This article is part of the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by the Rockridge Institute in early 2007. It was written by Joe Brewer (Rockridge Institute staff member) on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 09:01 AM
Our discussion of biconceptuals in Thinking Points has suggested that some confusion exists about moderation in politics and the claim that centrist ideology is a misleading fiction. For the sake of clarification, we explore the diverse landscape of biconceptual combinations that inform our impression of “moderates” in politics.
Chapter 2 of Thinking Points gives several examples of biconceptuals (people who express Strict Father values in some areas of politics and Nurturant Parent values in others) that we call Partial Progressives and Partial Conservatives. A comment I posted yesterday titled “Moderation is Not a Worldview” in the discussion of Chapter 2 demonstrates that a person can practice moderation in politics and still be a biconceptual. Now let’s look at several examples of biconceptuals to see what we are talking about.
Examples of Partial Conservatives
A person who takes progressive positions on many issues, but sides with conservatives on a few, is what we call a partial conservative. There are many ways to combine the Strict Father and Nurturant Parent worldviews that result in this kind of biconceptual. Here are a few examples.
Cold War Liberal
Another example of a Partial Conservative is the “cold war liberal.” This is the person who has progressive values when addressing domestic affairs but takes the Strict Father side on foreign policy. Such a person may promote health care for all, funding of public education, and workers’ rights on the domestic front while promoting the use of force – or the threat of it – to further the nation’s economic, military, or political interests. Peter Beinart, a writer for New Republic, has exemplified similar views in his writing.
Economic Progressive / Social Conservative
Another person may be an economic progressive while being a social conservative. This person may have strict political views about home life by opposing abortion and supporting the preservation of “traditional” marriage while seeking a progressive work environment where s/he promotes collaboration, workplace safety, and equality of opportunity.
Some progressive activists endorse “militant” tactics to accomplish their objectives. They may promote the protection of the environment, reductions of corporate power, and civil rights while applying war strategies that require them to work in a disciplined manner with coordination among regimented groups who use violence – or the threat of it – to accomplish their goals.
Examples of Partial Progressives
A person who takes conservative positions on many issues, but is progressive on a few others, is what we call a Partial Progressive. As we emphasize throughout Thinking Points and in George Lakoff’s book Whose Freedom? The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea, the core of traditional American values are progressive values. People who are partial progressives often resonate deeply with their progressive values as being essential to their identities.
Lovers of the Land
A large number of conservatives connect deeply with the environment. They may be hunters or fishermen, hikers, cyclists, and campers. These outdoors enthusiasts want rivers and streams to be clean with plentiful abundance of fish and waterfowl. They visit our National Forests and National Parks with patriotic pride. Or perhaps they are farmers and ranchers whose cultural identity resides in their proximity to the land and the cultivation of the soil. They may also be evangelical Christians who take their role as stewards of God’s creation as a central duty in their faith.
We can see how radically the Strict Father view stands at odds with the progressive core of many conservatives when they seek to live in progressive communities. Across the nation there are conservatives who prefer to live in communities where leaders care about people and act responsibly, everyone looks out for one another, and people reach out to those in need. They emphasize empathy and responsibility in their communities by providing community service and investing in the common good. While their voting patterns coincide with Strict Father values, they express Nurturant Parent values in their communities.
It is quite common to find people who embrace both conservative and progressive values in their religious practice. For instance, religious Christians – both Protestant and Catholic – are progressive in part of their theology when they follow the teachings of Christ. Central to these teachings are helping the poor, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, forgiving the sinner, and turning the other cheek. This can happen even when the dominant mode of religious practice for them is hierarchical and based on strict interpretations of the Bible – including strong positions against gay marriage and abortion. They are also prone to prefer nurturant communal environments in their congregations.
Socially Conscious Employers
As progressives, we often stereotype conservative business leaders as selfish and exploitative. While it is true that some individuals do indeed fit this description, there are many more who run their businesses in a progressive manner – even though they may resist using these words to describe their practices. They treat their employees well, pay living wages, offer decent benefits, and avoid harming the environment.
Some of the strongest self-identified conservatives consider themselves to be libertarians. They believe in the Bill of Rights and especially the Fourth Amendment. They want their privacy protected and don’t want the government spying on them or interfering with their moral decisions or sex lives. They strongly promote free speech and want very much to keep religion separate from government.
Pragmatists Seeking Workable Solutions
Another group of biconceptuals that deserve mention are the pragmatists. They can be either partial conservatives or partial progressives who feel they must make compromises with others in order to accomplish their goals. There are two ways a person can compromise:
- Authentically express your values (which may be comprised of both Strict Father and Nurturant Parent contributions) while allowing some values higher priority over others to “meet co-workers half way”
- Give up core values to accomplish objectives – Beware! This will cause you to be inauthentic and will offend your base!
At the Rockridge Institute we recognize the importance of compromise in politics. What we argue for is to be true to your values. They should never be compromised!
Seek Common Ground and Activate Progressive Values
While the ideas we develop at Rockridge are based on solid scholarship from the academic world, we are not exploring these topics merely to develop them for their own sake. We are passionately devoted to helping Americans reconnect with the core values that have made our nation great. Hopefully, from these descriptions you can see why the assumption that a Moderate Worldview exists is harmful to us. Each of these different kinds of “moderate” expresses central progressive values in their lives. In this regard, they care about the same things we do. Rather than focusing on our differences (which only leads to arguments that don’t go anywhere), we can see that there is hope in staking out our common ground.
The only way to save our country from further harm and begin to heal from the harm caused by attacks from the radical right is to help everyone (including a large number of self-identified conservatives) to rediscover the source of our love for the United States.
Personal Note About Defeat and Recovering Hope
I can speak from personal experience on this one. There was a time when the radical right defeated me and I questioned my relationship with my country. For a period of time I identified the United States with the Strict Father worldview. I was disgusted with the injustices done by my country and felt deep offense that my citizenship reflected a connection with what the United States stood for in my mind. Luckily, I pulled myself out of the jaws of defeat and reclaimed hope. I remembered all of the things that make this country great. I remembered the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage movement, and our long history of struggle to rise above authoritarian rule. In the process, I realized that American values are my own values. I realized that empathy, responsibility, protection from harm, diversity, and prosperity are values most of us share. It has given me hope.
It has also enabled me to connect with my fellow Americans on the basis of our shared values. I see that even those who promote the destructive values of the Strict Father view in American politics still carry within them the seeds of kindness and compassion. Through my studies of cognitive science I have learned how this inconsistency can exist – they are biconceptuals. I have also learned that we can encourage those values that have made America great – the progressive values inside all of us that allow for the possibility of a better tomorrow.
Go to the next discussion in this series.