Moderates get shot at from both sides

Why do the same people who object to abortion favor the death penalty? Shouldn’t “pro-life” stand for “pro-any-and-all-life”?

Why do the same people who want to limit government intervention through economic deregulation also want government to regulate personal behavior through anti-drug laws?

These and other apparent paradoxes are no paradoxes at all, if you accept a model suggested by one of my favorite scholars, George Lakoff.

We see the world through the lens of metaphor, Lakoff reminds us.

A metaphor is simply viewing something in terms of something else.

We see our country and society in terms of family, for example – we speak of our “fatherland” or our “sons and daughters” in the military.

People with a politically conservative mindset, scientists like Lakoff tell us, tend to favor a more authoritarian family model – the “father-knows-best” kind – and they transfer and apply it to other areas of life.

In contrast, people of a more liberal bent subscribe to a “nurturing” family philosophy – the kind based not on strict discipline, but on praise and induced voluntary cooperation.

And so, the thinking goes, conservatives see a girl choosing to end a pregnancy, or a mass murderer, as threats to society. They consequently perceive a need for a higher authority to deal with such disruptors of prevalent order.

Liberals, in contrast, may place a higher value on personal choice in the first case, and on remaining “nonjudgmental” about both.

Also, the theory goes on, being raised in a strict-discipline family, where every action had a direct and immediate consequence, makes you more inclined to view events as having a direct cause and effect. In contrast, being raised in a family where you were indirectly nudged to be good may make you more apt to see relationships among things as less direct, and more tangled and complex. Hence the relative “simplicity” of conservative versus liberal world views; the relative ease with which liberals may accept ideas marked by complex causality, such as climate change, while conservatives may reject them.

It gets even more interesting when you extend the thinking beyond the simple duality of conservative versus liberal, to the politically “moderate.”

Moderates, according to this theory, are people whose brains at different times activate and de-activate aspects of both the conservative and liberal mindsets.

In a sense, moderates make up their own, combination world view. On some issues, they think like conservatives, on others, like liberals. Which issues and when varies by person; therefore, there is no group logic to moderates’ madness; no moderate group mentality; and no chance of a moderate ideology.

Why am I talking about this?

Because it is one interesting answer to the questions I posed at the beginning. These, I have struggled to answer.

Also, the model somewhat lifts, by explaining, my sense of political isolation.

Standing in the middle of the political road, as I often find I do, brings no joy. When you stand in the middle of the road, they shoot at you from both sides.

Lakoff’s theory may not halt the shooting; but it gives me some ammunition; a label to work with.

I must be a moderate.

I had naively hoped that someday I will find my tribe.

Being told it is impossible brings strange relief.

Kremena Spengler is a former academic and journalist with the BTA, the Bulgarian national news agency, and Reuters. After a bit of world travel, she moved to live a quiet life and raise children in New Ulm, joining The Journal in 1997. She likes to think her views are not that unusual for a naturalized American. She can be emailed at kspengler@nujournal.com

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