Morality – Public & Private

I noticed 2 articles today – one by Robert Reich

The Difference Between Private and Public Morality

and the other by George Lakoff

Why the GOP Campaign for the Presidency Is About Guaranteeing a Radical Conservative Future for America

(The Republican presidential campaign is not just about the presidential race. It is about using conservative language to strengthen conservative values in the brains of voters.)

Reich’s take is that there is public morality – that relates to the laws we are governed by and whether they are enforced or not. In the case of the US, Reich used examples where the excess and abuse by the rich created the need for the government to step in to fix the situation:

Twice before progressive have saved capitalism from its own excesses by appealing to public morality and common sense. First in the early 1900s, when the captains for American industry had monopolized the economy into giant trusts, American politics had sunk into a swamp of patronage and corruption, and many factory jobs were unsafe – entailing long hours of work at meager pay and often exploiting children. In response, we enacted antitrust, civil service reforms, and labor protections.

And then again in 1930s after the stock market collapsed and a large portion of American workforce was unemployed. Then we regulated banks and insured deposits, cleaned up stock market, and provided social insurance to the destitute.

Reich contrasts that with private morality – such as sexual orientation, birth control, abortion, etc. And, of course, the decision for Roe v. Wade was based on the right to privacy. So Reich certainly has a valid point. In this election cycle, like so many others in the past couple of decades, the Republicans act all preachy about private morality issues and ignore the public morality issues – as if they do not exist.

So while that is odd – it is understandable to the extent that we know that the rich are subsidizing the debate and they are happy to keep things off topic. Off of the topic of public morality as it relates to money and their excesses. The Republicans fabricate problems – this has become obvious to many liberals and progressives – but many Republicans fall for it. Bush and his terrorism colors was a big distraction – Obama’s birth certificate and the business about Obama being a Muslim (such idiotic non-issues). These things that are not worth spending any amount of time on – but the “base” gets worked up about it and distracted about actual problems and the role the Republicans have in them.

On the other hand, Lakoff sees that all of this private morality is a distraction – but he also sees how it keeps conservatives “conservative”. Lakoff likes for people to see the overall picture – the Conservatives and their predilection for the strict father figure model for the family and for how they like to see government run. And the Liberal model that encourages a shared authority between parents and the way government is run.

So Lakoff’s main point is this:

Liberals tend to underestimate the importance of public discourse and its effect on the brains of our citizens. All thought is physical. You think with your brain. You have no alternative. Brain circuitry strengthens with repeated activation. And language, far from being neutral, activates complex brain circuitry that is rooted in conservative and liberal moral systems. Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry. This is extremely important for so-called “independents,” who actually have both conservative and liberal moral systems in their brains and can shift back and forth. The more they hear conservative language over the next eight months, the more their conservative brain circuitry will be strengthened.

So his idea is that there is more going on than Santorum and Romney being stupid about birth control. He is afraid that while Obama will be get re-elected the conservative mindset will spread allowing more Republican CongressMen to get elected.

The idealized conservative family is structured around a strict father who is the natural leader of the family, who is assumed to know right from wrong, whose authority is absolute and unchallengeable, who is masculine, makes decisions about reproduction, and who sets the rules – in short, the Decider.

You can see how the Pope would be popular. Even if someone was a Fundamentalist – the idea of the Pope as a Strict Father figure telling millions of people what to do is presumably appealing. But these ideas are extended to other areas of life:

…a view of the market as Decider with no external authority over the market from government, unions, or the courts; and strictness in other institutions, like education, prisons, businesses, sports teams…Control over reproduction ought to be in the hands of male authorities.

…Conservative populism — in which poor conservatives vote against their financial interests — depends on those poor conservatives having strict father family values, defining themselves in terms of those values, and voting on the basis of those values, thus selecting strict fathers as their political leaders.

While Lakoff writes that the Democrats need to talk more in a positive way about what they think instead of talking about what the Republicans get us talking about – he does it too – staying more focused on Republicans.

When it comes to the anti-women message that Republicans are promoting – even many Republican women are not liking it. Independent ones, esp. But I do think that Lakoff’s point should be well taken – a good amount of time needs to be spent on women’s equality and promoting liberal causes of the “private” as well as “public” variety. Because, like it or not, the private issue views affect people’s political views.

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