Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Strict Father" And "Nurturant Parent": The Two World Views That Determine Our Political Values

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"Strict Father" And "Nurturant Parent": The Two World Views That Determine Our Political Values

Most of us -- along with our values and views -- are grounded in the epistemological habits we developed growing up in our families. ("Epistemology" is the discipline that probes how to best determine whether "what we assume to be true" is, in fact, true.)
"What we learn young, sticks." 

This is not to say that what we learn young is "good" or "true," but it does stick.

Whack a kid often enough and it's very likely that kid will whack his own children. 
Among the most illuminating discoveries of my adult life is that humans grow up in two fundamentally different "family cultures," one revolving around "The Strict Father," the other around "The Nurturant Parent."
These two "flavors" of parenting become as deeply embedded in our psyches as our food preferences - particularly childhood "comfort food." It is a rare human being who "grew up on grits" that doesn't like them, and it is equally rare for humans who didn't taste grits until adulthood to become "fans."
"What we learn young" - through family conditioning - "sticks." 

Hormel "Spam," for example, is the most popular meat among native Hawaiians. Go figure.

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Whether it's food preferences or ideological preferences, habits get handed down - very often "around the kitchen table."

Cal Berkeley professor George Lakoff is the first (and most insightful) analyst of humankind's two basic psychologies symbolized by the images of "Strict Father" and "Nurturant Parent."
Here is Lakoff's explanation of "Strict Father" psychology and how "Strict Father" values determine the structure of  "the conservative psyche."
"We tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The "nurturant parent" family (progressive) and the "strict father" family (conservative).
What do social issues and politics have to do with the family? 

We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families.
In the strict father family, "father knows best." He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. 
Many conservative spouses accept this worldview, uphold the father’s authority, and are strict in those realms of family life that they are in charge of. When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. 
Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. 
What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. 
This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth.

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(In "Strict Father" psychology), responsibility is taken to be personal responsibility, not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it. You are responsible for yourself, not for others — who are responsible for themselves."
Here are Wikipedia's entries for these two basic psychological orientations -- orientations as resistant to change as sexual orientation. (Whether you are "straight" or "gay," it is almost always "a bridge too far to cross to the other side." Can you imagine "crossing over?")
To ensure that a seemingly "obvious point" not get lost, I emphasize that political views are ultimately embedded in children's pre-verbal experience of parental behavior, which, in turn, has been "constellated" by the childhood psychological conditioning of their parents, whether "strict" or "nurturant."
Generally speaking, conservatives' "sense of self" hinges on dependable punishment for legal infraction. Not surprisingly, there are people still serving "life sentences" in American prisons for selling a bag of marijuana 40 years ago.

Often, a very fine line separates "rigid moral consistency" from "outrageous moral monstrosity."
In the conservative view, if people do something definably wrong, there MUST be punishment.

No "ands," "ifs" or "buts."

However, if dependable punishment is lacking, every conservative's "Value Universe" is undermined, and often "feels as if" it is collapsing. 

Given the primacy of "value-beliefs," conservatives not only can - but must - ignore Reason, Science and Factuality whenever Reason, Science or Facts contradict a conservative's Faith. 

With eyepopping regularity, Truth has nothing to do with conservatives' inflexibly fixed views.

One's faith is fundamental and "heresy" is unacceptable.
"Strict Father upbringing" creates a frame of mind that values "absolute rightness" over all else. In the conservative view, the mere fact of "being right" guarantees, deus ex machina, that all subsequent outcomes are good ones. 
Recently, friend John N dialogued with Tom L on his Facebook page. In that exchange, John, a child psychologist, made clear that the Trump administation is abusing children by separating them from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. John also pointed out that the inevitable damage done to these kids will, in many instances, result in lasting devastation.

Imagine yourself as a five year old kid separated from your parents and put in a holding pen reminiscent of California's World War II internment camps without knowing if you will ever see your family again. 
In the balance between "rigid, punitive righteousness" and "mercy-compassion-love," people whose psyches are ruled by "Strict Father values" fear the loss of their identity (often co-terminous with loss of religion) if wrong-doers are not painfully punished.
"Strict Father" psychology holds that anyone who fails to respect The Law (in every minute manifestation) deserves to be damaged -- indeed, should be damaged -- just as God, in "His" justice, damages wrong-doers by roasting them in The Lake Of Unquenchable Fire.

According to conservative orthodoxy, the "righteous sequence" of "wrongdoing-punishment-damage" must be applied to uphold The World Order, which - according to conservative belief - can only survive/endure through rigid enforcement of "Strict Father" Law. 
Ever since I was a '60s student at the University of Toronto, I have studied comparative religion.
As I mature, it becomes ever clearer that conservative Christians are more "at home" in The Old Testament -- with its core moral principle of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" -- than they are "at home" with the moral code of The New Testament whose central teaching is love and forgiveness (even for one's enemies) and "doing good, even to those who persecute us."

These compassionate views are distilled in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. 
The Gospel Of Matthew:

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Gospel Of Luke weighs in with another view of Love's centrality: I have used a recent translation of Luke called "The Message." Translator Eugene H. Peterson made it his goal to be "true to the spirit" of the original Greek text in order to avoid the pitfall of being lulled into "sleepy misunderstanding" by words we've heard a thousand times in the grandiloquent rendering of King James. 

The Gospel Of Luke 6:24-38 

The Message 

Give Away Your Life

24 But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
    What you have is all you’ll ever get.
25 And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself.
    Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games.
    There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.
26 “There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
27-30 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.
37-38 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
Finally, the evangelist John puts it like this: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." 

Clearly, we are free to choose our course in life.

In making that choice, it is good and wise to know where our moral principles come from.
So, we have two core value systems. 

And at least in theory, we are able to choose between them - although few of us can transcend childhood conditioning to make real choice possible. 
This essay was sparked by a comment on a friend's Facebook page after she posted an eloquent plea for keeping illegal alien families together rather than separating them at the border: 

"Just a thought (said A's commentator).... If a citizen breaks the law, is arrested and goes to jail....they are separated from their families .... an illegal alien breaks the law ... why is it different .... both are making a conscious decision to break the law and actions have consequences."

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As demonstrated by the scriptural citations above, The Bible (as one "value source") provides clear (but antithetical) moral choices.

I invite readers to evaluate their choices in light of scripture and to decide whether they are more at home in "The Old Testament" or "The New." 
Beyond "scriptural argument" I will also spotlight Donald Trump's recent fondness for setting aside "punitive law" to issue pardons because "he says so." 

Imagine. "Criminals" were duly convicted, sentenced to "hard time" ...  and Trump sets them free!
Rather than rip families apart (as strict interpretation of American Law seems to require) it is better -- politically, socially, psychologically and morally -- to take measures that keep illegal alien families together and not sunder them just to keep "Strict Father" on his pedestal.

Shall we spend our lives placating a thunder-sky God who threatens us with fire-and-brimstone whenever we "get out of line?"

Or shall we take to heart the carpenter's exhortation to "love our enemies and do good to those who hate us?"

Who knows?

Pretty soon we could be baking wedding cakes for people who are not "exactly like us."

Which calls to mind the brilliant insight of Jesuit friend Tom Weston S.J.: "You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do."

Or, as St. Augustine urged: "Love and do what you will."

And what was St. Peter thinking when he said "Love covers a multitude of sins?"

The sin remains, but love covers it. Love does not void the sin but makes it invisible to the vengeful God of antiquity ever eager to punish anyone who breaks The Law.


Lakoff is also well known for his investigation of "language control" and how "the terms of debate" -- and those who control "the terms" -- determine the "winning view" in political arguments. Here is an informative interview about "language control":

I invite you to watch John Oliver's epistemologically astute analysis of how "language control" and "establishing the terms of debate" are well-suited to the simple-minded manhandling of factual truth that characterizes America's "conservative" psyche. 

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"Where love rules, there is no will to power, 
and where power predominates, love is lacking
The one is the shadow of the other." 
Carl Jung

The Jung quote above is companion piece to Pat Buchanan's observation below:

Republican presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan, the living American who has served longest as a White House senior staff adviser, observed: “The Republican philosophy might be summarized thus: To hell with principle; what matters is power, and that we have it, and that they do not.” “Where the Right Went Wrong" 

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