It’s been my experience that there is one overriding mental habit that produces what is called the conservative mind set, maintaining a narrowed boundary of interest. Conservatives’ ability to empathize with those relatively distant from them or to care much about their rights is limited. Their actions, when they have power, is a clear demonstration of that fact as are their words. And it’s been my experience of conservatives that there are degrees to it. Some are more generous with their concern than others. Some have deep feelings for their nationality or ethnic group, some for their local community, some for their extended family, some only for them and their closest. Some of the feelings for other people outside of that boundary might be genuine at times, but usually it is expressed in some kind of balancing of costs and benefits to the conservative. The utility of the benefits extended to outsiders to the conservative is a common expression of why the limits of the only apparent self-interest should be extended, on occasion.
Empathy and its related ways of thinking are more associated with liberals and leftists, we are often mocked for that way of thinking. I think there is something to the stereotype and I am not at all ashamed of it. While there are many things that can be said about the consequences of that way of thinking about the world, this post is about only one consequence of that view of life. We tend to attribute that way of thinking to other people, including conservatives and even those conservatives whose actions show limited or no ability to break out of their self-interest. This assumption is often wildly over generous. At times it distorts the reality against and the results aren’t beneficial to us or the world at large.
The fact of being a member of a group which is discriminated against or even oppressed doesn’t guarantee that the habits of generosity and empathy will be generated in the individuals experiencing that oppression. Oppression produces different results among individuals. Some look at their experience and use it to become more sensitive to other peoples’ feelings, especially those in other groups which are oppressed. But that isn’t a guaranteed result. There are conservatives within even the most oppressed groups who don’t extend their generosity to other people outside their groups, or even to those within their oppressed minority. There are members of oppressed groups who find it in their personal interest to join the oppressors and gain personally from it. Clarence Thomas is an extreme example who held up his own sister to scorn to boost his standing in the Republican right. I mentioned Roy Cohn here last week. Phyllis Schlafly is certainly a woman whose personal power is based almost entirely on her supporting the worst of patriarchal oppression of other women.
In trying to figure out what is wrong with these people, traitors to others within their kind, looking at their inability to see past their own interest is a key to understanding them. It’s a mistake to look at Sarah Palin and analyze her actions and her place in this campaign in terms of the struggle against patriarchy. She doesn’t struggle against it, she endorses it. That she has found a way to rig the patriarchal system to HER benefit and through her to that of those closest to her is to be expected, that’s what conservatives do no matter what group they belong to. Looking at Palin as any kind of first for women (second, actually, as we are not supposed to remember) only leads away from reality. She is out for number one, not for women in general. Her nomination is as meaningful for progress for women struggling against patriarchy as Clarence Thomas has been for the equality of black people or the Log Cabin Republicans for gay people. In the struggle against patriarchy, she’s just a patriarch in disguise. The use of her daughter in this campaign is rapidly approaching the level of depravity that Thomas’ use of his sister was. It is a warning of just how bad a Palin administration could get.
Note: I had a request to keep writing until the election on these subjects. Not getting all that many requests, I’ll try to oblige.