Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Failures of Conservatism

The Failures of Conservatism
By Jon Brown

Current public opinion polls show that a mere forty percent of the population approves of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president (Polling Report). Many Democrats view this as evidence that Bush is a failure and point to the Iraq war to reinforce this assertion. Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid has even described Bush as "dangerously incompetent." (MMVI). While an increasing number of Americans feel that the Iraq War has been disastrous, the issue of problematic American politics encompasses much more than George W. Bush or single issues like Iraq. Conservatism itself is at fault. Bush's low approval ratings demonstrate the disgust of Americans who are experiencing, firsthand, the effects of conservative government, which is incompatible with human social and moral progress. To understand why conservatism is so incorrect, one must first understand the basic definition of conservatism and the views that conservatives hold.

Conservatism is defined as the belief in upholding past traditions and opposing change. Conservatives believe that modern society is deteriorating and view themselves as "cultural warriors" defending civilization itself against the forces of secularism and progressivism (O'Reilly). According to every available objective measurement, however, the conservative view of society is wrong. Contrary to conservative beliefs, American civilization is actually improving in many ways. America has ended the evils of slavery, witch-hunts, dueling, and child labor. It has expanded the right to vote to include women, minorities, and young people. America has greatly reduced poverty and income inequality while expanding consumer protection, workers' rights, and education. Nonetheless, many conservatives are still convinced that society is readily worsening. "What really seems to bother them [conservatives] is the loss of certainty; they want to return to a simpler time, one without that disturbing modern mix of people and ideas," explains economist Paul Krugman (Krugman).

When confronted, conservatives will reluctantly admit that past traditions are not always as good as present traditions. For example, slavery is an ancient practice that few conservatives would advocate returning to. However, if conservatives want to solely uphold tradition, why would they also be against the tradition of slavery? It would seem that conservation of the past is a selective process, not an absolute one. Observing these issues, George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist at Berkley, has been developing theories about how metaphorical thought affects political views. While his theories are too complex to fully discuss in this essay, the main message Lakoff conveys is that the difference between liberals and conservatives can be described metaphorically by their views on human nature and parenting. According to Lakoff, the conservative worldview is based upon what is called "the moral order": God over humans, humans over nature, men over women, adults over children, American culture over multiculturalism, and Christians over non-Christians. Whereas liberals value empathy, respect and nurturance, conservative morality is based upon strictness, discipline, and self-reliance. Lakoff believes that conservative views are based on a faulty understanding of human nature that has been rejected by what modern science currently suggests about the mind. "It is out of touch with the realities of raising children. It is out of touch with the nature of the human mind. It is out of touch with common humanity, with the thing that should be most basic to any moral system. Strict father morality is not just unhealthy for children. It is unhealthy for any society. It sets up good vs. evil, us vs. them dichotomies and recommends aggressive punitive action against 'them'." Lakoff explains. (Lakoff 383)

If the conservative view on human nature were flawed, then one would assume that the political policies that conservatives advocate are wrong as well. According to one study, 81% of political scientists in academia are liberal, while only 2% identify themselves as conservatives. Even in fields unrelated to politics, liberal professors outnumber conservative professors by a large margin. Furthermore, the conservative professors in academia generally teach at smaller colleges and less prestigious universities. (Rothman) This has lead conservatives to be bitter towards academia, often claiming that conservative professors are discriminated against (Plecnik). However, the greatest line of attack conservatives have against academia is the manufacturing of controversy where none exists. Wealthy conservatives have been funneling money into an "alternative academia", a world of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups. Unlike academia, which goes to great lengths to keep research unbiased by using peer-review and the scientific method, think tanks exist solely to circulate conservative talking points and sound bites to the media, public, and politicians (Kangas). These massive public relations campaigns work to distort science and confuse voters. Since individuals are not experts in every aspect that affects their lives, they often have to refer to expert advice to make decisions. What are individuals to do when they are confronted with a massive disinformation campaign that blurs the lines between real science and pseudoscience?

Consider the issue of global warming. Thanks to a massive disinformation campaign waged by conservatives, many Americans have the impression that scientists are confused about the causes of global warming. A recent study analyzed the way four of America's most prestigious newspapers reported global warming. This study discovered that a staggering 53% of the newspaper articles presented the view that humans contribute to global warming equally with the view that global warming is a natural process (Boykoff). However, a study published in the journal "Science" examined 928 peer-reviewed articles about global warming and found that out of all 928 articles, not a single one disagreed with the view that humans are contributing to global warming (Oreskes). The media's confusion over this issue aids conservatives because it gives the false impression that both sides of the debate have equal merit when they really do not.
When observing the way conservatives must distort scientific fact to convince the general public of their legitimacy, it becomes obvious that conservatism is an outdated ideology that has no place in a rational world. Conservatism requires sugarcoating the past in order to bring a halt to scientific and moral progress. Its moral system is based off of a faulty understanding of human nature that appeals to the worst human instincts, causing people to stereotype and demonize. Furthermore, conservatism is actually rejected by the majority of scientists and scholars in academia. Consequently, the empirical evidence is not in favor of conservative ideals. So, while it may be easier to simply blame America's current problems on Bush, it is also erroneous. It is much scarier to admit that it is not the stupidity of the President that is to blame, but rather the entire philosophy of the political party that currently controls the American government.

Works Cited

Boykoff, Jules, and Maxwell Boykoff. "Balance as Bias: Global Warming and the U.S. Prestige Press." Global Environmental Change (2004).
Kangas, Steve. "Myth: Conservative Think Tanks Are the Answer to Liberal Academia." Huppi, retrieved November 1, 2006 (
Krugman, Paul. "The Angry People." The New York Times, 23 Mar. 2002.
Lakoff, George. Moral Politics. University of Chicago Press, 1996.
MMVI. 2006. "Reid: Bush 'Dangerously Incompetent'." CBS Broadcasting, Inc., retrieved October 28, 2006 (
O'Reilly, Bill. Culture Warrior. Broadway, 2006.
Oreskes, Naomi. 2004. "Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change." Science Magazine, retrieved November 1, 2006 (
Plecnik, John. 2004. "Liberal Bias Against Campus Conservatives Confronted: Freedom and the American Campus." RenewAmerica, retrieved October 29, 2006 (
Polling Report. 2006. "President Bush: Job Ratings." Polling Report, Inc., retrieved October 28, 2006 (
Rothman, Stanley, S Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte. " Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty." The Forum (2005): 6.

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