Stand Up Straight-40-42

Stand Up Straight                                Robert Creamer         Dec 2009
          Pretitle:  Listen to your Mother      Subtitle:  How Progressives Can Win


C 40  Two Contrasting Sets of Values
 Traditional progressive values have served as the foundation for the expansion of human freedom that has been the central theme of American history. These values define what most people mean when they discuss civilization and human progress. They underlie the great documents that we live under.

Yet these values have been under have been under constant, effective assault -- in the United States and elsewhere -- by radical conservatives that embrace a very different set of values.

The author uses the writings of George Lakoff to describe the differences between progressives and conservatives.  Lakoff uses the terms "strict father" for conservative values and the term "nurturant parent" for progressive values.  Other book reports describe several of Lakoff's books so I will not repeat all of that here.  The author devotes several pages to describing Lakoff's work (pages 360-362).  The author goes into considerable detail with several contrasting views between the two value system so I will briefly report on them.

Contrasting Views of the Nature of Right and Wrong  
Progressive morality is inherently optimistic. It assumes that human beings are innately good -- to be nurtured so their innate goodness can flourish. It focuses heavily on one's responsibility to take action to improve the lives of others and ensure that they flourish. That is what progressive values are about. 

Contrasting Views of Reality and History 
Fundamentalist conservatism holds that morality is a bifurcated view of reality. It implies that an ideal reality -- an essential state -- exists independent of material reality. That ideal reality defines good, evil, beauty, and truth and is only indirectly reflected in the material world in this view the spirit -- or souls -- of human beings exist independent of material reality.

Progressive morality assumes that human beings, their thoughts and spirits, are part of one unified material reality.  Humans are viewed simultaneously as products of this history and as creators of their own futures.

Contrasting Views of Causation  
Fundamentalist conservatism assumes that all events with moral consequence involve direct causation: when a single agent purposefully acts to influence another.  One agent; one entity affected. The only actions which can be considered to be morally wrong are those that directly harm another human. Actions which take place over a period of time or involve multiple steps are not moral issues. Thus to set up an educational system that doesn't teach or fail to provide sufficient food when people are hungry are not moral issues. And if you ask about responsibility, these are the responsibility of their parents so any moral laxity would be the fault of the parents.

Progressive view humans as products of complex historic processes, and the future is something humans can effect by their behavior today.

Contrasting Views of Interdependence  The conservative moral system is a radical committment to self-reliance. We are all morally responsible individually, we have a free will that is independent of social context. In a religious context it is possible for someone to be "born again" and achieve salvation. Individuals are held responsible to proselytize other individuals with the Gospel -- but salvation has little to do with group or collective action. Similarly, economic success is seen as virtuous since one's individual discipline has been responsible for their achievement.

Progressive morality presupposes that we are all interdependent, even those whose work is often invisible in society. It is not essential that one person lose so that another person can win. It assumes that if we all move into the future together, we will all be better off.

Conservatives have a zero sum morality, progressives have a positive sum morality.

Contrasting Concepts of Competition  The conservative moral system assumes that everyone is responsible to pursue his own self-interest. This moral assumption is the ethical embodiment of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" of competition. There is a moral imperative to pursue one's own self interest, because if everyone does so, we will all be better off. (The logical inconsistency here is that if economics is defined as a science, the task of science is to make the invisible -visible.)

Progressive morality holds that we are mutually interdependent so that if our actions in pursuing self-interest damage others, or the goods that others require (such as air, water, education, etc.), it is our responsibility to ameliorate these actions.

Contrasting Concepts of the Common Good  In a fundamentalist conservative moral universe, the common good is served as each individual pursues his own interest, That done, the "invisible hand" will do the rest.

In the progressive moral system, the common good is served if everyone is responsible for himself and for each other.  The falsity of the fundamentalist conservative moral outlook is easily seen in what is been called "the tragedy of the commons" and in the book by Jared Diamond, Collapse.

Contrasting Views of the Role of Government   In the author's view, progressive morality sees the role of government as doing for individuals what they cannot do for themselves and to perform the services that all citizens need. The author sees the conservative view as being one of the complaining against "collectivist" thinking and believing that progressives would like to see us all "march in lockstep" -- making individuals dependent upon government. I agree with his progressive definition but I think that the conservative moral stance is that government should be limited to areas in which their conservative moral standards are upheld and punishment is the method by which this is done. The areas in which they support government actions are typically limited to the courts, the police, and the military.

Contrasting Views of Freedom  Progressive concepts of freedom involve opportunity, freedom from poverty, and security.  Individuals should be free to pursue their own interests and dreams and to make their own commitments and find meaning in their lives. This is basically a restatement of Franklin D. Roosevelt's four freedoms speech. Another way of looking at progressive freedoms is to look at the amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The Fundamentalist Conservative view of freedom involves a radical commitment to pursue individual self-interest without any recognition that the exercise of freedom requires opportunity or responsibility to others.

The Right-Wing Counter-Revolution  Conservatives beginning with Goldwater in 1964 and later on with Reagan have embarked on a plan that would take us back to the social conditions of the late 1800's. It is our job as progressives to retake the defensive in this historic battle.

The Religious Manifestations of Radical-Conservative and Progressive Values  Fundamentalist religious values. whether they be Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, all rely on on on adherence to "strict father" morality. They all rely on male-dominated father figures, a concept of moral law that requires strict adherence to prescribed rules and rituals and assume that human beings are innately sinful and must be prescribed from violating the moral law. They all rely heavily on discipline. They all tend to prefer a theocratic state in which there moral values are strictly followed.

Progressive Christianity sees God as a nurturant parent, offering unconditional love and grace. Jesus in the progressive tradition is a model for living.  His life was the embodiment of progressive values, of empathy and responsibility. The model for Christian life in the progressive tradition is simple: love your neighbor as yourself.

C. 41 What Are Progressive Values? Values are the criteria we use to set priorities and make decisions. Fundamentalist conservatives frequently question the values of progressives, here is a short list so that we never need to search for an answer.

1) The fundamental goal of action is to promote human survival and success -- to allow all human beings to flourish. This precept is at the root of both progressive religious teaching and secular progressive moral thinking. As a specific example, the author offers the 10th chapter of the book of Luke: the parable of the Good Samaritan. He also offers the opinion that for some, this does not go far enough. For them, our neighbor, should be taken as meaning of life on earth.

2) Empathy   Empathy is not only critical ethically; it is the central task of political organizing. Empathy is what helps us understand other people emotionally.  There has been a great deal neurological and psychological research on this recently and there seems to be a whole group of nerve cells, called the mirror neuron system, which enables us to feel what other people are feeling by watching their responses. The only people who do not have this system are sociopaths.

3) Responsibility  Progressive values require that each person be responsible for himself and for all people.  Again this seems to be based in brain neuron functioning.

4) Competency  Progressive values require a heavy emphasis on developing the capability of everyone to exercise his responsibility for himself, and for each other.  Empathy and responsibility provide the motivation -- the will -- for moral action, competency gives the ability -- the wherewithal -- to act in a moral way. We need to develop the skills, knowledge, technologies, work habits, and procedures that allow people to meet their responsibilities -- and confidently select and achieve goals.

5) Equality  Progressive values require that every human being's success and survival as just as important as everyone else's -- both individually and as groups. 

6) Democratic Society  Progressives believe that in order to maximize the success and survival of all people, power must be defused to everyone.  

7) Hope  Progressives have an optimistic view of human beings. We believe that hope trumps fear.

8) Unity -- We're All in This Together  We believe that our goal as a society must be to empower every few person on earth to live up to his or her potential as a human being. The only way to benefit each of us individually, is to benefit all of us.

9) Nonviolent Resolution of Disputes  Progressive values call for the creation and protection of nonviolent methods of dispute resolution.  The power of individuals to harm others has increased so much that we cannot afford to rely on violent methods of dispute resolution.

10) Fairness and the Rule of Law 

11) Individual Privacy and Minority Right

12) Tolerance for Diversity, Innovation and Critical Though

13) Self Respect, Mutual Respect 

14) Responsibility to Future Generations --  the Long-Term View (the Cathedral Builder Mentality)

15) Economic Efficiency and Democracy.  The goal of human economic systems is to maximize the primary values of human success and survival and all the progressive values that flow from it.  Economic systems are human creations. They were created by humans to to satisfy human needs.  They do not, as conservatives sometimes argue, involve "laws of nature."  Economic systems have moral consequences. They need to be constantly reevaluated to make sure that they are satisfying the needs of the society as a whole, not just a small group.

The Conditions for Market Competition In Adam Smith's theory of competition, there are several conditions must be satisfied, these are:
If these are all true, Adam Smith's statements are appropriate. However even then it is necessary to create regulatory structures that enforce the "rules of the game." Market competition cannot function without courts and laws.

Sectors Where the Use of Competitive Markets Are Inappropriate
 The most obvious are sectors that are known as "public goods." By their very nature "public goods" cannot be bought and sold because they are available to everyone in society, whether one pays for them or not. The most commonly cited "public goods" our national security and community safety. Others include police and fire protection, public education, public lands, criminal and civil justice systems, and roads.

C.  42 The Progressive View of Labor, Wages, Income and the Control of Wealth
Human Beings Aren't Commodities  Humans are the purpose of the economy, not the objects to be bought and sold.  The author presents many statistics that demonstrate that most workers in the United States have lost money over the last 20 years.

For progressives, there are four major means of affecting the distribution of income in America's mixed economy:
A High Wage Economy Type -- Bottom -- up Not Top -- down Growth Type -- Forget about Trickle-Down Economics  Innovation in labor saving technology -- the development of processes and technologies that increase productivity -- do not occur when labor prices are cheap. They occur when wages are high. A high wage economy leads to major long-term economic dividends.
"Trickle down economics" has never worked to stimulate long-term term economic growth, and it never will. It only works to legitimate the insatiable appetite of the very rich. The author presents a number of statistics that demonstrate why bottom-up growth is the way to develop an economy. Included in this is the fact that during World War II the highest tax category was 91% but the average weekly pay for workers almost doubled between 1940 and 1945. Between mid-1943 and mid-1945 America put about a quarter of their take-home pay into savings.

The Economy and the Long Run 
Over the last 50 years, the US economy has has become more and more focused on short-term results at the expense of the long-run. This is called the securitization of assets. 50 years ago a corporation or individual might own plants, equipment, or computers, today they own securities that can be sold in highly liquid markets.

A summary of several key progressive values when it comes to the economy:
We're All in This Together  Our battle with the right in America is far from a simple dispute over which policies are best for the country. It centers on two very distinctly different world-views, moral systems, and visions of the future. In order to win we must ground our arguments, are messaging, and our imagination in these values. When we ask people to follow us, they want to know where we want to take them.

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