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Resisting My Would-Be Right-Wing Puppet Masters

As I explore t'other sides of the North American political divide, I will not join the Illuminazi

Forebody dark cloaked figure holding up a globe with a death's head skull and destruction in it; dark scary landscape with other globes
Whichever side you’re on, this is what the other side looks like. Image by 2541163 from Pixabay

Pretty sure my largely liberal-leaning friends are afraid I’m going to join the Illuminazi.

That fear is exemplified by the phenomenon of the far-right, Trumpy sort of conservative some former liberals suddenly become. I’ve seen it happen. People tend toward conservatism as they get older, but some go wildly overboard from the left to the far right.

A few left-leaning friends told me they’ve blocked friends who became super-Trumpy and anti-immigrant. I de-friended and blocked a Toronto Pagan acquaintance after the 2020 election because she wouldn’t stop harassing me on Facebook about the ‘unfairness’ of Trump’s loss. Then she harassed me with threatening phone calls until I left a screaming voice mail telling her I’d reported her to the police months ago and if I got another phone call I was going after her legally.

Do not fuck with Americans. We are heavily armed with lawyers we hate until we need one.

The weird thing is, I don’t see it in reverse. While some disgruntled U.S. conservatives left the Republican party after Bush II, or later Donald Trump, I don’t know of any who went from any-flavor-conservative to super-woke. Or even ‘liberal’. They’re just a less crazy flavor of conservative.

Maybe MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace, who describes herself as a former ‘self-loathing Republican’, although she may simply be a more moderate conservative - the kind we thought died with John McCain.

Still, both sides are suspicious of any member who leaves the political Purity Ball to socialize with t’other side.

Anyway, the Illuminazi doesn’t exist. And it’s multi-partisan and keeping an eye on you.

Jonathan Haidt and The Righteous Mind

Just about every political and social observer/critic I know has read Haidt’s highly influential book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion. I’ve read it twice and will surely read it again.

Haidt is a moral psychologist who explores the real reasons we believe the way we do—not the ones we think. He distinguishes between the ‘rider’ and the ‘elephant’, the conscious and the unconscious mind. The rider thinks s/he controls the elephant when in fact the elephant is running the show.

We make moral and political decisions believing them to be based on reason when in fact it’s our elephant’s snap decision based on our moral overview, which more often than not goes far more unchallenged than we think.

And then we ‘reason’ (i.e., engage in confirmation bias) our view.

Haidt distinguishes the conservative, liberal, and libertarian minds and how they generally tend to think, philosophize, and order their moral universe. He lists six moral foundations:

  • Care/harm

  • Fairness/cheating

  • Loyalty/betrayal

  • Authority/subversion

  • Sanctity/degradation

  • Liberty/oppression

To oversimplify a bit, conservatives and liberals value each foundation differently. Liberals care most about care/harm, liberty/oppression, and fairness/cheating, in that order.

Haidt divides conservatives further into two groups: Libertarianism and social conservatism.

Libertarians, he says, care the most about liberty/oppression, somewhat less for fairness/cheating, and don’t bother much with the other four. Haidt notes some have classified libertarians as both liberal (love of liberty/loathing for oppression) and conservative (their love for free markets, which is a mark, actually, of Enlightenment classical liberalism from which they descend).

Social conservatives, interestingly, value almost evenly all six foundations, with their most sacred value being the preservation of institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community.

Haidt offers his own opinion as to, given what he understands about moral psychology and each group’s level of commitment to each foundation, as to what a healthy mix of liberal/conservative/libertarian policy might look like, based on what he thinks each camp gets ‘right’, i.e., its strengths. Haidt, a former ‘lifelong liberal’, became frustrated with American liberals after watching John Kerry’s ‘ineffectual’ 2004 presidential campaign bid. It convinced him liberals simply “didn’t ‘get’ the morals and motives of their conservative countrymen,” and he resolved to use moral psychology to help liberals win.

Rainbow-coloured pyramid with the eye on the back of the dollar bill
The Illuminati from t’other side. Is it woke or is it MAGA? Image from Wallpaperflare

What he came to realize, instead, was that liberals didn’t have all the answers. They had some very good ones, but they also had some demonstrably bad ones. And he found the same with conservatives and libertarians.

‘Morality binds and blinds’, says Haidt, noting that, when attempting to answer a morality questionnaire imagining how the other political side might answer, liberals were the least accurate in predicting what the other side actually valued. Moderates and conservatives were more accurate in predicting liberal attitudes than vice versa, especially those targets who described themselves as ‘very liberal’. Liberals’ worst inaccuracies came while pretending to be conservatives responding to Care and Fairness questions. Republicans and conservatives, actually, were not the soulless, unimaginative creatures liberals assumed they were.

It’s how I know I haven’t been assimilated by the Illuminazi: I still find myself dehumanizing conservatives, but more recently, more the far right. It’s an evolution of rational morality, I believe, but the work isn’t done yet until I’m dehumanizing no one. Not even people with whom I vehemently disagree on almost everything. They’re still my fellow humans and <holding nose> fellow Americans, or Canadians.

Haidt’s journey from ‘partisan liberal’ included two turning points: Experiences in India conducting research in which he opened to the vision of broader moralities based on the ethics of community and divinity, and later by reading historian Jerry Muller’s book Conservatism. It distinguished for Haidt the difference between conservatism and orthodoxy, which relies on an external transcendent moral order on which to construct society (i.e, like religious fundamentalism or Communism).

Whereas true conservatives didn’t fight Enlightenment thinking and reasoning, but functioned within its main currents. They developed a reasoned and pragmatic approach, a utilitarian critique of Enlightenment. The line that turned the liberal crank away from liberal partisanship for Haidt was this line:

What makes social and political arguments conservative as opposed to orthodox is that the critique of liberal or progressive arguments takes place on the enlightened grounds of the search for human happiness based on the use of reason.

It led him to wonder whether perhaps conservatives did, in fact, have something to offer apart from what it seems to offer now: Science hostility, lack of concern for others and a brainless loyalty to established dogma.

Maybe those were the orthodox versus conservatives.

‘The fundamental blind spot of the left’

Haidt describes what he calls moral capital in comparison with the identification of social capital which swept the social sciences field in the 1990s. Social capital described what economists had given short shrift: The norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness between individuals. “When everything is equal,” Haidt notes, “a firm with more social capital will outcompete its less cohesive and less internally trusting competitors,” and adds that evolutionarily, multilevel selection shaped humans to be contingent cooperators. United they stood, divided they fell.

Social capital isn’t a partisan preference: Everyone recognizes the need for trustworthiness in others. But are trusting relationships enough?

If you believe humans are inherently good and will do the right thing when constraints and division are removed, as liberals tend to believe, it might work. But conservatives are concerned with ‘free riders’, those that coast with others without contributing much themselves. Conservatives believe we need constraints in the form of rules, laws, legislation, traditions, and customs to preserve the health and integrity of groups, otherwise people will engage in behaviors and actions designed primarily to benefit themselves.

(I believe this is what’s happening with the left’s too-easy embrace of declaring one’s self a woman, which has resulted in numerous, documented cases of sexual predators infiltrating women’s protective spaces.)

Then there’s moral capital - the resources that sustain a moral community. Moral capital, he extrapolates, is

the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.

This could be a religious community, a gay neighborhood, or a commune. What Haidt found in relation to communes - at least those which survive for decades, versus those that fail fairly quickly - will disturb many liberals. He found that communes valuing self-expression (liberal value) over conformity (conservative), and tolerance (liberal) over loyalty (conservative) will probably attract new members more easily, but with lower moral capital, will be less likely to endure than the commune that suppresses or regulates selfishness via conformity and loyalty.

Now expand that to the social macroscosm, like a nation.

This may explain why the left can’t seem to accomplish its goals as easily as the right, as exemplified by the Democrats and Republicans. The rigorous, almost militaristic conformity demanded by Republican leadership of the rest of their Congressional army is appalling to those of us with liberal mindsets, but it’s hard to argue: They get shit done. They destroyed Roe v. Wade. They effectively prevent controlling gun violence.

The Democrats, meanwhile, waste time with too much emphasis on ‘rights’ for marginalized groups, including trans-activists angling for women’s rights—but for men—the least marginalized of all—claiming to be women, not actual biological women. How soon do you think the Dems will return abortion rights? I’m guessing longer than the 49 years it took to destroy them.

Haidt identifies the inability of liberals to consider the effects of moral capital changes on organizations and societies as ‘the fundamental blind spot of the left’. He believes it’s why liberal reforms so often backfire and why communist revolutions pretty much always end in despotism (and, I would add, bearing a strong resemblance to fascist governments).

But conservatives make moral capital mistakes too. He notes,

Conversely, while conservatives do a better job of preserving moral capital, they often fail to notice certain classes of victims, fail to limit the predations of certain powerful interests, and fail to see the need to change or update institutions as times change.

Which leads to periodic financial collapse, uprisings, rebellions, and revolutions. ‘Let them eat caviar’.

(Maybe it’s time to rethink the Bible as a government tool, folks.)

How might a more politically balanced society look?

I have to skip an awful lot of context and background in Haidt’s work to communicate the greatest strengths of real (not extremist) liberalism, conservatism, and libertarianism. Haidt’s identified strengths:

  • Governments can and should restrain corporate superorganisms.

    • Haidt describes corporations as literal superorganisms; like life forms that have come to dominate their preferred niches, change their ecosystems and marginalize or eliminate their competition, so too, he says, have corporations become literal superorganisms. He notes the left utilizes the only force left to challenge the largest corporations: National governments, which can still tax, regulate, and break up corporations when they get too powerful. You won’t find many conservatives or libertarians on board with that.

  • Some problems really can be solved by regulation

    • Liberals correctly embrace, he says, another taboo of the social conservatives and libertarians: Regulation. Some problems really can be solved by it, he says, and argues that successful Democratic regulation to eliminate the harmful fumes emitted by leaded gasoline in the 1970s put an end to the retardation of neural development in millions of children (if you were born after 1973 you are almost certainly a few IQ points higher than your parents). Conservative Ronald Reagan tried to reverse that, of course, since corporate superorganisms complained regulation was getting in the way of what was truly important: Obscene profits. Fun fact: Gasoline suppliers could have eliminated lead in gasoline decades prior to 1973 but not doing to saved them .03/gallon.

Libertarianism & Conservatism:
  • Markets are miraculous

    • When you don’t have to take price into account for something you consume - like healthcare - prices spiral, which is how American healthcare has come to the $629 Band-Aid. The working market beloved by libertarians is the best answer, rather a lot, Haidt points out, the way food prices and LASIK surgery function. If you think food prices are high now, be glad we don’t have ‘food insurance’ like we do health insurance. When food prices hurt us we stop buying certain types of food. I’ve stopped buying quarts of ‘egg beaters’, which have doubled in price in a year from $4 to $8/carton, which lasts about a week and a half, in favor of oatmeal, a big bag of which lasts about six weeks and also costs $8. I’ll probably never buy egg beaters again, not even at $4. And LASIK surgery, Haidt points out, isn’t covered by insurance, so competition has driven down prices around 80%. Libertarians’ love affair with ‘spontaneous order’ which happens when people can make their own choices, since they bear both the costs and benefits, is more utilitarian than the liberal response to interfere in the markets, which can cause a helluva lot of harm. (Free market healthcare won’t solve everything; we still need a pooled healthcare system, but not for absolutely everything).

  • You can’t help the bees by destroying the hive

    • Liberals hate exclusion, and implement a ‘big tent’ for victims of oppression and marginalization. Make no mistake; these groups, a subset of bees in the hive if you will, really do need help, but not to the extent of damaging the hive. Because here’s the problem: Political scientist Robert Putnam, co-author with David Campbell of the book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, found that being more religious made people more generous and charitable than those who didn’t customarily take part in religious services. Religious folk gave as much to secular charities as religious ones. (There’s that compassion liberals love so much! Whoda thunk it?) Putnam and Campbell found that how involved religionists were with their co-religionists supported a moral matrix that emphasized selflessness, and brought out the best in them.

      • Haidt notes that Putnam describes diverse people, the liberal dream, as tending towards turtling, or withdrawing from their community, rather than hiving as Haidt describes it, working as a community toward the greater good, with bridging capital, which encourages trust between groups, and bonding capital, which refers to the trust within groups. Liberals stand against oppression and exclusion, and as a result push for changes that reduce group cohesiveness, traditions, institutions and moral capital. Emphasizing differences, he says, makes many people more racist, not less. [All italics mine].

      • In other words, liberals are trying to help a subset of bees who need help, and destroy the world in order to save it. Or the hive. Whatever.

Silhouette of a man with devil's horns and angel wings walking against a backdrop of dark, red & white sky (like hellfire) and shooting stars
mage by Alex Hernández from Pixabay

Loving Wagner, even if he was an anti-Semite

And this is why I’m not worried about joining the Illuminazi, even if my remaining friends fear for my immortal soul.

I don’t know why some people turn their backs on liberalism (which has plenty going for it) and run as though from a fire to hard-right conservatism (which has little to recommend it).

Becoming a bit more conservative, or moving away from crazy-conservative? I understand both. Just as I prefer level-headed liberalism to ‘woke jobs’.

I encourage my fellow rational-minded friends and acquaintances - regardless of political creed - to explore the ‘other sides’. Whether it’s liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism or some permutation of all, which probably most of us are— it won’t necessarily turn them into trans-flag-waving, dreadlocked, overly-inclusive Illuminazis, or red-capped xenophobic gun crazies.

Walk among Them and see if they’re the evil monsters we’ve believed them to be.

Never mind what they think about drag queens, gun laws or Confederate flags. As Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh encouraged, find your common ground. We all have to agree on something. Without being a big fan of Hitler, he and I would probably get along if all we talked about is the awesomeness of dogs.

We could agree on composer and anti-Semite Richard Wagner, who wrote phenomenal music I can listen to without goose-stepping to the grocery store.

Don’t care the Founding Fathers owned slaves. Don’t care that Jefferson’s ‘affair’ with Sally Hemings might not have been as consensual as presented in more romantic histories. It doesn’t negate his incredible, Enlightened brain, nor that of his compatriots. I respect and love their fighting spirit (in true liberal fashion) and their rebellion against oppression (along with libertarians) and the need to keep checks and balances on human affairs and government (in service to conservative values).

Imperfect, slave-owning white guys uprooted Greek democracy from a plain in Athens, dusted off nearly two millennia of neglect, and brought an anti-monarchical model to the Western world, which benefits all of us today, no matter who we are.

Long shot photo of the Athens hill pointed out to me on tour where democracy, and the first vote, was born.
It all started on that hill over to the left, a short distance from the Acropolis. One vote for each citizen. 6,000 votes minimum for a legal election. Then it died, and no one saw it again until the mid-1770s.

Oh, and those same slave-owning white guys were the first in thousands of years to question whether it was truly moral to own slaves, to consider abolishing the institution (eventually, with a lot of bloodshed, sweat and tears), and then pressure the rest of the world to abandon it too. (Other parts of the world were resistant, especially Africa).

You’re welcome!

The world isn’t pure, and no group, culture, nation, or human being is morally pure.

If I look like I’ve ‘gone Republican’, it’s because some are too mired in their own constipated liberal worldview to recognize what ‘moderate liberalism’ looks like.

If I look like I’m a ‘screaming wokie’ because I actually do care about lifting up still-marginalized groups, it speaks more to my critics’ moral tunnel vision than it does about me.

I’m pro-religion, while recognizing that religions all must have boundaries, including those set by outsiders, since they tend to turn oppressive and imperialist if they don’t.

I can safely assume ‘my side’ doesn’t have all the answers, but that it does, in fact, have some very good ones, and that means so, too, do other social/political models.

What if we did what the truly orthodox despise, and pick ‘n’ choose what’s best from each, i.e., ‘salad bar’ ideology?

When I walk among the ‘woke’ at Toronto’s Pride festival in a few more weeks, it will be to learn. Not to start fights, but to figure out how we can better speak with those with whom we strongly disagree (for me, it’s mostly about what I consider the negative impact of transactivism on a movement I’ve otherwise wholeheartedly supported). Maybe try out some new discussion methodologies I’ve been reading about.

The Freedom Convoy has left Ottawa, so I might have to consult Twitter to find righty extremists I don’t like much.

It’s a political adventure, and I will not be consumed by the Illuminazi.

On either side. I promise.

Fantasy painting of a long woman on a cliff holding up her arms in challenge to a huge lion baring its teeth at her
Facing the Beast. It probably won’t kill you, I swear it. Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a post!




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