The more I study and learn about current conservative beliefs and philosophy the more I see that they are built on two major pillars: Fear and hate.
It is astonishing how much of the behavior and rhetoric of the conservative ruling class can be defined by fear. Just the name itself, conservative, speaks of a fear-driven philosophy. You only worry about conserving that which is in danger.
This may not be some great revelation for most people, but it struck me with incredible power after watching the machinations of both the governmental and cultural right over the last few weeks. First of all there's the whole Spongebob thing, which may be the most ludicrous media flare up of all time. Not only was it about a cartoon sponge with no genitals, but the video he was in didn't even mention homosexuality, and the pledge online that did mention it asked only that it be tolerated, not endorsed. In order to corrupt a youth, then, what has to happen is he has to watch the video, be compelled by the power of Spongebob to go online and locate the pledge (do you know what percentage of children actually follow instructions from a video they see in school? It's barely in the double digits) and sign it. Now he has pledged to be tolerant towards homosexuals. Assuming that he doesn't forget about this pledge in approximately 14.2 seconds (he is a 6 year old after all) he has to follow through with it and actually tolerate other people. Gasp. In a worst-case scenario he might find himself, later in life, drawn sexually to other men and instead of living a life of self-loathing and self-denial he might acknowledge those urges and actually attempt to achieve sexual satisfaction. This is, once again, the worst case scenario and it is extremely unlikely. The chances of a child being "corrupted" by one of those shitty videos they show in school is approximately the same as the chances that the weapons of mass destruction really are in Iraq, we've just missed them because they were disguised as Rocco's Chicken and Waffles joints*. Not very likely.
The same is true of conservative terror over gay marriage. They are terrified about the breakdown of the family and believe that any sort of extension of the rights of the family to impure people will hasten its demise. Not for a moment do they stop and think that perhaps extending the protections of the family to everyone will in fact improve its credibility. Marriage has a way of making people more conservative, and there is no reason to believe it would not do so for homosexuals. Why, then, the terror, because that's their natural response to any sort of change.
The currently empowered right wing establishment certainly projects bravery and strength. They wave flags, they send young boys (and girls) off to die in war, and they say "Bring it on" no matter how many extra lives of those young boys it costs. They are bullies and like all bullies they use a veneer of strength and self-confidence in their bullying. Of course these bullies were once young men themselves, and what they did during the Vietnam era is extremely telling. While 'weak' candidates like Al Gore and John Kerry were in Vietnam either photographing some of the carnage or participating in it, 'strong' men like Dick Cheney and George W. Bush were getting out of it in any way they could. This is well-documented and I won't go over how a young George Bush peed himself and ran off to defend Texas with urine stains still streaking his pants when he heard that he might be forced to serve his country, but I will ask you to keep it in mind.
The terror of the right goes far beyond gays and Charlie, of course. For one thing it is terrified, absolutely shaking in its boots shitting in its pants scared, of sex. This terror is probably partially sublimated desire, but the roots of it are less important than the effects. The right has been advocating “Abstinence Only Education” which has about as much in common with actual education as Ostrich head-in-sand behavior has in common with hiding. These programs are laced with lies and misinformation, and intentionally and obviously exclude important data about the effectiveness of various methods of birth-control and prophylactics in preventing pregnancy and STDs. You can make a convincing argument that schools shouldn’t sanction sex and ought to give teens a firm pro-abstinence message, but we all know that except for losers like me nobody’s going to actually listen to that, and there is no rational reason for not equipping teens with the information they need to make informed intelligent choices. There’s also the little matter of school being about learning and academia being about open discourse and honesty, but judging by their attitude towards history this would be a tertiary concern at best.
Speaking of which, their attitudes towards history also speak of great fear. They oppose the tendency of schools to demonize America, which sort of makes sense although the textbook writers would argue they are stressing the negative just to balance out the ludicrous and false patriotism out there in society in general, but they take it to a ludicrous extreme. Not only do they want America’s history re-whitewashed but they are absolutely apoplectic about the idea of young children not swearing an oath of fealty to our country every morning. Why? What’s going to happen? Are young people incapable of deciding that America is good without having to brainwash themselves to that effect every morning? The conservatives are afraid of the free exchange of ideas and terrified of people making their own decisions. Recently there has been a push to regulate cable TV, a service that is only obtained by those who want it (as opposed to those innocents corrupted by regular TV, which is beamed through the air directly into the TV sets people just happen to have on and set to a channel they get reception on, Those poor innocent bystanders FORCED to look at a 40 year old woman’s nipple may never recover) There is a push against the teaching of evolution as if the few weeks of biology class where the teacher goes over some mangled version of Darwin’s theories can’t be cancelled by the 15 or so years of Sunday school indoctrination their children are exposed to.
Of course the thing is, it can’t, and here we come to the true crux of the matter, which is that the conservatives have very good reason to be afraid. Their ideas are outmoded, stupid, and unable to stand the test of basic logic. They are in some ways LIKE the Vietcong faced with vastly superior firepower and having to defend what they consider their turf against the encroaching superpower of the enlightenment. How can one cling to ideas about one true god in the face of the world’s diversity of religion, and the knowledge that you are in a minority? It makes no sense. How can you believe that America is the chosen country destined to rule forever if you know both the history of empires (they all collapsed) and the various blunders and inequities America has committed? You can’t, only a moron would think you could. How can you believe that the only appropriate form of sexual contact is lifelong partnership between one man and one woman knowing that throughout history and the world today many happy well-adjusted people muddle through with different styles of relationships? The conservatives defend their outmoded ideas with a form of cultural guerilla warfare. They form media outlets whose only purpose is to tell lies that other media outlets will pick up and slowly spin into truths. They grab control of governments through enormous concerted political pushes and enact draconian backward policies. They prey on the natural openmindedness of the liberal ‘elites’ by forcing them to acknowledge ludicrous points of view as legitimate. It is very much a form of terrorism enacted against the American people, but a form more subtle and less blatantly evil than the crude type Osama Bin Laden uses.
Now I haven’t really addressed economic conservatism here, and there’s a couple reasons for that. For one thing it is in many ways a separate movement from cultural conservatism. If you look at the conservatives in power they are about as fiscally sound as a kid in a candy store. We’re talking record deficits and massive new social programs bent on establishing their will. They do walk the “tax cuts for the rich” walk, but some fiscal conservatives are starting to question even that orthodoxy in the face of the enormous debts they are running up. Another reason is that I think that while fiscal conservatism is based on fear as well, fear that the government will appropriate your money and spend it unwisely, fear that if people can’t make sickly huge sums of money they won’t work, and most of all fear that dark-skinned or blue-collar people might become financially equal to the oligarchs, it is a more realistic and self-aware fear. The government DOES manage money badly. Communism doesn’t really work as an economic system. Under liberal policies there will be equalization of income, although that’s not a bad thing for ANYONE, but that portion of their fear is socially conservative, since the social conservatives are deathly afraid that they won’t be recognized as special and unique anymore if they aren’t in charge of everything and they aren’t well developed enough as people to deal with that. Economic conservatism is less wrong across the board than social conservatism (not that social conservatism has NO valid points to make, our culture has slipped towards the abyss and some of the problems they bring up are real, it’s just that their solutions are total ass.)
I’d also like to point out that certain elements of liberalism are fear-based as well. We saw that in the ludicrous over-reaction to Larry Summers statements about women possibly being less genetically inclined towards being math geniuses, and we see it in the PC bullshit that rules the liberal roost. We shouldn’t be afraid of saying things any more than we should be afraid of the female body or the idea of homosexuals. The thing about liberal fear is that it’s a perversion of the movement, where conservative fear is at the core of theirs. Liberals derive their intellectual heritage from the bravery of the enlightenment, standing up against the orthodoxy and saying “WE AS HUMANS HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK ALL QUESTIONS AND ANSWER AS MANY AS WE CAN.” Conservatives come from the “trembling before god” school of thought. It was appropriate in ancient societies where nobody knew anything and the only way you could get people to cooperate was by making them more scared of some supernatural being than they were of one another and their leaders, but totally ridiculous in modern society where we have better reasons to cooperate.
Do I see the fear-based nature of conservatism spelling its doom? No I do not. There are several reasons for this but chief among them is the fact that fear is a great motivator, and much easier to push buttons on than things like love and respect for your fellow man. The evolutionary reasons for this are simple, when faced with two potential emotions, one fear of a rushing tiger and the other love of your friend with a broken leg, it is evolutionarily advantageous for fear to trump love and for you to flee and leave him to die. Those cave men who loved more than they feared were probably eaten with a nice remolade sauce. Still I hope that reason can turn back the current flowtide of terror and remind Americans that as the most powerful and technologically advanced society on earth we can afford to be ruled by more than base emotion and to make decisions in order to expand our horizons rather than shrink them. In other words we can afford to possess the bravery that liberalism requires and conservatism eschews.
*White House Spokesman Jack Lalane points out "Many became suspicious when the herb encrusted chicken was listed on the menu has having Oregano, Cilantro, Rosemary, and just a hint of Sarin. It was, however, the ricin pudding that ended up raising the most red flags.