This is an entry in the Alt-right Playbook.
Conservatives tend to think in hierarchies – like a capitalist – while liberals tend to think democratically – like an egalitarian.
See, when you talk to your conservative friend, you operate as though you have the same base assumptions: belief in democracy, “do unto others,” etc. etc. If you didn’t believe your friend shared these assumptions, you’d basically be calling him a fascist or a sadist. And you conclude that, if you believe in democracy, you must believe in equality, and, if you believe in equality, you must believe in equal access to education, and must conclude that governments should help pay tuition. And so you give your friend the benefit of the doubt that, if he doesn’t understand this very simple logical progression, he either hasn’t had it properly explained to him, or has, at some point, been lied to. Because no one could believe in “all citizens are equal” and “always a bigger fish” at the same time.
But, by this thinking, you’re treating most conservatives as people who want, in their hearts, to be liberals, but have so far failed. And maybe that’s why they think liberals are condescending?
[…] when a choice between [capitalism and democracy] has to be made, a liberal is someone who tends to think democratically, and a conservative is someone who tends to think like a capitalist.
THE OPERATIVE WORD HERE IS “TEND.” Liberals are still capitalists and conservatives still stan for democracy, and the preference for one or the other may be very slight. Nevertheless, which way a person leans reveals their priorities.
The democratic framework - or, at least, a democratic framework - is “one citizen, one vote.” No matter who you are, you are born with certain in- or possibly unalienable rights, and any system that doesn’t guarantee you those rights is a tyranny. Freedom, agency, and a hand in the strictures that govern you; everyone is entitled to these things. It’s an egalitarian mindset; people gain power by electoral process, i.e. when it is granted to them by the masses, with whom the true power resides, and whom the Constitution guarantees the right to take that power away from an electee. Rather than powerful, the elected official is, in a sense, an employee with millions of bosses, all of whom have equal authority. This is the idea of democracy, with the history of democracy being riddled with failures to live up to this ideal, but part of the project of liberalism has been about making the government more closely resemble its ideology.
The capitalist framework, by contrast, is that of businesses and markets, where “big fish eat the little ones.” If two people start businesses in the same field, and one makes more profit than the other, that person can make more investments, open more locations, undercut their competitor’s prices. The more money you have, the more money you can make. So advantage compounds, where even small failures often mean getting muscled out of the field. Now, with some creativity - a novel cost-saving practice or a new delivery method - the underdog can still thrive, and this is part of what conservatives like about the market: that it demands this creativity in a live-ammo environment. But most will not beat the odds; that’s how odds work. Since there will always be more failures than successes, the general trajectory of unregulated capitalism is money pooling into fewer and fewer hands. Things naturally sort themselves into a hierarchy with sharks at top, a million minnows at the bottom.
In conservative thinking, this hierarchy is humanity’s natural state. The American Dream is “here, anyone can make it.” No matter who you are or what you start with, you can become a billionaire. But a necessary component of this is: anyone can, but everyone can’t. We’re not all gonna be billionaires, there’s a finite amount of money in this country. For any one person to have so, so, so much more than they need, there must - mathematically - be thousands of people with less. Your conservative friend is often baffled as to what you’re even trying to say when you point out there’s not enough high-paying jobs or affordable health plans for everyone; there’s not supposed to be. The system requires an underclass. Someone’s gotta clean the toilets.
Capitalism, then, is a proving ground. It’s how you demonstrate where in the hierarchy you deserve to be. Do you have more than you need, or less? Anything you’ve got, you beat someone else to it. How resourceful were you? How well did you play? The field is, by no means, level, but any disadvantage just means you have to work harder. We know people who start with nothing can win big; if you are a shark, you will make your way to the top, because that’s where you belong. Anyone complaining about how stacked the deck is against them is making excuses for not being better at the game.
Disadvantage itself is not a problem, so long as it is (quote-unquote) “natural.” What’s necessary is that advantage and disadvantage not be imposed from without. Free tuition, a high minimum wage, taxes on the wealthy, or any other kind of government meddling, these things must be opposed, because, with them, people would end up in the wrong places. Power has to be earned; if it isn’t earned, it won’t be properly wielded, and then society ends up a mess. Conservatives generally feel what’s wrong with the world today can be chalked up to people not being where they should be in the social order. They used to be where they belonged, but then liberals gummed everything up with their government handouts and forced representation. (When, exactly, things were the way they should be is a bit of a moving target: nowadays, they act like it was the 80’s, in the 80’s it was the 50’s, and in the 50’s it was some time before the New Deal. So, following the nostalgia cycle, it’s usually “about thirty years ago.")
Conservatives are distrustful of any effort to make society more equal because, deep down, they don’t believe equal societies are real. Obviously, “all citizens created equal” needs to be the government’s position, because you can’t trust the government to know where to put people, so it has to treat everyone the same. But this is a legal fiction, like corporate personhood. It just means “the government leaves the market alone so the hierarchy can reveal itself.” You’re not supposed to believe in an equal distribution of power. What are you, seven? This is just the way the world is. Look at alpha wolves, silverbacks; consider the lobster.
You are one, single individual within a system, and it is your job to rise or fall within it on the sweat of your own back. You don’t change the system. Society’s problems come from the rules being too weakly enforced. The answer is always more discipline. Your conservative friend thinks you’re naive for thinking the system even can be changed, and his is the charitable interpretation! Many conservatives assume liberals - at least, the smart liberals - know that the hierarchy is eternal, that there will always be people at the top and people at the bottom, so any claim towards making things equal must be a Trojan horse for something that benefits them. (Why would they assume that? Because that’s what they do.) The real liberal agenda is to put people in the wrong places on purpose. Boost liberal allies, hold back liberal opposition. You don’t want to break up the pyramid, you’re just trying to sneak someone else to the top.
A lot of conservative contradictions start to make sense through this lens. Of any issue, simply ask: does this distribute power, or consolidate it? If power flows up the hierarchy, they’re for it, if it flows down, they’re against it.
The thing about hierarchies is that they’re self-similar on many scales. If you’re in the middle, then you serve the king. Valar dohaeris [Valar dohaeris]. But, to everyone beneath you, you are the king. You’ve got a good job and a good wage, that gives you some power over people who don’t. And getting pissed at those above implies that those below have a right to be pissed at you. There’s a real anxiety that liberals want to make room for those people in the middle by putting conservatives at the bottom, and that those people will then treat conservatives the way conservatives treated them. Freedom, respect, and empathy are looked on as finite resources in a competitive marketplace just like jobs and scholarships.
No matter how much a conservative believes in “earning” one’s place, they have, always in the back of their mind, an image of what society should look like, and any discrepancy between imagination and observation must mean foul play. This feminist is too respected, this Black superhero is too popular, it can’t be because they’re worthy; someone must have put their hand on the scales. Someone got a freebie or played the race card or faked a scandal. This means, even though they claim the hierarchy is natural, what they will or won’t accept as legitimate is a gut feeling. If they like what they see, they take credit for it; if they don’t, it’s the Left’s fault. And what does it say about them that they see a bunch of white, male sharks and think, “Yeah, that’s authentic”?
Savvy viewers may be remembering another political philosophy that is hierarchical, undemocratic, built on nostalgia, and that likes to cloak its policies in progressive camouflage, and that’s the one from two videos ago: fascism. (ooooooohhhhhh golly) Now: I am not calling conservatives fascists. There are distinctions: Under fascism, the hierarchy is much, much less meritocratic, and the nostalgia is much, much older. However: conservative thinking is, at the very least, one that fascism maps more cleanly onto. Fascists appeal to this hierarchical mindset by portraying all of history as struggles between ethnic groups over who gets to be where. “Someone’s got to be at the bottom, white man. We’ll make sure it isn’t you.” You’ll find, throughout history, that fascist movements, though they often pick up dissidents from all over the political spectrum (the “Third Position,” for instance, is fascism for anti-capitalists), when they find purchase in a political party, it’s pretty much always the conservative party. Look at France, look at Brazil, look at here. Whether you want to interpret that as conservatives being uniquely susceptible to fascists, or diet fascism being another name for conservatism, I leave that up to you.
The most important thing to understand is that you cannot communicate with nor anticipate the behaviors of a conservative if you don’t understand what they believe. Which is hard, because they’re often in denial. You will never convince them to compromise on any attempt to break up the hierarchy, because even incremental change strikes them as revolutionary and they feel they’ve made too many concessions already. You will never get them, of their own free will, to agree to government regulation, because the government, as a democratic institution, is inherently unnatural. If you don’t like what a business is doing, you don’t regulate it, you take your money elsewhere. You should favor the capitalist solution, not the democratic one. (Also, when you vote with your dollar, people with more dollars get more votes.) They will never be onboard with aiding the poor in any systemic way, and will, instead, champion charity and crowdfunding, because minnows getting to eat should always be framed as a gift rather than a right. You may get individual conservatives to come around on some of these, but, as a body, they will never consent to any of it unless they can work it to their advantage or if you have leverage over them. They will sign on when denying progressivism costs them something, because few things terrify them more than slipping down the hierarchy [Also, Authoritarian followers place “being normal” substantially higher than most people do].
A good defense against fascism is to consciously, intentionally, think and act in democratic terms, because newsflash: we’re not actually lobsters. Neither of these systems is natural. They are choices we can make. I recommend this one, because egalitarian thinking is one thing Nazis are bad at infiltrating.
If you want to fight fascism, move left.