By Ken Trainor
Why is societal change so difficult? Because to get there we have to navigate the five C's: Coercion, Compliance, Conformity, Consent, and finally, Conversion.
Legislation, the entry point of major change in our culture, is often passed before the entire population is ready to go along. An obvious example was Prohibition. Abortion is another. It's not enough to make something legal or illegal. Citizens must generally consent to be ruled by a law before it becomes truly valid.
The mission of political conservatives is to slow change down so we don't go about it recklessly. A clear vision of change, and how much is needed, is the mission of political progressives. Healthy change preserves what's good from the past as we move in measured but determined fashion into the future. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, in other words — but don't forget to throw out the bathwater.
To make the system work, both sides must have enough wisdom to discern baby from bathwater and each side must be able to trust the other. Conservatives have to listen to progressives when they call for needed change, and progressives have to listen to conservatives when change becomes reckless.
The current state of the system? No trust, no listening, no progress. Change has become a combat zone. According to Edmund Burke, an icon of the conservative movement, commenting on events that led to the French Revolution, "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation." If you oppose change altogether, things rapidly get out of whack.
Like mad antibodies attacking an organ transplant, conservatives have opposed — and still oppose — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, health care reform, even legalizing cannabis. In each case, they lost. Now they oppose alternative forms of energy, equal pay for women, efforts to remedy climate change, raising the minimum wage, comprehensive immigration reform, common-sense firearm regulation, and attempts to fashion an affordable health care system that covers all Americans. They will lose these fights, too, in the long run, as progressives drag them, kicking and screaming, into the future.
Republicans, meanwhile, keep trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without any plan to put in its place. If change can be reckless, so can opposition to it.
Healthy change would make life a lot easier for all of us — but we need to go through the aforementioned five C's.
Passing a law is an act of state-sponsored Coercion. Americans, after all, hate being told what to do, even when it improves their lives.
Wearing seatbelts is a classic example. To this day people resist. So Coercion must be followed by enforcement, which leads to Compliance (Click it or Ticket). People might not like it, but they dislike the ticket even more. As social acceptance builds, so does peer pressure, which reinforces enforcement. The holdouts grudgingly yield, tired of resisting and being hassled for it, so they Conform, often griping about limits to their freedom.
Change to this point, you'll notice, has been externally imposed. Conformity is little more than a mindless habit — until you hear how many lives are saved by wearing seatbelts and how many are lost by not wearing them. That, hopefully, leads to the conclusion that wearing seatbelts is not only the law but also the right thing to do, which produces Consent. And as we all know from civics lessons, "consent of the governed" is the foundation of our government and the rule of law.
But one final step remains: Conversion. When people willingly choose to wear seatbelts and make sure their loved ones do, it's not because they have to or even because it makes sense. It's because, with no external prodding, they want to do the right thing.
Coercion, Compliance, Conformity, Consent and Conversion, lead to the most important "C" of all: real Change, which comes from within.
And that brings to mind the dramatic display of racial cluelessness last week by our president and his minions.
Racial equality has been the law of the land for a long time, but real Change has been sluggish. Coercion, Compliance, and Conformity have had some impact. But as we witnessed last week, something is missing. Trump and his apologists demonstrated that though they may technically abide by the first three C's, it's pretty obvious they have experienced neither Consent nor Conversion.
That's true for a lot of white Americans, I suspect. Racism is in all of us, though most of us make some effort to reduce it. Many, however, have yet to experience true Conversion — imposed not from without, but coming from within. The telltale sign is when you know it's the right thing to do and you want to do it.
We've been told myriad times that you can't legislate morality, and that's true. But legislation is just the first step — an invitation you can't refuse, as it were — to take the path to personal Conversion. Ultimately, real Change comes from within.
In other words, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
Or in the case of our president, his Republican enablers, and his rally pals, the lesson is, you can lead a horse's ass to water, but he can't drink till he turns his ass around.
Answer Book 2019
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