A Return to Conservatism

A long time ago, I posted a section on definitions, among which, I started posting on conservatism.  I say started because, let’s be honest, I forgot to finish it.  In recent weeks, however, a couple of other atheist blogs and Twitter users, have been posting about conservative atheists and I realized two things.  First, there are painfully few of us out there, especially in the blogosphere, and secondly, there’s a lot of confusion in what conservatism actually is.  Therefore, I wanted to take some time to define what conservatism means to me and add a lot of the ideas of this post to my definition, thus being able to take “work in progress” off of the page.  Everyone wins.

If you get nothing else from this article, you need to understand that there is a massive difference between the people currently running the Republican Party and actual conservatism.  Neo-conservatives are not  conservatives.

Repeat that with me.  Neo-conservatives are not conservatives.  Neo-conservatives do not bear any of the hallmarks that define conservatism.  They just  don’t.  However, for people who have grown up in the post-Reagan era, where the only people on the political stage that have been calling themselves conservative are the neo-cons, it’s not a hard mistake to make.  The historical fact remains that the majority of high party officials that currently control the Republican party didn’t come up as conservatives, they are expatriate Southern Democrats.  Yes, you heard that right, lots of Republicans today used to be Democrats back in the 50s and 60s, when there was a wholesale move by Southern Democrats away from the party over issues like civil rights and abortion.  These people were highly religious and frankly pretty racist and once they lost their party, they set their sights on the Republicans as a place they could take over and fight against their now enemies on the left.  One of their first tactics was to start referring to themselves as “conservatives” in hopes that the people who were actual Goldwater-era conservatives, might be confused into voting for them and unfortunately, it worked.  The reality is, these “new-conservatives” aren’t conservatives, they’re new people using an old word incorrectly.  I’ve seen liberals tell me that now, neo-conservatives are conservatives, that the word has somehow changed meaning because they’ve been using it wrongly for so long.  I call bullshit.  Just because you point to something black and call it white for a long time never makes black, white.  It just makes the usage wrong.  To be honest, neo-conservatives are just hyper-religious liberals and it’s not that hard to see it.  Fiscally, there’s no question, they are purely liberal with their absurd amount of spending.  Socially, they want to control your life, just like the liberals do, they insist on sticking their noses into your bedroom and telling you what you ought to believe.  Spending and control, that’s liberalism.

If there is one word that sums of the core of conservative belief, it is “responsibility”.  You are responsible for yourself, your actions, your life, etc.  Nobody owes you a thing.  You are responsible for getting an education, for getting a good job, for making good decisions and taking care of yourself and your family.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a minimal social safety net for catching people when they fall and putting them back on their feet but there is no reason to have a system that takes care of everyone, cradle to grave, without having to work for it.  It is important to note that “responsibility” is a thread that runs throughout all of conservative thought.

Most political positions are de facto split between fiscal and social elements so I’ll maintain that dichotomy here.

Fiscal:  Again, we’re talking about responsibility here.  A conservative individual lives within their means.  If they make $100, they do not spend more than $100.  If $100 doesn’t pay the bills, they don’t go borrow money, they focus on earning more.  That doesn’t mean that for big-ticket purchases, a conservative cannot rely on credit, but they must use credit responsibly, only taking on as much as they can reasonably pay off.  That’s why most conservatives are capitalists.  They’re concerned with self-responsibility and self-sufficiency.

Now I don’t want to hang myself out there as some prime example of fiscal conservatism, but we use what we know, I guess.  I started working at the age of 16.  I worked hard and by the time I turned 18, the company I worked for wanted to move me into management.  Had it not been against company policy, they’d have promoted me before that.  I have a strong work ethic and I have never been outside of management for more than a couple of weeks at most any time since then.  Any time I’ve changed jobs, especially if I’ve had to go in at a lower level than I had been, I have had the fastest advancement record anyone can remember.  I am very upwardly mobile, I am not satisfied remaining at any one level for extended periods of time.  I want to constantly better myself, learn more, do more and move higher.  I simply do not understand anyone who isn’t trying to do the same.  To be honest, when I see someone who has been in the same position for years on end, especially when they spend their time bitching about how little they are making, I have to ask myself what is wrong with them.  They had the opportunities, they could have had the skills, why didn’t they take advantage of these things and better themselves?

I think this is the biggest difference we see today between neo-conservatives and actual conservatives.  Neo-conservatives are not fiscally conservative in any way.  They spend like there’s no tomorrow.  They borrow money to fund pet projects, neo-conservatives, owing to their liberal roots, never saw a vote-buying project they didn’t like.

Social:  The biggest confusion of all is when it comes to social politics.  This is because the neo-conservatives are so staunchly controlling and religious in their views.  Fortunately, the neo-conservatives are not conservative at all.  We need to return to responsibility.  People need to be responsible for their actions, just as they are for their finances.

Now speaking personally, I am going to hold people accountable for their actions and responsible for their lives whether they want me to or not.  It’s one thing if something happens to you that is totally beyond your ability to control or reasonably foresee.  In other words, sometimes shit happens and I’m not going to blame an individual for that. However, far too often, people do stupid things with far-reaching consequences and they want society to take care of them because of their own misdeeds?  Screw that.  Yes, mistakes can be made, but you are still responsible for the consequences of those mistakes.  If you drop out of high school, you will have a hard time getting a decent job.  It’s your failure that you dropped out.  It’s your responsibility to go back and get your GED.  But here’s the reality, many companies do not value a GED as highly as a diploma.  This is a mistake that can never be fully fixed, the damage can only be mitigated to a certain degree.  There are, like it or not, many mistakes that once made, can never be unmade.  They will have life-changing, life-damaging, or in particularly unfortunate cases, life-ending results.  The only way not to suffer from these mistakes is not to make them in the first place.

It reminds me of a quote by Indira Gandhi who said “People tend to forget their duties but remember their rights.”

So let’s look at some of the classic social issues and see where I, as a social conservative, stand.

Abortion:  Unlike the neo-conservatives, I am entirely in support of abortion rights.  A woman has every right to control what happens with her body and a fetus has no rights whatsoever to inhabit or parasitize her body against her will.  This will, of course, make my liberal readers happy.  However, while I am in support of the right to have an abortion, I am still entirely in favor of taking responsibility which should make abortion almost entirely unnecessary.  If people are responsible to begin with, do not sleep around, do not have sex without precautions, etc., then the need for abortions ought to drop dramatically, occurring only when birth control fails, changes in situation occur unexpectedly, or nature is cruel and birth defects happen.  Beyond that, while I still would rather see an abortion occur than an unwanted child brought into the world, where the adoption system is vastly overloaded, I cannot bring myself to respect individuals who are irresponsible to begin with.

Death Penalty:  I absolutely support the death penalty and think we ought to use it far more often than we do today.  I think we ought to eliminate “life without possibility of parole” and just kill them.  Yes, I understand the complaints made by many liberals that we aren’t perfect and may, inadvertently put an innocent person to death, I simply disagree.  We, as humans, are not a perfect species.  We are not perfect in anything.  We make mistakes.  We need to come to grips with that simple fact.  Therefore, as it is an unrealistic expectation that we will ever be perfect, the claim that our imperfection ought to leave us quivering in our boots for fear we might make a mistake is a bit absurd.  Yes, we might make a mistake.  We need to learn from our mistakes.  That said, our legal system needs some serious work, it suffers from a lot of problems and we need to be constantly improving the system to eliminate as many errors as humanly possible.

Drug Laws:  This is where I differ from most liberals and libertarians.  I don’t see any reason to legalize drugs.  As far as I’m concerned, if you feel the need to inject, ingest, smoke or snort an illicit substance to feel good about yourself, you’ve got problems.  And yes, I will include tobacco and alcohol in excess in that as well.  This really falls to responsibility.  If someone is really responsible for themselves, they don’t need to be sticking a needle in their arm to rid themselves of their problems.  After all, it doesn’t actually solve anything, it just delays the effects.

Equality:  I support equality for all, period.  Men and women.  Young and old.  Black and white.  Gay and straight.  There ought to be no difference in how individuals are treated or paid for the same work whatsoever.  Now I want to qualify this and state that I am wholly for equal opportunity and not for equal outcome.  Everyone ought to have the same opportunities presented to them, but what they do with those opportunities is entirely up to them.  Those who get a good education, who work hard, who graduate from high school with good grades, who go on to college, who get a good job and work hard, etc., those people ought to have a good life.  Those who squander their opportunities, shouldn’t.

Gun Rights:  I am entirely fine with law-abiding citizens owning personal firearms for sport, recreation or personal protection.  That doesn’t mean I support anyone willy-nilly owning anything with no requirements whatsoever.  I’m very much in favor of registration for every gun in the country, screw the paranoids who think it’s just a means for the government to come take them away.  I also don’t think that people ought to own a lot of the high-end firearms which are useless for sport, recreation or personal protection.  You don’t need to own fully automatic weapons.  You don’t need to own an RPG.  You don’t need to own a tank or a nuke.  The second amendment does not, in any way, defend any of that nonsense, in fact, the second amendment doesn’t really protect modern gun ownership at all.

Illegal Immigration:  Absolutely and completely opposed to it, I don’t think we ought to reward people with any form of amnesty for breaking the laws, whether it was their fault or not.  That means no amnesty for kids.  I might argue that they should be able to stay in the country while their paperwork is being processed,  but if they are not actively engaged in becoming a legal citizen, they ought to be booted back across the border.  That means no preferential treatment for women who manage to drop a baby 10 feet over the border.  They should not be able to use their anchor baby to stay in the country illegally.  Kick them both across the border, the kid is welcome to come back as a U.S. citizen when they’re an adult.

Marriage:  I am a big supporter of marriage and frankly am disgusted with the modern-day move away from legal marriage.  Now this has nothing to do with religion whatsoever, my expectations of marriage have to do with legal rights and responsibilities, as well as the undeniable fact that children are better raised in a two-parent household.  It doesn’t matter to me what the gender of those two parents happen to be, I am a strong supporter of gay marriage rights as well.  What I don’t support, like it or not, are single parents who were never married.

Poverty:  I feel for the poor, I just don’t think the goal ought to be handing them a check every month, it ought to be motivating them out of poverty entirely.  Regardless of what many liberals think, it is entirely possible if we simply hold everyone accountable to a single standard.  Everyone will get educated.  We offer it free, you’re expected to go, you’re expected to learn and you will graduate, at least from high school.  If you do not, then you are declared ineligible for government assistance of all kinds.

Prostitution:  I see no problem at all with legalizing prostitution, so long as it is done in a safe and healthy fashion. If it’s okay for someone to make a living selling their skills in other areas, why shouldn’t it be legal to do so using their sexual skills?  Of course, as I said, it has to be safe and healthy, I think prostitutes ought to be required to be licensed and only work in licensed establishments that can be checked by health inspectors.  Anyone who tries to work outside of that should be prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law.

Welfare:  As I said in the Poverty section, we need to hold people accountable for their actions, regardless.  Welfare and all forms of government aid need to be temporary and extremely limited.  All of them need to come with requirements as a consequence of getting that check.  For anyone receiving welfare, getting an education must be a requirement.  Give people 3 years maximum to make it through a community college.  If they flunk out, their welfare is cut as well.  Make failure not an option.  I also think everyone on the government dole ought to spend time doing public works projects of some sort, even if it’s just picking up trash along the freeway.  Of course, we need to match the work to the individual, people who are physically or mentally handicapped probably aren’t capable of much and that’s fine.  I also think that, while on welfare or government assistance of any kind, breeding needs to be completely prohibited.  There is a window, maybe 3-4 months, during which a woman must report her pregnancy, probably through a doctor.  If she does not do so, then any offspring she produces thereafter will not be covered, she will receive no money whatsoever for their care, etc.  If you’re consuming the taxpayer’s money, the taxpayers have every right to tell you how to live.  Don’t like it?  Get your ass off welfare.

I just tried to select a variety of common issues but certainly, there’s a lot more out there.  If you have any issues that you want to know how I feel, by all means ask.

It’s unfortunate that there just aren’t any conservative political parties in America today.  All of them go off the rails fiscally, socially or both.  It’s sad because I think that if we returned to conservatism, serious, unapologetic conservatism, where everyone is held to a standard and laziness is not rewarded, we’d solve most of the problems in this country.  We don’t need more social welfare, we need less.  We don’t need more hand-holding, we need less.  We don’t need more government assistance, we need less.  We need to have an informed, educated electorate, we need to have people who are upwardly mobile, who are hard-working, who are not satisfied with just getting by, who strive to succeed and excel.

That’s just not what we have today in this country, or on this planet.  As technology grows, people get lazier, people don’t want to work, people want to take time off and relax.  That’s not the path to success, that’s the path to socialized garbage.

I, for one, soundly reject socialism.  It’s too bad that so many socialists out there soundly reject conservatism, they just don’t care about taking responsibility for their lives.

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