Doctor Science Knows

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Defining Conservatism

Conservatism is not a philosophy or an "ism", it is a feeling: "things shouldn't change." Since everyone has that feeling at least some of the time, conservatism always has a very broad appeal.

Political conservatism is the feeling that *power* shouldn't change, that the people (individuals, families, or groups) who were powerful when I was young should be the powerful ones when I am old. That's why 19th-century conservatives were in favor of hereditary aristocracy, while 21st-century ones favor large corporations. To my mind the Republican abandoment of the professed principles of "movement conservatism" (small government, low public debt) doesn't show that they aren't "really" conservatives, it just proves that political conservatism is and was always about unchanging structures of power.

Social conservatism and even religious conservatism have IMHO become ever more clearly about keeping one particular sort of power unchanged: the dominance of men over women. It has also become clear to me that gender conservatism is a huge motivator: it's why abortion, gay rights, contraception, etc., are such hot-button topics in the US. It doesn't matter how much you're being screwed by the crony capitalists so long as women know our place.

There is a useful place in the political discourse for a position of scepticism to any major change: "don't change horses in midstream," if it ain't broke don't fix it". This is what in old-time (e.g. Dante) Christian virtuology (or whatever it's called) was covered under the cardinal, pre-Christian virtues of Prudence and Temperance.

The trouble with it as a political approach is that it doesn't address the most basic of all political issues, which is "who has power?" Do you change ruling classes in midstream? Do what degree does the distribution of wealth have to be broken before you fix it?

Justice is also a cardinal virtue, and it is by nature not conservative: it defends the weak against the strong, it undermines the natural conservative order of things.

I'm chewing over in my mind whether the rise of fundamentalisms and other reactionary conservative movements is due, perhaps, to Future Shock. Not just the technological shock Toffler mostly talked about, but the shock of seeing the society around you constantly and acceleratingly changing. I can't remember if Toffler predicted a new wave of fundamentalism as a response to future shock, but he should have.


  • I am not a scientist, just an idle speculator, but:

    One of the things that may be stoking the fundamentalists is "information overload". Too much information to process, conflicting information and scads of superfluous information lead to the kind of division you see in the USA today and a strong desire for stability. (If I remember correctly, Toffler did speculate on this.)

    There is no single overriding epistemology, so there is no consensus on how to sort the truth from the lies and half truths. There is, in a sense, no truth. People are "dazed and confused" (I am not a "Led Zep" fan BTW) from the flood of information as well as over-stimulated.

    The construct of a "God" provides the authority to sift out something that like minded individuals will call "truth". It even fits on a bumper sticker: "God said it, I believe it, That's all there is to it."

    It must be tremendously calming to finally have an answer and not have to worry about it anymore. Better than that, your preacher will do all the heavy lifting for you. All you have to do is listen, rinse and repeat.

    Oh yeah, and don't forget to vote.

    Correct me if I am wrong:

    Science on the other hand is always a work in progress and therefore, conjectural. Predictions lead to experiments, to new information, to revision (improvement of the model or hypothesis), to new predictions and it never ends. You get data glare and more overload plus a few new questions.

    Some people are searching for inner peace not this week's puzzler.

    Plus, you don't have to lay awake at night worrying about the "technological singularity".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:26 AM  

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