colonies, from which all conservative ideology can be derived. Similarly, the first principle of lifestyle liberalism, which says basically that punishing "deviants" from the one true lifestyle is unnecessary and/or unfair, and what conservatives don't grasp about liberal economics (here "liberal" is used in the US colloquial sense, and basically means everything other than "strict user-pays" and that old Reagan/Thatcher trickle-down voodoo). (via tyrsalvia)
An essay by a classical conservative in West Virginia, putting forward the case that post-9/11 American conservatism is a belief system in a state of decadence, much as liberalism was some 30 years earlier. The evidence ranges from lionisation of leaders (Reagan on Mount Rushmore anyone?) and demonisation of villains (from the Clintons and latter-day Stalins in the Democratic Party to Ann Coulter's traitor-class of liberals) to foreign-policy messianism, militarism, crony capitalism, unquestioning devotion to ideologically sound foreign powers (be they the late lamented British Empire, right-wing Catholic despots or Ariel Sharon's Israel), and indeed calls for mass conformity in the defense of "liberty". (via The Fix)
Though I'm wondering whether this "pseudoconservative" position is not somewhat of a straw man. Do most, or indeed many, self-identified "conservatives" in America subscribe to this particular ideology/demonology?
Also via Metafilter, a list of the Top 40 conservative pop songs, arguing that rock'n'roll isn't entirely a Communist plot to corrupt our youth. The list includes the obvious sorts of songs with religious, patriotic and "pro-life" themes, as well as songs scorning leftists, feminists, pacifists, activists and other troublemakers and reestablishing the Natural Order Of How Things Should Be, Goddamnit (James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" has pride of place at number 4), as well as songs about the evils of taxation.