Sunday, July 11, 2010

Part 2: Understanding Progressives

As promised in an earlier post here's my review of what George Lakoff has to say in the Political Mind about the progressive mind and view of the family.

Nurturing Parent Model:
Quoted from the Political Mind
[T]wo parents, with equal responsibilities, and no gender constraints - or one parent of either gender. Their job is to nurture their children and raise them to be nurturers of others. Nurturance is empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and the strength to carry out those responsibilities.  This is opposite of indulgence: children are raised to care about others, to take care of themselves and others, and to lead a fulfilling life.  Discipline is positive; it comes out of the child's developing sense of care and responsibility.  Nuturance requires setting limits, and explaining them.  It requires mutual respect - a parent's respect for children, and respect for parents by children must be earned by how the parents behave. Restitution is preferred over punishment - if you do something wrong, do something right to make up for it.  The job of parents is protection and empowerment of their children, and a dedication to community life, where people care about and take care of each other.

He goes on to note that this is similarly the cause of many conservatives characterising progressives as 'feminine,' hence the mommy or nanny state.  But this isn't a valid criticism since empathy and nurturance are not (and ought not be) gendered.  It takes more strength and discipline to lend a helping hand in your community than it does to write off the downtrodden as lazy and burdensome on 'society'.  They are a part of society and deserve the basic respect due from one citizen to another, from one human being to another.

Now naturally almost all progressives and conservatives don't completely match up to either the nurturing parent or the strict father model, and I am definitely among them.  This is because people are typically not conservative or progressive on every topic, for example there are conservatives who are pro-choice, and progressives who are pro-war.  Lakoff calls this biconceptualism and describes it as the brain having the ability to believe incongruent, even opposing, ideas at the same time; which is why the same person can go out Saturday night drinking, gambling, etc, then also be a devout Christian the next day.

It is through biconceptualism that some progressives can intellectually oppose racism, sexism, and classism, but also behave in ways that can be racist, sexist, classist.  People are not usually not aware that they possess these contradictions and when confronted with them many feel hurt and/or insulted.  And I believe that this is a serious problem in the progressive community (so much so that I started this sentence with a preposition): we need to be progressive not just in how we think about others, but ourselves as well.  Progressivism has to be a process of self analysis where one challenges why they believe and do things they way that they do.  We need to be unafraid to be wrong and corrected, and be able to base our beliefs on more than just a gut feeling.

For example:
I've always been a believer in womens rights and equality for women.  However, until I met my girlfriend (now fiancĂ©) I had now idea how sexist some of my actions and presumptions were (and probably to some degree still are).  She unapologetically challenged my conservative habit of victim blaming while I was telling her how an acquaintance of mine had been mugged while walking home at 3:00AM drunk, alone, and having turned down a ride from a sober friend.  I thought that she had been stupid for taking such a risk, whereas my girlfriend argued that blaming her detracted from the guilt and fault of the muggers.  For quite a time I argued that she should have taken steps to be safer: walk with someone, take a cab, whatever; but my GF stood her ground and said that none of these things mattered because the exclusive fault still laid with the muggers since they committed the crime and violated the rights and freedoms of the victim.

Phrased in a way that conservatives may be more willing to accept: should we allow criminals to dictate where or when we can exercise our rights and freedoms?  The unequivocal answer is no.  The problem rests with  people looking to mug others, not with people walking home.  Those are the people who's behaviour needs correction and with whom fault and responsibility lie.

So to my fellow progressives, how can we convince conservatives of what we believe if we don't practice it ourselves?  Identifying as a progressive doesn't make it okay for us to be racist or make sexist comments.  We have to take the grievances and experiences of the underprivileged seriously and question whether our society favours on group over another. I encourage us all to be unafraid to have a good look in the mirror, admit it when you're wrong, and live what we believe.


  1. we need to be progressive not just in how we think about others, but ourselves as well. Progressivism has to be a process of self analysis where one challenges why they believe and do things they way that they do. We need to be unafraid to be wrong and corrected, and be able to base our beliefs on more than just a gut feeling.

    Right on.

  2. I think the post and LF's comments are, pretty much, bang on.

    The problem is, then, applying that to modern policial thought.

    Most parents want to enhance their child's ability to enter adulthood with the best chance of happiness and security.

    And, while I think there is a healthy dose of self-interest included, most politicians, of any stripe, have the same hope for the society they seek to influence.

    But - the difficulty is in the details.

    Your child wants a car for their 16th birthday.

    One parent says, I have the money, so why not?
    Another parent doesn't have the money, but borrows it to provide for their child.
    Another parent says, "You won't appreciate it if you don't earn it" and offers no help at all.
    Another parent says, "I will give you half the money and you must earn the rest."
    Another prents says, "I will loan you half the money and you will pay me back later."

    We understand all of the foregoing possibilities, and all of them are in their own way well-intentioned.

    The question is, which one offers the child the best result?

    Simple example, difficult answers.

    Now craft a national policy for daycare.

  3. Another book, I might recommend that touches on some of Lakoff's comments is "Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists”, by Susan Neiman.

    She herself rights from the perspective of someone who is clearly offended by the actions of the Republican Party in the U.S., but who acknowledges the failure of progressives in the U.S. to develop a sense of "Moral Clarity".

    I once voted Liberal and was a member of the Alebrta Liberal Party - however, I lost my faith in the parties because they, in my mind, became little more than a collective of special interests.. and lost connection with what I felt were the "average" Canadian.

    While I take some issue with some of Lakoff's conclusions as being somewhat facile, the idea of society being organized as a "nurturing parent" might isn't such a bad thought - and probably influences much political thought, intnetionally and otherwise.

    My question, though.

    While a loving and nurturing parent might seek to "protect" their child by forcing them to wear seatbelts, does a loving and nurturing parent also prevent them from driving motorcycles and using skateboards?

  4. oops.

    "writes from the perspective".

    Go figure.

    I was an English major.

  5. Firstly, let me say i'm new to blogs and commenting on them so if i'm missing some "etiquette" on how it's done please do enlighten me.

    Well I have a lot of thoughts about all this but i'd like some clarification, if possible, before I give my thoughts.

    First though, I'd like some clarification about your question Harvie. I think that you've changed gears completely there and I really don't understand the how or why, it's gone from a political discussion to philosophical one about what defines a loving, nurturing parent.

    And Slinger, I would also like some clarification on this topic. In regards to biconceptualism, I have to ask does the example of victim blaming really have anything to due with sexism or this thought of biconceptualism. In the example given, yes the victim is a woman, however I can an example where you probably would have said the same thing.

    I had been drinking, I passed by where i needed to be to catch my bus and ended up in a not so great neighbourhood. I believe a guy was even trying to mug me, but since i had no lighter, cash or watch it was pointless and didn't even try.

    What i'm saying is, what does the sex of the victim have anything to do with the idea of "victim blaming" and you being pro-womens' rights.
    I may be wrong but if you said that women are responsible for this rather then the victim, yes it would be counter to being pro women's rights. but i think to blame the victim falls under a completely different category then blaming women. I'd say if you claimed that people walking home drunk shouldn't be held responsible, then you claimed that the victim could have taken more responsibility and been safer, you'd be making a biconceptualism statement (is that the right way to phrase that?)

    That being said, I really like this post and what it has to say and agree with lorelei's comment

  6. JC..

    Firstly, I agree with your commentary regarding the "sexism" issue. I actually attended a conference in New Orleans a while back where they alluded to several studies, for example, which established that based upon victim reports, approximately 50% of all domestic violence was precipitated by some act of violence on the part of the ultimate victim.

    And the suggestion was that by refusing to speak to the contribution of the victim to the dynamic, in the goal of not "placing blame on the victim", we were untintenionally increasing the chances of recurrent violence in the relationship.

    As for your question of the shift from politics to philosphy - if you read the Lakeoff work, he posits that, actually, how we perceive parenting is very much related to how we perceive politics.. and that, in fact, using a "nurturing parent" model is a useful way to gage the efficacy of political theory.

    So then - my commentary about the "loving nurturing parent" is simply a concrete family anoalogy of the difficulty in defining where the line should be between too little help and too much. But acknowleding that there is, as Lakoff concedes, a line on both sides of the spectrum.

    By being aware of that "line", however, whether we are conservative or liberal or progressive, or whatever, it allows us to more critically ananlyze our own assumptions.

    As a small "c" conservative, do I tend to lean too far to demand self-reliance.. or, for a small "l" liberal, do they tend to lean too far to be overly protective.

    The danger is when we refuse to consider our own weakness and instead, see the problem ONLY as "the other guy".

  7. @ John Coal

    It has to do with women's rights because feminists have spent a lot of time and energy challenging the culture of victim blaming when it comes to rape, so they (often, hopefully) readily recognize victim blaming in other contexts, and can apply the same arguments against victim blaming to those contexts. So, women aren't the only ones who are the targets of victim blaming, but the deconstruction of and argument against victim blaming comes from the women's rights movement. So that's probably how it came up.

  8. I think it's funny that people are agreeing with my comment, since it really wasn't much of a comment. I quoted Slinger and said I agreed.

  9. @Harvie

    To clarify, Lakoff isn't suggesting that our politics are actually based on of these notions of family. He says that it is how individuals frame politics in their minds. People analogise a country as a family and unconsciously apply the same dynamics, modes of thoughts etc from the former onto the latter.

    For example: homosexuality is frowned upon by the strict father model because it rejects that traditional family that's at the core of this worldview and the role of the father who must be a specific type of masculine ideal.

    Similarly the nurturing parent model accepts it because heterosexuality isn't necessary for the family model to function. Here children are encouraged to grow up and be happy and the best they can be at whatever they choose.

    Lakoff isn't saying that one model or the other should shape our politics, he's saying that the family is the frame through which politics can be understood.

    In regards to motorcycles and skateboards, I'd say that requiring users to wear helmets isn't an unreasonable restriction on their freedom and probably helps to lower injury related costs on the health care system.

    As for your car example I'd say the solution is less important than the rationale behind the decision. In this case it's the difference between teaching the type of discipline that's needed in the real world to get what you want (SFM) vs determining which outcome will help your child best develop into an person capable of empathizing with others and being happy in the world (NP). In this case the solution could be the same from either perspective, but Lakoff argues that the motivation behind them that's interesting. People do argue over the outcome, but a great deal of that conflict arises over how the solution is framed by either side. Good politicians are masters at making any position seem more or less acceptable to a given audience.

    In some ways a day care policy seems easier to determine because the interests behind it are more cut and dry. Does having a daycare service available at an affordable rate increase or decrease a parent's freedom to pursue their career and provide for their family?

    In my opinion it does, so it may be a worthwhile use of tax money.

  10. But.. the point is that there is a continuum there that Lakhoff says we can rationally view our perspective with.

    There is a point where we do too much and a point where we do too little.. and the trick is acknoweldging both extremes.

    This allows us to challenge our own assertions.. and is at the core of much of our political stupidity today, from all corners.

    A belief that because the "other" opinion is so clearly "wrong" that there is no need to evaluate our own position.

    You see it in the blog world all the time - where groups of like-minded thinkers basically gang up on someone who sees things differently.

    And with daycare.. my take is, for a single parent without adequate resources to enter the work force develop a career, I think, absolutely, it should be 100% funded.

    My question is whether a dentist making half a million dollars a year should have his or her daycare funded by the government when they have a second parent in the home as well, and the choice not to have a parent at home is not born of economic necessity.

    So - like with the car, it's not an issue of "yes" or "no",but a question of just how much help (nurturing) we ought to provide.

  11. Then I think we're in agreement that there is no position that's so perfect that it is above self analysis.

    I think our differences lie in what is too much and what is too little. If a dentist is making half a million dollars a year, then he's also paying far more in taxes.

    In Ontario I understand the total income tax between federal and provincial governments for someone making that much is over 50%. In which case I'd say they are equally entitled to government paid daycare. When people get something from their taxes they don't mind paying them. In Sweden people receive many government benefits, and happily pay their taxes to maintain that social order.

    The second reason that I would support having daycare available to everyone is if the second parent wants to go out and get a fulfilling career as well, why should their freedom be restricted from doing so?

    In my opinion if a universal daycare service enables people to be freer and happier then its worth the cost and represents a better use of tax money then many other projects that the government (CPC or Liberal) tend to support.

  12. Well.

    You may be the closest thing to a "progressive" that I've ever shared an opinion with who basically acknoweldged that while we may disagree, we can agree that no political viewpoint is "so perfect that it is above self analysis".

    Were that our politicians and other bloggers so enlightened as to acknoweldge knowing what they don't know.

    I appreciate that. Truly.

    Though - in the application of that reality - I still have a concern - not with the economic fairness of the issue of paying for a dentist's daycare - but with the question of the potential subtle impact that may have on the broader society.

    In arguing with Marissa on my own blog I came across a fascinating theory called, "Hamilton's Rule" - see:

    Basically, the idea is that "atruism" - doing for others even though it may cost yourself - may be a genetically evolved trait - that depends upon "degrees of kinship".

    Again - while I am no expert - as I understand, "kin" are more likely to engage in acts of altruism.. "kin" not necessarily meaning genetic relations, but referring to "spacial relationships" - how closely connected we are.

    So - one might (not will, but might) inquire as to whether expanding distance between family members is necessarily a positive goal if we are seeking to increase altruistic behavior.

    The "conservative" view, obviously, would be that we should be cautious over efforts which encourage third party care of our children - but even a more progressive view, might at least ask the question of whether or not increasing dispersal of family members may result in a more "distant" society, and therefore, less "altruistic".

    Sort of the Hayek kind of caution - that we don't really know of the consequences of broad changes to social order until perhaps decades down the road. So, should we move somewhat more "cautiously"?

    Starting with daycare for only those who are in need before we effectively say, "If you would prefer to have your children watched by someone else during the day, the government will take care of that for you."

  13. @ Marissa,
    So if i'm reading it right, basically because the theory/deconstruction/idea behind it was started by a specific group then the overall use of it must constantly be attributed to the group and their ideas? They were the ones that came up with the idea that what is going on is wrong, so no matter what the circumstance, women rights are always at stake when you do it?

    If the crime, whether it be rape/robbery/etc, happens against a man what connection does it have to feminism. And if it is a cross gender problem, my question is, is it really anti feminist to blame the victim? or does it only become a problem if the victim is a woman?

    If a man walks down an alley and is beaten, raped, and robbed (and yes it may not be as prevalent a problem in regards to the rape, but it does happen), and I say you should have been smarter then to walk down that sketchy alley, alone and drunk when there were other options, i.e. blaming him, if not just pointing out the stupidity of the choice.

    am i still destroying the idea of female equality? If no, then the idea of victim blaming is either being seen as just a problem against women (which isn't right either) or that men just don't count in this case (which again isn't right) and creates a double standard.

    Personally I think the only way one could be creating biconceptualism in that example is to say
    1) women are different from men in their rights; in the ideal state
    2) if 1) is true then there is a bases to say that victim blaming goes against female rights.
    3) if not 1) women and men are the same in their rights; in the ideal state
    4) If 3) there is no gender playing a role in victim blaming and the rights of the victims
    5) if there is a gender bases for victim blaming then not 3).
    6) If genders are equal in their rights, there is no bases for victim blaming to be conflicting against a woman's rights.

    in the end, I agree victim blaming isn't right. But this isn't a new concept either that has only ever been used for women. The idea of victim blame goes right back through history. Recent history may have targeted women but that doesn't mean to victim blame is against women's rights.

  14. correction to my post :

    Personally I think the only way one could be creating biconceptualism in that example is to say that women are different and therefore it's about women as victims and not the idea of the victim, but the idea of the women

  15. This addresses the question "What's wrong with suggesting that women take precautions to avoid being raped?" but what it has to say can be applied to victim blaming in general.