Conservatives tend to be decent human beings and good neighbors. There are exceptions, of course, but those cluster around people who use conservatism as a cover for their sins. I’ll ignore those people for the rest of this post.
Conservatives tend to focus on principles… on right and wrong. This is generally a good thing, but it’s a problem for rulers, who want to use their power without being critiqued.
When a ruler behaves badly, some conservatives will fall away, but others will rise in opposition, and that opposition is often enough to make things difficult. And so, dealing with “care enough to suffer for it” conservatives, particularly in the US, is a problem rulers have to address. It disturbs their peculiar state of grace.
And so, efforts to debilitate conservatives have been rolled out, one after another. Here are two classic gambits of this type:
- Guilt. Guilt is the Kryptonite of Western civilization, for reasons that I won’t delve into today. Suffice it to say that believers in Western values (of whom conservatives are among the last proud members) have always been vulnerable to accusations of sin. When accused of something nasty they’ll freeze in place, and will generally back up. They’ll waste their time and energy explaining why they’re not guilty as charged, giving their opponents free space to get what they wanted.
- Setting the bar too high. For whatever reasons, horror stories of what’s about to happen spread like wildfire amongst conservatives. A new “They’re about to” story seems to come along every week. It makes the rounds then fades away, but oceans of emotional energy are drained away with each iteration. The problem, however, goes beyond the immediate energy drain: It sets I’ll act if triggers that are never reached. And so conservatives remain docile, so long as things don’t decay too rapidly.
The Big One
The big trick played on conservatives is one that I’ll examine more closely, and even tie to a modern example. I try not to do that, but this time it seems worth the risks.
The big vulnerability of conservatives is their proclivity to believe in hidden good guys, who are just about to ride in to the rescue.
Millions of decent and well-meaning conservatives have latched on to one empty hope after another, only to end up right back where they started… but poorer in time, energy and finances… while the destroyers of what they hold dear march on, barely opposed.
I have no greater example of this than the “trust the plan” movement which kept millions of decent people stuck in place, decoding obscure messages, for four years. They truly believed that the good guys had a plan and would ride to the rescue; they did have faith and did trust the plan… until the bottom fell out and the plan evaporated.
Someone, somewhere, is lining up the next hopeful story.
The deep problem here is an old and entirely understandable one: None of us want to suffer and none of us want to take unnecessary risks.
In open circumstances, decent people realize that some risks must be assumed and that suffering is an unfortunate part of life. They want to minimize suffering, but they don’t expect to float through life on an upholstered cloud.
The present political circumstances, however, have supplied anyone who wanted one with an Escape Suffering Free card… a magic way of evading the pain and torment of suffering for one’s beliefs. And that card is emblazoned with the word DEMOCRACY.
In the US, Canada and Europe (elsewhere as well), people believe that their democracy is a wonderful, nigh-magical system that balances forces and desires, delivering the best of all possible outcomes, at least over time. And the only obligation on their part is to vote hard enough, or maybe to protest loud enough.
In simple speech, the whole deal comes down to this: If you complain well enough, the system will handle everything, and no suffering will be required of you.
That sounds ridiculous as it stands alone, but when wrapped in the golden aura that “democracy” now enjoys, accompanied by the images of wonderful founders and founding principles, it doesn’t seem ridiculous. In fact, many millions of people act according to this principle, even if they never grasp it in such stark terms.
Our well-meaning conservatives, then, find it easy to believe that their nearly-magic system must have spawned enough good guys to ride in and save the day, even though they’ve been AWOL for a very long time. Believing this is far less risky than standing as full-blown rebels and declaring that the system itself is broken or worse.
All of us, conservative or otherwise, must come face-to-face with a hard truth: It’s our job to build what we want; trusting a magical system to do it for us hasn’t worked and won’t work. We have to construct the world we want, without asking permission. Such permissions never really come, being contrary to the interests of anyone who might grant them.
If we want a better world, we must act. Yes, that can be scary, but we’re presently in a downward spiral of tyranny, precisely because people wanted to escape suffering.