Thursday, February 26, 2009

Developmentally, They Really Are Children!

UC Berkeley linguistics professor, George Lakoff, has a brilliant post called “The Obama Code” that was so widely distributed throughout the blogosphere, that I’m surprised [No I’m not] Professor Lakoff didn’t ask to be a guest poster on Left-Over!

It’s a great discussion of Obama’s subtle communication style, as it attempts to help progressives read between the lines of Obama’s multi-layered message. While it’s all great reading, this section caught my attention:
Conservatives tend to think in terms of direct causation. The overwhelming moral value of individual, not social, responsibility requires that causation be local and direct. For each individual to be entirely responsible for the consequences of his or her actions, those actions must be the direct causes of those consequences. If systemic causation is real, then the most fundamental of conservative moral—and economic—values is fallacious.

Global ecology and global economics are prime examples of systemic causation. Global warming is fundamentally a system phenomenon. That is why the very idea threatens conservative thinking. And the global economic collapse is also systemic in nature. That is at the heart of the death of the conservative principle of the laissez-faire free market, where individual short-term self-interest was supposed to be natural, moral, and the best for everybody. The reality of systemic causation has left conservatism without any real ideas to address global warming and the global economic crisis.
This section mirrors an idea that I’ve often pondered, one that was echoed in this DKos post that mockingly notes the failure of three notable GOP attempts to respond to Obama’s popularity - the “trifecta” of Sarah Palin, Michael Steele, and Bobby Jindal!
As best as I can discern, each of these stooges represent some sort of response to the Obama phenomenon. And while I can't blame Republicans for reacting to the Obama phenomenon, watching them try is both sidesplittingly funny and mind-numbingly sad. It evidences either a shockingly thorough ignorance or a deliberate denial of Obama's appeal.

Is it possible that they actually believe that [youth + melanin = instant majority]?
It all points to the image of conservatives as having a relatively simple-minded approach to interpreting the World – a somewhat childish, immature approach! In fact, I’ve frequently noted that the GOP seems to respond like spoiled children to just about everything that doesn’t go their way.

For example, tax cuts, which are to extreme conservatives very much like cookies to a small child. If one cookie tastes good, then they instinctively want to devour the entire box, and then run to the store to stock up on more cookies! It is as if, developmentally, they are incapable of understanding that eating too many cookies will rot your teeth and make you fat!

It’s Lakoff’s distinction between direct and systemic causation over and over again! And it’s what I alluded to recently when I expressed surprise that the GOP would actually expect people to blame Obama if the stimulus doesn’t immediately fix The Bush Bust™.

Somehow, it seems that extreme conservatives have a stunted capacity to comprehend the World beyond immediate appearances, and so they think that what appeals to the electorate about Obama is that he’s young, charismatic and multi-racial. Hence, their foolish wagers on Palin, Steele, and Jindal as the future leaders of their party.

They aren’t capable of understanding that what people really appreciate about Obama is that he’s, honest, thoughtful and has integrity, while devoting himself to pushing to improve the lives of Americans of both parties; In other words, “systemic” qualities, rather than “direct” visible qualities.

This also explains why Obama seems willing to give conservatives a sometimes puzzling level of respect - because they can’t help it! To do otherwise would be like getting angry at a developmentally disabled child for being “stupid!” Obama knows that conservatives can only learn at their own (slower) pace, and that the best way to help them learn is to be supportive and consistently set a good example.

On the other hand, there is a serious problem! While it makes sense to provide support and leadership to a spoiled and perhaps developmentally stunted child in the hope of enabling the chance to mature, it would not make sense to put that child in charge of the family budget, or let that child be the spokesperson for dealing with disagreeable neighbors!

Likewise, conservatives, with their simple-minded and childish understanding of the world, should not be placed in the position of governing the Nation. Hopefully, by watching Obama demonstrate how to govern in a mature, adult, manner, any voters capable of understanding the difference will be drawn away from supporting conservative candidates.

The extreme conservatives will surely continue their superficial and illogical criticisms, and will keep throwing their periodic tantrums over not getting enough cookies. But as we are beginning to see already, their numbers will continue to dwindle until, as a political force, they can all fit in the small bus!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Thanks for pointing out this bit of good news. It is a very poignant explanation for Obama's patience with conservative attempts to hold the old ideas in place while a tornado of new ideas has hit the ground. They haven't yet been carried off with the force, but soon will be, fighting and kicking all the way. I do respect Obama for taking the high road, even though I personally can't always mentally get there. Obama is to be dealt with, but like you say conservatives are wired differently. They just don't get it! The exciting thing is that the majority of Americans do get it, and we have to constantly let Obama know that we do. It is so exciting to see what honest looks like.