I don’t judge conservatives because they want to conserve — as their name says. I judge them because they won’t admit WHAT they want to conserve. Considering as you can’t conserve what doesn’t exist, conservatives have zero interest in the future. That’s Progressives’ territory. That’s why I prefer the descriptor “progressive” to “liberal”. Progressive is just more accurate — every fiber of my being wants humankind to progress as quickly as we can into the future (because we’ve made a total hash of the past). Just as “Progressive” neatly describes my overall direction with one word, so, too does “conservative” describe the direction conservatives want to take America. What do conservatives want to conserve? What does any individual conservative want conserved? For them, the present is the perfect place to start. If they could literally take us back to the past — to the idealized time and place in their head that they think of as “perfection” — they absolutely would. Same as a Progressive would whisk us all off to a perfect future of enlightenment and harmony. Like I said: I’m not here to judge (in this blog post). I’m here to understand.
Look, the future is scary. Who knows what’s going to happen? If I take off my “Progressive World View Specs” and put on a pair of borrowed “Conservative World View Specs” (they’re way too tight for my liking), I begin to appreciate the security the past held for some. In our part of the world, Europeans got it into their heads that the brutal lethality of the pathogens they carried with them meant they were morally superior to the indigenous peoples of North America they rolled with relative ease BECAUSE they’d been decimated by European pathogens. Europeans didn’t walk onto a “virgin continent” waiting to be enlightened by them, they entered a graveyard — the ground softened not by their ideas, a little by their superior weapons, but mostly because the pathogen load heading west (smallpox, measles, whooping cough, bubonic plague, malaria, yellow fever, dysentery) was more overwhelming than the pathogen load heading east (syphilis). Europeans carried more than just disease with them though. They brought their monotheistic religion — and their monotheistic religion convinced them that THEIR god was THE god and THEIR god said THEY could do whatever they liked to other people — especially if they believed in other gods or, worse, no god.
“Manifest Destiny” was no different from Cortes decimating the Aztecs and Pizarro brutalizing the Incas. “Gold, glory and god”. That was the mandate. Europeans took the Americas with relative ease but not for the reasons they thought or still think. Better and more pathogens. That’s it. That’s the difference.
But, once convinced of their superiority, Europeans would not be dissuaded. Europeans even used their most sacred religious texts — the thing upon which they based their entire civilization — to JUSTIFY enslaving other humans. If bondage and stolen labor were good enough for iron age people, then, damn it, it should be good enough for us! When you cloak your justifications for slavery and personal superiority with the divine, perhaps you can be forgiven for thinking you ARE the “alpha and the omega”. You’ve come to believe your wardrobe is who you are — and you think you’re God.
But for their pathogens, white Europeans might not have had such an easy time dominating the America’s. Their beachheads might have been smaller and less successful even over time. Instead of being easily rolled by the Europeans — who they outnumbered by a lot! — the Aztecs and Incas might have recognized the Europeans for the competitors they were. I bet, given the chance, the Aztecs and Incas might even have learned from the Europeans, found ways to either approximate or steal the Europeans superior war-fighting technology. We’ll never know. When Americans began rolling across North America, their destinies manifested, each mile further west they traveled convinced them that they were truly on a divine mission — new crusaders, if you will, conquering Indians instead of Muslms.
The “All men” that America’s founders thought were “created equal”, were white and they were all men. In their defense, maybe they weren’t quite as ‘enlightened” as they thought. But, that’s the America conservatives want to conserve. That’s the “original version” of America constitutional originalists are thinking of. They believe THAT is the America the rest of us should still be living in. If the founders couldn’t imagine a thing, then we just have to live in an America that laments its founders’ lack of forward-thinking chops. Talk about the tail wagging the dogma! Except that wasn’t how those men thought. They made the document dynamic.
Take away the native peoples who were here for ten thousand years before the Europeans set sail just for argument’s sake (though I bet their traditions would still help us a lot). Prior to the arrival of the Europeans — and then everyone else on the planet — this continent had no “native culture”. That is, European culture was not “native” to this place. Now, when we say, “European culture”, we don’t mean one thing. German culture is not so different from English culture (their royalty’s all related) but very different from Italian culture. It took a thousand years for several of the more prominent tribes of France — the Franks, the Merovingians, the Carolingians — to evolve into what we now think of as “French people”.
Remember how some of the French had no problem collaborating with Germany during WWII? That wasn’t a new behavior, that extreme pragmatism in the face of shifting political tides. In “A Distant Mirror”, her wonderful history of “the calamitous 14th century”, the historian Barbara Tuchman returns repeatedly to the story of Charles de Navarre (10 October 1332 – 1 January 1387), a French knight, in his time called Charles the Bad. He was King of Navarre from 1349–1387 and during those years — as the Hundred Year War raged on, Charles (whose property was in Normandy) saw the English and the French armies go back and forth across his domain repeatedly. The war pitted he French crown against the English crown; both wanted to declare the other’s as theirs. While he could have remained loyal to France the whole time — and simply took his licks (being sacked and burned) each time the English plowed through. Instead, Charles chose to ally with the English BEFORE they got to his land. Suddenly, this French lord couldn’t be more English. He’d welcome them to and through his territory, feeding them, housing them, giving them happy endings if they wanted them.
Then, when the tides changed yet again — and the war’s momentum swung back to the French, Charles would hang out his tricolor as if he’d never taken it down. Why, Charles had ALWAYS been at war with Eurasia AND those damned English! Vichy France’s pragmatic survival instincts kicked in at least six hundred years before we realized. That behavior pattern is part of what we think of as “French” behavior in national affairs. Same token — the Swiss and their neutrality are not new either. The Dutch have always been traders. The Germans have always been… well… “German”. The more closely aligned with the Catholic Church a country was — like Spain — the more cruelly dogmatic it became. Franco and the Spanish Inquisition are directly related.
Even the Europeans will tell you how their neighbors are. Especially the Europeans. When those people came here, to America, they all brought their national personalities with them. No such personalities existed here. But, Europeans weren’t the only non North Americans hitting our beaches. Before too long, people from all over the world had “discovered” America — and saw that they, too, could fill this empty canvass with themselves. Who “got here first” is a nonsensical argument since, really, no one was here first. And, as for whose money paid for it? That’s swell, but “ownership” is a concept invented by men to justify their claim that a thing — land, a cave, a woman — was theirs. The concept of “ownership” saves us from having to piss on or lick everything to prove that it’s ours.
Conservatives, if they could, would piss on or lick practically everything (licking it all first before pissing on it, I’m betting). Conservatism hews closely to its “religious values”, don’t forget. They believe in a kind of perfection perverted — an Eden destroyed by a woman. They believe that humanity’s fall from Grace was redeemed by a man-god born of a virgin, sent to die for all of our sins (though, if he doesn’t get betrayed by Judas and doesn’t die for our sins, I’m kinda wondering what that woulda been like but nevermind). Let’s be real. Down deep, there’s no such thing as a “God-fearing conservative”. No truly conservative person fears God.
That’s because most every God-fearing conservative doesn’t believe IN God, he believes he IS God. They won’t put it that way. Instead, they say “I understand what the lord wants from me” or I have a personal relationship with God!” He looks around at others who think they understand God and shakes his head sadly. Poor, misguided fools think God speaks through them, can ya believe it? Even those of us who “think” we understand God need to be set straight by this guy because HIS version of God is THE version of God (no substitutes accepted).
Enlightenment scares these people almost as much as Enlightenments do. Conservatives have rooted not just their religious faith but everything they think in the belief that a sky deity loves them and wants them to do his bidding here on earth. How things WERE — that’s what the sky deity wants. And if how things ARE RIGHT NOW is the closest we can get to HOW THINGS WERE then so be it. We’ll take what we can get. We’ll enshrine as much of yesterday into today as we possibly can and turn off the engine.
Unlike conservatives, Progressives aren’t intimidated by the unknown. We’re adaptive by nature. New information isn’t anathema to us, it’s our life blood. And if new voices bring new information or new ways to problem-solve? So much the better! The future is going to happen whether anyone likes it or not. Change is inevitable. It’s only ever a matter of time scale.
What do conservatives want to conserve? Everything you need to know is right there in the pause BEFORE they start to answer. They’re making a list, don’tcha know! They’re thinking about everything from the past that they wish could become permanent. The playing field was not level in that past. It wasn’t meant to be. Only the “equal” “all men” were expected to play, being the only ones qualified to play — by themselves of course.
That’s the America conservatives want to conserve. It’s why they’re always looking backwards, hoping to see the past come alive again. It’s the America they had full control of, before the rest of us realized how little they understood it.