Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Conservatives' main issues aren't conservative issues

Consider the word "conservative." It comes from the verb "to conserve." It means being slow to adopt new, untried ideas/practices. It means valuing our traditions highly. It means being level-headed and practical, not hot-headed and theoretical.

That doesn't mean it was "liberal" to declare war on Japan the day after Pearl Harbor--in that case our hand was forced. Likewise it wasn't "liberal" to end WWII with a new weapon, given the extraordinary circumstances of that moment.

Now consider the conservative hot-button issues in play today:

1. Homosexual marriage

 Certainly there is no tradition of homosexual marriage in America (or anywhere else to my knowledge).
However, there is also no such thing as "the gay lifestyle" as the term is bandied about in conservative circles, because homosexuality is not a choice. It's something you're born with. There is no scientific evidence to indicate otherwise. As the large-scale research study reported on in the 1979 book "Love and Limerance" (1979) found, though a small of minority of people engage in sex with both sexes, people only fall in love with people of one gender. So no one is bi-romantic, so to speak.

This means that the percentage of people who are homosexual neither increases nor decreases according to how much the so-called "gay lifestyle" is accepted or sanctioned.

So "gay marriage," whether it's legal or not, is a blip statistically, because so few people are born homosexual--probably less than 2% of the population. The children of conservatives who are not born homosexual will not become homosexual even if they're taught by homosexual teachers preaching homosexuality throughout their schooling, even if your neighbors are all homosexual couples. The children raised by homosexual couples are no more likely to become homosexual than anyone else's children.

So it just doesn't matter, one way or another, in any practical, conservative terms.The energy expended on this issue is ridiculous in denotatively conservative terms. That is, it's a major distraction from genuine conservative issues like the national debt.

2. Gun control

In 1776 it took at least half a minute to reload a gun unless it had two barrels. Accuracy was iffy at any real distance--especially with anything but rifles, and rifles with yard-long barrels at that. Even the Civil War, 85 years later, was largely fought with muskets.

This means that modern weaponry has a level of power, accuracy and volume of fire utterly unknown to the people who wrote the Constitution, including the Second Amendment.

So the Right's fanatical support for virtually unrestricted modern handguns and rifles is anything but conservative. It represents a radical experiment, promoted not so much by the NRA as by the gun manufacturers who keep in the shadows but who utterly control and direct the NRA.

3. Abortion

The Bible says nothing about abortion. In fact, the Bible only mentions that babies don't get any rights as people until they've survived 30 days out of the womb--very practical in ancient times. So while the technology needed to do safe, practical family planning--from contraception to abortion--is relatively is opposition to it.

So it wouldn't be conservative to instantly embrace abortion rights--but is also isn't conservative to invent a level of humanity that fertilized eggs don't have, or of misinterpreting sonograms to imagine that fetuses are little men and women, contrary to all scientific evidence about fetal development.

In fact this extreme reaction to abortion is less conservative than it is, well, ..reactionary. Which you might describe as conservatism morphing into a mixture of panic and rage.

It's not conservative to get into a froth--even over things that are important to you.

4. Science

Partisans of every stripe treat truth instrumentally, depending on whether it advances or retards their agenda. Liberals, for example, deny science when it comes to things like overpopulation and race, and (in Europe especially) genetically modified foods, and also nuclear power (new smaller-sized reactors represent a miniscule fraction of the risk of the big Fukushima-scale ones). People who call themselves conservatives do the same over overpopulation and environmentalism and man-caused global warming in particular.

Not that they should be all-out tree-huggers, but it has become a right wing reflex to just automatically take the side of Exxon Corporation and the Koch Brothers--no coincidence, given the efforts they've made to accomplish just that. It's amazing to see people who call themselves conservative oppose conservation, and in doing so to completely dismiss the validity of science and scientists. Or to think they can treat science on an a la carte basis.

It's the resurgence of an unapologetic, confrontational anti-intellectualism that shows how uneducated at least half the country is.

And to the point of this essay, it's hardly conservative to reject out of hand conclusions that scientists have spent many years of research and analysis and peer debate to arrive at. It seems that in today's conservative (self-described) movement, business and religious authorities are accepted credulously, while academic authorities would be lucky to be treated with skepticism instead of contemptuous dismissal wrapped in accusations of "liberal bias" and a worldwide conspiracy to cook the date to get grant money.

It's the kind of reaction I'd expect from English villagers in the Middle Ages, not modern Americans.

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