Mama … How Do You Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Conservatives? (part 1)

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Hopefully it will come as no surprise that I tend to lean left of center. In all likelihood I use George Lakoff‘s Nurturant Parent Cultural Cognitive Model (“Nurturant model” for short) to guide me through life. As Lakoff points out in his work (see his book Moral Politics for an example) empathy is part and parcel of the Nurturant model. This focus on empathy within the Nurturant model has an upside and a downside. The upside? Most agree that it is a good thing to be empathetic. President Obama made empathy a central theme of his presidential campaign. But this leads to the downside. If you are truly empathetic, then you must act empathetically toward those cultural cognitive models that you may not particularly care for let alone use actively.

In contrast to the Nurturant model, Lakoff tells us that there’s the Strict Father Cultural Cognitive Model (“Strict model” for short). Simply put, liberals tend to use the Nurturant model to navigate life while conservatives tend to use the Strict model. (For more on this theme, see my December 14th, 2010, post entitled Liberals are from Venus and Conservatives are from Mars.) For a description of these models, see Lakoff’s book Moral Politics. What I’m discovering is that liberals tend to act empathetically toward other people who are likewise using the Nurturant model. They don’t tend to act empathetically toward people who use the Strict model. And I’m sure the reverse is true. And lest you think that Strict model users do not have a focus on empathy, they do. As Lakoff points out, Nurturant empathy is different from Strict empathy. (“Tough love” would be a form of Strict empathy.) Simply, Nurturant empathy is about many individual minds knowing the minds of many other individuals. In contrast, Strict empathy is about many individual minds knowing the “mind” of a cultural cognitive model, which, in this case, is the Strict Father model. The idea of corporate personhood fits with the Strict model framing of empathy (e.g., many people acting empathetically toward a large, incorporated entity). When conservatives push for corporate personhood, they are pushing for a Strict form of empathy.

It simply is not enough to say that a person or group is acting empathetically. This type of behavior needs an extension (pulling from Lakoff’s work here) such as, “This person or group is acting Nurturantly empathetically or maybe Strictly empathetically.” All this to say that liberals tend to act Nuturantly empathetically toward others who are also using the Nurturant model. And, as you would expect, conservatives tend to act Strictly empathetically toward others who are also using the Strict model. Let me give you an example of the former.

I’m not quite halfway through Anthony Stevens’s book Archetype Revisited—An Updated Natural History of the Self. The first edition was released in 1982 (as simply Archetype) while the second edition was released 20 years later in 2003. (At the end of each section in the second edition, Stevens offers up an update 20 years later.) This is a fascinating book because Stevens attempts (and succeeds so far) to build bridges between Bowlby’s work in specific and the work of the ethologists in general, to the work of Carl Jung. (Ethology is the study of animal behavior.) This is the first work that I am aware of that attempts to build such bridges. I took a stab at building such bridges myself when I summarized Jung’s last book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. Use the CONTACT US link above to request a copy of my Jung summary. I’ll be talking more about Stevens’s book in future posts, but for now let me just whet your appetite. You can skip over this callout box if you’re in a hurry. Here’s what I wrote to a colleague who asked me how Stevens might explain the phenomenon of being possessed by an archetype:

If I’m reading Stevens correctly, we run the potential of being possessed by those archetypal components that remain unrealized from our childhood (or from our lives in general). So, “possession” is a double whammy effectively. On the biological plane, when the attachment behavioral system is triggered—say, through a loss or traumatic separation—this will create a longing so-to-speak at the biological level. This longing at the biological level is then “passed up the system” to the archetypal level where if we have a longing for unrealized archetypal components, that psychological longing will be triggered. Stevens argues that both longings are different forms of the same entity, which is fine in my book. But when biological longing gets triggered along with psychological longing, it definitely can feel like “possession.” I guess it feels like possession because it is so all-encompassing—bio-psycho-social-spiritual. But I think Stevens’s framing points out that “healing” from this type of possession requires that attention be placed at both the biological AND archetypal levels. Overall I am intrigued by Stevens’s contention that the “language” of attachment is also the “language” of the archetypes.

Cool stuff eh? And the above agrees with Jung and his take on being possessed by flying saucer sightings (see my above mentioned summary). I digress. Back to Stevens.

At around page 139, Stevens suggests that most all developmental psychologists agree on what it means to develop “normally.” Stevens states that when children develop within stable homes (run by Nurturant parents no doubt), “such children are likely to enjoy mental health in that they are free of incapacitating neurotic symptoms, and that they tend to become secure, self-reliant adults who display social maturity through their ability to be helpful and co-operative with others” (my emphasis). I take “ability to be helpful and co-operative with others” to mean acting Nuturantly empathetically. Here’s Stevens’s “bottom line”: “It is these characters that psychiatry and the various schools of analysis regard as ‘normal.’ ” Stevens presents the following framings drawn from psychiatry and psychoanalysis:

How Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis
Frames “Good” Development (after Stevens, 2003)

School Frame
psychoanalysts possesses a strong ego
Kleinians introjected a good object
Eriksonians established basic trust
Fairbairn followers achieved mature dependence
Bowlbians has a secure Inner Working Model
Jungians on the path to individuation

Interactive Whiteboards by PolyVision

Hopefully the reader can sense from the above that across the psychiatric and psychoanalytic spectrum (as Stevens depicts it) normal means Nurturant, which, by extension, means liberal. So, what happens if this definition of “normal” doesn’t describe you? As Stevens puts it, “[A] large and growing section of the population is less fortunate.” He continues, “Neurotic illness, which disturbs the emotional and mental well-being of people without depriving them of their reason, is without doubt one of the greatest scourges of contemporary humanity.” In essence, Stevens is framing conservative thinking and believing as “neurotic illness,” one of the “greatest scourges of contemporary humanity.” Ouch! Definitely not very empathetic. Considering that conservatives make up about 50% of the US population, where exactly do conservatives come from? I started to ask myself (with apologies to Waylon and Willie), “Mama … how do you let your babies grow up to be conservatives?”

OK, conservatives are no dummies. A full treatment of the subject is way beyond the limits of this post but, historically, conservatives have not taken this “liberal psychology with its focus on empathy and co-operation is normal” attitude and worldview sitting down. In an attempt to act empathetically toward the conservative position, I have spent time researching what form this conservative push-back (or maybe blowback would be more accurate) might take. Let me give you two examples of what I found. We’ll start part 2 with the second example.

In the 2005 edited volume entitled Critical Thinking About Psychology—Hidden Assumptions and Plausible Alternatives, the authors talk about where the liberal form of “normal development” comes from and what its hidden agenda is all about. I summarized a couple of chapters from this book if you are at all interested (again, use the CONTACT US link above). Suffice it to say that the Critical Thinking authors contend that the liberal form of so-called normal development is about emphasizing and valuing natural or organic purpose (e.g., the purpose of life) while at the same time de-emphasizing and devaluing God’s purpose. The Critical Thinking authors argue that if you accept liberal purpose and liberal development then you end up rejecting God’s purpose and the idea that God has a plan for your development. The Critical Thinking authors “diss” (e.g., disrespect) such natural purpose developmentalists as Charles Darwin (no surprise here), the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel (who worked in the area of embryology in the mid-1800s), Giambattista Vico (who did a lot of work in the area of comparative anthropology back in the early 1700s), Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, Sigmund Freud, and, yes, John Bowlby. Notice how many of the names mentioned here appear on the “good development” table above. Again, the central rub (if you will) centers on liberal natural purpose versus conservative God purpose. I would wager that the Critical Thinking authors would view the liberal “good development” table above as actually a table of bad development because it advocates for a form of development that is in essence anti-God. Blowback, then, takes such forms as the Intelligent Design movement (which is actually big here in New Mexico). In part 2 we’ll look at a second example of conservative blowback.