Conservatives always have pyramids in their heads, I guess

This video is really good. You should watch it. The basic message is that conservatives don’t much like democracy, equality is not a key value for them, that they’re in it to maintain the status quo, and they’ve always been this way. In many ways, Trump is not an anomaly (nor was Nixon, or Reagan, or Bush), but just representative of how the conservative brain thinks. It’s not a radical or surprising idea, simply clearly presented.

Also see the followup on the historical and philosophical foundations of conservatism.


  1. aziraphale says

    I couldn’t get very far in. It was just too annoying
    Roads are things we can’t pay for without governments? Excuse me? In the UK, that hotbed of socialism, there are toll roads and toll bridges I use regularly.

  2. stroppy says

    We’ve got toll roads and toll bridges in the USA. Government is involved in those too at various levels including, planning, contracting out and regulation. You think money isn’t involved? In any case, the larger point:

    Social Darwinism. It sucks big time.

  3. lucifersbike says

    aziraphale; the UK has had right-wing governments for the majority of my life, and I’m pushing 65. Nor does the UK have that many toll roads – there is the short adjunct to the M6, the Tyne Tunnel, the Dartford Crossing and er, that’s about it apart from a few curious medieval survivals where you might be asked to pay sixpence to take your pig over a bridge somewhere.. If you travel on the autoroutes in dirigiste France or the autostrade in Northern Italy, on the other hand, you will most definitely pay tolls. In any case, stroppy is right. Social Darwinism is neither social nor Darwinist.

  4. aziraphale says

    lucifersbike; I am 78 and the National Health Service has saved my life twice at literally no cost to me. My university tuition fees were zero. I don’t think that’s the mark of a right-wing country.

    stroppy; Of course Government is involved in anything that connects to the public road system. That doesn’t mean that no roads would be built if governments didn’t do it. I’m sure Elon Musk would step in, for a price.

    In any case, I’m not denying that it makes sense for governments to build roads. I’m arguing with a particular statement I disagreed with.

  5. einsophistry says

    It’s a great video, but I think we also need to understand that professing allegiance to a hierarchy has a tremendous amount of signaling value. To claim that hierarchies are just and natural is, the claimant hopes, to project confidence in one’s ability to obtain/maintain a favorable position in those hierarchies. It doesn’t really matter whether one truly believes one can become a billionaire; the aim is not long term financial gain but immediate and short term gain in social prestige. Conservatives may differ in what, exactly, they’re seeking praise for (hard work and determination for libertarians, perhaps, and intelligence or some other alleged native ability for the more aristocratic/fascistic types), but the ability to parlay vocal support for a dog-eat-dog world into an image of oneself as a dog with a real fighting chance in that world is a big contributor to conservatism’s enduring appeal (particularly to men).

    This is especially true in the Southern, Midwestern, and non-coastal Western US, where there persists a powerful Culture of Honor stemming from early Scots-Irish pastoralists (in the case of the South) and those ancestral frontierspersons reared in the lawlessness of the once-Wild West. In an Honor Culture, complete self-sufficiency and a strongly retributive mindset are essential to manhood (and to toughness more generally); the worst thing one can do in such an environment, reputation-wise, is ask for help (or at least help one cannot quickly repay). See, the honor cultured are constantly testing each other for exploitable weakness. The quickest way to advertise one’s status is to assert power over or draw contrastive attention to someone of lower status. The losers in such contests then quickly become magnets for the dominance displays of others (lest anyone entertain the possibility that they might be of even lower in the pecking order). This is the cultural crucible in which American conservatism is continuously made.

    Truth be told, honor cultured conservatives are in a bit of a tough spot right now. They see members of other demographic groups successfully clamoring for greater social capital and economic opportunity at the national level and they know, to some extent, that they would likely benefit from many of these policies as well, but in their local social environments, filled largely with other conservatives, expressing support for anything that could be construed as a handout would be reputational suicide. Think of the kid who gets bullied but goes laughingly along with it because admitting to being bullied is admitting to being the kind of person who gets bullied (a bright, flashing beacon to any other would-be bully).

    In the Reagan-to-Dubya years, most conservatives simply carried on, in pluralistic ignorance, licking the boots of the millionaires and billionaires who regarded them as nothing but disposable fodder and easily manipulable political allies, but with the dramatic increase in automation of blue collar labor, it’s getting harder and harder to sustain the bluff that one can thrive in such a system. The pivot we’re now seeing toward more overt fascism is a desperate attempt to steer between the Scylla of material deprivation and the Charybdis of reputational destruction. To accomplish this, the socio-politico-economic gains being made by other groups must be cast (in starkly zero-sum terms) as a thing unjustly stolen from white conservative men by [insert preferred conspiracy bogeyman here]. Support for a government that would give preferential treatment to these same white conservative men can then be passed off not as the seeking of a handout but merely the demand–demand, I say!–that a great wrong be righted and the proper, “natural” hierarchy duly restored.

    I don’t say all this to excuse this behavior–these people are goosestepping toward civil war because they’re afraid of being made fun of, and that’s both absurdly dumb and morally gutless–but only to stress that the conservative love of hierarchy is more complicated, socio-psychologically, than an attempt to simply justify the arrangement in which one already has a highly favorable position. That explanation fits the billionaires, but the majority of conservatives will never be anywhere close in status to billionaires. For them, support for established hierarchies is a (perceived) social necessity–a matter not of greed but of pride and the fear of shame–and the Left needs to take that fact into account if it’s to ever reach this cultural demographic in a substantial way.

  6. VolcanoMan says

    I watched this video yesterday (Innuendo Studios is one of my favorite channels), and agree with the points he makes. But it’s hard to feel anything these days except a pervasive sense of hopelessness. The kinds of actions we can take today to improve our societies will likely not bear fruit (in the form of people who are more compassionate, open-minded and egalitarian) for a couple decades, but the time for substantive, POLITICAL action that can actually keep the world from experiencing the worst effects of climate change…it’s now. If we can’t get people on board now, if we can’t start seriously restricting peoples’ carbon emissions now, it won’t matter if the world is a more egalitarian place in 30 years, because the pressures that said society will face are enough to cause ANY society to break down, no matter the level of authoritarianism native to it. It’s hard not to feel like any effort to neuter the capitalistic excesses of our societies, to flatten the hierarchies as much as we can, is just us being foolish people, tilting at windmills.

  7. rpjohnston says

    Damn straight. This says much of what I’ve been telling people over the years (though I mapped it closer to piety; who could be higher than God?).

    Interestingly my own mode of thinking is conservative. One side of my family is Midwestern conservatives, the other side is pontificating argues-with-nazis liberal intellectuals. I skewed much more heavily toward the latter for most of my life but after 30 years of observation in both my personal life and in watching the Left do this and get the rise of fascism in return, I’ve concluded that argument is basically useless unless you have power, and if you have power there are more effective uses than argument.

    The Left should take power and use it to enforce a better society. Nazis and fascists at the bottom as pariahs. This pyramid isn’t as delineated as the one in the video, as leftists aren’t predisposed to such a thing. The members of society in good standing would be a more solid block.

    But for the motherfuckers who insist on playing that shitty game, sure – accommodate them, make them drive them before us and hear their lamentations.

    I’m sure you’ve all heard that popper quote about tolerating intolerance by now.

  8. wanderingname says

    This video was interesting but frustrating because I don’t think he fully distilled the crux of the disagreement and how that flows into conservatism and left wing ideology. I think the biggest element he missed was to separate the stance from the position taken. The conservative stance on new things and things that are different is generally ‘hurr durr, no’, but this doesn’t mean that their position is inherently ‘hurr durr, no’. They expect you argue with power that what you’re saying is a good idea, at which point they’ll take the idea seriously and have the type of reasonable discussion you were expecting in the first place. It’s the vetting procedure they go through, and if you give up at the first hurdle then they presume that the idea wasn’t worthwhile.

  9. hemidactylus says

    I have issues with hierarchical and flat egalitarian systems. I prefer the latter, but see it as a lofty ideal with potential nightmarish outcomes when attempted saltationally.

    People should be treated equally under the law, but that doesn’t happen when considering poor and minorities. Mass incarceration is an indicator of legal inequality that must be remedied. People should have equal opportunity, but in reality those who have more to begin with get the advantages, plus the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow are still structurally built into the system. Affirmative action is a piece meal remedy that helps. Sexism is another issue as indicated by glass ceilings and pay gaps.

    Equality of outcome is a problem that will probably always be with us. I don’t see how that gets completely solved. That’s where the egalitarian framework hits a snag. Economic inequality seems on a runaway course at breakneck speed, and unlike Pinker I think inequality within countries is a major problem that can’t be brushed aside with graphs saying inequality between countries is reducing. Mobility seems stagnant. Horatio Alger is still influential though. The game ain’t quite zero sum, but the wealthy kept cutting larger wedges of a growing pie.

    Plus as Jason Hickel’s Divide shows from what I read so far, there’s so much else going on like flows of money from Global South and the way the world financial structure imposes debt on former colonies and forces them to abide by market fundie policies. The West broke them but ain’t owning up.

    But instead of burning it all down and starting from zero I’d prefer piece meal engineering. We in the US aren’t doing that. Obamacare was a disappointing first step in healthcare (without public option), but a move toward single payer. The tax system needs to be shifted toward much heavier redistribution and social netting, infrastructure, and debt reduction. I think major changes can be made without starting from scratch. The outcome would hopefully reduce inequality and make the Mt. Everest hierarchy more of a foothill. The Rawlsian notion of acceptable socially beneficial inequality that acts to improve the lot of the least fortunate is perhaps the least bad option. Highly regulated markets have a place. Just not unfettered laissez faire fundie BS. And aside from healthcare, this drastic shift isn’t remotely socialist, despite the fear mongering of the entrenched right, who can afford to spill more ink, lobby, and astroturf their Poopulism.

  10. unclefrogy says

    one of the problems i see generally most of the time people seem to over look the basic instability of these social systems at least as far as the last couple of hundred years goes. That pyramid is as stable as the bottom decides it should be, same can be said I think for any level except the bottom one. the one above rests upon the lower ones and depends on being accepted by the lower levels. Kings were found dead dynasties fell. It may be that our temperament is better suited for much smaller groupings,
    it looks like if things continue as they are tending there will be big trouble ahead.
    uncle frogy

  11. jo1storm says

    All that talk about hierarchies is interesting. But in my experience I found two questions/ observations that tell me over 90% about what the person believes.
    1) Do you believe that rights are zero sum game, e.g for someone to gain rights somebody has to lose them?
    If the answer is yes, the person is with 95% certainty a conservative.

    2) Do you believe that the world is overall a just place, where people usually get what they deserve?

    That one is slightly trickier and is called “Just world fallacy”. It usually shows in thinking like this.
    “The guilty get punished, good people get properly rewarded, bad people might prosper in short term but eventually they will get their comeuppance. (optional addition) And if somebody in this basically, overall just world suffered needlessly, they’ll get rewarded for that in Heaven, and bad guys will be punished in hell. (/optional addition)”

    And if you apply that way of thinking over everything, then things become clear. Why would you want to change just world? How dare you say that the current system needs improvement? It is not broken, it is as close to perfection as can be, don’t try to fix it. It was better 30 years ago, but it got slightly grubby over time, we need to get it back to the way it were, but things are, overall, just and good. And that’s what conservatism is, imo.

    Things were better in glorious past, we should conserve that glorious past and undo the evil that is Aku damage that liberals have done to that once perfect system which was in place when we were in power. And that means keeping the hierarchies that were then in place and keeping the system which made those hierarchies possible. In short, it is about asking a third question:
    Were things better in the past or are things going to be better in the future /the best is still to come?

  12. hemidactylus says

    I think the just world angle is spot on coupled with the golden age and its tarnishing. Without redistribution and mobility the capitalist system becomes a caste without karma and transmigration. And things could get much worse if we gut everything the New Deal and Great Society bequeathed.

    Now I’m not gonna go full 180 degree Nietzsche and harangue feelings of ressentiment or uphold the nobility of amor fati, but forward looking utopianism has its drawbacks. I am reminded of Tom Paine who had a ringside seat to the French Revolution and thought maybe lopping the king’s head off was a bad idea. Look where he wound up as a victim of the revolution. It may be apocryphal, but I recall something about Cuba and a bloody wall (al paredón). It is at least a good metaphor for post-revolution recriminations and brutality. The Khmer Rouge approach was surely an overshoot.

    So yeah we need to reduce the height of the hierarchy, but probably stop short of boiling and eating the lobsters. Of course on the flip side we merely need to look at Pinochet’s treatment of the Left in Chile. Or notorious right wing death squads elsewhere. Humans are a twisted bunch.

  13. cartomancer says

    I wonder how much of this conservative thinking stems from a fundamental nostalgia for childhood? The memory of a time when one was looked after and kept safe by a familial hierarchy – a happier, simpler time, without the complications of adult life such as having to think for yourself, having to grapple with tricky social problems, and the crippling loneliness of not seeing your friends very much. Do what your parents tell you, and everything will be all right.

    Is there perhaps a sense that people cling to their vision of hierarchy in society because they have good memories of it in their personal lives? Are people who had distressing childhoods less likely to feel this way? Though obviously many people who had happy childhoods turn out not to project their nostalgia for that golden time onto their ideas about how society should be run (I’m one). Is there an element of being unable to separate inchoate personal feelings about happy times in the past from a rational appreciation of what would be good for society in the future?

  14. says

    This also means there’s an inherent contradiction of liberalism in politics. Institutions (like the Democratic Party) are part of the status quo. To be successful, a party must have some degree of continuity (variant of institutional memory/status quo). So a liberal must either choose to compromise their ideals to participate in party politics or hold to their ideals of a better society and isolate them self from the politic engagement that can achieve those goals.

  15. stroppy says

    “…stems from…” The Golden Age Fallacy.

    Teh goodle daze: certainly an attractive nuisance and useful tool for manipulating useful tools (MAGA nostalgia currently at toxic levels); related to pining for a mythological glory of centuries past, apparently from which no culture has ever been immune.

    Also, if you haven’t seen it, check out the historical and philosophical foundations of conservatism, linked in PZ’s posting.

  16. unclefrogy says

    Is there an element of being unable to separate inchoate personal feelings about happy times in the past from a rational appreciation of what would be good for society in the future?

    looks that way to me as well. I think it has every thing to do with how people react to the events in their lives and the ideas and beliefs about what this experience of living is.
    I have a friend who has their share of difficulties lately ask me “why is all this happening to me?” they are good and smart and attractive.
    we all have our own “subjective experience” of living most people do not stop and ask very many other question about any of it other than why is this happening to me. that question is shaped by unconscious selection of events with the center being ourselfs
    Things happen “good” things and “bad” things each event has a particular path to get to where we decide that it is an outcome or result but at no time as yet do things stop happening there is no way to stop it nor any real way to forcibly change it that is not utterly futile.
    we seldom ask how things really work rather how can I do this thing I want, the conservative struggles mightily against change and in the end and wears themselves out in the struggle and fails to prevent change and the “revolutionary” often just recreates the very thing they struggled against without asking how things work because of their faith in their ideals.

    uncle frogy

  17. says

    I’ve felt that this was the case for some time: They want that time back when they had no clue what was happening outside their house and assumed everything was great.