Why do conservatives find certain types of love and sexual behavior – homosexuality, premarital sex – more unacceptable and sinful than death, war, and torture? Why do progressives object and oppose the death penalty but not to abortions on the same moral grounds? And how and why do political modes of thought and values pervade our society – in the family, kindergartens, churches, boy scout camps, sports teams, colleges, and so on?
According to George Lakoff, the renowned cognitive psychologist, the answer to these questions can be found by studying and observing family values. This boils down to how we use metaphors in our daily language, how the brain embodies and packages these two elements together to form an idealized polar-centric style of unconscious thinking about units and subunits of our society and culture.
American politics is based on an opposition of empathy and authority. Our ways of thinking about the dichotomy of political views is rooted deeply in metaphors and how the mind processes these structures in an unconscious and prevailing way.
Let’s start out with the family value – all of us think with a largely unconscious metaphor: the Nation/State as Family.
For instance, we all think and speak of the founding fathers of the United States, primarily George Washington as being the father of the country while referring to our soldiers as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. There is the fatherland, the nanny state, and the mother Russia.
If you bring the unconscious to the conscious and really think about these metaphors, you will notice that we can conceptualize and divide our ways of thinking about the family and how it corresponds to the Nation into two idealized and opposing categories : The Strict Father Model and the Nurturant Parent Model
Interestingly, these two categories of opposing ideological thoughts in regards to the family correspond to the two idealized versions of the nation: The pure conservative politics, and the pure progressive politics.
In The Strict Father Model, the father is the moral leader of the family. He must be obeyed and followed because he protects his family from the evil, corruption, and competition of the world in return.
A strict father is needed because children are born without knowing rights from wrongs, and they need consistent discipline and punishment to keep them away from trouble and to condition them to behave in a moral and disciplined way. A strict father should follow the rules of family tradition that were passed down from previous generations. Once his sons become self-disciplined enough to be on his own, he should continue to apply these rules to his own future household, and so on.
I think if you map this family ideology into a political one, you can understand why conservatives are obsessed with power, authority, dogmas, traditions, obedience, punishments, and discipline. The nation under the conservative ideology is one giant patriarchal family that operates under the Strict Father Model where the male power dominates all aspects of the social fabric.
Bush and the conservatives flex their muscles at the rest of the world in order to advertise their war loving, imposing, homophobic ideologies where there is a powerful, strict father-like leader, willing to use his strength.
The conservatives offer you protection and security, but at the same time will not hesitate to impose punishment and torture, or to invade the privacy of citizens. Obedience and discipline to traditional rules and laws are expected to be followed.
The Bush administration, taking on the role of the strict father, feels that they have the might and the right to set up domestic surveillance system to spy on our citizens, to check our bank accounts, to tap our wires, or even torture you. They might even force medical decisions on you, tell you who you should and should not marry, what you can and cannot hear and see on radios and television and so on.
I think this mirrors the way in which strict fathers in the family go through personal items of their daughters and sons, sneaking into their rooms while they are out with friends to check their closets and cabinets, reading their emails, dairies, and etc to ensure that they are not taking drugs, smoking pot, drinking, or having anal sex with another boy (if you are a son).
Speaking of anal sex, the masculine nation feels threatened by gay people and is against gay marriage for the same reason why a strict and authoritative father would kick you out of the house if he finds out that you are having anal sex with another man. Having a gay son in the house is a big no-no because it would immediately threaten the masculine identity of the strict father household.
What about abortions? Why are conservatives against abortions?
Well, think of the people who usually need one: a teenage slut who sleeps around, an indecisive woman who experiences an inner conflict between having a career and being a mother. The strict father looks bad in both cases, and again, this causes his masculine identity to be in jeopardy. A strict father is supposed to make decisions for the daughter and have a say or two in regards to who she marries and dates. The teenage girl who comes home pregnant obviously disobeyed her father and should be punished, as many states have parental notification laws.
Moreover, the Strict fathers and conservatives tend to think in more black and white terms than their counterparts. The father has to know exactly where to draw the line between right and wrong. If the laws of the nation and the rules of the family are fuzzy, it is difficult to tell whether or not a rule is broken. This type of absolutism tends to make the strict father and the conservatives appear more close minded than their grey-thinking nurturing and progressive opposition.
Authority is also merited under the Strict Father Model. Authority by the powerful is viewed to be moral and justifiable. Hierarchies of power and wealth is encouraged and celebrated, as well as justified on merit. CEOs can boss around his employees while making so much more money than their subordinates are because they deserve it.
Competition is also encouraged by conservatives and the strict fathers because with it comes discipline and the desire to win. Prosperity, morality, and obedience will all suffer without a need and drive to compete and to be the best and the most powerful. People who win are the ones who are most morally worthy. People who win are the most disciplined and most deserving people. People who win are the good people. People who lose are the bad ones. This is why strict fathers take competitive sports so seriously, and that if their sons and daughters are not number ones in their teams or have the best grades in the class, they could be severely punished and beaten. This is why conservatives want to take test scores in schools so seriously, in order to judge the merits of its citizens and students. Who deserves to serve and who deserves to be served in the social stratosphere are all determined by competition, discipline, obedience, and punishment.
Speaking of punishment, the strict fathers shall be cold blooded at all times and never think twice about punishing their own sons and daughters, enemies, or neighbors who intrude and disrupt the family. This is why conservative nations are pro-war and torture. They see bombing innocent civilians and declaring war after the fact as means and as a function to protect the Nation.
Also, conservatives don’t give a shit about dying soldiers or disfigured veterans because you should be willing to deal with the consequences of your own actions and decisions. A strict father should not show empathy if you get injured during a fist fight or a sport event. He expects you to suck it up and be a man about it. You should be willing to deal with the consequences of your decision to join the army and to fight for the country.
How about the progressives side? How does the progressive ideology correspond to the Nurturant Parent Model?
In the Nurturant Parent model, both parents play a role in nurturing the offspring. There are no gender constraints or discriminations. Parents show empathy to their children, and children are raised to care about themselves and others.
Punishments are rare, and discipline is positive; it comes out of the child’s sense of care and developing responsibility. Parents explain to their children why they are to do or not to do this or that. Mutual respect between parent and children is required and encouraged. If the children did something wrong, rather than punishing them, they are encouraged to do something right to make up for it. In short, people respect, care, encourage, and take care of each other under the roof of a Nurturant Parenting household.
When the Nurturing Parenting Model is mapped onto the political ideology, the outcome is the progressive politics of protection, community, and empowerment. American democracy was founded on the moral basis and the politics of empathy and responsibility, with the role of the government being protection and empowerment. The democratic and progressive ideals are not authority, discipline, or punishment, but of equality, fairness, freedom, opportunity, general prosperity, and so on.
This is why the Democratic party is the “nanny party”, or the “nanny state”. The masculine and male dominated model does not exist here. Both the father and the mother can and are willing to perform the tasks required by the nurturance model. Fathers see no shame in forming deep attachments and positive relationships with their sons and daughters.
Now what role does the brain and the mind play in this unconscious metaphorical way of thinking? Why do we metaphorically map Family onto Nation in our culture? Why do we unconsciously and automatically think this way?
Again, how does the brain automatically self-organize metaphors? By framing and mapping one mode of thought onto another through strengthening of neural connections through repeated synchronized firing/pairing between two clusters of neurons.
Metaphors are the basic modes of our thoughts and they are mostly unconscious. The ways in which we use metaphors are so basic, unconscious, and automatic that it precedes and are sometimes independent of language.
Here are some examples of how metaphors work:
When we say stocks are falling, we don’t literally mean that they are going downwards physically. Our minds perceive quantity in terms of verticality. When we conceptualize an increase in quantity, our brains corresponds and maps this conception to physical motions of upwardness. When we perceive and conceptualize a decrease in quantity, we use words or images that indicate the motion of downwardness.
We almost always think or speak metaphorically when we conceptualize and categorize time. We think of time as a resource, or as having physical and monetary value. We say we “earned” an hour of free time, or “lost” an hour of sleep. We say that we “waste” time, or that we “save” time. So and so is not “worth” my time, I don’t have a hour to “spare”, and I “spent” or “invested” too much time on this article, and so on.
Another example of metaphorical thought is when we speak of a warm or a cold person. When we try to describe an affectionate person, we say that he or she is “warm”. On the other hand, when we try to speak of or think of a not so affectionate person, we say that he or she is a “cold” person.
In our everyday speech and thoughts, we encounter and use hundreds and thousands of these conceptual metaphors automatically without deliberate effort, and we do them mostly without awareness.
How is it that our minds are able to link and map one conceptual item (verticality, temperature, money) with another (quantity, affection, time) and form a cohesive mode of thought that helps us narrate, categorize, organize, and conceptualize the chaotic world around us?
Every time we think in metaphorical modes, two parts of our brains – one part that processes verticality and money, and the other part characterizing quantity and time are activated spontaneously. This usually occurs as early as childhood during particular instances when we are learning new ways to think and speak of new experiences. This spontaneous firing of the two different conceptual components in a given experience conditioned and primed our minds day after day, year after year as we “learn” to recruit the neurons responsible for these two conceptual components to fire together in a synchronized fashion.
Eventually, the continuous and repeated synchronized firing of these neurons from two distinct brain regions form a single circuit linking and wiring these two brain centers together. As the linkage between these two brain regions get stronger with each spontaneous synaptic firing after a repeated encounter with similar experiences, a permanent circuitry is eventually formed.
Circuits that are permanently formed are called neural mapping. And because each of us experiences temperature changes on a daily (or even hourly) basis, we encounter temperature change a lot more often than affection; activation flows from temperature to affection, but never the other way around. This is why words for temperature are used for affection, but words for affection do not work for describing temperature (“I warmed up to her” when talking about my relationship with another person, not “the coffee got more affectionate” when talking about heating up a cup of coffee with the microwave).
How does this tie in to our Family as Nation metaphor?
Most people are raised in a family. Their very first encounters and perspectives of the world (and of governance) are seen, felt, and experienced from the perspective of the family. Your parents and siblings set examples for you at an early age. They tell you what to do and what not to do, why or why not, and they have certain expectations of you.
Thus, our early experiences of governance and family life occur together: The family is the institution. The individuals who govern are the parents. The governed are family members.
All of this gives rise to the metaphor of a Governing Institution as a Family. This metaphor can be applied to different types of governing organizations such as classrooms, universities, sports teams, armies and fraternities (brotherhood and sisterhoods), churches (God as a strict father, priests as fathers), stores, camps, businesses, and in our specific case of example, nations and states as having family values and perspectives.
Just as we might experience in our family or political ideology either strict or a nurturing governance, other institutions too, can operate on this dichotomy. We might find the coaches in our sports teams, or the bosses in our companies gearing towards either side of the bio-conceptualism spectrum.
GIFTS and FAVORS
Recognizing something as a gift or as a favor raises the prospect of its potential reciprocation. A gift is always a kind of exchange, a barter or trade. Reciprocation is always expected. I think that if you are always playing the role of the giver, and that if you are too generous to the receiving party, he or she will only end up hating on you.
Why? Because when somebody does a favor for you, you are in his or her debt: it’s almost a rule of thumb in our society that you return the favor. Furthermore, it is almost expected that you return the favor or the gift in the amount you had received. The person who does you a favor thinks he is being generous to you by doing everything for you without asking for a return, and that you are going to like him or respect him more. But I think the opposite is true. When somebody does a favor for you, it presupposes that he or she is more capable and better than you are. When you can’t return somebody’s favor or match up to the worth of the gift you received, you will feel hopeless, powerless, guilty and weak because it puts you in an impossible and inferior position.
A giver’s desire for recognition is in inverse proportion to the “size” of the gift. If I want someone to recognize me as the giver, I fail to live up to the impulse and that prompted the gift. If my girlfriend gives me an expensive and beautiful gift on Valentine’s Day, I panic at its expense.
Should I, and must I, return the favor?
This puts us in an anxious relationship and situation. The moment I receive a gift or a favor, something is immediately taken away from me. There is the virtuality or the potentiality of a favor that I must bring into existence in the future. And after I am done materializing or actualizing the favor that I am supposed to return upon reciprocation, I end up gaining nothing from this relationship or exchange whatsoever.
Further more, in many cases, we try to go beyond reciprocation: You want to return a “bigger” or better gift or favor than we received in order to show the gratitude we feel upon receiving the gift initially. We feel as if the other person deserves the credit for deciding to do us a favor first. This presupposes that as soon as I give somebody a gift or do somebody a favor, he or she will experience a negation, and that he or she ends up losing more than what is originally gained by the gift that was received.
This means that for a gift to be a gift, it would have to not be a gift. The conditions of possibility of a gift or favor amount to its conditions of impossibility. It is this paradox that sits at the core exchanges in relationships. Thus, the impossibility for one to be productive in the sense that it generates effects.
It’s not that gifts and exchanges of favors do not take place, it’s just that the event of a gift or a favor is generated through its own impossibility. And if at the extreme, a gift is a no gift, then wouldn’t a pure gift be unrecognizable, unseeable, and materially non-existing?
The point is not to exclude or avoid favors or gifts. I think the best kinds of gifts and favors are elusive, unconscious and non-deliberate. People should implicitly do favors for each other, but in ways that neither party could objectively identify or pinpoint or put into words. You do this by slipping gifts and favors underneath the other person’s skin, viscera and brain without constant reminders and awareness. It might not be the best idea to keep tallies when it comes to doing favors for other people.
If there had been mutual favors, they are ones in which neither could ever be sure. We are all familiar with healthy relationships that grow and thicken for no particular reasons or deliberate effort, and this is due to the fact that favors and gifts are exchanged mutually without specific reminders or instances.
You tend to look down on other people with contempt, even those who are closest to you. All of us harbor negative feelings toward other people, and that there are always certain parts of you that dislike and conflict with the minor differences in another person. These feelings are usually unexplainable, repressed, unorganized, unconscious, and uncontrollable. They nevertheless influence our behaviors towards others, in which is the source of interpersonal conflict, hatred, and aggression. At the same time, these feelings are what create mutual attractions between two individuals. People stay in certain relationships with the motivation of proving to the other party that they are somehow more superior and powerful. The complexities and difficulties within human relationships are perhaps the most painful sources of anxiety in life.
Indeed, “Hell, is other people”.
*while eating Taiwanese shaved ice…*
Frank: You are the cutest thing I know. It’s not like I can pinpoint specific bodily features like your eyes or your nose and say that they are cute, but you are cute as an undivided whole. You are like a singularity or a totality of cuteness. Even the air in your lungs that you breathe in becomes cute. Or the shapes and structures of the words you utter out. If you throw up on the floor I would probably point to your vomit and say : Hey, that’s cute vomit!
F: But I would never want to fuck or touch you though.
E: That’s good. I wouldn’t want you to either.
F: Aren’t you curious as to why though?
E: Yeah, why wouldn’t you want to?
F: Because you are too young and cute and innocent and naïve and pure and vulnerable AND you’ve never had a boyfriend. You are like teeth without filling. Something refreshing. I wouldn’t want to mess up that shit. Last week when you went to the club for the first time you were wandering around the club all by yourself; nobody dared to touch you or tried to dance with you. You were like a baby crawling in a dark alley.
F: You know what they say in Zen? That weakness is power, power is weakness, and that the way to conquer and deconstruct the hard and the strong is with softness and tenderness. In some ways, someone or something’s defenselessness is its own best defense. A baby’s vulnerability, weakness, and softness are its best weapon of defense and they are exactly what give him power. A baby is so cute and helpless and small that if it were crawling in a dark valley full of gangsters and predators, no one would think to kill or eat it. On the other hand, if a 300-pound bodybuilder was to walk in that same alley carrying a machine gun, you would think he has more protections and defense, but he is actually more of a target than the baby…
E: Because he is asking for it.
F: Exactly. Like whores at clubs.
F: If you toss a baby out of the window of a skyscraper, it won’t get hurt. It will bounce right off of the ground like a rubber ball because of its squishiness and doughy composition and its flexible and graceful structure. It’s powerful because it’s weak. It’s strong because it’s soft and small. But if you throw that 300-pound bodybuilder over the edge of a building, he will break into pieces because he is too big and stiff and rigid and fragile. He is weak because he is strong. Now if you throw the baby at the bodybuilder…
E: Wait…THIS is why you don’t want to fuck me?