Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Strict Father vs. Nurturing Parent

I was sent a link to this fascinating interview with George Lakoff, the UC Berkeley professor. This is a must-read article. Not only does the article describe an important political tactic, it also gives you a glimpse into how the other side thinks.

Lakoff describes the way that conservatives have been learning to use language very carefully. Right-wingers use expressions like "tax relief", "voter revolt" and "gay marriage". These expressions look harmless enough at first, but they contain subtle and effective emotional messages within them.

For example, the term "relief" suggests relief from pain. What kind of person would be against relief? Only a villain. Hence, anyone against "tax relief" is a villain. When the press repeats these loaded political terms, they only serve to promote the right wing agenda. It's really quite diabolical.

In addition to outlining these tactics for moderates and liberals, Lakoff describes the psychology of the left and the right.

Conservatives subscribe to the "strict father" system:
The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

Meanwhile, the liberal worldview could be described by the "nurturing parent model":
...it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

Perhaps few people fit neatly into either category, but most people (who aren't apathetic) probably lean heavily towards one worldview or the other. Is it possible that this simple psychological test can determine which party you will support? It's not implausible. Moreover, what does it say that the country is fairly evenly divided between Republicans, Democrats and apathetic people? Is there some social dynamic that explains the balance between these forces?

Neither psychological profile has all the answers. Liberals: though a man may simply be the result of his environment and his DNA, we cannot absolve him of responsibility for actions that are wrong. Conservatives: pure social darwinism is counterproductive, uncivilized and just plain unfair (wealth alone is not a virtue).


rob said...

Hey Doc,
This is a good one for me.From what I can tell I need to walk a tightrope between both of these views as usual.Balance is once again the key.I have to keep readjusting just like water to find my equilibrium.My kids keep me on my toes.
PS kids are born both good and bad, believe me I have supporting evidence.They did't learn some of their questionable behavior from me.

Peg said...

I agree with Rob on balance...but then I am neither Rep nor Dem nor middle roader...but I do believe we have inherent bad and good and we still need to be taught right from wrong.
An interesting article as with your site..you are unique (but not alone) in your thinking.