Friday, August 19, 2011

Republicans and Democrats – and The Social Construction of Reality

Taken at Green Gulch Zen Center, Russet Jennings ©2011

Part I
Republicans, both in Concord and Washington D.C., have bulldozed through budget cuts on the backs of the poor, the old, and the infirm, rather than dealing with our debt problems by increasing shared burdens.
Inquiring minds might ask: Why do Republicans lack empathy for the weakest and frailest among us?
Many Republicans would argue it is not their responsibility. Instead it is ‘big government’ which is causing the problem by stifling initiative and coddling those who do not try.  This viewpoint is best represented by Grover Norquist, architect of the current Republican pledge to not raise any taxes, who once famously said, “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
However, if that’s the case, Republicans don’t practice what they preach. Government has continued to grow bigger, not just in Democrat administrations but in each Republican administration, especially the last one under George W. Bush.
A better answer to Republican’s apparent callousness can be found by examining their underlying values. According to George Lakoff, well-known cognitive linguist, conservatives are more likely to believe in the metaphor of the ‘strict father’ who must discipline his children (citizens), while liberals, on the other hand, believe in the metaphor of the ‘nurturant parent’ where both parents work to keep their basically good children (citizens) away from corrupting influences.
Lakoff’s theory has merit but only carries us so far. Our values are embedded in something deeper, our worldview or weltanschauung: the underlying way we perceive the world so basic to who we are that we are not aware it exists–in the same way that a fish is not aware that it is swimming through water.

What we think is rock-solid reality is, in fact, socially constructed!  I first ran across this concept shortly after returning from Vietnam when I happened across a book in the UNH bookstore, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. It was a paradigm shifting event for me changing in an instant how I viewed my world.

More to come in Part II when I discuss how Jeremy Rifkin, great social thinker, takes this concept as the starting point to present a positive alternative reality for our future that is both sustainable and doable.

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