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  • Rick Bonetti

Strict Father versus Nurturant Family

George Lakoff makes an important point about the power of two opposing moral postures, frames, world-views or value systems strict-father (conservative) versus nurturant-family (progressive).

He argues, in the strict-father worldview, “the father is the ultimate authority, he knows right from wrong, his job is to protect the family and so he’s the strongest person, and because he knows right from wrong, his authority is deserved. His children are born bad because they just do what feels good, they don’t do what’s right. They have to be trained out of feel-good liberalism into doing what’s right. You have to punish the kids painfully enough that they’ll start doing what’s right and they’ll get discipline. If they’re disciplined, they go out into the world, and they earn a living. If they’re not earning a living, they’re not disciplined, therefore they can’t be moral and they deserve their poverty.”

The nurturant-family model is the progressive view: in it, the ideals are empathy, interdependence, co-operation, communication, authority that is legitimate and proves its legitimacy with its openness to interrogation. “The world that the nurturant parent seeks to create has exactly the opposite properties,” Lakoff wrote in his 2002 book Moral Politics. Although 20 years old, this book is still relevant in 2022

Lakoff asks, “If the two systems are poised in pure opposition, if they are each as moral, as metaphorical, as anciently rooted, as solidly grounded as the other, then why is one winning?” He argues that “Progressives want to follow the polls … Conservatives don’t follow the polls; they want to change them. Political ground is gained not when you successfully inhabit the middle ground, but when you successfully impose your framing as the ‘common-sense’ position.”

So just backing up your position with logic and facts will not have as much power as winning the moral argument. “A classic liberal pitfall is the idea that by repeating one of the opposition’s ridiculous lines, you make it look even more absurd. They [Progressives] don’t understand the extent to which emotion is rational, they don’t understand how vital emotion is, They try to hide their emotion.”

Progressives need to start calling it sin: policies favoring the wealthy over the poor; complacency about poverty; denying and ignoring global warming; using deceitful politicking; denying loving same-sex couples to marry; unequal pay and rights for women; unequal education opportunity; unfair treatment of immigrants; torture; gun violence; war; fear, hatred and violence against abortion clinics; consumerism; greed; privatization; ethnic and religious prejudices; pride; and lack of empathy, compassion and kindness toward all.

Progressive must remain positive and hopeful, but also need to inhabit the moral high ground with outrage, indignation, passion, conviction and emotion.


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