To conserve established traditions and institutions: this is the root meaning of the word conservative in its political definition. And from this original and sustained mandate flows the great problems conservatives have with reality.
As it turns out, one of the most important unique characteristics of our species, Homo sapiens, is the ability, willingness and, indeed, evolutionary advantage of discarding established traditions and institutions in favor of something potentially much better. Thus, through learning, behavior change, experimentation and innovation, emerges progress.
Far back in the mists of prehistory, a progressive hominid invented the wheel. The conservatives in the band were adamantly against it. After all, it would change life as they knew it. So too for the earlier decisions to come down from the trees and out on to the savannah, to control fire, to use language, to migrate out of Africa. Each of these momentuous advances in human culture were argued against by those in the tribe who wished to cling to the old values. Thankfully, they lost all of these arguments.
This very same tale continues throughout human history. We see conservatives in every culture around the world and through the ages tenatiously clinging to hoary, old customs and beliefs, only to eventually be swept aside by the inexorable tide of the true human spirit: the impetus toward discovery and growth. Conservatives were the last to give up faith in Zeus, Thor and the Flat Earth. Often the collision between the old guard and advanced thinking turns violent. We see this in the condemnation of Socrates, the crucifixion of Jesus, the American Revolutioanry War and Civil War, and Taliban Afghanistan.
Similarly, it is absolutely not true that conservative ideology promotes innovation in business and commerce. No, conservatives are highly suspicious of economy-shifting technologies and paradigms. The conservative aristocracy fought against the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution; the conservative rank and file railed against the coming of the horseless carriage, balked at the computer and the internet, and today scorn environmentally-friendly industries, renewable energy and more efficient light bulbs... all in pathetic defense of their well-worn and increasingly obsolete ways of life. Despite their howls of protest, however, though it may take time, in almost every case, the more innovative, progressive, technology and ideology wins out.
In sum, conservatives are the biggest losers in human history.
And the future doensn't look bright for them. As the evolution of human culture continues to speed up, changes will be coming at the poor conservatives fast and furious. How in the world will they ever cope?
It's a bit strange that they are even still around. It would seem logical that by now they would have learned the lessons of history and gotten on board the wondrous train of progress. But rationality is not a property abundantly present in conservative ideology. Indeed, rationality is an asset that everyone must learn and cultivate; in this way we can override or control our base emotions and think and behave in ways that really do make more sense for both ourselves and culture.
Education, self-improvement and doing the right thing can be hard work. It's easier to stay dumb about most things and allow gut feelings to rule. Not that conservatives are inherently stupid (though John Stuart Mill maintained that most stupid people are conservative). Many, in fact, are diabolically clever, yet overall, logic, and certainly any beyond-the-self/clan concern or empathy, are sorely lacking in the conservative world-view. Conservatives have a "me" rather than "we" orientation. Rather than rationality, they defer to selfish emotionality, including strong currents of greed, fear and prejudice.
This predisposition is built into most of us. It is an evolutionary trait. At a base level, it feels good and right to consider ourselves separate and superior to some "other," and leverage power to withhold benefits from that "other," or in some cases to dominate or persecute that "other." Through much of human history this was a protective factor, helping our clan survive being harmed by the barbarian clan just over the ridge.
Yet our modern world is too populated and interconnected, and our technologies and potential for damage too powerful, to allow clan-mentality to rule our behavior. This evolutionary trait is no longer a protective factor; it has become a risk factor. As an integrated human family, we must accelerate our discovery and nurturance of our commonalities and shared interests, not inflate our differences and self-assumed superiorities over the rest of humankind.
But emotional defense mechanisms are not easily tamed. Conservatives, of all stripes, all around the world, continue to react to the "threats" they perceive from progressive culture - meaning cultures that are increasingly free, egalitarian, mixed and quickly changing - with defensive (and sometimes offensive) fear, greed and prejudice. Furthermore, they perceive that their cherished "values," traditions and institutions justify these feelings.
Now here is nexus of the problem, for, in fact, many of their institutions actually do not justify these feelings. Quite the opposite. For instance, Christianity emphatically proclaims that one should love thy neighbor as thyself; do not judge; and forgive those who trespass against you. America is founded, first and foremost on the values of liberty, equality, justice and government of, by and for We the People. But these foundational beliefs of Christianity and American democracy are wildly progressive, or liberal. Science and the tide of knowledge likewise trace a staunchly progressive arc. Indeed, facts have a liberal orientation. And truth itself is in opposition to the very emotions that conservatives so cherish: fear, greed and prejudice.
How can the conservative overcome this dilemma? Well, the obvious answer is to give up their fear, greed and prejudice. But this would not be conservative. That would be giving in to the liberal mode of changing for the better. Conservatives do not want to change and grow; they want to conserve. Besides, they like that feeling of separation from and superiority to everyone else, except their own clan (and even some of them are a bit suspect).
Christian values, American ideals, the discoveries of science and the wisdom of history all refute and reprimand conservative "I've got mine" mentality. The reason this hasn't yet derailed conservatism is that conservatives don't really care about these institutions. Oh, they say they do, and many really believe they do, but the institution they truly revere is not Christianity or democracy, but rather the traditional socioeconomic heirarchy that they energetically (though often covertly) defend. All of us inherently understand this institution, which is thousands of years old. It is structured like this: rich superior, with subsequent decrease in socioeconomic status as asset level decreases; male superior, female inferior and subservient; white superior, diminishing value as skin tones darken; Protestantism superior, Catholics and other pseudo-Christians are suspect, all other religions are wacked; heterosexuality superior, homosexuality sinful.
Conservatives really want the world to be organized as a system of dichotomies, dualities, polarities, either/ors: good-evil, right-wrong, male-female, up-down, black-white. They don't want to see the world in shades of gray, heaven forbid the complexity of a rainbow, because then they might find themselves positioned on some sort of spectrum of values rather than safely and self-righteously ensconced on the "good-right-white" polarity.
Unless it can be strictly controlled, diversity terrifies conservatives. Yet the universe itself is comprised of diversity. Progress, science and much of human culture have slowly but surely not only made peace with this diversity, but come to see it as incredibly interesting and even beautiful. In the modern world at least, many traditions and institutions themselves, including governments, have evolved to include such progressive precepts.
Finding themselves surrounded by diversity, the loyal conservative who wishes to conserve their conservative emotionality and pretend some allegiance to core Christian and democratic values has no choice but to convolute, distort and otherwise become very selective and shallow in the braiding of the strands of "truth" that constitute their beliefs.
They start with intentional forgetfulness. Just wipe from memory and cognition all of the historical transgressions of conservative ideology. The Athenian government that condemned Socrates, the Pharisees that had Jesus killed, the Catholic church that condemned Dante, Bruno, Copernicus, Galileo, and imposed the Inquisition, the feudal lords, the murderers of Joan of Arc, the British loyalists during the American Revolution, the staunch defenders of slavery, and opponents of public education, women's rights, workers rights and civil rights, these were all the conservatives of their day; the people and ideas they sought to control or destroy were progressive, liberal. Closer to our own lifespans, it has been the extreme conservative fascists, communists, theocrats and corporatists who have capitalized (literally and figuratively) on ignorance, fear, prejudice, greed and hate, and had to be confronted by the defenders of liberal values. This history must be ignored, hidden, or if that is not possible, then distorted, rewritten or otherwise co-opted.
Long ago the Machiavellian leaders of conservatism discovered a highly effective strategy for camouflaging their errant history: spuriously embracing the very institutions and values they have no deep respect for, while attempting to corrupt them from within. Thus, they style themselves the super-patriots and defenders of "real" America, though they were against its formation and most of its ideals and democracy from the start, place no value on the native land, environment or wildlife beyond its potential for exploitation, and can't stand most Americans. Likewise they proclaim themselves as true Christians, even though they have not the slightest intention of following the Golden Rule or any other of the precepts of the Jesus that died on the cross.
Millions of Americans and Christians blissfully go right along with this methodology, most without deeply thinking about it or fully understanding the choices they are making. More than an intellectual process, their mind-set is gut reaction. It's easy as pie. A distorted, emotionally-driven perception of themselves as "American" and "Christian" becomes an extension of their clan-mentality, fully legitimizing their fear, greed and prejudice even though real American and Christian values seek to breakdown separatism and judgment while promoting liberty and equality. Preachers and politicians of like mind-set do nothing but encourage the delusion, while safeguarding the deception. In this way conservative churches simply put their heads in the sand as the factual evidence mounted against the Bush administration's practicing of torture. It was the easy thing to do - the way to protect their guy - just like when those same good Christians came to the defense of the tradition of slavery. After all, it was just the "other" getting tortured.
So, lazy-thinking, ethically-challenged, emotionally-driven rank and file conservatives are easy prey for political and social leaders - those who most strongly benefit from a "traditional" socioeconomic status-quo - who use carefully crafted and incessant propaganda, playing upon fear, greed and prejudice, to win over voters.
But the charade gets harder to hide as culture moves forward. With every generation sharp new challenges to the old mind-set come forth.
Today the conservatives are aghast (or with End Times enthusiasts, thrilled) at how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Like never before they are at war with the world... because the world has come to them. Their "real" America is in a state of embattlement from all sides. The "other" have broken through their barricades and taken over "their" country: black people, brown people, Asian people, poor people, ill people, handicapped people, socialists, scientists, intellectuals, elites, environmentalists, artists, actors, gays, lesbians, transgenders, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and worst of all, liberals, who actually aid and abet all of the other "others". So conservatives need to take "their" country back. And they are willing to torpedo democracy to do it.
Conservatives have gone into full battle formation, striking back wildly as the footing holding up their beliefs quakes. They rally behind an increasingly strident, quirky and quacky ensemble of leaders who may have little or no real credentials or credibility beyond their own steadfast defense of the clan. So a Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Palin, Bachmann, Beck, Limbaugh, Robertson, Santorum, Paul, et al, can make the most audacious claims and have it swallowed hook, line and sinker by a base desperately hungry for any morsel of justification for their fear, greed and prejudice.
The language of the conservatives drifts ever further from civilized discourse, with terminology intentionally deceptive or startingly combative. The method of the leaders is to divide, deceive and divert because their core message - help the rich get richer and corporations more powerful - is rotten; they must couch it in terms that enflame the passions of the base. The do not hesitate to demonize their opponents or hijack the truth. Often what they say is precisely the opposite of what they will do. Bush's promises to be a "uniter not a divider," and a "compassionate conservative" (an implicit acknowledgement that conservatives are not usually compassionate), and to forego "nation building" were bald-faced lies to present a "moderate" face to get elected. Yet the Republican brain-trust had radically conservative plans to destroy organized labor, hijack Social Security and Medicare, compromise public education, and invade Iraq long before the 2000 election.
The rank and file do their part with stauch support for the pseudo-values of their ideology and those leaders who show strong determination to preserve the traditional hierarchy. They frenetically wave the flag to ship the troops off to find the WMDs in Iraq, work up through school boards and textbook committees to get creationism on par with evolution in the science class, debunk slavery as a cause of the Civil War, devalue Roosevelt while elevating Reagan (their only hero), deny Global Warming, blame Democrats for the economic meltdown, or rush to rewrite the Wikipedia entries for Paul Revere and John Quincy Adams when their flag-wrapped and Bible-thumping darling surrogates blatantly trip over their confusion and ignorance. They brood over how they can impose their pseudo-values on the rest of society, willing to wreck the national infrastructure, the social safety net, public education and the commons, while still proclaiming their belief in true American values with a straight face. Democracy, truth and justice become victims in this scheme, sacrificed at the altar of self-reward... no different today than in Socrates' Athens or Jesus' Jerusalem.
As always, the bottom line is the conservative's determination to remain atop, or near therabouts, of the traditional socioeconomic hierarchical pyramid. To do so requires preservation, or conservation, of this hierarchy. It does not matter that the vast majority of conservatives actually aren't anywhere near the top of this pyramid scheme, and may, in fact, themselves be subjugated by aspects of this scheme; they perceive that their place and potential in the traditional hierarchy is superior to the "other," or to any alternative scheme that would throw things wide open and allow real liberty, equality, justice and empathy to proliferate. Conservatives shudder at the thought of real freedom, real equality, real democracy.
This is the mind-set of the masses that the captains of industry - as they were once romantically called, but are now revealed, again, as corporate pirates - understand how to manipulate and channel. They know that the only way to conserve the traditional socioeconomic hierarchy that they profit from immensely (sometimes grotesquely) is by dividing the public, and then controlling a particular gullible percentage. They know they can't fool all the people all the time; all they need is about 25 percent of total eligible voters to win many elections (because half of the would-be voters have been diverted and mindwashed into fixation on non-political entertainment, sports, alcohol, drugs, but that's another subject). With their target group, the conservative aristocracy can't just come out and say, "vote for us, the rich guys." But by framing liberal progress as an afront to "American" and "Christian" values and a threat to the traditional hierarchy, working men and women are conned into voting against their own real best social and economic interests and in for schemes that favor the rich and giant corporations.
In this manner, conservative working stiffs eagerly side with the very wealthiest tycoons and banks, oil and pharmaceutical companies reaping obscene profits, and against other working people, and even against their own best interests. They gobble down propaganda and false platitudes about the "free" market (as if any such thing has ever existed or ever will), low taxes, deregulation and small government, as long as they are mixed with a nice side-order of head-bobs or code language oriented toward social issues - usually involving guns, gays and/or God - that play into their clan-mentality. They actually vote to lower taxes on the upper two percent and filthy rich multi-national corporations when that guarantees that they will receive less benefits themselves. They vote to deregulate industries and capital markets when that guarantees that they themselves will have a greater chance of being harmed. They vote to not just allow, but encourage, corporations to ship their job overseas and set up bogus corporate "headquarters" in Dubai or Grand Cayman to skip out on U.S. taxes. They cheer conservative Supreme Court decisions that allow unlimited corporate donations to candidates, and effectively guarantee that their individual voice is drowned by the tide of wealth and power. They vote for politicians who say they stand for small government and individual freedom while working to set up laws that thwart a woman's ownership of her own body, a person's right to smoke marijuana in their own home, a gay person's right to be married, freedom from religious bias, the right to personal privacy, habeas corpus, and many other individual liberties, not to mention marching the country into ill-advised and spurious wars.
In doing so, they don't even realize the contradictions. The conservative's ideology actually resembles a pretzel, or Swiss cheese. They claim to believe in everything the Bible says, but must carefully cherry-pick which of it to put into action, usually preferring the more divisive and punitive passages. They believe in the supremacy of individual rights, except when they don't. They believe in states rights, except when they don't. They believe in small government, except when they don't. They believe in liberty, equality and justice really only for themselves and their clan... not so much for others. Meanwhile, they demand personal responsibility of others, not so much for themselves. In their beliefs and actions they rework the Golden Rule to read, "Do unto others before they do unto you." Conservative leaders would rewrite the Constitution, "We, the Rich, White, Male, Protestant, Heterosexuals and associated Corporations..." Just to be more specific, the Declaration of Independence should be clarified to read, "Particular men (and only men) are created equal, and are endowed by Jesus, our Lord and Savior, with the natural right of happiness to exploit and plunder all things otherwise created."
If the New Testament, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were available in primary format on Wikipedia, it seems likely that these changes would have already been made by conservatives in service of their convoluted logic and war against reality.
When truth does rear its head they don't have the intellectual integrity to change their mind; again, that might entail having to modify their emotional stance. Instead, they just double-down, or in Palin's vernacular, "reload." Has Fox News lost a single viewer, or Rush Limbaugh one listener, following their years-long cheerleading for the Bush administration's failed policies and being demonstrably wrong on issue after issue? Probably not. WMDs? Iraqis will welcome us as liberators? Tax breaks will create jobs? Deregulation will help the banks? Offshore drilling is perfectly safe? Global warming is a hoax? These and so many other conservative platitudes had been thoroughly excoriated by the time Bush scooted into hiding, yet there was hardly a pip of contrition from the right, and soon after Obama's election, conservative leaders were back in full throat demonizing, word-spinning, and demanding lower taxes for the rich and more deregulation, the very factors that brought us near to Great Depression II.
Clueless, rank and file conservatives, including the Teabaggers, are egged on by corporate pirates, such as the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, who have orchestrated an audacious grab for power, covering for their fellow mega-rich and predatory corporations by blaming the lingering brutal recession on middle class workers: teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen, state workers, union members, and retirees. Despite the unavoidable fact that the mega-rich and corporations have enjoyed gorging at the trough for the past 30 years while the earning power of the middle class has slid backwards, their answer to our current economic woes is to continue to richly reward the rich and brutally punish everyone else. Republican voodoo economics has brought us to the edge of ruin. Yet, again conservatives buy into it with blind faith, even without a shred of supporting factual evidence, and, ironically, as record drought, fires, floods, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, melting ice caps and other effects of the "hoax" of Global Warming threaten their very homes and lives.
So goes the conservative war with reality.
It is probably a safe bet that conservatives will always be around. There will always be a lot of people happy to give into their base fears, greed and prejudice, building their self-esteem and struggling to hold on to their place on the socioeconomic ladder by stepping on someone else. And the American conservative leadership machine is organized, focused, disciplined and backed by almost limitless money and political power. So it's no surprise that conservatives will sometimes rise in political ascendency, rallying a critical mass of gullibles and the ethically shallow to take control of a Legislature or Congress or Presidency. They were routed in 2008, but like zombies they don't stay dead. Their Reagan Revolution succeeded in tilting the Supreme Court in favor of the corporate pirates, where cases like "Citizens United" jar the bones of democracy. A vested and vicious media array, including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, an army of combative newspaper, radio and television pundits, and well-funded think-tanks, spews propaganda on a 24/7/365 basis. The vaunted liberal media bias is actually simply a truthful media bias, with the world's non-conservative major media attempting to stick to some semblance of a factual basis, while Murdoch's media empire engages in full-out distortions and disinformation. The liberals have nothing remotely similar to the conservative media juggernaut.
While in power, conservatives may pass laws in defense of their "traditional values" and seemingly succeed for awhile in routing the many forces of the "other" arrayed against them. They will wave the flag and pound the Bible, battle against most of the rest of the world and factual evidence itself, and call themselves heroes.
Yet they are the opposite. They are betrayers of not only democracy and Christianity, but morality itself. Both Jesus and Jefferson would reject their mind-set. Beyond even that, they are betrayers of our species. Humans are defined, first and foremost, as a thinking, rational, creative, innovative, adapting, changing creature. We are what we are because we did not pause long to "conserve;" we processed and moved on. New concepts and new customs are the lifeblood of culture. Old customs are comfortable and sometimes have real value. But just because something is a tradition doesn't mean it was ever any good. And some traditions that were once good, aren't any more.
The idea that we would stop at some point, any point, and "conserve" a particular scheme, political or economic, is precisely what Edmund Burke, the so-called father of modern conservatism, wanted to do. He greatly feared the masses being educated and rational, and wanted to perpetuate an aristocracy or oligarchy. The American Founding Fathers had a different idea. So did Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and Aristotle. In fact, all of the great minds of history are not remembered for "conserving" anything, but for shaking up the money-changers, challenging the status quo, and "liberally" going where no one had gone before.
Think of all the great artists, writers, philosophers, scientists, teachers, prophets of all time, each exorting us to think deeply, and to change. None had a message of "conserve." Where are the great conservative heroes of history? Nowhere. Modern American conservatives can only point to Reagan as their guiding light, and even here we see denial and delusion regarding the great damage of his real legacy. Meanwhile, on the artistic side, well, the conservatives have Ted Nugent.
Despite their built-in advantages, the conservatives of today are doomed to lose, as they always do. They will lose on Big Government (for only a big government can manage a modern state, though everyone might hope it is only as big as it absolutely has to be and runs as efficiently as possible to "promote the general welfare" as the Constitution instructs). They will lose on gay marriage. They will lose on transgender rights. They will lose on taxes on the wealthiest. They will lose on defense of the environment and habitat. They will lose on social safety net issues. They will lose on the browning of America. They will lose in their efforts to impose pseudo-Christianity upon the nation. They will lose on evolution. They will lose as America, and the world, eventually throw off the blinders and bindings of the corporatocracy and its aristocracy, and neo-feudalism is thwarted. The human family will move inexorably toward a future which truly balances honoring the individual and the common good.
Indeed, only by becoming and acting as a human "family" might we solve the gnarly issues we find ourselves faced with, most caused not be being too liberal but by being too conservative. The next great evolution in human history will be that which diminishes the power of exclusive, divisive clan-mentality that holds us back, and elevates inclusive and cooperative modes of thinking and behavior that thrust us forward. The mind-set of the future will be the liberal's progressive, hopeful and unifying "we are all in this together," rather than the conservative's backwards, divisive and selfish "I've got mine, screw you."