Wednesday, May 4, 2011

General Criticism of Moral Politics

So far, I've discussed in my last two posts my issues with Moral Politics and its handling of Libertarianism.  There is a far more general, larger problem with the book, however.  Although the author exposes his political bias both at the beginning and at the end of his work, even without his explicit acknowledgement, it would be fairly obvious.

He is right to repeatedly use the disclaimer that he is speaking of "central" cases, and that there is such a thing as an "ideal case."  His bias, however, clearly affects what he views as both the central and ideal cases of the Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models of family values, which lead to certain moral worldviews, and thus, certain political worldviews.

In particular, his view of the nurturant parent model seems much more central, and ideal, than what he points to as the real, central case of the strict father parenting model.

The style of parenting which he calls strict father parenting, and which he points to as a large part of his reasoning for being liberal, would seem extreme to many strict parents.  In fact, he debunks with the idea of strict father parenting (and thus, conservative politics) largely by quoting the religious right in their parenting manuals which support physical punishment, often extreme physical punishment, and then citing research which shows the negative long term affects of physical punishment.

Many conservative, traditional, or otherwise strict families believe in and use strict parenting, without physical contact, and certainly without abusive physical contact.  Many strict families also do not value the maintenance of moral order over all other values.  The most obvious example that came to mind reading this section is a severe, and troubling one.  Would most traditional families really punish a female child for accusing an older male relative of molesting and/or raping her?  While this is a common fear of many victims, that they will be accused of lying, or blamed for the attack, very few parents, if they believed their daughters, would punish her for speaking out.  According to the image painted in Moral Politics all strict father parents would.

Moreover, I can tell you, that while there were certainly nurturant aspects of my upbringing, being raised by my mother who worked a lot of hours, in a big city, it was mostly strict parent child rearing.  I was spanked once, when I was three.  But I was punished for breaking the rules.  I was allowed to debate with my mother, and to ask questions, or ask for exceptions to rules.  But, for example, when I was in high school, my curfew was generally 10 p.m.  If I wanted to go to a concert that didn't end until 12, meaning I would get home at around 1 a.m., I could ask my mother.  I could explain it was a band I really wanted to see.  I could tell her I would be right home after the concert.  Sometimes she would agree, sometimes she wouldn't.  When she didn't, 10 p.m. it was.  I was home at 10, and I knew that there would be consequences to my actions if I was not.  Never physical violence, but punishment.

Although I was only spanked once, I was often disciplined, even in public.  I was taught manners very early.  Keep in mind that I did not grow up in Las Vegas, but in the more temperate Midwest.  If I misbehaved at a restaurants, my parents would warn me once.  If I couldn't behave appropriately for a restaurant, I wouldn't eat in a restaurant.  If I continued fidgeting, running around, crying, playing with my food, throwing a tantrum, or whatever other inappropriate behavior I had engaged in, they would take me to the car, roll down the windows a bit, and lock me in until our food came.  They would then ask for the food to go, and we would eat it at home.  This was obviously a punishment for disobeying them, as well as disobeying society's norms, or "the moral order."  It was not physical agression.

I was not allowed to eat dessert if I didn't finish my main meal.  If I was bad, I went to bed early and without watching TV.  If I broke something at school, I paid for it out of my allowance and was not allowed to go out and use my allowance for anything fun until it was paid for.  None of these sound like nurturant parent parenting to me.  Yet, only once was a finger lifted in disciplining me.  And it was not by the more active parent in my childhood.

I would argue that most conservatives, or even liberals and moderates who believe in strict father child raising, had similar experiences.  We were respected, and allowed a voice in the family discussion.  But when our parents made up their minds, we knew they meant it.  They were the boss.  And we knew there would be immediate, non-negotiable punishment for disobeying them.  A strict parent can be strict without being physically violent.  This simple reality invalidates most of the author's arguments in favor of liberalism.

Finally, to look at the biased and unfair treatment of these two systems by the author, we need only look at the titles he has given the two models.  They are loaded with moral judgment for the liberal, or even modern, reader.  The idea of a "Strict Father" parenting model screams sexism.  "Nurturant Parent" on the other hand points toward an egalitarian, PC, modern-style family arrangement.  The reality is that "parents" can be strict, and "fathers" can be nurturant.

Lakoff presents an interesting way of looking at politics, but perhaps because politics and political science are not his specialty, his bias is obvious throughout the book, inhibiting him from providing a truly balanced view using his paradigm.

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