Why Conservative Politics Are Going Extinct

Conservative politics are going extinct. The central philosophies behind the practice are incompatible with our way of life today for two reasons. The pace of technological advancement and the crisis on the horizon. They demand social structures and solutions beyond what these beliefs can provide.

The supporting argument draws from the present moment, reflecting on the ideals and the idol driving conservative thought and practice today. When we talk about conservatism, we can only ever consider it from the immediate moment. What it was a decade ago is only relevant to give today a point of comparison in history. The evolution of conservative politics is one of the most significant indicators of its demise.  

The Pace of Change

Growing up, many of us share the central life themes of rapidly expanding technology. I can clearly remember my first Nintendo, my first computer in 1996 (a $4000+ machine with 133 Mhz processor), the evolution of cassettes, to CDs, to MP3s, and so on. Now we have two generations bearing witness to the exponential speed of change in real-time. Understanding that the transformation is not scary or something that we can resist.  

To better understand just how extreme the technological growth we are experiencing is, we can take a page from famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil’s predictions (which are ~86% correct to date) are less important than the foundation they build upon, the Law of Accelerating Returns. In his book, The Singularity is Near Kurzweil applies Moore’s Law – the doubling of transistors in a circuit every two years – to many different verticals of technological (and biological) progress over the past 100 years.  His conclusion was that when plotted, all progress is growing exponentially.  

Not only was technology advancing as predicted, but we can observe that the rate of change is increasing. So the gaps between these exponential leaps are becoming smaller. He argues that we will reach a “singularity” where “human life will be irreversibly transformed.” [1] A merging of man and machine that fundamentally transforms our ways of being. Kurzweil’s work in showcasing that we are experiencing an era of technological ascendancy highlights a fundamental flaw in conservative ideologies as we may apply them in the future.  

One of the central tenants of conservatism today is promoting the idea of tradition and hierarchies. It can take many forms but is typically realized in fighting to maintain existing power structures, generally political or religious. Both shape our behavior and beliefs.  So it begs the question, how can models of governing that revolve around maintaining the status quo be viable in a world of perpetual change and disruption? The short answer is they can’t.

The idea that things were better in the past, that we should “return” to greatness is a reality that we can never realize. The opposite is true. Any political agenda attempting to reduce the pace of change, or to rebuild social and economic hierarchies disrupted by change, will always fail. By the time conservative administrations begin the work of regressive policies, new changes will continue to occur, further complicating their objectives.   

You might argue that these same innovations can be used to oppress a people, rule by force.  That may be true for a time being, but humanity will not stay oppressed forever. Our shared futures are unknown, but it is a possibility.  

We can say the same about the increasingly theocratic aspects of present-day conservatism, which also tie into the core value of tradition. American mythologist Joseph Campbell talks about how many religions incorporate knowledge and beliefs that were scientific during the time. Today our science tells a very different story about the universe. Attempting to shape policy around religious ideologies becomes increasingly impossible every year. At a certain point, the world is just too different from the text to support literal interpretations — especially when developing policies that impact the general population.

Consider isolationism in American conservatism. Anti-immigration philosophies always play into the theory of the elusive and evil other. But otherness is rapidly fading. Each generation growing with the internet is more connected than the previous one. We’re witnessing this in real-time. It’s no surprise a candidate like Bernie Sanders is the most popular. We will connect more profoundly as communication technologies advance. There is no space for policies that intentionally create disadvantages in the future.  

Property rights are one of the most fundamental American values. They’re also the largest source of inequity in the history of humanity. Our laws of property and contract built the industry of America on the backs of slaves.  Today hundreds of millions of Americans have no pathway to share in the prosperity moving forward. One of the fundamental flaws in the American market economy is evaluating all assets and property against the same core principles.  

The alternative is treating market verticals as separate from one another, evaluating each as the unique circumstances that they are. We’re witnessing this evolution in thought occurring today in real-time with the democratic socialist movement in the United States. The socialization of specific market verticals, like health insurance, is a democratic decision to remove a profit incentive to benefit the greater good. Contrary to the popular conservative argument, it’s not a slippery slope. Private (for-profit) market verticals can exist side-by-side with non-profit social markets. It is a logical fallacy to consider these two concepts mutually exclusive.  

Changing our market arrangements isn’t a far off dream; it’s much closer than we imagine. As technology continues to empower us to automate routine tasks, societies are going to have to consider how they want to distribute the wealth generated by robots and software. In an ideal world, we automate as much of our routine work as possible – leaving the creative and not-yet-automated work for humanity. The singular forms of property and contract we have today will dissolve in the face of new advancements that present us with unemployment on a scale that we have yet to experience. The conservative alternative, the respect for traditional arrangements surrounding property, will be to allow a tiny amount of people to hold ownership over our automated society. The present-day campaign of Bernie Sanders is a testament to how new and future generations will not accept the restrictions of the past.  

Market arrangements go hand in hand with how we structure taxes and tax law in the United States. Every president since Nixon (republican and democrat) have transferred wealth to the upper class through tax schemes and incentives. Commonly called trickle-down economics, this conservative philosophy states that if we cut taxes for the ultra-wealthy, they will reinvest, creating jobs and innovation. The transfer of wealth comes in many forms — the increasing or decreasing of taxation, tax rates, government subsidies, cronyism, and more. Most recently, Donald Trump’s 2020 budget aims to cut $1.5 trillion in Medicaid spending, instead allocating $1.2 trillion in a block-grant program to states. The bill cuts Social Security by $25 billion and $845 billion less on Medicare (some reclassifying to a different department). [2]  

Think about America today.  Anxiety is high, opportunity is low.  We’re working longer hours for less pay and we’re getting by.  Present day conservatism is the cutting of safety nets during rough times.  

History shows us that these economic philosophies do not work. A 2019 study in the Journal of Political Economy [3] found, contrary to trickle-down theory, that “the positive relationship between tax cuts and employment growth is largely driven by tax cuts for lower-income groups and that the effect of tax cuts for the top 10 percent on employment growth is small.” Technology is already providing us with the power to evaluate information better and share this type of information to prevent socialism for the ultra-rich. As automation and advancement continue to disrupt industries, handouts to the rich will continue declining in popularity in favor of a more data-driven approach to raising the floor.

Technology is transforming how we view education. Traditional models of schooling operate in hierarchy. Teachers dictate information, students memorize, and regurgitate, ranking occurs in the form of grades. It’s a model still in practice in the United States and is a method of learning designed for industrial era labor. Today, the most advanced types of work are intellectual and creative work – a trend that will only continue as automation increases. Our advancements as a species are forcing us to consider new ways of learning, methods focusing on dialogue, and cooperation instead of individual competition. Instead of memorizing a wide range of topics, technology will provide an education that allows for focus choices in studies from a younger age.  

Considering what we already know about automation, like the fact that it can decimate entire industries, continuing adult education will become a regular part of human existence. As we reshape our world, we want to be sure that we give ourselves the ability to change the direction of our lives as seamlessly as possible. There is no valid reason to delay progress to maintain employment. It’s a battle we cannot hope to win. Instead, we embrace the change technology brings and reform our methods of allowing humanity to adjust. Facilitating this transition requires investments both in our educators and our students – something that we can only accomplish by removing education funding from property taxes.  

Contrast the above with the conservative philosophy towards public education. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been working actively to privatize education. Her efforts include significant cuts to federal funding, rolling back protections for vulnerable children, and stopping loan forgiveness programs for students defrauded by the for-profit college industry. [4] To put it simply, private and for-profit education further perpetuates class advantages for those already at the top. The conservative belief that education is not a shared struggle serves only to weaken our nation for the benefit of a small minority. As technology continues to reshape labor, this approach to education will be viewed for what it is – a last-ditch effort to oppress the already disenfranchised.

The Crisis

The climate crisis holds the potential to destroy the lives of billions. Multiple catastrophes are on the horizon, demanding effort and imagination. Conservative philosophy offers no viable pathways to overcome these obstacles.

For the conservative, shrinking the government is a pathway to greater freedom. Lessening restrictions, regulations, and tax collections are hallmarks of every conservative. They will argue that the government is inefficient, stifling, and overreaches. It’s primary purpose is national defense and law enforcement.

How would smaller government deal with the challenges ahead? The crisis demands immediate action. Our most effective and efficient way to stabilize the Earth’s temperature is deeply networked and scaled cooperation. Accomplishing this by building systems to allow local, state, and national governments to coordinate faster and more effectively.

Jeremy Rifkin developed this concept at length in his book The Third Industrial Revolution. History shows us that the largest and most successful programs in the United States were coordinated through substantial federal effort and funding. One example is the interstate highway system, a complex project that could not have been accomplished successfully by independent private interests.  The magnitude of this infrastructure project requires us to increase our investments and tax intake. Investing now for a payoff of nearly free energy in the near future.

Now consider the conservative agenda of cutting federal programs and lowering taxes for the wealthy. Immediately we can understand how a nationally networked green energy infrastructure becomes significantly more challenging. We rely on private contractors whose solutions may not necessarily work well with their neighboring states.   By investing time and money into new energy grids and networks that are unable to communicate with each other, we will sell ourselves short. It’s a scenario that would be easily avoidable within a federally funded build-out.

Networking our energy matters because if we’re only utilizing a single state’s resources we’re not utilizing the full potential of a smart energy grid. A 100% renewable future incorporates every building as a power node collecting energy, using what it needs, and providing the remainder back into the network. This type of smart grid creates redundancy. If a particular area is facing challenges collecting energy, the rest of the nation supports them.  There are also profound national security and innovative possibilities with the ability to rapidly move large energy quantities. This type of infrastructure requires collaboration between the neighboring states to form regional power centers.  

In an ideal world, this cooperative state to state scenario could play out without the federal government. Again, we must view our politics from the present moment. Leadership around the country is still held by elected officials whose objective is to profit off of their time in office. Corruption is central to American politics at every level. In implementing this program today, the most likely outcome will be crony capitalism, where states overpay for sub-par results. Why would we pursue an objective so central to our society’s survival with less than 100% of our full effort and power?

What happens to the central and southern United States during this transition? It’s a fact that the most conservative states, the ones who oppose socializing specific market verticals the most, are the people receiving the most public benefits. What makes us think that these states would actively participate in new energy grid development. Basing our estimates on history, what would likely happen is a return to fossil fuels and a continuation of cutting social and educational programs in these states. Poor and disenfranchised people would fall prey to their predatory leadership. Without the federal government to regulate and restrict activity, conservative states pollute their environment for the short term profits of a few.

Creating the United States that runs on 100% clean energy would radically reshape our economic and personal potentials. But these programs don’t work nearly as well if half our country isn’t participating. Conservatives agree that the government exists to guarantee the safety of its people. What they can’t seem to get over is that their ideals provide no pathway forward to do that in present-day America.

The climate crisis also presents us with global problems that we’re going to see soon. As weather patterns continue to change, so will water resources and agriculture. The result of this will be mass migration, eventually leading to more war. A political superpower like the United States would be well served by proactively working towards global solutions with other nations.

Today modern conservative philosophy is isolationist. We now consider international relationships transactional, focusing more on equal contributions from less developed or wealthy nations then program outcomes. The crisis on the horizon allows us to form new global networks that would lay the groundwork for a cooperative future. Instead, conservative philosophy would draw the United States into an isolationist position, removing us from what would be the most significant opportunity for global leadership ever presented.  

We can’t talk about the climate crisis without pointing out the wealth disparities that the conservative movement protects. Many of America’s ultra-wealthy already own furnished bunkers to use in times of extreme strife. [5]. Resistance to action in the face of the climate crisis is just another form of class war. If the rich can concentrate enough resources and have the ability to escape from the repercussions of inadequate action, What is their incentive to cooperate? Conservative philosophy exists today to create an even more significant advantage for the ultra-wealthy. That’s not to say that everyone who subscribes to it is wealthy, quite the opposite. The fact remains that we implement them; the majority of conservative philosophies would do great harm to the majority of the American population before and during the crisis.  

Conservative philosophy and politics will go extinct because they offer no solution to our greatest threat. Climate change requires coordinated and network action ranging from local governments to global nation-states. Almost every conservative policy and action available today walks us farther away from resolving these issues. How does a philosophy towards governing that actively harms the majority in their time of need thrive and grow? It doesn’t.

There are many other technological advancements and social challenges that could further support our argument that conservative ideologies are going extinct. We can also replace the word “conservative” with “neoliberal” and change up the policies, and the same concept would apply. The simple fact is that the ideologies and systems of yesterday provide us no pathway to progress today.

Today we find ourselves in the fledgling stages of developing a new vision of humanity moving forward. One that recognizes the latent potential in every individual, not just those born into extreme wealth or lucky enough to achieve it. We cannot take a step forward without leaving something behind. The quicker we realize that the past doesn’t offer us the solutions for our present challenges, the better off our species will be.

Conservative politics and ideologies are going extinct because they offer no vision of the future that transforms humanity. They actively defy our technological evolution and the changes in consciousness that come with it. Their function is to maintain the existing power structures at all costs, with no consideration of the other. In our increasingly diverse and connected universe, these philosophies are rapidly accelerating into obsolescence. Humanity demands more and rightfully so. Our survival depends on it.

[1] Ray Kurzweil’ The Singularity is Near’, Penguin Group (2005) 7

[2] Trump said he wouldn’t cut Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare. His 2020 budget cuts all 3. By Tara Golshan Vox 3/2019 https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/3/12/18260271/trump-medicaid-social-security-medicare-budget-cuts 

[3] TAX CUTS FOR WHOM? HETEROGENEOUS EFFECTS OF INCOME TAX CHANGES ON GROWTH AND EMPLOYMENT by Owen M. Zidar Journal of Political Economy 3/2015 https://www.nber.org/papers/w21035.pdf 

[4] Betsy DeVos and her No Good, Very Bad Record on Public Education by National Education Association Education Votes https://educationvotes.nea.org/2019/03/22/devos/ 

[5] 45 unreal photos of ‘billionaire bunkers’ that could shelter the superrich during an apocalypse by Aria Bendix Business Insider 6/2019 https://www.businessinsider.com/billionaire-bunkers-shelter-wealthy-during-apocalypse-2019-6#the-entire-compound-consists-of-575-bunkers-each-with-enough-space-for-10-to-24-people-21


If you like this essay you may also enjoy...