Lesson 47- Todays Liberals are Tomorrows Conservatives
Well, I guess by now that some of you are tired of hearing about the Normal Curve since I have spent my last three programs on it. However, I cant emphasize enough the impact and importance that this unit has for the students that I teach. They have grown up in a culture which constantly tells them that moral decisions are personal, subjective, and related their feelings. As a result, todays children have no moral compass to point them in the right direction and, therefore , they have no idea how to make a moral decision. They either follow the crowd, which very often is being led by the modern Pied Pipers in the entertainment and media industry or they become slaves to their own impulses. Consequently, their lives become a constant repetition of play now and pay later and, unfortunately, the prices for their mistakes is much higher than it was for my generation because their temptations involve options with greater and more lasting consequences.
We smoked cigarettes, they smoke pot . We got drunk, they get hooked on drugs. We violated moral laws, felt guilty, and sought Gods forgiveness and graces through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they violate the same moral laws, feel normal and see no need for repentance and reform. We felt social pressures opposing our chaotic impulses, they feel social pressures urging them to surrender to the same chaotic impulses.
No matter how you cut it, the teenager years are volatile and difficult for all generations, especially in the area of sex, but todays young people are faced with difficulties and dangers that my generation were spared simply because the norms, even when violated, pulled us in the right direction and our failures were closer to the expected norm. When we sinned, we knew that we were missing the mark and vowed that we would try harder the next time and the consequence was that many of us either reached the norm or, if we failed, we failed within the range of tolerance.
In the 1960s, those who attacked our norms did so because they didnt understand how norms worked or what their purpose was. Ironically, they, who often claimed there were no absolutes attacked the existing norms because they failed to be absolutes. There argument often went something like this. Your norms are no good because they are so idealistic that many people violate them. Therefore we should change them to a level of expectation which is more consistent with what people do.
There is a flaw in this reasoning which my high school students detect immediately. I say them, Suppose that the speed limit is 55 miles per hour, but the police inform the government that many driver are breaking the law by driving 60 miles per hour. Therefore they recommend that in order to get total or greater conformity, the speed limit should be changed to 60 miles per hour. What do you think will be the effect? The students, without hesitation, say that the effect will be that people will now deviate from the new norm just as they deviated from the old norm and now many will be doing 65 miles per hour instead of 60.
The students knew intuitively that nobody ever got more by expecting less and those who think that lowering a norm, which is simply an expectation, will increase conformity, dont understand human nature or how norms function. Total conformity is an ideal, deviation is a reality, and the criteria for success is based on statistical probability not on absolute compliance.
In many ways, humans acting in groups are very similar to the school of fish which I described in one of my previous talks. You might remember that I told of a study by scientists which tried to determine how thousands of fish swimming in a school were able to change direction almost instantaneously. Was there some kind of signal or order given by a master-sergeant fish that, like an army platoon, informed the other fish when to change direction? What the study revealed was that school of fish was acting like a mathematical formulae based on statistical probability. Although the overwhelming majority of the fish were swimming in the same direction, on the outer edge of the school, there were individual fish who were deviating all the time. This occurred whenever they took their eyes off of the school. As they deviated from the general direction of the school, two things might happen. First, they might get a slight distance from the school and suddenly realize that they were all alone and quickly return to the group, thereby canceling out their deviation. Second, other fish in back of them might be distracted by their deviation and begin to follow them. The larger the deviating group became, the greater was its pull on the entire school until, when the pull became so strong, it appeared to the naked eye that the whole school was now swimming in a new direction.
However, once again, on the outer fringe of the group, there were deviants who were capable of pulling the school in still another new direction. I called this phenomena the Fish Effect and compared it to what sociologists call Peer or Social Pressure.
If you think that this only happens to fish in school and that we are free of this type of pull consider the times that you have been in a group in which the speaker asked those present to raise their hands to indicate whether they were in favor or opposed to a particular position on an issue. Unless those present had a very definite position on the issue, you would see that most people looked around them to see who else is raising his or her hand. Suddenly, one hand goes up, which seems to create a pull on those sitting closest to that person, suddenly another and another and another hand goes up. It is very difficult to keep you own hand down, especially if you have a weak opinion about the issue, when everybody elses hand is up. Many of us who think that we always think for ourselves may be fooling ourselves. Try, as a liberal, defending a conservative position in a liberal group or, as a conservative, defending a liberal position in a conservative group. The pressure of the group will be applied to you and only the strong minded can resist the pressure.
Year ago, there was a 60 Minutes program which highlighted a feminist professor who, although she supported the feminist movement, dare to deviate from the party line on certain issues. She attended a feminist conference which was being chaired by Gloria Steinan, a leading feminist who fought to have feminist issues recognized and discussed by the larger society. Of course, her argument was that every one should have the freedom to speak their own mind. However, as the chairperson at this feminist conference, she refused to give any recognition to the rebel feminist because she knew that she was going to challenge their sacred beliefs and premises. When the ignored feminist tried to speak from her seat without being recognized, she was shouted down and drowned out by the attendees.
Any one who thinks that liberals are really liberal doesnt really know or understand human nature. All groups, liberal, conservative, or otherwise, will defend their identity and norms by attacking any one or any thing that threatens them. In fact, we could even state that there is a Law of Identity which says that anyone who does not defend his/her identity will soon lose it. Our own bodies follow this law through the operation of our immune system which is designed to attack anything that is foreign to the bodys identity. When this system fails, as it does when people contract the AIDS virus, foreign bodies are able to invade and multiply within the body. Eventually, the identity of the body is compromised and it dies. By the same token, the Super Tolerance which is fostered by liberal forces is a form of Sociological Aids because it attempt to neutralize our resistance to ideas and values which attack our moral identity by telling us that we are narrow minded and intolerant people who dont appreciate other peoples point of view.
This is an insidious ploy used by those who are on the outside looking in which will quickly change once they succeed in establishing their own norms. Once they are on the inside looking out, you will soon discover their lack of tolerance for any deviation from their views. Take for example, the phenomena of political correctness which in the colleges, businesses, and entertainment media has dictated what one is allowed to say, think, or express. People have lost jobs and destroyed their careers by a slip of the tongue which offended the new morality. For example, when the new norms became established the F word was in but the N word was out.
Now, this is not a defense of either word. It merely illustrates that norms may change but the human beings in back of them remain the same and the same techniques used by the in group to force the out group to conform will be used by the out group once they succeed in becoming the in group.
What this teaches us is that if your norms and values are not defended, they will be replaced by others norms and values which are defended. It just as Jesus warned: I wish that you were hot or cold but because you are lukewarm, I will vomit you out of mouth. In other words, the worst thing, from the point of view of the Lord of Life, is for anyone to remain neutral because neutrality or apathy counts for nothing in the drama of life. To take a position, any position, and defend it will evoke a counter response in others which is necessary for finding the truth because, as the philosopher Hegel said, any good idea pushed too far becomes a bad idea. Thus the truth is a union of opposites which requires opposing forces to keep it in balance.
Thus, both liberals and conservatives are necessary for a good society because they each perform a valuable function. Conservatives preserve what is good in the past; liberal push for improvements in the future. Conservatives without liberals would never change and society would never progress beyond the existing system. In other words, society would never see any reason to repent and reform and, as the Bible says, we all have sinned and are in need of repentance and reform. However, liberals without conservatives will never stop and nothing would ever stabilize. In other words, change, instead of being progressive, would become chaotic.
Thus, we might say that conservatives are the designated protectors of ORDER and liberals are the designated forces of CHANGE OR FREEDOM and, as long as each of them assume their rightful role in society, society will experience orderly change which grows organically out of its basic identity. However, if either of them fails to perform their role properly, the survival of the society is threatened because either one taken to an extreme becomes a danger. This might even be a Natural Law because, according to the First Law of Motion, a body at rest which is what a conservative is like, will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force. The Second Law of Motion is at body in motion, which is what a liberal is, will remain in motion until it meets a counter force. Thus, even Gods physical Laws of Nature seem to support this idea of the existence of opposing forces which may be necessary to keep things in balance. We might recognize this as the Laws of Competition upon which the natural balances in nature rest and which is also the basis for the Capitalistic system. Ill have a lot more to say about this later.
What I want to emphasize now is that the end result of this dialectical process between two opposing forces is a third thing which is the resulting effect of their interaction. We might call it the synthesis and thereby indicate that there is a blending or balancing of these two forces. In the political and social realm, we might call this group the Moderates who perform the most valuable function of all. It is their job of maintaining the balance resulting from the conflict between the opposing forces by synthesizing what is good in the conservative position with what is good in the liberal position and to reach a conclusion which is the midpoint between the two. In other words, they are very much like the Norm in the Normal Curve which is the midpoint between two. In fact, it is the Moderates who, when things work correctly, that are suppose to create a modified norm that is an improvement upon the previous norm.
However, even though conservative and liberal forces perform important and necessary functions, they are not equal in value or importance because, we could say with some justification, that todays liberals are tomorrows conservatives.
Anyone who has studied history knows that many of our sacred conservative positions of today began as revolutionary movements and were initially opposed by conservative forces. Thats what conservative forces are suppose to do. Its their job.
For example, Capitalism, an economic system based on profit and competition, was initially opposed as being anti-religious and anti-God because Christianity in the beginning was closer to communal cooperation than to private competition. Now, conservative Christians defend it as though it is part of our sacred tradition and, to the extent that it supports private ownership, it is.
Thus, liberals, are really conservatives or sheep in wolfs clothing because although they look like they want to destroy order what they really want to do is to either establish their own order or become integrated into the existing order. And once they succeed, they immediately become conservative and begin to oppose all change. Therefore, since the ultimate aim of all movements is to become conservative, we might conclude that conservatives are more important than liberal because, whereas liberalism is a passing phase, conservativism is the normal phase. This might be expressed by saying that we need conservatives to exist and liberals to develop and since existence is a necessary precondition for development, it is more basic and essential.
Will Durant, a famous historian, who lived to be over ninety years of age, said that the one thing that he learned after spending most of his long life studying history was that When freedom, which is the cry of the liberal, destroys order, which is the cry of the conservative, the need for order will destroyed freedom. What he was thinking of was all the revolutionary movements in history, such as the French Revolution, which began demanding freedom and ended up as dictatorships in which the revolutionaries resorted to force to impose their on will and system of those who didnt agree. So dont be fooled by revolutionaries who claim that it is all about freedom and choice! That is the battle cry while the conflict rages but conformity and control will replace it when the battle is won.
Therefore, those who excuse themselves from the Cultural War that is presently raging over norms and values are the lukewarms people that Jesus is referring to in His statement. Because of their apathy, they are destined to live under the control of which ever system wins the war.
By defending the traditional norms, while accepting reasonable reforms which didnt threaten the integrity of these norms, they would have been a balancing force on an aggressive and runaway liberalism which, left unchecked, will push the envelope, as far as it can. But, by their silence and lack of moral backbone, they give silent assent to whatever changes are brought about by those who pushed their own agenda with more vigor.
But they might ask, How did I cooperate with these changes which I now oppose? The best answer that I can give is a section from a poem by Yeats which I have quote in previous programs. He wrote it concerning revolutionary times:
Things fall apart the center can no hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the earth
The best lack all conviction
And the worst are full of passionate intensity
The center refers to those moderate forces which stand between the arch conservatives who wont or cant move and the radical liberals, who wont or cant stop. Thus, they alone are able to reform the present system without violating its basic identity. In other words, they dont, in the name of reform, understanding or tolerance, give away the store. They know how to make reasonable concessions to liberal reformers and, at the same time, they know where to draw the line. For example, they know how to treat gay people with love and respect without changing the basic concept of sex and marriage. Like Jesus, they are able to defend the adulterous woman from the hypocritical crowd without supporting her adultery.
I remember once talking to a professor from a local Catholic university about what another professor had told me concedrning his own experience at a number of Catholic colleges and universities where he had taught. He had told me that the favorite past time of many of the liberal professors was to mock and criticize the Pope as an old fogey who was out of touch with the modern world. The professor with whom I was talking looked at me with a puzzled look which indicated to me that he had either heard this criticism or might even agree with it. He asked me what my opinion was about the Pope. I said, So long as the conservatives think that he has gone too far and the liberals think that he hasnt gone far enough, then he is exactly where he should be.
The Church has survived for over two thousand years because it knows the secret of organic growth which allows an organization to change without losing its identity in the same way that we go through the changes from infancy to adulthood while still remaining the same person.
In Yeats poem, the line which says that the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity is very appropriate for our own times in which the moderates in the center have chosen to become a Silent Majority while radicals have become the Roaring Minority. And, as a result, minority positions are being implemented through law and custom into our culture with hardly a whimper of opposition.
But what can we do, some of you might be saying? Well, if felt as deeply about our values as the opposition feels about their values, we could demonstrate, as those who picket abortion clinics do, write our Congressmen or the business corporations which support offensive programs with their advertising dollars. For example, when the United Way decided to deny the Boy Scout any funding because of their policy of excluding actively gay Scout Leaders and Scouts, I called and wrote them to tell them that I would not donate any money to their organization so long as they used their economic power to twist the arm of a private organization to force them to accept something that was in opposition to their identity.
However, even if one is not inclined to this type of action, there are other ways that one can take a stand in this battle over norms and standards. If you cant be a soldier, then support those who can with your money. Every month I contribute money to those organizations, such as the American Center for Law and Justice which is the Christian counterpart to the ACLU, the National Right to Life, C-Fam which is a Catholic watchdog organization at the United Nations and many others who are on the front lines in this battle. And what about Dom Letteri who for years has been trying to Wake Up America to the gathering threat.
If you cant do this, then the very least that you can do is to listen to the Church when it tells you to refuse to support those candidates who support positions which are morally offensive to our Christian norms. At the present moment, it is obvious to the political community that the hierarchy of the Church has little or no influence on how Catholics will vote and, as a result, they ignore the Catholic position on many issue. Can you blame them? How can a Catholic vote for any political party that has the right to abortion as a permanent plank in its national platform?
I like to conclude this program by mentioning one more result connected to the fish experiment that I have mentioned.
As I previously said, those fish on the outer edge of the school who began to deviate by swimming in a different direction, became frightened when they realize that nobody was following and they returned to the school. The scientists decided to remove from one of the fish, the area of the brain where the fear was located that caused it to return to the group when it discovered that it was swimming by itself. To their amazement, the fish became a dictator which led the school wherever it wanted to go. Without any fear, doubt, or uncertainty, it became very assertive as to where it wanted to swim and the other fish, full of fear, doubt, and uncertainty, became attracted to it like a magnet. Strong willed people often have the same effect upon us.
One of the magnetic draws of Hitler was the fact that he always seemed so sure and certain of what he was doing. Thus, his assertive personality drew other people to his cause because it overcame their fear, doubt, and uncertainty. In the last days of World War II, when Russian and Allied forces were already overrunning the streets of Berlin, one of his top aides, who was in the bunker with him, said that Hitler had convinced them that they could still win the war. This aide said that Hitlers personality had the power of energizing them to accomplish whatever he willed. It wasnt until Hitler committed suicide that their optimism drained.
One of the psychological techniques that he used and recommended to others was the Big Lie. In the face of truth, he said, tell the most outrageous lie even though all the evidence and reality contradicted it. The more outrageous it was, the more other more rational people would say, He must be telling the truth because no one would say such an outrageous thing if it wasnt somehow true. He also said that the people, meaning most of us, dont want the freedom to choose because we are too weak and confused to make a choice. Rather, he said, they are like a woman who prefers a strong man who dominates her to a weak man who always gives in. Another aide said that he had the power of imposing his vision of reality on you. Maybe Hitler knew some of the darker areas of the human heart which we hide even from ourselves. When was the last time that any of us convinced ten million people to follow us to the death?
My point is this: todays conception of radical individualism which theorizes that we are all independent units capable of making up our own minds on all the various issues involved in life is wrong. Instead, the Fish Effect or Peer Pressure say that we are all part of groups which exert pressure on us to conform and, he who controls the group, controls the direction of society and the direction that society takes will ultimately determine its fate.
Therefore, if you are a betting person, and you are betting on how human beings will behave in any given situation, bet on group conformity rather than on individual decision. We are norm seeking creatures and conformity is part of our natural makeup. Every radical individual who ever tried to set himself apart from the group by radical behavior soon found himself surrounded by others who were anxious to radicalize themselves by conforming to his behavior. Thus, Beatniks, Hippies, and Motorcycle Gangs who often reject the norms of the larger society are easily identified by their conformity in both dress and behavior to the norms of their own group.
Only idealistic fools believe that people in general think for themselves. Advertisers, who have millions of dollars of their own money at stake, are not foolish enough to believe that. One of their favorite techniques is the bandwagon effect which refers to the fact that people will jump aboard a bandwagon once it gets moving in a certain direction. In fact, politicians are also very much aware of this phenomena and work hard to use it in their own favor.
In the 2004 Democratic primaries, Howard Dean, the almost unknown governor of Vermont, created a bandwagon effect which had most commentators predicting that he would be the Democratic nominee for President. Then suddenly, like the school of fish, the momentum changed direction when everybodys eyes shifted from Dean to Senator John Kerry and the bandwagon went off in a new direction. All of a sudden, Governor Dean, who had been leading the school, found himself fading off into the sunset, while Senator Kerry gathered more and more followers.
The only people who are immune from this herd behavior are those with strong convictions based on a rational understanding. Therefore, we can no longer afford to be children who follow but dont understand. Like St. Paul we must put away the things of childhood and develop instead a faith based on a mature understanding and acceptance of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.
Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom!