...the laying of taxes is the power, and the general welfare the purpose for which the power is to be exercised."
Thomas Jefferson.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Liberty Is A Value?

 Is liberty really a value? And if it is, is it a conservative value?  
Yesterday I referenced and recommended a podcast by Jonathon Haidt. He is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. He, along with some colleagues has been studying the differences between liberals and conservatives. He came up with 5 values that he says we all have to one degree or another. 

  1. Harm/Care – agreed on by both liberal and conservative
  2. Fairness/reciprocity – agreed on by both liberal and conservative
  3. Ingroup loyalty 
    1. liberals are more independent
    2. only among humans do you find large groups
  4. Authority/respect
    1. liberals reject authority, conservatives embrace it
  5. Purity/sanctity
    1. political right moralizes sex
    2. left moralizes food as examples
 They have continued to think about the subject and do further studies and he is now ready to include a sixth one. Liberty. Part of the reason for this is that so many conservatives asked him where was liberty in his list?
 When I heard his lecture explaining the 5, I was surprised at how right it seemed. But I am not as sure about this liberty as a value thing. One problem I see with it is that when I hear a conservative talking about liberty, what he really means is "no taxes", or else he can't/ won't explain to me what he does mean by that word. No taxes is not the same thing as liberty of course, except in conservaspeak.
 When they say liberty they don't mean freedom from government intrusion either, no matter what they say. They're all for every single law on the books and would prefer a bunch more. They want the government making laws banning marriage for some, laws against drugs the people want, and a woman's right to do what she chooses with her own body, laws about what content movies, magazines, books etc. can have, they try for laws against lyrics in music, on and on. 
 Then there's the fact that not just a few conservatives have been, and ARE de facto tyrants.The Taliban are an example. I think of some countries too, Japan, India, Iran that I would consider conservative and I hardly think they are shining beacons of liberty. I cite Japan because people are expected to behave in the traditional way and do. They are not free to do as they please. Conservatives (at least the religious/ Taliban kind) do not seem to hold liberty as a value, even for their own elite.
Another thing I have trouble reconciling here is the fact that among the other values they hold, is what Haidt calls authority/ respect which in actual day-to-day life translates into a desire for what I've always thought of as a 'Daddy State'. Daddy make rules, sets curfews, initiates the draft and enforces the rules. That's not liberty either. His term 'respect' in actuality means unthinking allegiance (think GW's unwavering support from them, no matter what he did) which they required us all to do or be called unpatriotic, Muslin-loving (though they probably meant Islamic-extremist-loving) commies or some such. When someone is trying to force me to behave a certain way, I consider them to be trying to limit my liberty. Then there's the fact they overwhelmingly support very long and draconian prison terms for miscreants and the death penalty for even the mentally retarded.. They won't hear criticism of police officers or rogue soldiers, no matter what they've done. They are all for banning videos of arrests, all for the use of tasers, even though they've killed upwards of 516 people here and been misused, notably against a 12 year old girl, and a 6 year old boy here. Amazingly, they find a way to defend such actions. We are more and more a police state and Arizona's new law and the embrace of it by conservatives is par for the course. News yesterday pointed to the connections between the man who wrote the bill, the politicians who fought for it, she who signed it and the private prisons who expect to and are gleeful at the thought of making a new fortune. They even stated how many women and children they expect to 'get'. more here Yes, this is just another example of the amount  of bald-faced greed in our society but I have not seen or heard any misgivings coming from conservatives about this downside or the other unpleasant consequences of this bill, such as the certainty that Americans will be hauled into jail while someone else brings some kind of documentation in order to rescue that American who doesn't have much liberty after all. It doesn't sound like they have some great respect for liberty nor do they hold it dear as a principle.
 I think it more likely they throw the term around as one more bumper sticker talking point that's become a fetish/ tic. If you think about it, the 'patriots' (that term another fetish of theirs) were as liberal as anyone had ever been until that point. What could be more liberal than to say: you won't control me, this is not fair and we won't stand for it, you will not give a big company tax breaks at our expense? What could be more conservative than to instinctively defend the status quo and the existing institutions even to the point of war? The Civil War was another example of this same thing. Again, to me, liberty does not seem to be some inate moral value conservatives hold. Perhaps it is of liberals though.

"Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” - Plato

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