Social conservatism

Social conservatism gets a bad rap because it is associated with fundamentalist Christianity and people who seem to take the fun out of everything.

Then again, if you listen to the rabid talking heads from any belief, they will show you the most dogmatic and least interesting aspects of it, hammered home like a rote lesson.

From my experience, social conservatism is misunderstood. Our leftist-friendly media portrays it as being against fun, experimentation and tolerance for any who do not fit a rigid cookie-cutter existence.

On the contrary, it seems to me that social conservatism is about hedonism.

Think about maximizing pleasure: if you were given a huge trust fund, and sated with vast amounts of food, drugs, drink, luxury goods and sex, what would happen after only a year or so? You’d get bored.

Even if you upped the ante and became a jet-setting billionaire, there would only be so many pleasures you could indulge before you felt you were going through the motions. “Another menage-a-trois… well, there’s nothing on TV.”

Eventually you would snap to the realization that you need a deeper level of pleasure. You cannot substitute for quality with quantity, and quality is the elusive dimension to all things in life.

At that point, you think about what would make life as a whole quite beautiful. When you think of quality not quantity, a new level of possibility presents itself.

Maybe it goes like this:

  • You grow up in a stable home. You’ve got a mom and a dad who are madly in love. They love you too, and tell you that whatever you choose to do with your life, as long as you act honestly, bravely and morally, you’ll be OK. They will always love you; there are no conditions here.
  • Your society has a moral code. These are always semi-arbitrary; societies need them, but there’s no writing across the sky to tell us what, so we invent them like any other technology and refine them as we go. It doesn’t matter. In your society, the moral code is there, and it works enough. You know what actions will be rewarded, and what’s taboo, and what impresses no one even if it’s not technically bad.
  • You are challenged. When you go to school, you are not bored. The work engages your mind. As time goes on, kids peel off to areas that interest them and match their abilities. Some apprentice as mechanics, others get shifted off to art school, and still others go farther in academia. As long as you do well, you are supported in going further.
  • You have a magic love of your own. Chastity is strong here, so you make a careful decision. You find a partner from a background like yours, who shares your values and matches you in ability, and you have a fairy tale white wedding. You are each others’ first lovers, best friends, and eternal partners in making a life together.
  • You are not bored in your job. Not all things are fascinating, but you don’t spend a bunch of time waiting for incompetents or people protected by nit-picking rules. You are compelled to do well and while competition is not rabid, incompetence and fence-sitting are not rewarded. This means fewer committees, fewer meetings, less paperwork, and more doing what it is you like to do.
  • Your nation is going in a good direction. You all share values and act on them together. This means you fix problems aggressively. That does not mean you are a war monger, but neither are you afraid of war. You do whatever it takes. Your goal is to keep making life better.
  • You live in peaceful surroundings. The art of your country is strong and complex, so there is not a need to substitute manic amounts of quantity for quality. No Lady Gaga blasting from a thousand stereos. No street signs screaming political and commercial slogans. No lowest common denominator. You live in an elegant society.
  • Defective behavior is not encouraged. If you turn toward drugs or drink, society has a solid word for you: No. Don’t do it. They’ll help you out of a snare a few times, but you know what happens to people who behave aberrantly; they self-destruct. Society does not equivocate in its message about what is bad.
  • Rebellion is anticlimax. In a healthy society, rebellion is a tantrum without merit. The political and justice systems work, and there’s no need for protests in the street or other drama.

This is the type of hedonism at which social conservatism aims: hedonism of a whole life lived so well that when you look back on it in your twilight years, it seems to glow with golden potential.

You could throw that out and instead demand quantity, as we do now. Stimulus not enough? Have a ton of drugs, alcohol, video games and casual sex. Keep trying to stuff something in that hole in your soul.

The hollow modern life is the opposite of the good life that social conservatism promises. The modern quantitative life tries to make meaning at the surface, instead of within the functional parts of life.

When you look at life as a whole, you’re looking at how those functional parts interact to make a sense of satisfaction of a life well-lived. And that, not stuffy old rules, is the aim of social conservatism.

9 Comments

  1. John D says:

    I like this explanation’s focus on “maximizing pleasure” as an argument for the need for high standards. Sometimes I forget that the bullet points listed above are actually the norm where I live, at least to the point where any deviation is seen as “wrong,” but not so much that people are religious fundamentalists.

    I am not inclined to think however, that there will be a system that works for everyone. In any society, everyone is going to be abused in some way at some point as a result of its rules, and many their whole lives. We are evolved to be cavemen, yet we’re not living in accordance with our biology. I would view social conservatism as necessary to control our more atavistic instincts (feeding, fleeing, fighting, fucking), so that we may also engage in “higher” purposes.

    The only real issue I take with this post is is the emphasis on chastity and monogamy. It is certainly something that can be done well enough, and is usually the best situation for children. I cannot offer a solution, but I do know that our minds are wired for novelty-seeking, and for finding and mating with new partners after a while. “..there’s no writing across the sky..” indeed.

  2. liberal hipster says:

    Most hedonist are looking for a self-satisfying type of pleasure, not a holistic one. You have a long way to go in order to convince people otherwise Brett. In the end, you fail.

    1. nydwracu says:

      The point is that self-satisfying pleasure gets old after a while. I’ve seen liberal arts students get bored of a life filled with sex and cocaine.

  3. [...] In other words, social conservatism wins when, social conservatives; not Conan the Partial-Birth Abortionist, define what is best in life. Contra Susan Sontag, and Gloria Steinem, nobody in the social conservative movement really wants to hear the lamentations of the women. Brett Stevens of Amerika.org gives us a good bullet-point list of what social conservatives would tell the Mongol General is best in life. [...]

  4. EvilBuzzard says:

    This was awesome. Vindication and validation. Three points follow below.

    1) If the goal is beauty, SC must also involve an aesthetic.
    2) If the beauty is obtained through some version of a “warrior’s code”, SC morphs into a deontology as well. (Assuming th ecode draws it’s rules from 1st principals, not utilitarian concerns).
    3) If the beauty represented in the golden life described above, is judged in terms of an aesthetic, is crafted through the rigor of a valid deontology and is a goal to be venerated as an objective of a well-lived life, it completes a human existance.

    4) By implication of steps 1-3. Social Conservatism is a Humanism! Take that JPS!

  5. HenzeBomb says:

    If “vast amounts of food, drugs, drink, luxury goods and sex” only entertain you for year, you’re doing them wrong!

  6. Ouroboros says:

    Made me visualize a perfect European-American setting somewhere in the wilderness. Good job.

  7. Ryan says:

    awesome stuff, thank you. this is literally the only place you can get a true understanding of the world (without liberalism shoving its member in there)

  8. buckyinky says:

    “The art of your country is strong and complex, so there is not a need to substitute manic amounts of quantity for quality.”

    This idea is well worth pondering.

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