Saturday, March 12, 2011
Capitalism vs. Family Values
Both causal mechanisms find larger social mechanisms, which then place secondary pressures on individual choice. If the liberal sees primary, "first" problems inherent in capitalism, or government policy, I'm curious as to what the conservative would see as first problems. For the liberal, capitalism needs to be reigned in, or intervened in to soften its rough edges - a classic mixed-market economy. For the conservative, my guess is that a sort of moral decay in traditionally productive values has occurred, and a first cause there has been suggested to be found in a sort of liberalism, whether in the form of feminist emancipation or government-intervention-induced dependency.
What strikes me about this conservative thesis is its apparent historical shortsightedness and reactionary bent. First, what would the cause of poverty and social inequality have been before progressivism? Next, while there has clearly been a certain moral decay in poor communities as drug abuse and out-of-wedlock birth has increased dramatically, correlation doesn't equal causation! High rates of drug addiction, teen pregnancy and fatherlessness may on the surface look like "hippies gone wild", there are many causal mechanisms at work.
Interestingly, the actually people in these communities often have a view of marriage and family that is neither liberal nor conservative, but a sort of worldview born of emotional immaturity and nihilism. Further, in many ways, to the extent that gender roles exist, they are in many ways quite conservative! Women tend to value dependency and subservience to men. Men tend to be very patriarchal and emphasize a very traditional, "macho" model of male gender - emotionally reserved, aggressive, domineering, reckless, chauvinist.
I'm struck by the continued dismissal by conservatives of social inequities, disparities, etc., relative to liberals. I think a good part of this can be explained by the extent to which an admission of these disparities would seem also to be an admission to some of the structural problems contained within the liberal critique. Because while conservatives can indeed find larger social causes for social failure, it would need to be seen in the context of individual decisions, and not in larger capitalist frameworks that need to be addressed.
So, for instance, if there is widespread dysfunction in a ghetto due to moral failings on the part of inhabitants, the solution is still localized. Interestingly, if the "first cause" was, indeed, feminism or progressivism, the best solution to poverty would be to cut social programs and fight against liberal social mores. This is exactly what many conservatives are doing. By attacking Natalie Portman, Huckabee was actually fighting for the minds of the poor. But this only gets you so far. Moral explanations can account for only so much dysfunction. There is also the question of why this dysfunction seems to turn up in such unequal quantities. If you don't accept the liberal model of capitalist critique, it becomes difficult to explain such widespread and continuing poverty. So, I think one of the options is to downplay the extent to which it actually exists. And when not discussing the dysfunctional poor, but a more generalized distribution of economic inequality, the moral narrative has even less traction.
The most problematic thing to me about modern conservatism is the extent of its paranoia about the sacred cow of free market capitalism. The modern liberal has no particular investment in capitalism - or socialism - as a perfect system. It is comfortable with both solutions. Private markets seems perfectly reasonable for most things - services, consumer goods, etc. Only in specific areas do they feel the need for government intervention. Yet conservatives have backed themselves in a corner - largely I think because of their acceptance of the over-heated rhetoric they have used to gain their currently popular position. They have to defend the notion that government is almost always bad, free markets will solve most problems, and that thus, liberals are existential enemies.
Because this position is so often at odds with reality (social programs can do great good, higher taxes aren't the end of the state, regulations are sometimes very important, what's good for business isn't always good for society, etc.), conservatives are often forced to either dissemble (completely falsifying their arguments), or to outright deny. The naivete of ideological purity presents an intense pressure to stomach cognitive dissonance, which inevitably results in rational decay. What this means in conservative thought is the embrace of faulty logic, such as mistakes in correlation of causation (as mentioned), and other forms of intellectual constipation. This is nothing new to partisan thinking, but I worry it is more acute in a modern conservatism that has forced itself to embrace a false either/or dynamic, as opposed to a more reasonable mixed-economy standard, from which more/less government can be debated not in existential terms, but on the specific merits.