Are cuts to social security moral?

A lot of people would answer no straight away to this question, but stay with me. I’ve just started reading George Lakoff’s “Don’t think of an Elephant!” which is about how people view the world through different ‘frames’ and how political parties seek to exploit these frames in their political messaging. Lakoff’s central thesis is that those with a conservative world view frame things from the point of view of a strict father figure, while those of a more liberal persuasion frame the world from the point of view of a ‘nurturant parent family’.

So what is meant by the strict father figure frame? Lakoff explains:

“In this model there is also a definition of what it means to become a good person. A good person – a moral person – is someone who is disciplined enough to be obedient, to learn what is right, do what is right and not do what is wrong, and to pursue her self-interest to prosper and become self-reliant. A good child grows up to be like that. A bad child is one who does not learn discipline, does not function morally, does not do what is right, and therefore is not disciplined enough to become prosperous.She cannot take care of herself, and thus becomes dependent.”

To bring it back to the title of the blog then, for those who view the world though the strict father frame (a conservative viewpoint), cutting social security is a moral position, because a Lakoff also writes:

“Consider what this all means for social programs. It is immoral to give people things they have not earned, because then they will not develop discipline and will become both dependent and immoral. This theory says that social programs are immoral because they make people dependent. Promoting social programs is immoral.”

This strikes me a quite a good description of the language Tories like IDS use when discussing social security. They talk about ‘welfare dependency’ as though it’s a great societal evil, and separate people into those who are deserving of help and those who aren’t. They talk about people who ‘want to work hard and get on’. The Tories are for these people. This all implies that if people have the discipline and drive to succeed, then succeed they will. Any failure to do so must be down to the personal failings of the individual. I think this last point was quite eloquently dismissed in a blog by Jack Monroe todaybut it is an idea that many people undoubtedly subscribe to, and the right are extremely proficient in pushing these kinds of messages, while the left are poor at pushing their own. Witness Labour’s almost total inability to defend the welfare state and it’s acceptance of this strict father framing.

I suppose my point then is that a lot of people seem to assume the cuts to social security are because the Tories are evil, or because they want to shift resources from poor to rich. Maybe there are elements of that, but I think for politicians like IDS, they genuinely do believe what they are doing is morally right. The left need to accept that a lot of people agree with him and come up with strategies to reframe the debate.


2 thoughts on “Are cuts to social security moral?

  1. How can a Tory MP such as Duncan Smith claim any morality, or sense of right, when he has LIED to gain financially from the public purse, surely that is Fraud at least. He LIED about his Educational merits, God only knows what else and I can’t be bothered wasting my time on a Lying, thieving, Corrupt, Treasonous, Fraudulent piece of S**t like him. In fact 99% of those that sit in the house of the privileged would fit the description of Smith. There is probably one or two of them fit to govern this country, the rest is a house of crooks who would sell their own Grandmothers for a chance of getting their hands on the public purse.

  2. I accept that many who have the Authoritarian ‘Strict Father’ schema may genuinely believe that their set of values is morally correct – although I would add that it is extremely convenient on many levels for the patriarch. However, it is not the equivalent of the ‘liberal family’ framework because it is based solely on ‘conviction’ which is unhindered by empirical evidence. Edwina Curry yelling ‘Try harder’ is a perfect example.

    ‘‘Conservatives don’t feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions…. “They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm”
    [Assistant Professor Jack Glaser of the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy]

    ‘Perhaps, the most pointed example of this type of thinking was when President George W. Bush was asked to explain himself. The Republican president told assembled world leaders, “I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right.”

    … This is truly conviction politics .. an unshakeable faith despite all the evidence to the contrary. Others would call it delusional.’

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