Humans need to live in a more ethical and moral world than they seem able now to provide for themselves. Is that true? In tribal times, such as among precolumbian American Indians, lying was unthinkable even to enemies. A tactical ruse might be used in a surprise raid. Individuals competed for prestige and status in battle, in council and dancing around campfires, but honesty was the rule. It gained regard as much as killing an enemy during attack or success in hunting. Cruelty was expected toward captives from tribes competing for territory and resource. In telling and dancing one’s exploits a measure of exaggeration was acceptable. Even the mocking of another’s tale by still greater exaggeration was taken in good humor, because all were closely bound in a fellowship of family relations. Everyone was respected because all were honorable. Although falsification was anathema, Indians were not the idealized “noble savages” of romantic fiction. Yet, their world was moral and most were ethically impeccable. Standards were clear. Infraction was rare and punished severely. A great change came over the Indian nations under impact of white intrusion. Treaties with European Americans seldom lasted longer than the next change of frontier command, appointed Indian agent-cum-merchandiser, new wave of eager trappers, miners, settlers or another administration in Washington DC. Tribes responded in kind. Among us, today, too many capitalists, lawyers, politicians and married couples prove unreliable.
Capitalism with sufficient entrepreneurial freedom is a good economic system except for some number of people willing to spoil the world for personal or company gain and limit opportunities for others. A cynic will say, the world we have is exactly what people collectively deserve. We need only live down to its terms. Accept ethical jungle and moral cesspool, and all is well. Jump in and go from there. Get dirty as you please, nobody will admire or thank you for living small and clean or making an effort to make things better for any but yourself, your family and a few around you. You are not your brother’s keeper because you have no brothers, only a few associates so long as their interests don’t clash with yours.
Paradoxically, one kind of business-person wants to provide a product or service that fills a need well and does good in the world. Another feels a need to ‘con’ people into buying whether that product or service works well or not, or whether customers might be better served by, or prefer, something else. These ‘con-artists’ take infinite pains with advertising and sales strategy to trick clients into unconsciously motivated decision. In times before mass manufacturing of consumer goods, production was initiated on demand. There was no artificial pressure to produce, store or move stock or fake up markets for it. No supply side push promoted gimmicky appeals. Artificiality grew with increasing distance between producer and consumer until now the public suffers continuous bombardment via every means available. Needs are obscured by wants.
Conservatives are well adapted to this situation and prefer that things stay as they are. They become “servers of the con.” The Con-servers oppose anything that unsettles their adaptation and control of things. They see progress as change that seems to threaten their settled livelihoods and understanding of the world. For them, progress moves far away from ideal conditions. They invent reasons for resisting change toward popular goals. They want distance from top to bottom of the wealth-scale made longer, not shorter. Their model of human nature defines primary motivation as selfish want stemming from fear of lack and loss, rather than sociably-oriented wish to provide and serve the greater community.
Ego demands they deny such a negative view of themselves. They rationalize their motives as right and good for the world while denouncing progressives and liberal understanding as hatefully unprincipled and unconstitutional. They come to listen and read only through screens of distaste, rejection and denial. Information and reasoning get reduced to what they want to hear. Screening becomes an autonomous function so removed from conscious control it impairs reading and hearing severely. Input bounces away from their minds like water off a duck’s back. Stewart Chase noted this early in his 1937 book, The Tyranny Of Words. It was worth a second book he did not write on the tyranny of bias. Freud had done preliminary work, decades earlier, on unconscious processes of ego defense. Deep bias or prejudice amounts to semantic ‘un-sanity.’ The term ‘insanity’ does not apply because the condition is not ‘clinically recognized.’ It is nonetheless marked by dangerously unreasonable thinking which turns discursive exchange into warlike struggle for domination rather than communication.
In short, the Tea Party folks and many traditional Republicans have been deep in the grip not only of anger, but madness. There seems to be no help for it. It is a condition which must work itself out and fade away, or wreak destruction on the very institutions and nation the Far Right makes big noise about championing. (Already I can hear angry, ill-directed rebuttals from pseudo-readers who noted only the opening sentence or two and leaped down to the last paragraph, having lacked the patience and mental integrity needed to examine thoughtfully what passed between. They will blame me for their inept reading, clamoring that I write badly and with “too many words.”)
The opening question asked implicitly was, Is it true that we humans are not able now to provide for ourselves the more ethical and moral world we need? The answer is, granted who we are in all our ignorance, division and disagreement, No. It is immensely saddening to see that the epidemic irrationality permanently infecting American society in all levels and regions absolutely dampens intelligent work in media or legislation. We needed more than a Socrates in every classroom during the last century. We needed Alfred L. Korzybski, S. I. Hayakawa, K. C. Ogden, I. A. Richards, Kenneth Burke and dozens more including Dr.’s George Lakoff and Miles A. Myers to talk with students and enlighten them on how language and mind work each other well instead of abusively. It’s far too late for this generation of ‘Con-servatives.’ They are like ancient Greeks who needed unchanging cycles of simplicity cloaked in myth.
The U. S. Constitution was the most remarkable document of its age. It is still highly useful and needed, but our real constitution remains unwritten. It resides in the special relation between human nature and civil culture. Incivility remains inimical to political and cultural advance. Our written Constitution will remain incomplete just as science has never been finished and civilization stays unfulfilled.