Thursday, February 23, 2006

Happy Conservatives

Lacking anything else to write about, George Will adds a chapter to the press's War on Liberalism. This one contends that conservatives are happier than liberals, based on a public opinion poll.

You probably think I'm going to rail on Will and the column, froth at the mouth at such a blasphemous allegation.

But I won't. For one, if I did, it would prove Will's argument. Second, the column is just too stupid to be legitimately angry over. Third, despite it's stupidity, I don't doubt that at least some conservatives are happier than some liberals, and that therefore, Will may have a point.

I'll get to the column's empty-headedness later, but for now, let me offer some evidence for why conservatives may be happier than liberals. While I don't know any happy conservatives, there are some sound theoretical reasons why they could be happier. First, let's consider some conservative typologies. One type of conservative is the religious fundamentalist conservative. Religious conservatives could be happy people because they have allowed themselves to jettisone all reason. If you don't worry about reason or evidence, if as Sam Harris notes in The End of Faith, there is no evidence that would cause you to change your religious beliefs, than reason really is of minimal importance for you, and you could conceivably be a pretty happy person, believing you go to heaven when you die, to live throughout eternity with your friends and family. As the famous Christian apologist and novelist G.K. Chesterton says in his book Orthodoxy, "an insane person is not someone who has lost his reason, he is someone who has lost everything except his reason". So reason may be holding us liberals back. I'll concede that. Of course, because faith also tends to be joined by strict and, by most measures, unreasonable rules, in real life faith does not always lend itself to happiness. Particularly if church teaches you to be insecure in your salvation. Roman Catholicism and Weslyian Protestantism tend to emphasize the role of works in salvation and the importance of always staying on guard less you lose your faith. Calvinistic Protestants, on the other hand, who preach a version of pre-destination, hold that certain people, believers, are pre-destined to be saved and for them, salvation is assured because God's grace covers us. The latter would theoretically be happier than the former.

The other type of rabid conservative is the racist conservative. I know racism is a heavy charge to levy, but these are the conservatives you will find pushing for English only laws, building a wall on the Mexican border, "invading Muslim countries and making them convert to Christianity"*, and otherwise expressing displeasure when the "other" is benefited by government policy. These people, from my experience, are rarely happy, believing as they do that the world is conspiring against them.

Mainstream conservatives (you might be wondering if I think any exist) are essentially moderate liberals, and probably hold generally libertarian view points, preferring the government not be involved in either the economy or a person's bedroom. Maybe these are the conservatives Will knows. By his column I'm forced to conclude he doesn't know either the religious or racist conservatives.

Which brings us, I suppose, to the moronic parts of Will's column today.

You might be wondering, if, as Will claims, conservatives are just a happy go lucky bunch of folks, where do the Rush Limbaugh's and Michael Savages of the world fit into this picture of conservative utopia? You know, the ones that talk about exterminating liberals, and how "liberalism is a mental disorder"?

Good question. Mr. Will?

Nevertheless, normal conservatives -- never mind the gladiators of talk radio; they are professionally angry -- are less angry than liberals.

Ah. The "gladiators" get a pass. They don't count. Sounds a little selective for this social scientist. If you subset the conservative sample by deleting Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Little Green Footballs, John Gibson, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Bennet, and the WSJ editorial page, then how many conservatives are left?

Anyway, after dismissing the influence of "the gladiators of talk radio"--who only have millions of listeners by the way--Will wraps up the column by charging liberalism with being "scoldish".

You see? Liberalism is a complicated and exacting, not to say grim and scolding, creed. And not one conducive to happiness.

Liberalism as "exacting" and "scoldish"? I thought liberals were "moral relativists". How can we be indifferent, morally relativistic"libertines"** and be "exacting" and "scoldish" at the same time?

Part of the problem we see in Will's worldview is the conventional wisdom of labeling conservatives as defenders of traditional values, as advocates of moral absolution, while labeling liberals as moral relativists. This view denies that both ideological extremes are highly moralistic, "exacting" and "scolding". Conservatives and liberals just care about different stuff. For conservatives, being gay is morally evil. For liberals, saddling our descendents with our debt, and bombing innocent civilians are morally evil. Both philosophies are heavily moralistic.

But the conventional wisdom, spoon-fed to the Deborah Howells and Jim Brady's of the world (Abramoff "directed" money to both parties) by the Republican Noise Machine*** is undeterred.

So when liberals are found to be concerned about an issue and desiring political action, they are labeled as "scolds", while when conservatives mount a challenge to the behavior of others, they are labeled as "conservatives" concerned with "traditional values".

Anyway, my job is done here. After watching some moral relativism on TV, I'll be off to my anger management session.

*see Coulter, Ann
**see O'Reilly, Bill
***see Brock, David

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