Why the "Conservative" (and "Liberal") labels became so popular.

“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”–Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 

(Long-time readers are probably familiar with my personal system of political classification, loosely described as “nationalism”, “cosmopolitanism” and “materialism”. I have often said that I believe this system helps to clarify the political scene. In this post, I am exploring why the “conservative” and “liberal” system is so much more popular, even though, in my opinion, it is less useful.)

But first, I will consider Rare’s 1997 video game Goldeneye 007. I maintain that it is one of the best FPS games ever, easily outstripping such mundane affairs as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. There are those who will disagree and point to such things as MW 2’s vastly superior graphics, and scorn me for praising such an outdated game.

It is true that MW 2 has much better graphics–but, in my opinion, its level design, weapons, and gameplay are inferior to Goldeneye‘s, and, more to the point,  it would be eminently possible to simply redo Goldeneye‘s levels, weapons and gameplay with MW 2 like graphics. If Rare could have made it with better graphics at the time, they almost certainly would have. It was a necessity, not a design decision, that it looked like it did. Therefore, I maintain that Goldeneye is better.

(And yes, I know they remade Goldeneye, but they made the mistake of messing around with the gameplay and level design, and seem to have made it much more CoD-like.)

There are people who love the new generation of first-person shooters and people who hate it and think we ought to go back to the old style. This mimics beautifully what everyone wants you to think the political divide in this country is like. People who prefer the old way are Conservatives, people who embrace the new way are Liberals.

This concept seems intuitively correct because we all can relate to it. You may not know or care what the hell Goldeneye is, but you probably know something analogous; perhaps you thought popular music was better in the 1960s or you hate the way people used to dress in the past. So, it seems entirely plausible that similar emotions form the core of our political divide.

At first glance, this still holds up. Liberals want green technology, Conservatives want to deregulate industry. Conservatives want to go back to the more prudish days of the 1950s, Liberals want to embrace new ideas about gender, race, etc. So far, everything is what you’d expect.

And yet, there are exceptions. Conservatives have no problem with spending (taxpayer!) money on the latest in weapons technology, and Liberals sometimes romanticize the more primitive days of less pollution. Or take the issue of gun control. If you interpreted the sentence “he’s liberal on gun issues” literally, you’d assume it meant he was passing out M-16s like popcorn, when the political sense of the word means he wants restrictions on guns. Or take the occasionally noted irony that conservatives hate conservationists. The list goes on.

  There are, in both philosophies, contradictions like these, but as I am a liberal, I am perhaps better qualified to point out those in the conservative side.

What are they conserving? The status quo? If that were the case, a conservative would be someone who opposed efforts to pass some new law, but, as soon as it was passed, supported it wholeheartedly. Our “conservatives” are nothing like that. They are still mad over a nearly 40-year old Supreme Court decision. At what point can this no longer be called “conservative”?

I suspect that the real secret is that the words “conservative” and “liberal” are almost right. But then, as Mark Twain famously said “’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning”. These words almost accurately describe the sides’ behavior, but don’t quite. And as I said, I believe they fail to account for one faction altogether. But even if you think my model is a lot of nonsense, perhaps you still think these words don’t quite make sense.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?