Buzzflash: The Primitive Conservative Psyche

February 23, 2011- The battles against the anti-democratic Right in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere are being fought to prevent conservatives from remaking America in the image of their moral worldview.

Berkeley professor and author George Lakoff advises us to see more deeply into the psychology of this crisis. We need to understand, he writes, how the conservative belief in individual responsibility, to the exclusion of social responsibility, is based on the model of the strict-father family.

According to this model, the father's role in the family as Decider and moral authority is required to teach kids right from wrong. Conservatives claim that father's superior moral guidance is needed, along with physical punishment if necessary, so kids can develop the discipline to become morally responsible adults.

Why do conservatives think that father knows best? Psychoanalysis can provide insight.

According to psychoanalysis, the superego, also known as the inner critic or inner aggression, typically assumes an authoritarian, even a tyrannical, stance within our psyche. The superego is an aggressive drive that can function as an inner disciplinarian. However, it is usually negative and irrational. In less evolved individuals, the superego often decides what is right and wrong. But it makes this distinction for the sake of fulfilling its function, which is to exercise inner authority. It is not interested in, nor can it even distinguish, what is truly right or wrong.

In their psychological naiveté, however, conservatives interpret the oppressive, impersonal superego as a guiding voice of inner conscience.

When people are inwardly weak and unaware, the superego can have the run of their psyche and dominate their personality. Often, it is critical, ruthless, mocking, and unforgiving. It frequently overpowers what little sense of autonomy and personal authority many people possess.

Unwittingly, conservatives plant their soul in the impersonal authority of the superego. Hence, they are enamored of the power of the impersonal, as evidenced by their emotional alignment with corporations, the market, and the military. These three impersonal forces impose their values and authority without interference from citizens, as when the alleged self-regulating "invisible hand" of the marketplace destroys the environment.

Conservatives distrust government because it is personal, not impersonal. Government is the voice and protector of the people. But the people are not supposed to have a voice. Only some "higher" impersonal law or representative of that law (father figure) is allowed to decide the right approach to life's big issues. Just as children of conservatives must submit passively to the father, we adults are not supposed to have a mind of our own. We are not expected to grow in human consciousness.


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