Lakoff’s research has led him to conclude that most of us use a metaphor of our nation as a family. The government at the federal, state and local level is thought of as the “parent” and the citizens stand in the role of “children.” Those who understand politics in this way do not all have the same family model, however. People that we usually think of as conservatives hold a Strict Father worldview of the nation and politics. Liberals have a Nurturant Parent worldview.
The beauty of Lakoff’s conceptual systems is that they do a far better job of describing American politics than the old ideological models. “Strict Fatherites” see the world as a dangerous place filled with evil, and believe that survival is dependent on self-discipline and moral strength. Their “common sense” tells them that self-discipline is only created by strict enforcement of a system of rewards and punishments that teach everyone, especially children, that they must work hard, obey authority and keep morally pure if they are to succeed. Moral strength is threatened by non-conformists and those who are so morally weak that they give in to the temptations of “evil.” It then is not surprising that Strict Fatherites would object to governmental interference with the system of rewards and punishments established by an unregulated free market system no matter how harsh its effects. Government policies that try to ameliorate the impact of the market only serve to undermine self-discipline and make citizens less able to survive this harsh world. The government’s job instead is to punish those who do not conform to the moral standards of the majority because otherwise, the impurity of their behavior will spread like a disease throughout the society. The woman with an unwanted pregnancy should be forced to carry the fetus to term so that she learns from her “mistake.” Homosexuals should be punished to prevent their “perversion” from spreading. When the government is doing its job properly, the natural and moral order is maintained in which God is superior to men, men to women, adults to children, rich to poor and human beings to nature.
“Nurturant Parents” see the world very differently. Their picture of the family places empathy, communication and respect above discipline, strength and purity. At the heart of the moral system is what Lakoff calls a “strong” Golden Rule:
Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.
This requires not only that we desire to help others but that we endeavor to understand their values and desires so that we can provide the help that they want to receive, not the help we want to give. Providing this kind of nurturance is benefical both to the recipient and the giver. Recipients who are respected, nurtured and communicated with become people who respect, nurture and communicate with others. Givers gain moral strength and happiness from giving.
Nurturant Parents think the nation as family has an obligation to help those “children” who are poorly fed or housed or educated. Both those who are helped and those who help with benefit. Women with unwanted pregnancies should receive our understanding and assistance. Homosexuals should be respected and accepted.
I think it is essential to become familiar with George Lakoff’s work, to help understand what is happening with politics in America. I recommend his book Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think.