George Lackoff is a professor of linguistics at U.C. Berkeley who makes the observation that conservatives and liberals have different family values.
And while he has correctly identified a difference in family values, he describes it as a cause, rather than a symptom. And in that SELECTIVE error, he draws his incorrect conclusions: conclusions not based on his analysis, but based upon his pre-existing biases.
First, he lacks the insight to the psychological basis of values – values which Nietzsche tells us are just differences in strategy because of our perceived differences in strength or weakness. It is in their weakness that intellectuals simply seek to justify their metaphysics. And, more importantly, only the weak feel the need to discuss such things in the first place. The strong, again, as Nietzsche tells us, simply act, rather than talk.
Second, he is essentially trying to validate his ancestral beliefs rather than compare ALL POSSIBLE ancestral beliefs and draw conclusions from them. This is a common error among those trying to enter a philosophical realm in order to justify their biases.
Third, he is too little of an economist to make an empirical analysis. And if he was, he would come to the opposite conclusion: that all human activity is an attempt to express power, that social causes are very complex, but that they are rooted in class behavior, inside of which most of us, along with our ancestry, are substantially imprisoned.
And furthermore, no one changes political belief in life without changing class first, and even so, does so rarely. Political changes in the US are almost entirely demographic changes. And the political debate is nearly meaningless, since all elections are determined by a small number of people in the middle, who hold few if any beliefs that are other than pragmatically economic (voting their pocketbooks), meaning that political dialogs are for the purpose of self-reinforcement, but they convince no one to CHANGE their positions.
Fourth, he assumes egalitarianism and equality are “goods.” Equality under the law being one thing that is necessary, the fact remains that we all contribute to society differently because we have vastly different skills, and there are vast differences in that contribution between individuals. The top third outperform the bottom two thirds, and the top ten percent, probably the same.
Fifth, his empirical analysis is over too short a time. Most of us who study society through economics are well aware that liberal (leftist) philosophy is of little if any merit in practice, while of high merit in ambition – Marx presented us with goals, even though his methods are entirely destructive, as stated per Mises. Such a statement being perhaps subjective, it is then more insightful that no society possessing his value system has achieved success, and in fact, it is just the opposite – all family-oriented societies, and in particular matriarchal societies, live at a lower standard of living. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he should perhaps look at the Old Testament which chronicles the rise and fall of the kingdom of Israel: god punished Israel for its sins. He is recommending that we all become sinners. It is perhaps surprising that this problem escapes recognition by both Jews and Christians.
Instead of this universalist approach, recommending equality that does not exist, and morality for an equality that does not exist, there are moral structures for different classes, some of which are shared.
The class-based view of the political spectrum looks more like this:
Libertarian (merchant/craftsman, individualistic, operating from strength), Conservative (military nobility, land holding, responsible for the polis/state, operating from a position of strength but under threat), Liberal (laborer or slave, responsible for family/community, and operating from a position of slave/weakness).
These three viewpoints can be expressed as an equilibrial triangle, with the equilibrium force the conflict between the three over political control.
Conservatives operate under a principle of scarcity: that everything is scarce. This is closely related to farmer morality, because farmers are painfully aware of scarcity, and painfully aware of the difficulties of making a living in life. That without discipline, the masses will drive us from our hard-won prosperity into poverty.
Liberals operate under a principle of plenty: that everything is plentiful. This is closely related to the urban morality, because urbanites are painfully UNAWARE of scarcity, and painfully aware of how invaluable any of their talents are in relation to the choices available around them every day.
The problem is that most of us now are urbanites. Soon, more than half the world will be urbanites. At that point, cities will cease to be centers of prosperity, and instead (statistically) become centers of poverty, if they are not already.
It is perhaps important to note that no society has survived this kind of concentration. Contrary to another idealist’s nonsense (Jarred Diamond), and in support of the great historians (Durant, Toynbee, Spengler, Quigley, et al.), a society breaks down when the urbanite morality becomes dominant, and does so for epistemological reasons: the economy fails because it becomes impossible to manage scarcity, and the peasantry, like locusts, consume all resources until a point of failure. (Sound familiar?) Whereas the nobility tends to reduce its breeding to conserve resources, the peasantry does the opposite, and the merchants who profit from it accelerate the decay. This is a process of consumptive self-destruction.
So, we have, instead of a simple reductio ad absurdium family orientation, multiple axes: power class versus weak class, family values versus individual values versus polis/state values, farmer epistemology versus urbanite epistemology, landholder ethics versus merchant ethics versus peasant ethics – these are the SET of axes that people obtain their values from. And it is in that broader analysis we find that Lackoff is correct about ONE problem, but errs in his broader conclusions.
Constraining such an argument to just the family is simply a CULTURAL value (Lackoff’s) that narrows the argument so that his preferred bias wins the argument. So Lackoff is right in his observation, but wrong in his conclusion.
Conservatism is right for those that believe we live in a world of scarcity, and can only maintain our prosperity over generations through discipline.
It may be true that we should be personally liberal in raising our families, and in our social services, but publicly libertarian in our economic policies, and conservative in our military affairs. For that is actually how these principles are constructed by our classes.
The errors Lackoff perpetuates are “universalism” in morals and “egalitarianism” in politics: that there is one ultimate value system that we all must adhere to. Rather than that we live in a division of knowledge and labor, and it is the diversity of our classes and knowledge that make it possible for billions of us to live in prosperity.
A mouse cannot have the morals of a lion, nor the reverse. There is not one morality, but many. There must be.
The only people who are equal to one another are slaves. The purpose of life for a slave is equality. The purpose of life for nobility is the production of excellence in all things.
And excellence, by definition, is a process of determining the inequality of all things.
Then having made those judgements, choosing how best to act.