Shame and Blame


If you accept — and I do — George Lakoff’s concept that conservatives tend to vote for Strict Fathers, then it makes sense to shame and blame racists, homophobes, sexists, etc.  That goes against some of our liberal (Compassionate Parent) tendencies, but it’s important.  Lakoff explains how the Strict Father model works:

When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it. You are responsible for yourself, not for others — who are responsible for themselves.

Not surprisingly, shaming and blaming play a large role in establishing the Strict Father’s dominance and in controlling those “beneath” him.  As Lakoff notes:

In a world governed by personal responsibility and discipline, those who win deserve to win. Why does Donald Trump publicly insult other candidates and political leaders mercilessly? Quite simply, because he knows he can win an onstage TV insult game. In strict conservative eyes, that makes him a formidable winning candidate who deserves to be a winning candidate. Electoral competition is seen as a battle. Insults that stick are seen as victories — deserved victories. (emphasis mine).

Consider Trump’s statement that John McCain is not a war hero. The reasoning: McCain got shot down. Heroes are winners. They defeat big bad guys. They don’t get shot down. People who get shot down, beaten up, and stuck in a cage are losers, not winners.

Lakoff’s model can help us to understand a cluster of rather odd conservative behaviors.  You may have noticed how, although they hurl insults with great aplomb — Libtards!  Fake News!  Snowflakes!  Cucks!  Lieberals!  East-Coast Elites!  Chardonnay Drinkers!  Arugula Eaters!  the Democrat Party! — conservatives really, really, really don’t like having their own behavior labeled.  For example, calling someone racist is the “real racist” behavior.  Statues of Confederate generals are “about heritage, not hate,” and if you say otherwise, then you’re the hater.  It’s feminists who want to control men, not the other way around.  If you say “Black Lives Matter,” it means you hate the police.

You see it, as well, in the massive assault that Trump and his followers launched and are still conducting on “politically correct” speech and behavior.  They hate it that, at least for a time, expressing outright sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. was considered shameful behavior.  They had to hide it or be insulted.  Getting rid of “politically correct” behavior means getting rid of shame and blame — the one thing that Strict Father adherents hate the most.

One of the oddest manifestations of this phenomena is the assertion that when someone calls out bad conservative behavior, that “makes” conservatives vote for, well, conservatives.  Thus, when Hillary Clinton said that some of Trump’s supporters were racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, etc. and that Trump tweeted and retweeted their hateful rhetoric, conservatives (and even some members of the “elite media”) insisted that her statement* would cause people to vote for Trump.  Of course, it’s illogical:  if you’re offended that Clinton would call, for example, racist language racist, well, then you’re a racist.  And if you’re a racist, chances are, you were always going to vote for the racist.  It wasn’t having your racism labeled that made you switch your vote to the racist.  The argument reeks of the first excuse of every abuser:  See what you made me do?!?  (Further, one never hears that liberals were going to vote for the Republican until the Republican said mean things about them.  Somehow, liberals aren’t presumed to be controlled by conservative insults.)

So why does this kind of thing get so much play?  I believe it is because, as Lakoff explains, for those who subscribe to the Strict Father model, any kind of derogatory statement is seen as an act of dominance and if someone is dominating you, then that means that you are losing.  If Hillary Clinton can say that being a racist is deplorable, then she’s exerted dominance over you and you have to:  (1) recapture dominance/stop being a loser and (2) try to make her (and others) stop that.

But I maintain that we should NOT stop calling out bad behavior, labeling it, and shaming those who engage in it.  Why?  Because, as we’ve seen and as Lakoff asserts, the only way (outside of physical violence) you change the behavior of adherents to the Strict Father model is to shame, insult, blame.  That’s what they understand.  That’s the messaging to which they respond.  As long as liberals are showing up with charts and graphs and five-point plans and explaining what percentage of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, conservatives can just ignore it.**  Stupid libtards with their False News!  But shame — pointing out how dumb you were to think that Trump, who never kept a promise in his life, would keep his promise not to cut your health care — that, they pay attention to.  “What kind of a chump would listen to Republican promises to help working people?  Do you want to keep getting taken for a patsie?”  And, reluctant as they are to admit it, over time, that’s what will cause them to either change their behavior or to, at least, keep it out of sight, where it won’t contaminate others.

It took time, but shaming drunk driving and making smoking something that only uncool people did substantially decreased both of those behaviors.  Sure, you may have stopped smoking based on scientific studies that showed that it could cause cancer, but you’re not a Strict Father adherent.  Many of the people who stopped or never adopted those behaviors did so to avoid being shamed.

I realize that this doesn’t come naturally to us.  We don’t adhere to the Strict Father model and we think it’s better to explain things logically to people than to shame them.  After all, we respond much better to logical explanations and tend to shrug off insults.  But we’re not trying to change OUR behavior.  We’re trying to change the behavior of Strict Father adherents and THEY see sitting down, engaging in respectful discourse, and offering logical explanations as something losers do because they’re not strong enough, powerful enough, good enough to hurl insults.

This is important.  Trump has unleashed a torrent of horrible, anti-social behavior.  He has radicalized thousands of young, white men and they are now conducting terrorist attacks on us.  We can’t keep using the wrong tools to address this problem.  We may not be able to de-radicalize many of those men, but we can certainly make sure that their behavior gets shamed, rather than glamorized.  Other young men, raised in the Strict Father model, are watching.



* I think it’s worthwhile to quote Clinton’s whole “basket of deplorables” quote in context, if for no other reason than to show that she discussed two groups of people — and conservatives only paid attention to the part of her discussion where she shamed bad behavior.  That struck an emotional chord with them.

I know there are only 60 days left to make our case — and don’t get complacent, don’t see the latest outrageous, offensive, inappropriate comment and think, well, he’s done this time. We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

“But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

Quote found here.

**If you’re trying to get out the liberal base or to explain why you should win a Democratic primary, then charts, graphs, logical explanations, feel-good stories, all of those are great.  Insults and shaming likely won’t work at all.  It’s a classic case of needing to know your audience and to frame your message for that audience.

Picture found here.




9 responses to “Shame and Blame

  1. Your posts are so informative and well thought out. Sometimes I would like to share them on Facebook. I can’t see how to do that, though. Do you object to sharing your comments? I recommend your blog to everyone I know. Still, I think a wider audience would enjoy and benefit from your posts. I have tried to find them on FB so I can share them. What am I not getting?

  2. I share Hecate’s posts on FB by copying the url and pasting it on FB.

  3. I have a cousin who is a far-right xian conservative. He lives some distance from me, so we seldom met face-to-face, but we communicated and ‘discussed things’ via email for some time – until he got into sending along anti-Muslim diatribes and ‘hurling’ (if one can ‘hurl’ epithets via email) insults my way, referring to me as a ‘socialist libtard’, among other things. At first I went rational toward him, trying to explain my political position as a ‘moderate progressive’ (whatever that is) and my defense of other folks’ belief systems as a rational live-and-let-live attitude. He wouldn’t have it and continued his rampage until I called him a war-mongering socialist fascist due to his career as an army recruiter wherein he was totally supported by the government for most of his adult life. He came back with a weak ‘god & country’ defense. To which I responded, “You were never in combat and, in fact, put others into harms way while you avoided it, so you are not only a hypocrite, you are a craven coward as well.” Haven’t heard from him since and good riddance.

  4. Perfectly put old friend!

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