Meaning lies in the eyes of the beholder

George Lakoff, the author of Moral Politics, wrote about how liberals and conservatives think differently. In an excerpt from chapter two it focuses in on the seemingly contradictory ideas from the two political parties and how to each party they fall perfectly into place. For the opposite sides, many of the contradictions can become more clear once the meaning of important vocabulary is made more clear.

While reading this excerpt from Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think by George Lakoff, at first glance many of the basic political ideas of liberals and conservation seem to contradict themselves, but do they really? For example, conservatives support funding for victims of natural disasters, but oppose funding for the needy and welfare. In Lakoff’s article he describes a specific example of this:

“A liberal supporter of California’s 1994 single-payer initiative was speaking to a conservative audience and decided to appeal to their financial self-interest. He pointed out that the savings in administrative costs would get them the same health benefits for less money while also paying for health care for the indigent. A woman responded, “It just sounds wrong to me. I would be paying for some body else.” Why did his appeal to her economic self-interest fail?”

For liberal thinkers this situation may seem very puzzling, but for this woman, other conservatives, and myself, this makes perfect sense. From the unnamed woman’s point of view it is not just about saving a bit of money it is about enabling others. She may see getting the “same health benefits for less money while also paying for health care for the indigent” as allowing them to, in a sense, freeload. In essence it is allowing them to continue to do what they are currently doing, whether that is putting in hard work to try to change their current situation or not, and receive the benefits of the responding woman, who worries that the “indigent” is doing the latter of the two. While this may seem like a broad judgement, it is one that in some situations is very real and a great concern for many.

In this situation I would have to agree with the woman, it should not be her responsibility to care for others if she does not want to. She owes them nothing and should be able to pay it forward in the way she chooses and obviously this is not how she wishes to do that.

As Lakoff pointed out multiple times, conservatives are all about keeping morals at the center of their beliefs ad in this case the woman is focusing on keeping to her moral values rather than saving money by spreading the wealth to someone who may not be deserving. In the end the meaning lies in the eyes of the beholder.


Lakoff, George. (date). Chapter Two: The Worldview Problem for American Politics. University of Chicago Press (2nd), Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservaties Think (pp. 23–37). 


1 Comment

  1. Excellent job at outlining the conservative point of view, but I’d like to see more thought to the other side.

    (1) The practical: If we don’t take care of people through health insurance, they will become sicker, and wind up in emergency rooms, costing us more. Ultimately, this country will refuse to let people die, even if they are poor.

    If the poor are unhealthy, they will be unable to work, they may be poor parents, which means we pay more to educate and care for the children. Their children may also turn to crime, which costs us more. Taking care of others, in the liberal perspective, costs us less.

    (2) The moral: you seem to say that conservatives are more interested in morals. Which of these two attitudes to the poor comes closest to Christian charity? What does it mean to be your “brother’s keeper?” Can we really deny HEALTH CARE to people on the basis of wealth?

    When you start looking at it this way, the problem becomes even more complicated.

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