As a concerned citizen, social science major and as a Progressive, I wonder what is really going on with our national values debate. According to George Lakoff, UC Berkeley cognitive linguistics professor, it’s possible that differing views of family order are at the bottom of it all. In this column I will present an outline of Lakoff’s ideas: Conservatives advocate an idealized strict father family and Progressives a nurturing family, both are models, metaphors for how society should ideally work and to how individuals ideally fit in. When we see rationales about whether or not a $15 an hour living wage is desirable, keep these family metaphors in mind.
In a strict family the father provides discipline and protection from evil, teaches right from wrong, punishes to give incentive to do right, creates discipline, and in this way moral beings are created. Prosperity and morality are tied to internal discipline, e.g. social programs are immoral, as people are given things they haven’t earned. A living wage (plus among others: FEMA, ACA, Medi-Care, Social Security), are entitlements, free gifts to the lazy. Free gifts do not teach discipline. You’re supposed to follow your own self-interest; free market capitalism is a law of nature, maximized by an invisible hand, a corollary of natural selection and basic survival. Self-interest is good; it’s the way it is; cumulatively it helps everyone else. Competition and winning are core values. Shoot, it’s nature itself brought to society! Having a lot of losers (the current 90%) is OK because the rules of the game have been obeyed.
Do-gooders like me get in the way of moral people seeking their self-interest. Regulation, taxes and lawsuits against corporations interfere, sabotage and take away incentive to pursue self-interest. Self-interest is the only legitimate avenue to common good. Common good comes as an emergent property of selfishness. The way to help the lower 90% is by direct action, by charity, by direct free choice, it’s your money, not by any structural or systemic fix, as there is nothing wrong with the system. Raising the minimum wage is a taking, an immoral socio-econ manipulation of hard working family’s and small business’ rightful profits.
There is a conservative metaphorical hierarchy, clearly gendered: god above man, man above nature, men above women, adults above children, America above rest of world, whites above people of color etc.; this is the conservative moral order. This is spun as traditional values. Notice that this exceptionalism is not won by any particular merit or values other than might is right.
When appropriate discipline is learned, then you are free, become your own strict father and moral authority, you know right from wrong. Implicit in the strict father model is a simple, black and white assumption that all phenomena reduce to direct causation: there is no global warming because there is 12’ of snow in Buffalo. Systemic causation and nuance is just not wired into the conservative mind; it’s all black and white billiard balls. The $15 an hour minimum wage is not seen in any systemic way; it’s just more do-gooders and tree-huggers messing up the implicit rules of the game.
We’re dealing with deep frames here: government doesn’t work; a private, unrestricted free market is best; individual, not public initiative made this country great. Freedoms from slavery, disenfranchisement, sweatshops, child labor, Jim Crow, voting rights, conservatives want to undo these; these things threaten the moral order, the authority of the strict white father. Public initiative infrastructure advances like education, healthcare, the interstate highway system, the moonshot and the Internet, the benefits of these are supposed to accrue to the 1% and 10% without any repayment to the society who footed the bill? And if repayment is asked, for benefitting from the common pool, it’s a taking?
In a direct causation mindset, subtleties are unable to be seen by conservatives. No, everybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, it’s your money, no workers deserve to be able to survive unless they have the proper discipline and get up early enough in the morning. A bag of cabbage a week, freely given, should suffice. This strict father mentality cuts across all issues. Keep an eye out for how people work this strict father model when you’re assessing whether or not workers deserve a living wage. Maybe a little nurturing family might be OK once in a while.