Liberal When We Can; Conservative When We Must

Conservatism and liberalism are mistakenly viewed as purely political expressions when, upon reflection, they reveal fundamental, biologically based moral outlooks that we apply to all situations. We are conservative or liberal parents, conservative or liberal employers, conservative or liberal spenders, and even conservative or liberal drinkers.

In the past 50 years, psychologists and philosophers have increasingly concluded that conservatism and liberalism are not just political factions; they are distinct moral patterns of viewing right and wrong. The polarity has been characterized in various ways:

  • In his 1962 book, Affect Imagery Consciousness, Silvan Tomkins argues that the individual is either considered intrinsically valuable or his value depends upon how well he conforms to external standards.
  • In his 1970 paper, ‘A Dimension of Moral Judgment,’ Robert Hogan argues that liberalism is an ethic of personal conscience while conservatism is an ethic of social responsibility.
  • In his 1994 book, Moral Politics, George Lakoff argues that political distinctions can be identified based on different prototypes of the family: liberals adopt the “nurturing parent” model while conservatives favor the “strict father” model.
  • In a 2011 paper, Alan S. Gerber and colleagues identify correlations between political orientation and certain personality traits of the “Big Five” (e.g., liberalism and openness to experience vs. conservatism and conscientiousness).
  • In his 2012 book, The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt set out his Moral Foundations Theory, which proposes that liberals and conservatives assign different priorities to the innate and universally available psychological systems underlying our moral judgments—liberals prioritize care and fairness while conservatives appeal to a wider range (care and fairness plus authority, loyalty, and sanctity).

This duality in our moral outlook is not new or something just discovered through modern scientific methods. The Romans called their conservatives the “Optimates” and their liberals the “Populares.” The revolutionary French referred to their left wingers as the Jacobins and their right wingers as the Girondins.

In short, it is clear that liberalism and conservatism are merely the terms given to the political manifestations of a larger moral divide, which we express in all areas of life. This ever-present moral duality within all of us can be better understood by going even further back and exploring the evolutionary origins of human morality. Being social creatures, our survival has always depended not only on our ability to master the natural world, but also on our ability to get along with each other. Morality serves this latter purpose.

The circumstantial basis of our moral duality

Our two patterns of human social outlook evolved as a survival mechanism that allows us to negotiate our social environment. And the great social dilemma that has plagued all human groups since time immemorial is whether there is enough of any particular resource for every member of the group, or there isn’t. During times when there is enough for all, our liberal pattern of understanding right and wrong prevails. When there is not enough for all, our conservative outlook takes over.

How we determine what is right and what is wrong is a function of how we view our circumstances. If we are safe and resources are plentiful, we tend to express a liberal outlook. If we imagine our condition to be one of danger or scarcity, we express a conservative and more constrained outlook.

Even our concepts of “justice” and “fairness” take on this two-sided aspect. For the liberal, approaching the world from the attitude that there is enough for all implies that all should have enough. When we perceive that resources are abundant, we see no need to favor some over others; the problem is not that resources are insufficient, it is that our plentiful resources are not distributed properly. With “equality” and equitable resource distribution as our aims, we begin to tear down old hierarchies. As liberals, fairness and justice are defined by equality.

However, when we face conditions of scarcity or danger, our other moral side takes over. When resources are scarce, they need to be safeguarded and directed to those in the group most capable of protecting it and carrying its traditions forward. Conservatism thus naturally encourages a hierarchical view of people and things. Those most valuable to the group should be protected best and rewarded most. As that old conservative Aristotle contended in Nicomachean Ethics, it is unjust to treat unequals equally. It is right that the school janitor makes less than the school principal. Punishment and reward are merit-based. In a conservative view, fairness and justice are defined by proper inequality.

Of course, concepts such as “abundance” and “scarcity,” as well as “safety” and “danger,” are not defined absolutely; they are relative and vary in their application. In reacting to one’s circumstances, what counts is not determined by some “objective” numerical calculation but rather by how people interpret their condition. The debate in the US over immigration policy is a case in point. What counts is not how many immigrants are crossing the border, but whether the immigration is perceived as a threat to Americans’ sense of identity and security, or whether it is perceived as a welcome advantage to the nation by adding more badly needed workers and greater diversity. The farm hand in North Carolina may perceive immigration quite differently from the deli worker in New York City. Since either a liberal or a conservative outlook is acceptable under certain conditions, our moral debates often involve disputes over the nature of those conditions: Are we well-off and secure? Or are we struggling and vulnerable? Politics is the process of arguing over which perspective is most right, right now.

Since most of history was lived in conditions of want and danger, virtually all societies were organized hierarchically, and the notion of many levels of “inequality” was accepted by all. In tough times, our conservative outlook holds sway. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that enough wealth was generated to allow a liberal mentality—with its ideals of equality and individual rights—to prevail. With ever-expanding material production and international trade, Western societies have been moving further and further leftward ever since.

This leftward movement means that liberalism and conservatism do not represent absolutely “fixed” positions on any specific issue, but are instead relative to each other. Thus, what was once considered to be radically left, can, if adopted and practiced over time by a significant portion of the population, become “traditional,” and thereby acceptable to conservatives. One need only consider the changing attitudes towards divorce to realize that, while conservatives promote “family values,” divorce is no longer perceived by most of them as the threat it was a century ago; gay marriage—something inconceivable in 1900—became the more pressing object of concern, but that too is rapidly gaining acceptance among former opponents.

How we judge ourselves

Conservatives and liberals even disagree over how we should view ourselves. For the right-winger, America is the shining city on the hill, and American exceptionalism defines the patriot. American conservatives feel that everyone everywhere would be better off if they were in America, and record-setting immigration proves to them that the world agrees. The conservative will admit that not everything is rosy, but the proper attitude toward American culture is one of appreciation and even awe.

For liberals, on the other hand, while society may have made some progress, there are still monumental problems to be solved and widespread inequality to be addressed. Now is no time to be resting on our laurels. We need to do better, and progress means change.

The liberal impulse will always be part of who we are. Regardless of how threatened we are and how scarce resources may be (the perfect formula for justifying conservatism), there will always be liberals among us. While a conservative mentality may dominate society as a whole, this does not preclude the existence of a few individuals in the group who are “outliers”—we need only think of characters like St. Francis of Assisi, or Jesus, or the renowned women’s rights activist of the 18th century, Mary Wollstonecraft—all characters who were out-of-step with their times.

The conservative impulse will also always be part of who we are. No matter how plentiful our resources, or how safe and overfed we all are (the perfect formula for justifying liberalism), there will still be conservatives among us who will be alarmed at what they see as profligate social spending and the coddling of miscreants. For conservatives, allegations by liberals that society is infected by “systemic racism” and discrimination against women come at a time in American history when racism and sexism have never been so widely condemned, as evidenced by the election of a black president in 2008 and a black female vice-president in 2020. The traditionalist regards such allegations as baseless, serving only to sow social discord and advocate for reform of a current situation that needs little improvement

Understanding conservatism and liberalism as competing moral outlooks battling each other to help society achieve the best resolution to its social problems also suggests that social discord, far from being the blight on society that it is portrayed, is actually a public good. Politics is merely the stage upon which our moral battles are waged, options weighed, and courses of action determined. Democracy is government by debate. Our representatives argue because there is more than one point of view. When political conditions demand we all agree on everything and when there is no room for dissent, we have dictatorship.

How we judge the past

Conservatives and liberals not only argue about current events; they are also at odds with each other over how to remember yesterday. History for both groups is recalled primarily to support some current moral priority. For the conservative, history is remembered for examples of how we should act today. For liberals, history is often looked back on to be denounced, scanned for examples of what we did wrong then, and used as a starting point for what we might do better now.

In our conservative mode, we recall the past with affection. It is because of our grandparents and forebears that we live better lives today. For the traditionalist, history is a collection of ancestral advances—in philosophy by the Greeks, in art during the Renaissance, and in technology during the Industrial Revolution. Our predecessors’ actions guaranteed their success, and our conservative outlook informs us that by following their lead, we may succeed too. For the conservative, the past is usually remembered to be praised.

In our liberal mode, we often look at the past with remorse. Our duty is not to preserve the methods of yesterday, but to improve upon them. We struggle to “progress.” Our progressive outlook begins with the assumption of plentiful resources, enjoyed in an environment where it is safe to experiment—we can take greater risks and do things differently, we can change old habits and traditions in order to improve upon them. In a liberal mindset, we condemn the Romans for their persecution of Christians, and we decry the Middle Ages for their crusades. We castigate the 18th century for its slavery, denounce the 19th for its treatment of women, and disparage the 20th for its industrialization of war. By looking back and highlighting what was worst about our ancestors, liberals hope we may be inspired to do better. For the liberal, the past is often remembered to be condemned.

Together, our conservative and liberal moral views vie with each other as we try to figure out the proper moral attitude to apply to whatever situation we face. We are liberal when we can be, conservative when we must be.

It is riveting to watch how tightly conservatives and liberals hold onto their points of view, as if compromise requires a surrender to evil. The juxtaposition of two current debates—gun control and abortion—clearly highlights this stubborn duality. Both the proponents of stricter gun control and the advocates for tighter abortion laws claim that their motivation is to save innocent lives, particularly those of the most helpless among us. But neither side is willing to save those lives if it means giving up their current moral position.

History, psychology, anthropology, and moral philosophy give us confidence that this same duality will continue into our future. So we have to ask ourselves, “How will we of the 21st century be judged by the liberals and conservatives of tomorrow?”

How future generations will judge us

Tomorrow’s liberals are not likely to judge us any more favorably than they judge the people of the past now, given the on-going and limitless pursuit of equality. Initially, political equality was recognized only for white male property-owners. It expanded to embrace non-property owners, then women, and finally people of all races. There is no reason to believe that the trend toward ever-expanding equality will come to a halt, as long as wealth and safety continue to expand.

Following the 1975 publication of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, liberals have become increasingly concerned about extending social equality to animals too. The morality of using animals for agricultural and research purposes or as targets for hunters has become a matter of concern. In addition, we have witnessed an increase in the percentage of those who identify as vegetarians, many of whom are motivated by moral as much as by nutritional considerations. As wealth and security are taken to extremes, our liberal outlook expands to extremes as well.

Technological advances may even take us to a point where artificial food will be created in laboratories, and the slaughter of animals will be looked upon as a barbaric practice of the past. Fish, insects, and even plants may also become protected by gaining “rights.” Today’s hunters may be looked back upon as little more than hardscrabble barbarians. In a future where we are able and willing to protect any and all forms of life, protecting the human fetus may become a future liberal concern.

Additionally, it is likely that the same scientific and technological progress that improves our food, transportation, and health will find a more exact method of preventing unwanted pregnancies. The need for abortions may become obsolete. As they look to the past for bad examples to improve upon, the liberal moralists of the 22nd century may recall the practice of state-funded abortions with horror, and describe this part of their history as utterly unnecessary and especially monstrous for a 21st century that could easily have afforded to care for these children-to-be.

As for tomorrow’s conservatives, wisdom informs us that they are likely to look back on us as a stalwart bunch; a society of winners, who developed the electric car, landed spacecraft on Mars, perfected robotics, and created decentralized digital currencies. They will wag their fingers at their contemporaries, labeling them effete weaklings, and telling them that we of the past were more noble and trustworthy—that we were a gun-toting bunch of heroes and heroines who did whatever was necessary to survive. This focus on the generally praiseworthy, meritorious “character” of the people of the past, rather than on any particular action, clues us in on why conservatives judge the people of the past the way they do. With its focus on “strength-of-character,” our conservative nature uses history to motivate us in a way that differs from how our liberal nature uses it.

Although it might seem implausible today, the future may find conservatives looking back and coming to the defense of today’s abortion-seeking mothers. Though they will never support the practice itself—no more than they support the practice of slavery today—they may seek ways to justify its existence in the past; they will explain that it was the social circumstances and scientific limitations of the 21st century that made widespread abortions, though regrettable, unavoidable for the heroic females battling the tribulations of their time.

Our biology guarantees that, like us, the people of the future will be divided into conservative and liberal camps. Tomorrow’s liberals will be struggling to make everyone and everything more equal, in an ongoing battle with tomorrow’s conservatives who will be trying to explain why many of their society’s inequalities are justified. If you are looking into a crystal ball and seeing the future, don’t expect the politics of tomorrow to be any less turbulent than the politics of today. That is how we succeed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2022/08/09/liberal-when-we-can-conservative-when-we-must/
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But ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, as those terms are employed in political discussion, do not represent unchanging Platonic forms. A ‘liberal’ in 1960 was very likely to support free speech and economic growth; a ‘liberal’ in 2022, not so much.

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The liberal/conservative dichotomy that this article fundamentally assumes, only started to apply with the 1960s roll out of Indulgence Capitalsim, when the traditional link between freedom and responsible agency, whereby qualified freedoms came with dialectical responsibilities armed with the social authority to enforce them, gave way to freedom as disinhibition without limitation or qualification. Adults only civil rights gave way to human rights that were anybody’s, because the customer is always right. A disciplined economy and culture of needs and wants gave way to deregulated fantasies of desire and privatized accountability.

Responsible agency was not just sidelined, but ridiculed as ‘old fashioned’, ‘fuddy duddy’ ‘authoritarian’ and ‘kill joy’, as indulgence became the dominant paradigm that would reduce behavioral standards to the level expected of adolescents who haven’t been socialized properly.

I do recall that it seemed a fantastic development at the time, that allowed my adolescent peccadillos and social inadequacies to go mostly unanswered, as my quite surprisingly aware parents realized that the responsible agency and the authority that enforced it was much like they were; so very yesterday…and that they would have to roll with the punches…which enabled them to have some influence. It was better than nothing; you know, intelligent weakness posing as ‘liberal’ ‘flexibility’.

When The Enlightenment revolution rolled out in the eighteenth century, it seemed to the feudal traditionalist to be wicked antinomianism (beliefs that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law) but the reality was that adults continued to be tough with their children, each other and themselves when it came to responsible agency, and freedoms came with qualifications and expectations of meeting certain adult standards, in order to get and keep them.

And when they talked about ‘equality’, like freedom, that came with a lot of caveats.

In the two hundred years that followed The Enlightenment, there was a balance between freedom and responsibility whereby they qualified each other, and social authority had the legitimacy to set the standard and enforce it.

Although battered by the twentieth century and leaking like a sieve, it was still extant in the post war period into the 1950s. I watched it disintegrate from being more or less intact at primary school, to dissolving by the time I left secondary education to go to uni,

The roll out of Indulgence Capitalism rapidly changed all that into a libertarian free-for-all where anything went and anything did and no one was allowed to be ‘judgmental’, or ‘authoritarian’ or worse, ‘repressive’, because that was uncool and ‘inappropriate’.

What is going on now is that the 50-70 year trend has passed its use-by date because the attenuating residual social infrastructure left after turning social authority and discipline over to the public relations and marketing machinery, has finally given up the ghost, and we find ourselves existentially stark naked bankrupted and with very little left of the social software that perhaps accounts for as much as half our individual and collective net worth.

The people of a slightly more conservative and traditionalist bent who have for decades been silenced, are starting to say things like NO, we aren’t going to put up with the chaos and desecuritization any more, as we collectively look down from the edge of an existential cliff that we walking over as we speak.

When our postmodern disaggregation starts, social politics are going to get a lot tougher with little time or tolerance for delaying the necessary massive social governance clean up after less than a century of Indulgence culture…servicing a system of massive overproduction and consumption, that is also overwhelming ecological infrastructure in the same way and for the same reasons that the social/existential one is being destroyed.

It isn’t a choice between liberal and conservative, but rather sustainable and not sustainable, across all platforms of the system. It is going to be tough as we try to rebuild and recalibrate our civilizational norms. It will almost certainly mean war.

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The basic premise of this article is that “we” are like a mindless school of fish that swim in various currents as the waves may take us. But of course, the author, (like Jonathan Haidt) is quick to remind everyone that the fish are ultimately always swimming a little to the left…

What is there to lament in this?

I hate to say it, but I just don’t take this negative line at all. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty about “Indulgence Capitalism” that I don’t like. But more has gone on in the past 100 years than a simple revival of cultural selfishness and greed. As a long time resident of China, I often remind myself, and others, that for centuries… literal centuries countless millions of women had bound feet with their bones broken from childhood and wrapped into an odd, clothing-iron shaped shoe. Sure, the women of China today are a mindless lot staring into their smartphones, but they aren’t literal slaves.

All across the planet, the “Indulgence Capitalism” that is so often derided has also brought meaning and value into the lives of millions upon millions of people who, in centuries past, were just the peasant pawns in an imperial game of “who can fuck the queen.” Capitalism has given power to the everyman in a manner previously unheard of and unexpected. But it is unfair to deride that power, or the everyman for his efforts at grasping for it.

I, for one, much prefer the anarchy of a spoiled mass of malcontents than the silent order of teeming throngs of “subjects” to a despicable throne, a hemophiliac family or in-bred retards or any other thing that empires and dynasties from Europe to Asia, to Africa called “culture”. I’ll take a Ford F-150 and a fucking handgun any day over that mess.

What has happened merely illustrates that now the everyman must learn how to harness the privilege and power that capitalism has brought to his doorstep. But it is not worth begrudging the process…

You are right. It will be tough. And there may be war.

But I have much more faith in the stable efforts of common people over time. They have, and will continue to show that their common sense can prevail, even under circumstances such as these. They aren’t mindless fish after all…

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The Theory of Dual Morality that is referenced here clearly explains why, at our left or right moral extremes, disagreements are not tolerated. It is when we feel-think-act between these two left/right moral extremes that tolerance and “libertarian” moral expression occurs. It is also near this mid range of moral expression where democracies are found. Democracies are noted for their unending protests and ongoing open political disagreements. And though our right/left moral leanings are more mildly expressed during democratic times, it does not mean they disappear.

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To expand on the article, conservatives tend to want to keep (conserve) what they have, while liberals tend to want to change in order to improve things.

The problem with the liberal view is that change rarely works out quite as expected, with unintended side effects frequently making things worse, or at least not worth the effort. In times of abundance there is a surplus to fall back on if changes don’t work out as intended. In times of scarcity, experiments gone wrong can be fatal.

The problem with the conservative view is that an aversion to change can easily lead to ossification. That can be just fine, but only if all your neighbors remain equally stagnant. But in the long term history is not kind to the stagnant…Europe’s industrialization was a massive change project with many unexpected and enormous costs, but in the end it did allow the Europeans to dominate the globe at the expense of more conservative societies.

An open give-and-take between those who want change and those who are leery of it is essential to getting the balance roughly right. Liberal democracies, for all their faults, have done that fairly well up until now.

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I would take it further than that. The real problem is that liberals are absolutely terrible at vetting the changes they champion. I mean, when’s the last time you actually saw any proposal for “change” include a cost-risk-benefit analysis?

Defund the Police, New Monetary Theory, throwing money at homelessness - the list is endless. And irresponsible.

Unintended consequences? I’d say the approach was more “consequences be damned!”

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Quite true. But you will note that reality and conservative push-back have pretty much ended calls to defund the police and for MMT, and even wildly liberal places like San Francisco are re-thinking their homeless policies.

While I tend towards the conservative side, I will also have to note that conservatives tend to stick to the tried and true while ignoring the changes in the world that makes them untenable.

That’s why conservatives and liberals need each other.

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I live in Seattle. Virtually every city council race candidate is running on spending more. Because “Doing something!”

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And I live in Porland. Here, the two city council races each have candidates who are a bit more rational. And the mayor is spending money, but is ignoring the homeless industrial complex and trying other strategies. And they are trying to hire more police officers. Fingers crossed we have gotten over the worst of it.

Kind of to my point…both our cities are one-party operations. If the Republican party in our state wasn’t run by the loony right, we might actually have had some coherent give and take and have avoided much of this mess.

But polarization pays, and keeps both social and traditional media in business.

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Liberals are great at generating ideas, but terrible at vetting them. Conservatives are terrible at generating ideas, but great at vetting them.

And for the record, conservatives are for equality. Equality of opportunity. Liberals are right to focus on the socio-economic spectrum- but it’s the social side which matters, not the material or economic. The difference between Chinese British from the top quintile and the bottom quintile of the socio-economic spectrum is couple of percentage points in the national exams at 16. This is an extreme example of a pattern which repeats itself throughout the West to the extent that one can roughly estimate national income levels based upon the rate of stable two parent families for the country. The pattern mainly relates to boys, but women are peripherally affected by what amounts to an intergenerational reset.

Conservatives were right about one thing more than anything else- but it’s the most important thing of all- family.

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The whole theory of Dual Morality and the approach in the article just does not work for me. The evidence presented all the way through contradicts just about every personal experience.
Liberalism is supposed to promote individualism, and conservatives social responsibility, so how come Socialism tends to find a home in the former camp, and fending for yourself with a shotgun and a pick-up truck the latter?
Liberals are nurturing and conservatives more strict and disciplined. Really? Liberals who promote freedom of abortion above the responsibility of raising a child?
Liberals are more open to new ideas, and conservatives are more conscientiousness. So why is cancel culture predominantly represented in the former camp?
Liberal philosophies are more prevalent in times of plenty and conservative ones in times of scarcity. Is that not in direct contradiction to the “individual everyman for himself” vs “social conscience dimension” mentioned earlier?

My overall impression is that the article makes a poor attempt at characterizing every dichotomy experienced in the political world to one of a biologically based moral outlook.

I prefer this much simpler explanation which appears to have eluded the author.

Which would explain why this is always a changing dynamic.

If one thinks that one can characterize this political dichotomy in all its complexity into a single dimension of mindset, then a far better one is idealist vs realist. Some of us believe that the world should be a much better place, and should not let the past empirical evidence get in the way, and others that the reason we currently do things they way we do is because our ancestors have paid the price for trying alternative ways to solve problems, and it is better to stick to the path well travelled, than to venture off into the unknown.

I think if we look back through the list of positions taken by the two sides eluded to in the article with this mindset, it makes a great deal more sense.

It does to me anyway.

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I would consider myself liberal and tolerant, though I’d place my political views as slightly right of centre.

But, as is so often the case, it is probably more a matter of how one calibrates one’s own political compass. Perhaps we’re all in need of the services of an Overton Window Cleaner!

I would freely admit that when it comes to political labels we’ve got to a point where, frankly, we need a whole new political lexicon.

‘Left’ and ‘Right’ no longer have any distinct, universally agreed upon meaning. Terms are over-used and mis-used to the point that their definitions are now so elastic as to render them useless as definitions altogether.

Everyday on comments pages like these we all fling around labels like progressive, centrist, liberal, neo-liberal, hard-left, extreme-right - I’m as guilty as the next man. If all the people using those terms were to plot where on the political spectrum they thought such definitions sat - and the people and policies contained within them - there would be such an overlap that they become rather pointless ways to define anything.

I read an impassioned argument between posters in the Guardian comment pagges about whether Jeremy Corbyn was a Marxist, a Trotskyite, a Social Democrat or a Democratic Socialist. At that point, if I had jumped in and insisted Mao tse-Tung or Stalin was a Neo-Blairite who could have denied it? When definitions are so fluid and interchangeable that they simply become a matter of the calibration of one’s own political compass, then how can we agree on the meaning of any term?

I consider myself liberal but not ‘A Liberal’. When I hear people talking about ‘liberal values’ I feel as though they will likely chime with my own values and opinions. Then, when they expand on what they mean by liberal values I realise that by their lights I’m not liberal at all.

Labour long ago stopped being the working man’s party. The Conservatives are no longer conservative and as for the Liberal democrats, they’ve become positively illiberal anti-democrats.

Reading any Left-leaning article, the entire thing peppered with political labels, one realises how utterly redundant such phrases (and such thinking) has become. The whole Dave Spart tribute act is rendered essentially meaningless because the labels are so loose-weave they signify nothing.

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Liberal vs. conservative is a conceit of the educated class. Ask a Hispanic roofer about liberal vs. conservative, or a single mother on welfare. They live in a different world.

Since most of history was lived in conditions of want and danger, virtually all societies were organized hierarchically, and the notion of many levels of “inequality” was accepted by all.

I doubt it. The whole point of Jordan Peterson’s riff on lobsters is that hierarchy applies to the entire animal kingdom, and the reason for hierarchy is the reduction of violence.

In a way, I approve of this liberal v. conservative binary, because it keeps our educated betters from understanding our modern society. It’s almost as silly as the Allyship narrative, in which the Allies work night and day to help liberate the helpless Oppressed Peoples from the depredations of the all powerful White Oppressors. I’m not quite sure how the Allies are supposed to win if the White Oppressors are so powerful. But I am not one of the Anointed, so I wouldn’t have a clue.

Damn, I should have remembered Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions. I don’t think the article set out to be biased, just that many biases tend to occur at the foundational level of thinking. It’s a bit like the more thinking liberal’s assertion that conservatives want to punish people for non-criminal mistakes- NO!- they just want them to have the chance to learn from their mistakes. If mommy always come running, people can never truly grow.

They tried a particular experiment in the Scandinavian countries. College kids were put into pairs and given 5 Maths questions to answer each, with a financial rewards for each question answered correctly- with each pair deciding at the end how to split the reward ‘equitably’. Remember, we’re talking about the most egalitarian socially progressive countries in the world and this was a group of people with an even greater level of Left-leaning liberal bias than average for the population.

Did they do as expected and simply divide the spoils in accordance who earned what, proportionally per question answered correctly? Hell no! Instead kids who got 5/5 received the Lion’s share and kids who only got 1/5 or 2/5 got nothing, or only a pittance. Although in theory Left-leaning liberals want to redistribute towards ‘equality’, when it comes down to real life and processes with which they can observe and judge individual merit- it turns out the Left-leaning liberal minority (in psychological terms) is every bit as geared towards fairness (in relation to proportionality of effort and talent) as everyone else. It’s only an inability to observe the processes which generate inequality, the sheer scale of our societies, which make the theoretical worldview of the Left-leaning liberal possible- distance creates the illusion of undeserved rewards.

Don’t get me wrong- it’s quite possible to make an argument against excess- especially when highly placed corporate types receive remuneration equivalent to entrepreneurs when they don’t take the same risks as entrpreneurs and they don’t really have the option of switching to a competitor for equivalent pay. Then the hierarchy itself is indulging in PMC game-rigging. But whilst it might be possible to construct a fair argument that the extent of inequality has become grossly distorted, it’s simply not possible to make a reasonable argument against substantial inequality itself, especially when one accounts for the accrued value of age and experience, which in itself is a substantial source of inequality.

I looked at Mondragon at one point- the Basque company- the largest worker owner co-operative in the world, with 79,000 worker owners. The CEO and finance types earn roughly 6 times as much as the average worker, and they enjoy huge psychic profits from their workforces and their communities. They are quite literally heroes to their people- which some might say would be worth quite a substantial reduction in pay. They aren’t socialist, by the way- more a form of community capitalism- they invest their ‘profits’ in new ventures and expansions geared to replace the labour lost through productivity gains. An inhouse version of capitalism with its efficient capital and labour reallocation.

It works because the inequality still stands.

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I agree with all your points, but note one constant with all your examples, the circumstances all involve a single race and culture and it is all White. At its core therefore, the assumption of fairness is essentially based on contribution to the community. In my experience that is not a universal assumption across all cultures.

What if the culture primarily focusses on needs? Let me offer one simple example, I have many.

I had two folks working for me based in Africa at one point in my life, the one a single White female and the other a Black male (a married father of 5 children). They both did the same job, and earned the same pay. The Black male could not understand why the White female earned the same as him. She had no dependents and could spend all her money on frivolous luxuries. He had massive responsibilities in contrast, and struggled to make ends meet. He felt very strongly that the system therefore was unfair and biased towards White people.

Imagine the two of them went out hunting and they brought back a gazelle. Would the woman get half the meat, or would it be dealt out with his family receiving 7 potions and her one? They both contributed equally to the hunt.

There are alternatives to how one splits the spoils, White culture is so omnipresent, it no longer even considers this possibility.

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OB, Indulgence Capitalism is a great system as totalitarian governance goes, with a degree of willing conformity to its blandishment that is simply unprecedented, having created a third generation of shop troops and contract warriors who know nothing else. It is your classic ‘Matrix’.

But it has couple of downsides, which is that it devours both ecological and existential/social infrastructure in favor of very narrow commercial/industrial/ideological interests, which are no substitute at all for what gets lost, which is life itself and its governance systems

The over-production and consumption and the deregulatory and privatization of traditional governance in favor of market forces takes down everything else around it. We are facing profound bankruptcy. Both the Woke ‘Church’ and Corporate ‘Crown’ sides of the regime know that they have abused the commons they are supposed to be stewarding, that they are in trouble and are going to great lengths to pin it on the other side.

One side accuses the neo clerical secular Woke ‘church’ of libertarian abuses of social governance and the social/existential chaos it causes, in the name of disinhibited conformity dressed up as liberty. The Wokes accuse the old manufacturing and mining industries of trashing the environment. Both are dead right and their calculation that the cross accusations will cancel each other out is also dead right, until the damage becomes so chronic, the game ceases to work…and they have to actually fight it out.

I have no view of an ideal past or future. We have been parasiting our critical infrastructure as if there were no tomorrow, and eventually there won’t be one, at least for the modern era. And when the dust settles, those of us who are left will have a multi century rebuilding job to stabilize the ecological and social infrastructures that keep us alive and make life worth living.

And it will be extremely messy and you probably wouldn’t want to be there if you had a choice in the matter…Post-Modern Heroes - Michael and Giordana - Writing.Com

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I am aligned with most of your observations in the post, but fail to see how this leads you to the somewhat pessimistic conclusion. I also fail to see the relevance of your discussion in the link you provided to this particular conclusion.

Interesting observations, not clear why you end up with a feeling of hopelessness.

There is no equilibrium position in real life. So you have a gas pedal and a brake, that is how life works, and without it with everything on cruise control, life would have no purpose.

To stay alive I need to consume other living matter around me and use it to generate warmth. I guess in the broader sense this makes me a parasite. So what?

For me to realize some value in the short time on Earth I need to be part of a community that allows me to realize that value. In the vacuum of space I am irrelevant and my life is meaningless. So I need to understand what I need to do to realize that value. Fact of life, not an impediment.

Without the concept of death, life is meaningless. What is this ideal world you long for?

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