Moral Depravity of Social Conservatism

It feels good to see Bill Cosby taken down. There are few people more deserving of it. For years, he has been acting self-righteous in judging others. He was the great conservative icon and father figure who was supposed to represent all that is good about the American Dream, a black man who rose up out of poverty. As part of the supposed meritocracy, he took it as his right and obligation to condemn those he left behind in poverty.

His life and popular television show expressed the social conservative values of hard work and family values. He was America’s dad, as the media liked to proclaim. Now he has fallen from grace or rather his true face has been revealed. But this is nothing new, as it follows an old pattern: Catholic priests molesting children and gay-bashing fundy preachers being caught in gay sex, Rudy Giuliani’s philandering and Donald Trump’s everything. These people aren’t aberrations to the norm and exceptions to the rule, aren’t failures of social conservatism (also, keep in mind this conservatism was never limited to the GOP, as Barack Obama no different than Cosby — both Democrats, of course — loved to bash poor blacks because of their supposed laziness and general inferiority; and don’t forget the racist dog whistle politics of our first black president, by which I mean Bill Clinton). Their two-faced morality is the norm and rule. These great men of power and celebrity, these authoritative voices and leaders represent what it meant for conservatives to have won the culture wars, and for a long time conservatives felt high and mighty, though it turned out to have been a temporary and hollow victory.

The moral depravity we’ve seen again and again is what social conservatism has always been about, alpha male authority figures swinging their dicks around (something George Carlin liked to ridicule). Deep down, conservative family values equates to the reactionary authoritarianism of patriarchy. The family, as with the rest of society, is supposed to submit to the wise father figure who knows what’s best for us and no one should be allowed to challenge him or talk back. The morality of the patriarchy was justified by power and privilege, rather than power and privilege being justified by morality. It’s the reason anti-choice activism is motivated by social control, not saving innocent lives considering conservative policies worsen women’s health and the abortion rate. Real world results that hurt actual people are irrelevant. Rich male conservatives, supported by their dick-sucking followers, always knew they were right because they felt righteous — they were in a position to force their views on others and to silence their critics, as they silenced their victims. The blatant hypocrisy of it all rubs salt into the wound.

Donald Trump was elected for the very reason that he embodies everything that the Republican Party has become. His moral depravity isn’t a minor detail overlooked by social conservatives such as evangelicals. It is precisely why they love and worship him. The more he flaunts his immoral egotism, the more his fans go wild. He shows no shame and that is taken as an inspiring example of how pure power will put feminists and liberals back in their place. The difference with Bill Cosby is that he pretended to have been different, using his claim as a moral exemplar to justify his being a moral scold. But now it has been revealed there never was any difference. Cosby and Trump are the same patriarchal archetype, proving right everything feminists have said for generations. This is what it means to make America great again, the patriarchy coming back out of hiding and damn! is it ugly when seen in the glare of open scrutiny.

Many social conservatives have stopped pretending anymore and instead have embraced this moral depravity as a point of pride, in the hope of demonstrating how much influence they still have. Trump defies all social norms of moral behavior and appears untouchable. No one can tell him what to do, just like it was in the good ol’ days when every man was supposedly a king in his own castle. But that arrogance is changing, demonstrated by the taking down of Bill Cosby. In his attacking poor blacks as being morally inferior, it should be noted that it was the rich black guy who was drugging and raping women. It turns out that wealth, ambition, and success aren’t signs from God that you are one of the divine elect. Maybe the same morality that applies to the rest of us also applies to the rich and powerful. Maybe they aren’t above the law, after all. Maybe they aren’t untouchable.

Here is my simple prayer. May Bill Cosby rot in prison and die in shame. And may the likes of Donald Trump be next for the chopping block. As for women and all others who are also rich and powerful assholes in both political parties, whether serving the patriarchy or pretending not to, we will be coming for you soon. Be patient. The moral arc of history is bending back around.

* * *

My criticisms here aren’t a response to mere moral failure. Most of us to varying degrees fail our own stated moral standards. But there is a difference. Not all of us hold ourselves up as morally righteous and superior to our fellow humans. Moral failure is commonplace, although the levels of moral failure seen with the likes of Bill Cosby exist on an entirely different sphere of outright moral depravity. That is the difference that makes a difference. Cosby’s outward righteousness was precisely correlated to his hidden depravity.

Let me share a comparable example, even if only comparable in that it is another celebrity caught up in the #MeToo movement. On far lesser accusations, Louis C.K. was brought down low and deserved it to some extent. But here is what was very much unlike the Cosby case. First, his moral depravity was much less depraved. Second, he immediately admitted to his wrongdoing and then gave a heartfelt apology. And, last but not least, he never held himself up as better than others, if anything doing the opposite in making fun of himself as a pathetic loser.

Humility can go a long way in life. I can be a righteous asshole at times. Even so, I know I’m not morally superior to others. I regularly admit to my own personal failures. All of us are imperfect in varying ways as we are all fallible humans. There is nothing wrong with that. Keeping one’s ego tamped down with humility is probably the best way of avoiding the worst forms of moral depravity. The point isn’t about being morally perfect or necessarily even coming close. The simple truth is that, the higher are the moral standards we hold, the greater will be our falling short. But that is better than lowering one’s standards so far down that they are easy to meet without effort. Or worse still, you could go the route of Trump and have no standards at all by simply embracing depravity as a way of life.

Writing this was a cathartic experience. I really am not in a position to be morally righteous, even as I’m deeply moved by a moral outrage that implicates us all in our societal failure. No one should be following my example, other than maybe in my willingness to be a truth-teller. My few moral strengths are worthy, I suppose. I try my best, which admittedly is limited. Still, I don’t feel better in seeing others brought down low, although I do feel wonderful knowing that justice is occasionally served. Justice can seem so rare that it’s a breath of fresh air when it does happen. For all the problems with the #MeToo movement, it has forced much needed change. And it was the victims that forced that change, which is how it should be.

* * *

Whose Work Counts? Who Gets Counted?

The Secret Lives of Inner-City Black Males
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

How Bill Cosby, Obama and Mega-Preachers Sold Economic Snake Oil to Black America
by Yves Smith

Is Bill Cosby Right or Is the Black Middle Class Out of Touch?
NPR

The Injustice Bill Cosby Won’t See
by Michael E. Dyson

Is the Black Community Ashamed to See Poor African-Americans on TV?
by Nareissa Smith

The untold truth of Bill Cosby
by Phil Archbold

What Bill Cosby Has Taught Us About Sexual Assault and Power
by Emma M.

The long arm of justice reaches Bill Cosby
by Tony Norman

Bill Cosby’s moralizing comes back to haunt him
by Edward McAllister and Jill Serjeant

Cosby’s criticisms of poor blacks come back to haunt him
by dwilson1911

Unmasking Dr. Huxtable
by Debra A. Smith

Bill Cosby was once ‘America’s Dad.’ Now he’s a convicted pariah.
by Daniel Arkin

Bill Cosby: a dark cloud now hangs over ‘America’s Dad’
by Andrew Anthony

Philadelphia Laments Bill Cosby’s Now-Tarnished Image
by Trip Gabriel

Cosby verdict met with conflicting emotions by some blacks
by Errin Haines Whack

Bill Cosby Scandal: Fans Feel Sadness, Not Sympathy
by Brian Lowry

‘The Cosby Show’s’ legacy in South Africa
PRI

6 thoughts on “Moral Depravity of Social Conservatism

  1. In the case of Bill Cosby, another “icon” goes down in flames. These were entirely self-inflicted wounds too.

    It’s because the Clinton liberals have been so repulsive that people either didn’t vote or they felt that change, even in the form of Trump was the only thing that people had.

    There is also the matter that Democrats feel entitled too:

    Note Glenn Greenwald’s response. Democrats feel entitled to the voter – they think they are so inherently and self-evidently superior. They feel that if they fail, the people have failed, not the Democratic leaders.

    I would not be surprised if another Bill Cosby rises. Hey, the Democrats might even run such a figure.

    • Cosby set himself up for his own fall. If he had simply kept his mouth shut this past decade or so, his victims might have not felt compelled to speak out. He would have slowly faded away and his respectable reputation might have remained. But the same thing that motivated him toward being a sexual victimizer is what impelled him to attack those less fortunate with his haughty judgments.

      I do see all of this as being more than about conservatism in a narrow sense. And for damn sure our sick society isn’t limited to the GOP and Trump. Cosby was a liberal class Democrat and, in many ways, he was speaking to other liberal class Democrats. His social conservatism fit within the present Clinton Democratic Party. Cosby didn’t say anything that many other pseudo-liberal Democrats haven’t also said. Cosby represents what Democrats have become, no different than Trump represents what Republicans have become.

      It’s through that kind social conservatism that the Clintons came to power, the whole racialized tough-on-crime mass incarceration (e.g., Hillary’s super predators comment) along with the alliance of war hawk neoconservatism and welfare-and-tax-cutting neoliberalism. And somehow the Clintons remain in power. Even the memory of Hillary’s defense of her husband’s sexual misconduct and her attack of women doesn’t weaken her hold.

      Democrats as a lesser evil has heavy emphasis on the evil part.

  2. We are susceptible to social conservatism’s arguments because we all like simple rules. Cosby’s philosophy points could always be said in a sentence, which is bullshit. One of the broad brush ways to break up liberalism and conservatism is as the ones most comfortable with chaos and order, respectively- which creates an ironic weakness or problem with the concept we each emphasize less. In the case of social conservatives, forcing life to be simple lets chaos like “I like to drug and rape women to achieve psychic goals,” gain a place easier in our subconscious mind, because simple rules somehow force us to ignore the ways we’re not simple, the ways we’re messy and evil, the parts of us that can’t be adequately fed spiritually by “work hard, be honest, and sing this hymn.” A great deal of the wickedness in the world is best enabled with simplistic rules around self-responsibility, discipline, respect, lawfulness, humility, education, etc.

    You’re talking about a statistical tendency, we should be careful to note. Some of the best people I know are social conservatives. It works for certain personality types in good conditions, and is devastating for others.

    Elsewhere, I’ve talked about irony as an important organizing principle, that strong intentions, especially poorly examined ones, force us to unwittingly generate a kind of opposite force that counteract intentions. If that’s true, it would be hard to design a more riskily unconscious, ironic way to run one’s life than social conservatism, in its simplistic opportunities for endlessly varied ironies.

    • I think you know where I’m coming from. Indeed, there is a statistical element in making any generalizations. But I’m making a point here that requires some simplifying.

      My general view is more psychological than political, the two not always matching perfectly. Plenty of people who identify as or are perceived as conservative are actually quite liberal-minded. My parents are an example of this because they’ve spent a significant portion of their life around and influenced by liberals.

      Most people don’t exist at the extremes. But there are broad patterns that most people do follow to varying degrees. Take it for what it’s worth.

    • In many ways, my views on conservatism can be much softer and sympathetic than what is on offer here. I was driving a point home in this post. But on a more personal level, I respect and admire my conservative parents. They taught me many important things about life. In my relationship to them, I also learned that individual humans are more complex than broad ideologies.

      Not all social conservatives are Bill Cosby, much less Donald Trump. My parents do tend toward defending the patriarchy, although not at any cost. They have no trouble understanding and admitting what is wrong about the behavior of Cosby and Trump. That said, there is something tricksy about the reactionary streak within the conservative mind. It is something that has long fascinated me. This post was me taking a whack at it with a hammer, rather than delicately analyzing it with a scalpel.

      My writings here can seem more damning than intended. My ire is rather narrowly focused while broadly expressed. I can be more philosophically and psychologically nuanced when I’m in the mood, but for this I wasn’t in the mood.

    • I had a thought. This could have to do with bullshit and sincerity.

      As I see it, liberals obsess over sincerity. One might conclude that sincerity is bullshit. But to the liberal, they tend toward extreme sincerity about their ideal of sincerity. They take it seriously. Conservatives, on the other hand, embrace bullshit. It doesn’t matter if Trump or Cosby is sincere. Just as long as they say the right things and play the right role. It’s the outward form that is important.

      This relates to my post that followed this one. In writing about convoluted conservative-mindedness, I pointed out that conservatives love rules, norms, and such. It’s the social order that is key. Centering a society on sincerity is entirely different — as it focuses on what is before, behind, or beyond (that which the liberal is more likely to consider) mere forms and conventions.

      This is why a conservative and liberal would not only perceive Cosby differently but judge him differently as well. It’s an issue of what is one’s ideological priority. To the liberal mind, it seemed obvious for a long time that Cosby’s words were bullshit. But as long as he could maintain his role as patriarchal authority figure, it didn’t matter to the conservative mind one way or another.

      It’s not about whether someone is sincere but whether they can act sincere and, as Trump demonstrates, it doesn’t even need to be a convincing pretense. One simply has to go through the motions and the most conservative-minded will be satisfied. It’s the role that has meaning, not the person nor the moral character of the person behind the role. Even as Cosby is taken down, the role remains and someone else will fill it in order to spout the same old bullshit.

      It’s a never ending game. That is how it seems from my liberal-minded perspective.

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