Trying to Make Sense of Conservative Thinking

Sandra and I visited my sister Elizabeth and her husband Wendell for New Year’s Eve, and I spent a really pleasant time surrounded by generations of relatives, from babes in arms to octogenarians – well, one octogenarian, anyway (it wasn’t me – but I’m getting there).

Inevitably politics came under discussion. And happily while there was disagreement there was no acrimony.

You can’t imagine what a relief that was. Back in my childhood, the adults’ political discussions tended to explode into threats and denunciations. The two phrases I remember most are “you’re a fool!”  and “you’re a damn fool!” (there were also accusations of being a “damn Spence” but that’s another story).

At Elizabeth and Wendell’s New Year’s gathering, the conversation was much more civilized, despite the diametrically opposed points of view that were expressed. Elizabeth, for example, is as liberal as they get. Andrew, our nephew (hers and mine) is way over there on the right.

I find that so strange. You would expect the younger folks to be more forward thinking, but it was the codger crowd that embraced progressive ideas (like universal health care). The forty-somethings and thirty-somethings tended to be skeptical of government intervention in their lives.

To me, the government has an obvious obligation to provide a social safety net.  There just doesn’t seem to be any reasonable argument against that. But, apparently, these otherwise intelligent young(er) relatives don’t see it that way.

One of the things that puzzled me is that these are not beer-swilling denizens of some rusty trailer park. And they are not filthy rich.

Yet they certainly are conservative.

Lying awake last night, I tried to see how they could arrive at their conclusions. And I wondered whether Nature molds the minds of each generation to prepare for the world they will inherit. Yes, I know, that’s decidedly unscientific; it’s a throwback to Plato’s theory of innate ideas. But what else would explain the phenomenon of rising conservatism?

Perhaps the world of the future has no room for liberal thinking. Perhaps the prophecies of Orwell and Huxley are coming true (illustration above).

For certainly, things are changing dramatically. As if by mutual consent, democracy is dying, egalitarianism has become a joke, and economic Darwinism is increasingly an acceptable prospect.

Even the American press has changed to fit into the brave new world. Here’s a revealing comment from Paul Craig Roberts, in Reader Supported News this morning:

Today no one believes that our country’s success depends on an informed public and a free press. America’s success depends on its financial and military hegemony over the world. Any information inconsistent with the indispensable people’s god-given right to dominate the world must be suppressed and the messenger discredited and destroyed.

Now that the press has voluntarily shed its First Amendment rights, the government is working to redefine free speech as a privilege limited to the media, not a right of citizens.

I think the reason for all of this is the ascendancy of the corporation. It’s much too long a story to get into here, but over the years, the corporation has become all-powerful. With globalism and the tendency of politicians to sell their vote to the highest bidder, Big Business has won control of the world as we know it.

In today’s world, governments are hamstrung and global corporations call the shots.

Individual countries can do little to shape their societies. Governments – even the most well intentioned – are limited by the realities of the global marketplace. For example, smart people like Paul Krugman advocate huge government spending to jump start the American economy, but he must know that the benefits of Obama’s stimulus spending will be enjoyed as much or more by China as by America. So what that boils down to is borrowing money from China to boost the Chinese economy.

Perhaps this is what conservatives know. Perhaps Mother Nature is adjusting their expectations accordingly.