Balloonland

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Conservative Thought (Again)

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This is the main part of a posting I made in November 2010. I re-post it now as I think it pertains to Canada’s current federal election.

It constantly troubles me that conservative parties in Canada and the United States generally get strong support from those at the lower end of the economic scale, people who really have the least in common with the forces directing these parties. They are able to do this, I think, by beating the drum of protecting Sameness – traditional cultural values that are often highly valued by working class people. This blog article examines this.

(It was also one of my most well-received and read postings, and only a fool would resist such an obvious opportunity to repost. )

Political or cultural conservatism is, by definition, the desire to keep “things” as they are, or return to an earlier time, where “things” were generally perceived as “better.”  “Better” in this case meaning “easier for me to understand (i.e., “simpler”) and succeed within the confines of,” the “me” in this case generally being someone from a group that would’ve benefited from said earlier, better times.

In Canada and the USA, this is usually a desire to return to a nice Christian, gun-totin’ heterosexual male-dominated past (say the 50’s or 60’s) which are generally portrayed as “good.”  Please remember that in collective and cultural memories like anything else, history (and memories) that are generally widely available were created by the victors. The past that’s being invoked in conservatism is that of its beneficiaries, which were typically speaking were white males with some money, and their immediate associates.

An exercise . . .

The “good past” invoked by North American conservative thinking actually was good if you were (effects from multiple qualifications provide cumulative benefits)

  • White
  • Male
  • Wealthy
  • Christian
  • Adult

This same “good past” was not so hot if you were (again, multiple qualifications give cumulative negative results)

  • Non-white
  • Non-Christian
  • Non-male
  • Non-Adult
  • Non-WASP
  • Non-Dominant-Christian-Sect-of-Your-Location
  • Black
  • Hispanic
  • Asian
  • Handicapped
  • Not heterosexual
  • Not married
  • Poor

Based on this breakdown, of course things were “better” and “simpler”, because, assuming you score well (i.e., only from the first list) the odds were stacked in your favour, and society happily allowed the wide-open slagging of anyone that scored on the second list. People with their heads stuck in the “past is better” equation who would’ve scored well naturally will see the world’s current parameters as confusing and difficult, and naturally will seek to prevent any further changes that make it more difficult for their narrow slice of humanity to succeed and understand.

The “good past” is an easy bell to ring when you’re trying to drum up a following.  That’s why it’s so commonly used by less than unscrupulous individuals or groups seeking something. Corporations and business interests like it, for instance, especially in the ‘states – A corporation can draw upon its long-ago claim that it was started by an individual using only good old American values, blah blah blah, or that it provides old-fashioned value, employs people or traditional ethics, you know the drill.

Which brings me back to my favourite definition of Right-wing vs Left-wing thinking.

When addressing societal problems, Right-Wing (Conservative) thinking thinks of the answer first, then develops the question to go with it. Left Wing thinking (tries) to develop a question that includes the interests of everyone involved, and never gets an answer.

The macro-answer Conservative thinkers are working with, whether the question focuses on justice, economics, human rights, or whatever, is “apply the standards of yesterday to the problems of today.”

I suppose I can understand why the “good past” is so seductive to many – it appears to be such a clean and understandable story, with lots of firmly closed plotlines and happy(ish) endings, compared to what they find themselves embroiled in now. But it’s old news, and old information can never truly apply to a new and evolving situation.

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Written by balloonhed

April 11, 2011 at 10:29 am

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