Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Conservatism as Fetish"

I must draw your attention to a great post by Els over at My Left Wing.

But of all our insanity, it is our obsession with "Family Values" that seems most depraved, maybe because it's so slippery and hard to pin down. When they are not grooming politicians for Christ, a certain kind of conservative is busy trying to convince us that there existed a perfect time. And more mendaciously, that we can return to it. One where children behaved. Where Men were Men and Women were Quiet. One where War was more fun because no one whined about the Heroes who came home dead. One where the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was the rule of the land and if you didn't have a word for or learn about birth control or drugs or evolution you wouldn't have sex, or become a pot head or a university professor.

The reason that this insanity is so pernicious is that this certain kind of Conservative has sold us, the thinkers and the dreamers, the....shh liberals, on the embroidered lotus shoe that wraps up all this daft and toxic rhetoric. They've allowed us to neuter ourselves by agreeing that we too have families and support family values and value our families and we spin in circles trying to get the word "but" in there someplace. We keep arguing over the gauzy wrapping and not the pain underneath.

He (she?) captures the pulse of the right in a way I've been stumbling for, but keep missing.

I remember hearing the "Family Values" chant during my political adolescence, and being both aghast and fascinated by the zeal with which the loyal would sing its praises. It was like the antithesis of the hippie ideal I'd been exalting since childhood. Rather than one huge Love-Everybody community in which we were all welcome, equal and valued, inclusion in the Right's "family" was contingent upon a number of scornful proscriptions. You couldn't challenge the status quo about anything, conformity was everything, and if you dared to reject the mold, you were worth nothing. (Surely it will surprise none of you that my response was to spend most of my teen years braless, barefoot and beaded.)

At the urging of relatives we visited one summer, I went to Sunday school while the adults went to the service. My eight-year old head knew nothing of deference to church elders, having been a heathen all of my life, and didn't realize that this "school" was special. I struggle now to recall what the topic was, but something prompted me to raise my hand and ask "Yeah, but....". Not surprisingly, in retrospect, my question was deemed somehow inappropriate and the teacher swiftly moved on to the next raised hand.

My aunt and uncle, who did their best to please and not to ruffle, were mortified when approached afterward and asked to leave me at home next Sunday. I was offended. Not because I wanted to attend, but because my questioning was so cavalierly dismissed. I'd been raised to believe that ALL questions were good ones, and that the day I stopped asking them should be no sooner than my last day on earth. Having no idea that this wasn't a cultural universal, "The Bitch Goes to Sunday School" marked a profound shift in my awareness, and likely, the beginning of my religious cynicism.

I think at some level, I'd hoped that this attitude would stay within the confines of the church, since it was just this side of rational in such a dogmatic environment. You can imagine my consternation when I watched the same dismissal seep from Reagan's speeches and Bush Sr.'s smirks. These two were like the opening act for the Four Horsemen as far as I was concerned. Turns out they were.

(insert clever political cartoon rendering of Bush Jr./Rove/Cheney/Rumsfeld here)

I half expect to see that Sunday school teacher working as a White House aide.


Bill Ziemer said...

This is a very nice distillation of the "strict father" thought frame by George Lakoff: The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

On a related note,
here is a collection of rants from the past about the "breakdown" of civilization.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Don't you wonder what would make half of the country long for such a father figure? I mean, seriously, what's the underlying psychology here? Do we write it off to "The world is a big, bad, scary place - save us, Daddyman", or is there something more?

(Feel free to be slightly patronizing if my question reveals that I've failed to actually read Lakoff first-hand. I need a parallel life to get through my reading list)