Understanding the conservative mind



I wonder have you, like I have, puzzled about how the conservative mind works?

When Tony Abbott was prime minister, did you ask yourself how on earth he could hold some of his views?

Did you question how he could ignore the mountain of evidence that our planet is warming and how he could airily dismiss the catastrophic predictions for life on earth when increases in global temperatures exceed 2 degrees Celsius? Did you query how he could insist that ‘coal was good for humanity’ when all the evidence points to the burning of fossil fuels as a major cause of carbon pollution, the greenhouse effect, and global warming?

Did you ever ask yourself why Abbott so frequently warned us about threats from abroad: people smugglers bringing boat people to ‘invade our shores’, or ISIS terrorists ‘coming to get us’? He extended this to homegrown radicalized youth threatening us close to home. This is not to ridicule such threats, as the recent terrorist attacks on the Russian airliner, and in Turkey, Lebanon, and Paris attest, but to ask why he seemed so preoccupied with them, to the extent that even after he was removed as PM, he was warning European nations that their compassion towards refugees was leading them into 'catastrophic error', and that they, like Australia, must ‘stop the boats’!

Tony Abbott, by his own proud admission, is a conservative. There is now plenty of evidence that conservatives think differently, that their brains are wired differently from those on the other side of the political spectrum, and have likely been so all their lives. Can this explain Abbott’s thinking?

Conservatives contrast starkly with those who have a progressive mindset, so-called left wing thinkers. Of course there are those in the middle: Malcolm Turnbull is a contemporary example.

Instead of those of us who are progressive thinkers living in a state of perpetual frustration at the seemingly incongruous, indeed seemingly ridiculous workings of the conservative mind, it might be less irritating if we understood how their minds actually function. We don’t question why a person with a deformed foot or a short leg walks with a limp; it is obvious. But we can’t see how the way conservatives think results in the behaviour they exhibit. Until recently it has not been possible to get inside the conservative head to discern how its mental apparatus works. Now though we have some evidence from neuroscientists.

I will quote from several articles from the scientific literature to describe the conservative mind. As some of these use American terminology, read ‘LNP’ for ‘conservative’, which corresponds in the US to the Republican Party (or the Tea Party), and read ‘Labor’ or ‘progressive’ for ‘liberal’, which corresponds to the Democrat Party.

An article in Salon in September 2013 titled Inside the conservative brain: What explains their wiring? by Avi Tuschman, author of Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us concludes: “Conservatives tend to view human nature as competitive, while liberals are more prone to perceiving human nature as cooperative.”

How many times have we heard LNP members talk about competition, competitiveness, competition policy, and about working hard to achieve success and its rewards? These values align with their endorsement of capitalism, the power of free markets and the competition they encourage. Along with competition they value personal freedom, enterprise, entrepreneurship, initiative, innovation, investment, ‘start-ups’, risk-taking and self-improvement.

Scott Morrison had been Treasurer for only a week or two when he introduced his own three-word slogan, one that embodies these values: ‘Work, Save, Invest’.

There is nothing wrong with these values; indeed a prosperous society needs them. It is when they take precedence over other values, such as fairness, caring for the less well off, and supporting the ill and the disabled that the balance a cohesive society needs is lacking.

Understandably, Joe Hockey endorsed those conservative values, but at the same time he made an art form of demeaning the less fortunate. He proudly boasted about the political import of his 2012 speech in London The end of the age of entitlement. He repeated the concept endlessly, and put it into action in his 2014 budget where he punished the less well off, the ‘leaners’. Tony Abbott backed him all the way.

Here are some satirical representations of the brains of the Conservative Republican and the Progressive Democrat.


In contrast, Labor members and the Greens value an egalitarian society that provides equal opportunity for all its citizens. They emphasize fairness, ‘a fair go for all’, and a good education and universal healthcare for everyone, irrespective of social status or wealth. They highlight cooperativeness, social responsibility, sharing, inclusiveness, mutual support, empathy, human rights, empowerment, and an ethic of excellence.

How many times have you heard expressions of concern for the less well off from these progressives? Time and again!



It is noteworthy that Malcolm Turnbull, who we know is less radical in his conservative views, has gone out of his way to emphasize the crucial importance of fairness, especially in addressing tax reform.

It is not that conservatives don’t hold these progressive values at all, or that progressives don’t hold the values conservatives emphasize, it is that the balance is tilted one way for progressives, the other way for conservatives. As pointed out earlier, Tuschman’s thesis is: Conservatives tend to view human nature as competitive, while liberals [progressives] are more prone to perceiving human nature as cooperative.”

Do Abbott’s conservative values explain why he is so averse to accepting the reality of global warming? Apart from the obvious fact that he has always been wedded to the coal industry, and climate denial is a way of protecting this favoured industry for purely political reasons, his ideological support for enterprise and free markets and competitiveness must be another factor that drives him to deny climate science and dismiss climate scientists to boot. His position seems unreasonable and illogical to progressives who accept the science of climate change, but it is ‘logical’ to the conservative brain, which seemingly is wired differently to value science less than enterprise.

In the Salon article Tuschman went on to further illustrate his thesis by highlighting the difference in approach of conservative [Republican] and Democrat candidates for presidency of the US:
"Right-wing politicians like Ronald Reagan tend to make more appeals to the public based on the assumption of a self-interested audience. Reagan said: ‘As you go to the polls next Tuesday and make your choice for President, ask yourself this question: Are you better off today than you were four years ago?’ In contrast, “Democrat president John F. Kennedy…famously entreated his ‘fellow Americans to ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ In Kennedy’s speech, the liberal president invoked a cooperative human nature."
The Salon article sums up as follows:
"To the extent that people identify free-market capitalism with self-interest, capitalism has polarized the political spectrum. The far left has decried self-interested capitalism as the root of all evil, and accused the right of celebrating self-interest by worshiping the god of free markets. The far right, on the other hand, has denounced socialist control economies for impeding the pursuit of competition and sapping away motivation.”
The article addresses another aspect of conservative thinking – the dangers that lurk in the contemporary world:
"If, as conservatives tend to believe human nature is fundamentally competitive and self-interest prevails, then people live in a dangerous world. The ‘dangerous world’ metaphor has long been associated with right-wing ideological views. In the last couple of centuries, though, this metaphor has taken the form of folk-Darwinism…in which ‘all creatures great and small are pitted against one another in a life-or-death struggle to survive and reproduce.’"
This proposition helps us understand Abbott’s preoccupation with threats to our country – from boat people close at hand, to ISIS terrorists from a distance, to home grown radicalized youth willing to do us harm in our own neighbourhood. To reinforce his message, Abbott persistently demonized boat people, conflated them with terrorists, repeatedly called ISIS 'the death cult', and sought to instill in us perpetual fear of terrorism. It is the terrorists who seek to foster fear; instead of allaying it, Abbott augmented their fear campaign. Following the Paris terrorist attack, still suffering from relevance deprivation, he appeared on the Bolt Report giving his sage advice that we must ‘tackle the ISIS toxin at its source’, presumably with more bombing! Turnbull’s calming and reassuring approach to the same atrocity stands in stark contrast.

Let’s look at a revealing experiment reported in Salon:
"The researchers showed a series of thirty-three images to a group of adults with strong political beliefs. Three of the pictures depicted threatening conditions: the first had a very large spider on the face of a frightened person; a second image showed a dazed individual with a bloody face; and the third one showed an open wound with maggots in it. In a control condition, the psychologists replaced the three startling pictures with nonthreatening ones (a bunny, a bowl of fruit, and a happy child).

“While the subjects viewed the images, the scientists monitored their skin conductance to measure fear…

“They discovered that the individuals who had a higher physiological response to the threatening images (i.e. the people who were more startled) were significantly more likely to have conservative attitudes. For instance, they tended to support capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Those who were less startled by the threatening images generally supported pacifism, foreign aid, and liberal immigration policies.

“This dangerous-world experiment is particularly valuable because it is quite clear what causes what. If an MRI scan reveals differences between the brains of liberals and conservatives, we cannot be sure whether nature or nurture is ultimately responsible. Brain differences could be innate or environmentally acquired or both. But as the physiological fear responses…are involuntary…it seems as though conservatives truly do perceive the world to be a more dangerous place than liberals do – even while asleep. Research on the dream lives of Americans found that Republicans reported nearly three times as many nightmares as Democrats. Conservatives were also more likely to initiate physical aggression in their dreams, and they were twice as likely as liberals to dream about male characters. Left-leaning dreamers, in contrast, reported more female characters in their dreams.”
The Salon article continues:
"Numerous political psychologists have commented on the right’s ‘Darwinian’ dangerous-world metaphor. The Authoritarian Personality group at UC Berkeley remarked how highly ethnocentric subjects had ‘a conception of a dangerous and hostile world’ that resembled an ‘oversimplified survival-of-the-fittest idea.’ One conservative subject recalled the discipline that he used to receive from his father: “I always accused him of being harsh. . . . And apparently this all falls in with Darwin’s theory too.’"
This dovetails with University of California, Berkeley cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff’s explanatory model of conservative and progressive thinking, (see The myth of political sameness The Political Sword, December 2013), which he explained in his book: The Political Mind (Penguin, 2009). Using the ‘Nation as Family’ metaphor, and its corollary: ‘Government as Parent’, Lakoff proposed that conservatives follow the ‘Strict Father Model’ of parenting (which they also apply to politics). In describing this model, he says:
"The strict father is the moral leader of the family, and is to be obeyed. The family needs a strict father because there is evil in the world from which he has to protect them – and Mommy can’t do it. The family needs a strict father because there is competition in the world, and he has to win those competitions to support the family – and Mommy can’t do it. You need a strict father because kids are born bad, in the sense that they do what they want to do and don’t know right from wrong. They need to be punished strictly and painfully when they do wrong, so they will have an incentive to do right in order to avoid punishment. That is how they build internal discipline, which is needed to do right and not wrong. With that self-discipline, they can enter the market and become self-reliant and prosperous. As mature, self-disciplined, self-reliant adults, they can go off on their own, start their own families, and become strict fathers in their own households, without meddling by their own fathers or anyone else.

“Mapped onto politics, the strict father model explains why conservatism is concerned with authority, with obedience, with discipline, and with punishment…”
Does that explain why Joe Hockey wanted to punish the ‘leaners’, whom he considered to be lazy, not pulling their weight, not out there working for a living, bludging on society, via his punitive 2014 budget? Does the ‘Strict Father model’ explain Hockey’s disdain for what he liked to describe as ‘the nanny state’, a view shared by many of his conservative colleagues? Also, does Lakoff’s model explain Abbott’s blokiness and his reluctance to appoint women to his cabinet? Does he believe ‘Mommy can’t do it’?

As a contrast, Lakoff describes an opposing model: the ‘Nurturant Parent Model’ in these terms:
"Progressives have a nurturant parent model: two 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 the 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 a child’s developing sense of care and responsibility. Nurturance requires setting limits, and explaining them. It requires mutual respect…Restitution is preferred over punishment…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.”
Mapped onto politics:
"…the result is the progressive politics of protection, empowerment, and community. The model is gender neutral: Fathers can, and do, form deep positive attachments to their kids. They, as well as mothers, can do all the things required by the nurturance model. Conservatives, however, often parody this model by describing it as a mommy or nanny model, calling the Democrats the ‘mommy party’ and speaking of the ‘nanny state’."
Lakoff sums up these models thus:
"Metaphorical thought is natural. We have a ‘Nation as Family’ metaphor. We have two very different idealized models of the family, which are mapped by the metaphor onto two very different views of the nation. Our models of moral and political thought are taken from these models. Until ten years ago, these were substantiated models. A lot has been learned about the brain since then. What has been learned basically verifies these views, but extends them to explain a lot more.”
He goes on to give a neurological explanation of the congruence of these two models with political orientation: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, against the background of the ‘Nation as Family’ metaphor, the Strict Father Model reinforces conservative thinking, and the Nurturant Parent Model reinforces progressive thinking. Technically, this is termed ‘neural recruitment’, a scientifically established mechanism for embedding and reinforcing modes of thinking.

This piece is already long enough. Further comment in the ‘Comments’ section, or even another piece that expands on the underlying psychology and the neurological underpinnings, may be necessary.

But in the meantime, please let us know what you feel about the explanations of conservative and progressive thinking offered here, and what you think about the neurological justification of these explanations.

Do these explanations help you better to understand how the conservative mind works?

Tell us what YOU think.


Comments (7) -

  • Ad astra

    11/20/2015 12:00:06 PM |

    Folks
    In the absence of comments on this piece, here is some more evidence about the difference between conservatives and progressives, about which you may wish to comment.

    In an 2012 article in Scientific American: Unconscious Reactions Separate Liberals and Conservatives Emily Laber-Warren reiterates what was mentioned in the above piece: “Psychologists have found that conservatives are fundamentally more anxious than liberals, which may be why they typically desire stability, structure and clear answers even to complicated questions. Conservatism, apparently, helps to protect people against some of the natural difficulties of living: The fact is we don't live in a completely safe world. Things can and do go wrong. ‘But if I can impose this order on it by my worldview, I can keep my anxiety to a manageable level.’

    "Anxiety is an emotion that waxes and wanes in all of us, and as it swings up or down our political views can shift in its wake. When people feel safe and secure, they become more liberal [progressive]; when they feel threatened, they become more conservative.”


    We see this starkly in the wake of recent terrorist atrocities, most noticeably after the Paris massacre. Conservative John Roskam, on ABC 774 radio this morning, was adamant that the only counter to ISIS terrorism is to wipe out completely the radical people in that organization, even if that meant an invasion of Iraq or Syria via ‘boots on the ground’. His view was that the ISIS ideology is best countered by destroying those who hold that ideology. Sally Warhaft, and compère Jon Faine, who take a more progressive view, were equally adamant that the ideas that constitute an ideology can be countered only with contrary and more appealing ideas. But they can’t suggest how that might be accomplished; as Sally conceded, nobody knows what to do!

    If we accept the thesis that ideologies are so entrenched, so wired in into the brain of those who hold them, that contrary facts, evidence, and logical reasoning cannot change them, is attempting to do so a fruitless endeavour?

    Rather than trying to change minds, as we have all discovered is unrewarding among some we encounter in life, would it be more fruitful to attempt to improve the lives of those who oppose us? Would a smile and a helping hand be more productive than an angry frown and a clenched fist?

    What do you think?

    www.scientificamerican.com/.../?page=1

  • Ad astra

    11/20/2015 3:02:25 PM |

    Folks
    Here are some further excerpts from the 2012 article in Scientific American, Unconscious Reactions Separate Liberals and Conservatives by Emily Laber-Warren, again about trying to change people’s mind

    More practically, instead of trying to change people's emotional state (an effect that is temporary), astute policy makers might be able to phrase their ideas in a way that appeals to different worldviews. In a 2010 paper Irina Feygina, a social psychology doctoral student at NYU…found a way to bring conservatives and liberals together on global warming. She and her colleagues wondered whether the impulse to defend the status quo might be driving the conservative pooh-poohing of environmental issues. In an ingenious experiment, the psychologists reframed climate change not as a challenge to government and industry but as 'a threat to the American way of life.' After reading a passage that couched environmental action as patriotic, study participants who displayed traits typical of conservatives were much more likely to sign petitions about preventing oil spills and protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    “Environmentalism may be an ideal place to find common political ground. ‘Conservatives who are religious have a mind-set about being good stewards of the earth, to protect God's creation, and that is very compatible with green energy and conservation and other ideas that are usually classified as liberal’.”


    Is there any scope in this country for such an approach?

    The article continues:

    “On topics where liberals and conservatives will never see eye to eye, opposing sides can try to cultivate mutual respect. In The Righteous Mind, by psychologist Jonathan Haidt of the NYU Stern School of Business, he identifies several areas of morality. Liberals, he says, tend to value two of them: caring for people who are vulnerable and fairness, which for liberals tends to mean sharing resources equally. Conservatives care about those things, too, but for them fairness means proportionality—that people should get what they deserve based on the amount of effort they have put in. Conservatives also emphasize loyalty and authority, values helpful for maintaining a stable society.

    “Haidt has a message for both sides. He wants the left to acknowledge that the right's emphasis on laws, institutions, customs and religion is valuable. Conservatives recognize that democracy is a huge achievement and that maintaining the social order requires imposing constraints on people. Liberal values, on the other hand, also serve important roles: ensuring that the rights of weaker members of society are respected; limiting the harmful effects, such as pollution, that corporations sometimes pass on to others; and fostering innovation by supporting diverse ideas and ways of life.

    “Haidt is not out to change people's deepest moral beliefs. Yet he thinks that if people could see that those they disagree with are not immoral but simply emphasizing different moral principles, some of the antagonism would subside.”


    Is this a way of understanding both the conservative and progressive mind, and encouraging them to move closer to each other?

    What do you think?


    www.scientificamerican.com/.../

  • Ad astra

    11/21/2015 11:15:31 AM |

    Folks
    Still waiting for your comments about the conservative mind!

    So to stimulate further thought on this subject here are some more excerpts from the 2012 article in Scientific American, Unconscious Reactions Separate Liberals and Conservatives by Emily Laber-Warren, once again about trying to change people’s mind

    More practically, instead of trying to change people's emotional state (an effect that is temporary), astute policy makers might be able to phrase their ideas in a way that appeals to different worldviews. In a 2010 paper Irina Feygina, a social psychology doctoral student at NYU…found a way to bring conservatives and liberals together on global warming. She and her colleagues wondered whether the impulse to defend the status quo might be driving the conservative pooh-poohing of environmental issues. In an ingenious experiment, the psychologists reframed climate change not as a challenge to government and industry but as 'a threat to the American way of life.' After reading a passage that couched environmental action as patriotic, study participants who displayed traits typical of conservatives were much more likely to sign petitions about preventing oil spills and protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    “Environmentalism may be an ideal place to find common political ground. ‘Conservatives who are religious have a mind-set about being good stewards of the earth, to protect God's creation, and that is very compatible with green energy and conservation and other ideas that are usually classified as liberal’.”


    Is there any scope in this country for such an approach? Would it work at the Paris Conference, where Pacific Islanders will tell delegates that they are about to be submerged?

    The article continues:

    “On topics where liberals and conservatives will never see eye to eye, opposing sides can try to cultivate mutual respect. In The Righteous Mind, by psychologist Jonathan Haidt of the NYU Stern School of Business, Haidt identifies several areas of morality. Liberals, he says, tend to value two of them: caring for people who are vulnerable, and fairness, which for liberals tends to mean sharing resources equally. Conservatives care about those things, too, but for them fairness means proportionality – that people should get what they deserve based on the amount of effort they have put in. Conservatives also emphasize loyalty and authority, values helpful for maintaining a stable society.

    “Haidt has a message for both sides. He wants the left to acknowledge that the right's emphasis on laws, institutions, customs and religion is valuable. Conservatives recognize that democracy is a huge achievement and that maintaining the social order requires imposing constraints on people. Liberal values, on the other hand, also serve important roles: ensuring that the rights of weaker members of society are respected; limiting the harmful effects, such as pollution, that corporations sometimes pass on to others; and fostering innovation by supporting diverse ideas and ways of life.

    “Haidt is not out to change people's deepest moral beliefs. Yet he thinks that if people could see that those they disagree with are not immoral but simply emphasizing different moral principles, some of the antagonism would subside.”


    Is this a way of understanding both the conservative and progressive mind, and encouraging them to move closer to each other?

    What do you think?


    www.scientificamerican.com/.../

  • Ad astra

    11/24/2015 12:26:12 PM |

    Talk Turkey
    Thank you for posting a comment about Understanding the conservative mind, a piece that was posted on TPS Extra on 18 November. Apologies for my slow response; I’ve been busy with family matters these last few days.

    Apart from a useful link above to a similar book by Avi Tuschman, yours is the only comment on this piece so far, which I find strange, since understanding how the brains of politicians work seems to me to be central to our understanding of politics.

    You make a striking point, namely that if our brains are indeed hard wired to believe certain things and think in a certain way, as Lakoff suggests, …“the question is whether it's nature or nurture, because if it's nature, humanity is doomed never to live at peace.” On the face of it, that is a reasonable conclusion, disheartening though it is.

    Yet George Lakoff believes that it is possible to change the way brains work. He asserts that if we are ever to change the political dynamic [from the adversarial towards the collaborative], we need to understand and employ what he likes to call the ‘New Enlightenment’: “that would not abandon reason [which was central to the Old Enlightenment] “but rather understand that we are using real reason – embodied reason, reason shaped by our bodies and brains and interactions in the real world, reason incorporating emotion, structured by frames and metaphors and images and symbols, with conscious thought shaped by the vast and invisible realm of neural circuitry not accessible to consciousness. As a guide to our own minds, especially in politics, we will need some help from the cognitive sciences – neuroscience, neural computation, cognitive linguistics, cognitive and developmental psychology, and so on.”

    It seems to me that if we are to have any hope of reversing the adversarial politics we have here and which exists the world over between conservative and progressive thinkers, between religions, indeed between the multiplicity of opposing forces around the world, we must learn how to understand how each side thinks, how they come to hold the values and beliefs they do, indeed how their brains work. The evidence and logic involved, the emotional components, the imagery, the metaphorical thinking, the framing, and the linguistics applied by each side to each issue, all need to be understood and taken into account in developing strategies for engagement, whether that be to achieve victory or rapprochement. Can the mess that politics here and everywhere else is in, can the conflict that exists the world over, ever be resolved without such an undertaking?

    The question is: ‘Are there any influential players who are capable and willing to embark upon such an exercise, and should they do, are they capable of taking the necessary steps to bring about at least some resolution of the conflicts in which citizens, states and nations find themselves embroiled day after day, year after year, and just as importantly are they willing to do so?’

    As we look beyond our shores to the conflicts and chaos that afflict so much of the world, we can take some comfort from the relatively benign political situation here. Perhaps it is here in our own nation where the political conflicts seem manageable that we ought to begin the process of understanding not only the conservative mind, but the progressive one too, and any other mindset that influences politics here. From modest beginnings close to home, it might be possible to extrapolate to more difficult situations.

    While it is perfectly understandable to feel despondent about the political problems we face and pessimistic about whether they can ever be resolved, Lakoff does offer some hope, and some mechanisms that are worth exploring.

    You would find his book The Political Mind a fascinating read. Here is a short video of Lakoff being interviewed about his book.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RkvV4GkRQU

    Of course not all reviewers of his book endorse his claims. Some are critical. Some think he shows too much bias to the liberal (Democrat) cause and is too condemnatory of the conservative (Republican) cause. Some question the science he embraces. To discount his book though would be a lazy thing to do as he proposes many plausible hypotheses, ones that thoughtful people who seek a more enlightened brand of politics are bound to find helpful and advantageous. Of course, those who hold political views different from Lakoff might find it convenient to dismiss his ideas, lest perhaps the other side of politics cottons onto the strategies that have made them successful!

    Thank you again for engaging in the debate about how politics is profoundly influenced by the way our brains think.

  • Ad astra

    11/24/2015 1:34:04 PM |

    Richard Wilson
    Thank you for posting the link to Our Political Nature – The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us by Avi Tuschman, which provides a summary of the book and an interesting explanatory video. Tuschman’s ideas seem compatible with many of Lakoff’s.

    Talk Turkey
    You might find Richard Wilson’s link informative, providing as it does some further evidence about how some of our values and beliefs are hard-wired, perhaps from birth!

    http://ourpoliticalnature.com/#reviews

    http://ourpoliticalnature.com/fullsummary.html

  • Ad astra

    11/26/2015 9:55:30 AM |

    Talk Turkey
    Here is another dose of Lakoff.

    In his summing up, he underscores a basic tenet of politics in a democracy, namely that morality is at its very core. He asserts that: “…empathy is at the heart of American democracy. It is a positive force for human society at large. It is why we care about fundamental human rights. It is why we care about protecting our people in all ways, from criminals, fire, disasters, impure food, dangerous working conditions, consumer fraud, and poverty in old age. It is why we care about empowerment of both individuals and businesses: roads and bridges for transportation, public schools for education, a banking system for capital, a court system for contracts. It is why we care about checks and balances against authoritarian power. It is why we place that care in the government we choose. Without such care, there would be no America.”

    He goes onto say: “We recognize…two American modes of political thought – strict and nurturant – but in nonintersecting realms. Many Americans have versions of both, though active in different areas of life.

    “Progressive thought has as its moral base the politics of empathy, with the responsibility and strength to act on that empathy. The role of government is protection and empowerment. Taxes are seen as payment for both continuing protection and empowerment.

    “Conservatives politics is recognized as being the politics of authority, discipline, and obedience: the role of government might be large, but it would be skewed towards maximizing national military and economic power, maintaining public order with shows of force, creating and defending laissez-faire markets, encouraging privateers, protecting private property, and promoting individual responsibility and conservative forms of religion.”


    He asserts that American politics will continue to be based on empathy or authority, depending on which side of politics holds sway.

    Although he focuses on American politics, the parallel with politics in Australia is striking.

    Since the advent of Malcolm Turnbull, we have seen a starkly different approach to politics from that displayed by Tony Abbott. Although Labor asserts that Turnbull’s policies are the same as Abbott’s, but in more stylish clothes, it is Turnbull’s dissimilar approach to the business of politics that sets him and Abbott apart.

    Here is an example, highlighted by Paul Kelly in the 21 November edition of The Australian in his article: Abbott’s strategy as voice of conservatism begins to emerge: www.theaustralian.com.au/.../story-e6frg74x-1227617553310

    The Paris attacks have seen two competing Australian voices in response – Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. The crisis has revealed Abbott’s long-run strategy – positioning himself on the global and domestic stage as a champion of the conservative forces in the current international security crisis.

    “Abbott believes the threat from Islamist violence is the defining issue of the age. It occupied much of his prime ministership and he intends to become a rallying point in the war of ideas and ideology at its heart. Abbott as a politician can only exist and operate with a mission. It has always been thus –and the deposed prime minister has found his new mission.

    “While Abbott has taken no decision on his political future, the omens seem clear: he is currently heading towards contesting the next election and carrying a banner for the conservatives, in parliament, the Liberal Party and the public.

    “This is presumably informed by a deeper judgment about his successor – Abbott thinks Turnbull’s instincts are too progressive for him to become a successful long-run leader of an essentially conservative party. Abbott knows any political vacuum must be filled and he is irresistibility being drawn into the role of leadership of a popular conservative movement designed to ensure Turnbull stays true to traditional conservative values.

    “National security will be the initial testing ground. This week Abbott has given interviews and written columns that have kept his profile in the media frame. Journalists travelling with Turnbull – who has had a highly successful overseas trip – report the Prime Minister has been unimpressed with Abbott. That would hardly be a surprise.

    “An unusual phenomenon has been on display: two Australian leadership voices talking the nation through the Paris crisis, Turnbull as PM and Abbott as former PM.

    "Is this tenable and, if so, for how long? Much depends upon how significant are the differences, real and rhetorically, between Turnbull and Abbott.
    Abbott seeks to put Turnbull under pressure. Much of the Liberal Party is fixated by this spectacle, concealed somewhat because Turnbull has been abroad. Senior cabinet ministers say the challenge for Turnbull is whether he leaves his right flank exposed to Abbott on security and Islamist issues.

    “Have no doubt, Abbott is inviting judgment on Turnbull. He sets out the tests and the criteria. At a time when much of his own record in office is under attack, Abbott offers a reinterpretation of his government, saying “there was at least a hint of Thatcher about my government in Australia”.


    So we have the very dissonance that exists in America, but here between Abbott, the arch conservative, and Turnbull, the progressive thinker, albeit heading a conservative party.

    Abbott is an unreconstructed conservative redolent with authoritarian thoughts, obsessed with enemies here and abroad. He still believes he was on the right track during his prime ministership, and that Turnbull will bring his conservative party into disrepute. This ideological imperative, fuelled by his longstanding pugilistic bearing, will keep Abbott in the political frame from his uneasy position on the backbench. Turnbull has more to fear from his nemesis than from his formal opponent.

    Are not the parallels with politics in America striking! Lakoff give us a framework to conceptualize the mindset of conservatives, and reveals how starkly it differs from that of progressive thinkers.

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