Daily Dose: Politics are about what is moral...or why hate and Trump face bipartisan rejection

August 16, 2017

In light of Republicans abandoning Trump like rats off a sinking ship, it seemed appropriate to address how intrinsically moral behavior transcends political affiliation, and how that fact provides a tremendous opportunity for progressives.


As background, there are a couple of simple facts about the vast majority of people and how they think and act. First, everyone thinks with their brain, which evolved to run a very complex body. As such, you are unaware of the overwhelming majority of what your brain does - conservatively about 97% of your brain activity is unconscious. Part of this unconscious activity is how you perceive the world (and act in it) through cognitive frames. In terms of politics, and much of life, there are two active frames - progressive (based on empathy for others and community) and conservative (based on an authoritarian hierarchy and self-interest).


Here's what's important about that in terms of politics - virtually everyone has BOTH frames embodied in their brain. It is perfectly natural for people to act through the progressive frame in one moment (showing that you care for other people as yourself), and act through the conservative frame in the next (as a parent often must to protect their child). While one frame may be dominant, both exist. Though only one may be active at a time thanks to "mutual inhibition." George Lakoff often jokes about how most people have "Saturday night and Sunday morning" moralities present. We call this "biconceptual" - both frames present, and it is natural and healthy. What is unhealthy is the complete absence of empathy. Which brings us to hate and nazis.


In the context of this knowledge, consider that all politics are moral. Every person who serves in elected office BELIEVES that what they are doing is moral. And all political action and policy fits one of the two frames. Since most people are "biconceptual", they have the capacity for empathy (progressive). It is a scientific fact that we evolved and succeeded as a species largely due to our empathy. It is also a sociological fact that we need the connection empathy brings with others. 


Since politics are moral, we are now witnessing an unprecedented (in recent times) evoking of empathy from Republicans as a response to the outright authoritarian, hierarchical actions of hate from extremists. Consider statements from The Guardian today, made by prominent Republicans which evoke the concept of caring for others (empathy):


George H.W. and W. Bush: “As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.”


Lindsey Graham: “Mr President, I encourage you to try to bring us together as a nation after this horrific event in Charlottesville,” he said. “Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them.”


General Mark Milley (Chief of Staff, US Army): “The army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775,”


The moral outrage and counter to the hatred for people being spewed by Trump and others is based on one thing - our human instinct to care for others, and our understanding that empathy makes us more successful and prosperous as a nation, society, and species. 


Critical at this time for progressives is to understand the moral systems as described above, and be consistent in meeting hatred and fear by demonstrating love and empathy. People can be cognitively influenced through repetition and consistency. How do you think conservatives got so dominant in public discourse and politics? We are literally at a moment when we can create a more progressive future for everyone, and we can bring along many people who consider themselves "conservative" (but are really "biconceptual" suppressed progressive), to understand how caring for each other's freedom and prosperity is a strong, brave, and American value!

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