Some random thoughts on the conservative mind

Washington state governor Jay Inslee proposed a far-reaching cap-and-trade policy. He would essentially impose a tax on carbon. He also proposes to use the revenues from the scheme to fund public education. However, given that Republicans now control the Senate outright and enjoy a significant minority in the House, Inslee’s plans, whatever their merits, stand little chance of becoming law. The Seattle Times reports:

While Inslee’s supporters have argued climate change should not be a partisan issue, it has proved to be one in the Legislature. HB 1314 is sponsored by 37 Democrats. A companion Senate bill has drawn 20 Democratic sponsors. Not a single Republican had signed on in support of either bill as of Tuesday.

At the public hearing, Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, slammed the cap-and-trade proposal, which would initially affect 130 or so of the state’s top carbon emitters, including manufacturers, fuel distributors, power-plant owners and oil refineries.

I am hardly surprised by the lack of Republican support for any legislative solution to arresting climate change. But I still wonder why.

The reasons proffered for their opposition are the usual suspects. First and foremost, Republicans loathe taxes of any kind. They seem to believe that unfettered free markets, unburdened by governments skimming off the top, will produce the best outcomes for everyone, rich and poor, tall and short. That thinking put into action has proved disastrous, as the people of Kansas are beginning to realize. Nor is it working in Washington state, which clings to the title of Nation’s Most Regressive Tax Structure. Never mind that a cap-and-trade regime has much to do with markets and sending proper price signals.

As for killing jobs, again untrue. There really is a green economy out there that would only expand under either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. Instead of funneling dollars to dirt, they would be redirected to clean, and we’d all be the better for the transfer.

Of course, Inslee’s idea is doomed because it is a government program, and Republicans, despite spending millions to be in Olympia or Washington, D.C., would sooner governments at all levels shrivel to the size of a molecule. Thus, all those public things the Rest of Us value—including education, transportation, health and safety protections—get squeezed so much as to be totally ineffectual, at which point we blame “government.” Ingenious.

Following the Republican’s seizing control of the federal government in 1994, the so-called “Gingrich revolution,” Berkeley cognitive scientist George Lakoff tried to make sense of conservatism, which, he eventually concluded, was unworkable, at best, and otherwise dangerous. At the time he observed that conservatives and liberals failed to communicate with each other. So, we come to this excerpt from the Times article:

At other events throughout the day, supporters and opponents of Inslee’s plan seemed to be largely speaking past one another.

It occurs to me that the conservative mind must have some evolutionary advantage, though I’m at a loss as to what that might be. How else to explain why there are so many Republicans in office? There must be some value in conservatism that appeals to baser instincts.

Lakoff suggested that we can begin to understand the conservative mind through the use of metaphors. I wrote about these in a previous post.

Grossly put, conservatives are imbued with a Strict Father metaphor; liberals, a Nurturant Parent. The former is all about the individual and the need to survive in a competitive world. Thus, the virtues of self-reliance, discipline, and fortitude are both praised and inculcated. Conservatives are more likely to be religious, tribal, and practice tough love amidst a rigid family hierarchy led by a strict father, of course. Governments frustrate this “natural order.”

Is it really all about Rambo?