25 May 2009

Winning over conservatives

What do conservatives want to conserve and why? Why are they impervious to reasoned arguments? If they can't be convinced by facts and logic, what will move them? Full essay.

40 comments:

Accursed Children of Canaan said...

To paraphrase a Nobel laureate: the same way new scientific theories gain acceptance - old scientists die.

Anonymous said...

I think it's hard to link education and 'conservative' tendencies. Some of the most educated and 'cosmopolitan' Singaporeans I know are not as generous of heart as their less-exposed 'heart-landers'; can be more suspicious and less open to others etc. The search for a 'cultural' explanation could perhaps cast the net further for a better grasp/understanding of 'conservatism' you think?

europhia core said...

Duh! That was the intention. They know you were around so purposely talk about such a topic within your earshot. The fact you were able to pick up what they said supports the notion. I bet they were spies for some anti-gay entity. Wayang a bit, see what your response were.

If I were you I wouldnt give a f**k. Dont feed or entertain them.

BEWARE

Fringer said...

What is there to win over?

This is just the nature of societies. If everyone swing to the new-fangled the moment it appears, then these become the new "conservatives", and as surely as this blog, there will be someone to bemoan how to win over people to the good and the old.

And if you are a politician you will not appeal to the fringes especially when numbers means power, and neither will you try to push something fringe and spent costly futile effort to win the conservatives over.

But there is a role for the fringe. For the fringe do indeed become the mainstream, sometimes, and after a time. And futurists often use the fringe as a lead indicator of possible futures. And I think the government do listen to the fringe too, for they too pride themselves for anticipating things before they happen.

And although the minorities in these fringes may not count so much in the votes, they may be of greater significance in the larger scheme of things.

Perhaps Temasek should hear more fringe voices in their decision making.

Salary said...

A typo in "What 'secular state' should men."

marie said...

I dont know.. I've been around "conservative" circles (religious people) both in asia and in n.america. Im not religious in that "traditional" sense, Im almost atheist some days.. but I do respect their belief systems (while wanting to bang my head agst a brick wall sometimes when talking to these people).
I think it's just that "holier than thou" feeling they get. And boy do they need to get over it. I've been there too.

The thing abt religious dogma.. there is something tangible to hold on do, those words, the book, the preachers, your congregation.. everyone holds similar views so its like, "well, we are just fine the way WE are, why cant others do the same?" As soon as you lose all those crutches, your beliefs start to waver. Well now, there isnt a book, an instituition or a community telling you how to think.

And I dont know how you can win over conservatives who are so deep in, who cant think beyond what their peers and "elders" are thinking. People like me (ex-semi conservative) finally "crossed over" after stepping away from my comfort zone in my late teens.

Robox said...

Personally, I feel that we may need to distingush between political conservatism/liberalism and social conservatism/liberalism.

One reason for this is that there are actually many political liberals - as in, "people who espouse a political position that is respectful of others' rights" - whose behaviours otherwise tend towards social conservatism. This to me describes many political liberals in Singapore.

On a more national scale, another case in point is India which is largely socially conservative but very politically liberal.

(I'm so glad for this opportunity to pathologize political conservatives for a change. Have you ever noted how conservatives are so quick to assign a pathology to anyone who in disagreement with them? It reminds me of another conservative set up - the PAP - and their obsession with the mental health of their political adversaries.)

"Conservatism is therefore, not, in the main, an intellectual position, but a gut reaction in the face of change."

In my opinion, political conservatism tends to need impetus from a (usually false) sense of being under siege; we continue to see that in the fallout from the AWARE incident in which the political conservatives make a strong ptretense to themselves, and even more so, their sweet and innocent children coming under the siege of the Big, Bad Liberals.

A similar example of the PAP's success in political conservatism could be traced to the message that Singaporeans got of being under siege from the Islamic bogeyman all around us.

I believe that the sense of being under siege could be one more contributing factor to the resistance to change.

Anonymous said...

to be honest. The old guards at AWARE now are behaving exactly like conservatives! I don't know why i voted for them again in the first place! Waste my time and money.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alex,

"This present essay is an exploratory one, tossing about some ideas that may move the conversation forward. "

Really? The essay reads more like a hymn sheet, an exercise in preaching to the converted.

Why bother to think through the issue(s) when you have already decided in your mind that conniving conservatives are racist, baby-eating murderers. (Did I forget to mention that they are homophobes too?)

"Progressive liberals" always assume that only they are interested in (social) justice. If life were that simple, politics would be a dead word.

Regards.

Anonymous said...

I came across this article:

http://forums.delphiforums.com/3in1kopitiam/messages?msg=13923.1

The quote that caught my eye was this one:

"Moving on from the Aware saga, it will be good to have a dialogue between Christians and the gay lobby...But we should first wait for the emotions to settle down and maybe discuss some things behind closed doors first before going public, to prevent any more misunderstandings."

Alex, I'm sure that you would included in the gay lobby that the Christians would want to dialogue with. If that were so, do you suppose that there could be wider input from the LGBT community before the talks? You could perhaps solicit input here.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Anonymous, 26 May 08:00 -
Lay Catholics and a few protestants have tried to organise such dialogue forums, and I have participated in a few.

See the article from May 2008:
The Displacement of ReasonMy observation is that these forums don't really work.

The starting assumptions are totally different and the (mostly) Catholic/Christian audience do not go there with open minds.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Anonymous, 26 May 2009, 07:16 -
The intended conversation is that among liberals and progressives, about how to deal with conservatives, not a dialogue with conservatives.

Midianite Virgin said...

"Progressive liberals" always assume that only they are interested in (social) justice. If life were that simple, politics would be a dead word."

Let's be specific. Allowing anal and oral sex between heterosexuals but not homosexuals is an injustice. In this instance, it *IS* that simple. Are you saying different?

Other ***simple*** things that progressives believed throughout history:

1) Slavery should be abolished
2) Girls have a right to go to school.
3) Women should be allowed the vote.
4) All men should have equal rights.

And here and now:
5) Whatever consenting heterosexuals are allowed to do, consenting homosexuals should be allowed the same too. It's *simply* called fairness.

Which of these is "complicated"?

Amalekite Infant said...

"Moving on from the Aware saga, it will be good to have a dialogue between Christians and the gay lobby...But we should first wait for the emotions to settle down and maybe discuss some things behind closed doors first before going public, to prevent any more misunderstandings."

What misunderstanding? Gays want to be treated fairly. What possible misundertanding can there be?

This makes as much sense as a dialogue between slavers and abolitionists. What is there to discuss? Slavery is wrong.

Or closer home to these types: this makes as much sense as dialogue between the Roman empire and Christians when they were being fed to lions. What is there to discuss? Feeding Christians to lions is plain wrong.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alex,

"The intended conversation is that among liberals and progressives, about how to deal with conservatives, not a dialogue with conservatives."

In my view, you are short-curcuiting what seems to me to be a promising political process by pigeon-holing people into categories of liberals and conversatives, Left and Right. Such labels can be more of a hindrance than a help (especially for a politically immature society as Singapore).

For instance, where do you place someone who is in favour of same-sex marriage but is cautious about pro-choice issues?

As with Robox, I think that political identities and positions are fluid. They vary from issue to issue. Coming to an agreement on a particular issue may not be a good indicator of agreement on others. People may support the same cause out of different motivations -- can you honestly say that all the voters who turned out in support of the Old Guards during the recent AWARE EGM will vote the same way in every other issue?

Hence, this mantra which you insist upon -- they the bad conservatives, me and my friends the good liberals -- kills the conversation prematurely. Indeed, it may even make enemies out of 'neutrals' since you insist that they surrender their political identities or self-understanding to your rigid scheme even though they may be sympathetic to your pet political cause to begin with.

Regards.

Daughter of Jephthah said...

"For instance, where do you place someone who is in favour of same-sex marriage but is cautious about pro-choice issues?"

For all permutations, in the category of people who are not content with practising their own morality themselves but want to impose it on others.

Hindus are happy to treat cows as sacred and not eat beef but are not intent on imposing this on others who don't share that view.

Firstborn of David and Bathsheba said...

"Hence, this mantra which you insist upon -- they the bad conservatives, me and my friends the good liberals -- kills the conversation prematurely. Indeed, it may even make enemies out of 'neutrals' since you insist that they surrender their political identities or self-understanding to your rigid scheme even though they may be sympathetic to your pet political cause to begin with. "


RIGID SCHEME? You are joking right?One side wants to live their lives honestly and truly without imposing anything on others. Another side says no. You apply the label "rigid scheme" on the first side?

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Frankly, I don't see how I am setting up any "rigid scheme". The article set out to describe, in my own way, how I think conservatives see the world. I hoped to point out that because they are seeing it emotively rather than intellectually, they cannot be won over by reasoning.

They may be softened by ratioanalisations within the parameters of their faith or worldview - e.g. a different interpretation of their scriptures - but not from secular or human rights arguments, and not even from scientific findings, because there is a tendency to reject facts that do not conform to their worldview (think creationism).

In the absence of reasoned dialogue, what remains is for us to change the world around them until they simply get used to it. In other words, flaunting is in fact a very good strategy. And they know it too, that is why they make a such a huge issue of media portrayals of homosexual people.

Failing that, as the first comment by Accursed Children of Canaan said, we just have to wait till they die off.

Mark 16:9-20 said...

"In the absence of reasoned dialogue, what remains is for us to change the world around them until they simply get used to it. In other words, flaunting is in fact a very good strategy."

That is being done for us. The world is a better place because the Fundamentalist-dominated Singapore elite rules only Singapore.

jun said...

a very ridiculous letter in today's ST online:

http://www.straitstimes.com/ST%2BForum/Online%2BStory/STIStory_381460.html

Robox said...

Hi Alex,

"In the absence of reasoned dialogue, what remains is for us to change the world around them until they simply get used to it."

As a political strategy, this is one of the most 'simplistic sounding' ones - don't feel insulted yet - that I have ever come across.

But you know what? In all its simplicity, I'm actually being swayed to your view and believe that it is in fact THE most workable of strategies.

Still, I would also like to propose another strategy in consort with yours.

What I find is that conservatives in Singapore, like their mentors in the PAP government, are a Machiavellian lot; they only become responsive to an issue when it simultaneously poses a threat (usually internal/national security or the threat of being voted out of power).

They are rarely, if ever, motivated by purely humanitarian reasons.

Knowing this to be their mindset, I find that the use of laws - or at least the threat of the use of laws - against them is actually very effective in disarming them when they get all gripped by and intoxicated with their sense of their own righteousness, but go on to perpertrate crime instead.

Siew Kum Hong's move to initiate legal action against those who defamed him is a case in point.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, whoa people from the Levant. Take it easy. This is just talk.

And Alex, I guess we just *see things differently. I hope that doesn't mean that in your books, I must be less reasoning or rational than you are.

And so to all, I stand chastised and corrected on this issue. There seems to be no point carrying it on.

Regards.

Robox said...

"The starting assumptions are totally different and the (mostly) Catholic/Christian audience do not go there with open minds."

Do you suppose that my previous post in a recent thread about the starting point for the Abrahamic religions being SIN (while secular humanists are - or should be - interested in the definition of crime as it informs criminal law) would help?

Daughter of Jephthah (and Shylock was the villain?) said...

"Whoa, whoa people from the Levant."

More to the point, they were blameless victims of God's chosen.

Elohist said...

"And Alex, I guess we just *see things differently. I hope that doesn't mean that in your books, I must be less reasoning or rational than you are."

The slavers saw things differently from the abolitionists too...

Kangaroo on Noah's Ark said...

"Do you suppose that my previous post in a recent thread about the starting point for the Abrahamic religions being SIN (while secular humanists are - or should be - interested in the definition of crime as it informs criminal law) would help?"

This is over-intellectualizing the reasons for homophobia. Most of the time it is base prejudice plain and simple.

Paul said...

Alex, I'm sympathetic to your position, but think you over-simplify in at least two ways.

First, as Robox mentions, we need to distinguish between political and social conservatism. As a political philosophy (at least in the Western tradition of people like Burke, Hayek, and Oakeshott), it is centrally concerned with questions of individual freedom, and may not be incompatible with some of the ideas you have outlined elsewhere about liberalism. A blog that I read regularly, and which often puts me in mind of Yawning Bread, is that of Andrew Sullivan, a US-based British HIV positive gay conservative Obama-supporting anti-Christianist Roman Catholic. This apparent mass of contradictions is what makes his blog so fascinating - and as an intuitive liberal, I'm particularly interested in how he draws it all together under a nuanced and socially progressive argument for conservatism. I also enjoy disagreeing with him: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/

Second, I'm not convinced that social progressives are inherently good - or even that they're always progressing. If there is progress in our world, at the very least, it is uneven, and some people's progress may be at the expense of others'. I think in the case both of conservatives and liberals, the question is how change is managed, rather than how one group retards it while another drives it.

You are absolutely right to be exercised by the bizarre pronouncements, occult beliefs and outright hatespeech of the Christian fundamentalists; my concern is that in building your argument around their militant positions (ie, by placing it on a continuum with your own world, rather than on a separate planet where it belongs), you distort the larger political spectrum, and the complex cross-hatching it entails.

Sister of Cain, Mother of his children said...

"If there is progress in our world, at the very least, it is uneven, and some people's progress may be at the expense of others'. "

Of course it is. Freeing slaves is at the expense of slave owners.

Deuteronomist said...

"Second, I'm not convinced that social progressives are inherently good "

It doesn't matter. What matters is what they advocate. To continue, the next step in your argument should be to give an example of one bad thing they are for.

Jahwist said...

"placing it on a continuum with your own world, rather than on a separate planet where it belongs), you distort the larger political spectrum, and the complex cross-hatching it entails."

Huh? They are the most aggressive forces keeping 377A on the same planet (island even) as sane people.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

I take the point about making a distinction between political and social conservatism. I think this article really refers to social conservatism.

I'm not even sure I agree entirely with the use of the term political conservatism to refer to those to strongly believe in liberties, albeit narrowly defined. I think such a term is very specific to the American political context. But anyway, it is outside the scope of this discussion.

Mark 16:9-20 said...

This discussion continues in parliament. Thio Li-an has opened her mouth again.

MLC said...

I think conservatism is relative. To quote Burke:”A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation." And, some conservative will argue that it not change that they are resisting; but change has to be ‘organic’ not revolutionary; a series of small steps dictated by gradual shifts in mindset, values and environment; not giving rein to a moral idealism that sets itself in radical opposition to the existing order. Which of course gives rise to the debate as to how revolutionary is revolutionary. But I digress, all I wanted to say is that I don’t particularly like to have the cultural identity politics of US to be transplanted to Singapore. I think demarcating people as liberals or conservatives are too divisive and too black and white (or should I say red and blue). There are finer nuances in the discussion of social and civil issues.

As you have put it so aptly in your examples that conservatism is dependent on issue, age, education, personal experience, etc; and in your graphs that the majority lay in the red-blue center region, that I wonder why would you expect the government not have a conservative bias? I don’t hold the belief that government and legislature are trendsetters; they cannot govern or legislate ahead of populous demand. They have to be a tad behind, always mindful of the winds of change, always ready to steer accordingly. The population has to change first.

Section 377A will be repealed just like gay marriage will be upheld (although with a slight setback today in California), the only issue is when. That’s when your 2nd plot on the younger generation comes into play. They are the drivers of change. Maybe not strictly in terms of their education level (uni-educated or poly-grad) but are they able to think critically, be open-minded to all ideas and be able to show empathy. I don’t believe that a person that closes their eyes to a young mother standing and feeding a baby on a swaying bus can open their mind to discussion on civil liberties free from all discrimination.

Like what you did on the bus, you have to point out on it. Flaunting may not be my word of choice; but inculcating awareness has to start. GLBT have to come out of the closet and friends have to step up to render support. When you know somebody who is a GLBT, it makes it harder for you to wrench away his or her right, because you get to see their humanity and get to know that they are not any different from the rest of us. That is why depiction of homosexuality in media and having gay teachers are scary to the regressive due to the larger audience they have. Discussion, debates have to take place from coffeeshops to starbucks. They need not be shouting matches, but meaningful discussions. Discussion on why should NMP Siew be targeted just because he showed some concern on gay issues, why are young teens deprived of information in allusion of some obscure term ‘promoting homosexuality’. Sure, talking to regressive is a hair wrenching job but if not to get them all riled up then to expose them for all their illogicality, because there is a huge chunk of purplish center to move.

Anonymous said...

What's with the trolls?

Robox said...

To Kangaroo on Noah's Ark:

I think you are mistaken about my intentions for making the distinction between sin, which belongs strictly within religious discourse and should not be the concern for secularists, and crime which should be the ONLY concern for legislators and the legal profession, which is what we are actually dealing with.

I was also hoping to impress upon Alex that in any proposed dialogue with Christians in particular - I'm presently moving away from this idea because I can see the futility of talking to a brick wall and expecting human/humanitarian responses in return - that we have OUR terms and OUR starting points for this dialogue.

Otherwise any dialogue should be a no go as it SHOULD be with a people who cannot be appealed to on based legalities, moral suasion, reason, logic and/or fact.

I am not in the least bit concerned about the reasons for the existence of homohopbia; I take the attitude that homophobia is not MY (emotional and mental) pathology, but a problem/pathology of those who are homophobic.

But as a sidenote, when you say:

"Most of the time [homophobia] is base prejudice plain and simple."

Yes, it is, but I would add that we should not gloss over the "power" component in homophobia - the power component, and not the prejusdice that it is undeniably based on, is what causes the greatest amount of harm and damage to LGBTs.

Robox said...

Hi Paul,

"First, as Robox mentions, we need to distinguish between political and social conservatism."

I said that because not so much for the any discussion internal to liberals - though it would help with clarity - but so that conservatives reading this can understand. Too often in our politically deskilled Singapore, "liberal" is understood (by conservatives) as socially liberal with connotations of being sexually permissive or at least 'promoting' sexual permissiveness. This distortion is what is mostly colouring the conservative anti-gay discourse.

Thus when we stress "political liberalism" to mean - as I mentioned earlier - "a political position that is respectful to the rights of others", we shift the centre of the debate to the legalities surrounding the issue and not get caught in the conservative Christian trap of defending alleged private behaviour which is not the concern of the law.

Another side note just so I can clarify my position - apologies if I write so briefly and still expect that everyone will understand me fully:

Someone had earlier said - interpreting one of my posts - that a person can be liberal on some issues and conservative on others. That too is undeniably true.

However, how an individual eventually self identifies his/her political position (or is judged on it as the case may be) is the result of assessing his or her DOMINANT political position on most issues i.e. if I'm liberal on most issues, I'm a liberal even while I recognize that I'm conservative on some issues.

Hope this clarifies my intent.

Robox said...

Hi Alex,

"I'm not even sure I agree entirely with the use of the term political conservatism to refer to those to strongly believe in liberties..."

A person who strongly believes in liberties ( and presumably extending it to others) is definitely not a political conservative; no amount of disguising will mask that fact.

Anonymous said...

For me, conservatism here in Singapore's social context is about aspiring, maintaining and normalising a s facade of the so-call heterosexual middle class Chinese looking family unit, one that is buttressed ideologically by mainstream institutional religions and one in which the state endorses and reinforces.

People who do not conform to these standards fear losing their social and moral positions. I have seen in my own personal experiences and that in the family court how people actually suffered to preserve the idea of the family unit as a natural fact of life.

In this respect, i think the the middle classes (like those in Josie Lau's group at the EGM) are more financially equipped and slightly more ideologically articlated in maintaining such conservative tendencies, or at least cover any tensions less incompletely.

Nonetheless, however repressive untenable on a daily basis, the family as we understand it today remains a strongly appealing as a normalising and stabilising force unfortunately.



Kai Khiun

Bloom said...

Shouldn't the conservatives ('change resisters')be on the right side of your graph and the liberals/progressives to the left? Afterall, the conservatives are also known as far right and the leftists -leftists?

Anonymous said...

Hi Alex, there's a recent column in the NY Times with similar conclusions, where the columnist writes that "persuasion may be most effective when built on human interactions. Gay rights were probably advanced largely by the public’s growing awareness of friends and family members who were gay.

A corollary is that the most potent way to win over opponents is to accept that they have legitimate concerns".

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/opinion/28kristof.html?_r=1

Mark