A conservative social worker! (Is that even possible?)

In an article on the professional culture of social psychologists, Maria Konnakova exposed a lack of political and cultural diversity that was “every bit as dangerous as a lack of, say, racial or religious or gender diversity.” According to Jonathon Haidt, who has written extensively on the topic, this peer-driven uniformity discouraged conservative students from joining the field, and it made those rarely occurring conservative members more hesitant to voice their opinions. It has also introduced bias into published studies and position papers. “It’s not like the whole field is undercut, but when it comes to research on controversial topics, the effect is most pronounced,” Haidt was quoted.

Social workers are no exception. The field is openly, brazenly and almost uniformly a left-listing ship. To the best of my knowledge -- acquired only through informal conversation and observation -- I am one of two conservative social workers in my region.

Even though partisan positioning has become more extreme in recent years, this is not news to me. It started many years ago when I argued the conservative position in a graduate school debate on the guaranteed minimum income. As we researched our position, I came to see it as one of the worst ideas ever postulated.

Yet, even though we won the debate for form, presentation, and ideological cohesion, everyone else in the class, except my teammate (who also became a rare conservative social worker in NY) still thought the idea of a GMI was the cat’s meow. I was stymied. How could they not see?

This conservative seed began producing fruit when I started working at a drug treatment facility. It was a TC or therapeutic community, which means that it was intense, confrontational, and based on a modified military model. It emphasized personal accountability, choice-making, spiritual growth (cultivating a relationship with a Creator that is not oneself), and personal change as distinct from trying to get everyone else to give you what you want.

However, as I was turning towards philosophies that promoted freedom, individuality, and accountability, the field of social work was moving in an opposing direction -- towards entitlements, entire treatment modalities based on victimization, secularism with broad-stroke uniformity, and self-esteem inflation, no matter how unrealistic.

As a bit of an aside, this philosophical picture stands in a clear counterpoint to social work’s religious origins. Social work, which most people don’t remember, was born on the streets of Philadelphia in the open arms of a handful of bible-toting Quakers who understood that it was their personal responsibility to bring love, food, and the Gospel to people wherever they were -- on the street, in hospital, at home. It was not a government entitlement. It was the result of the biblical mandate: “Feed My children.” And it was spoken to individual persons, not agencies or governments.

Over the many years since that righteous birth, it has clearly changed. And finally in 1935, with the establishment of Social Security and then with the introduction of pervasive social welfare programs in the 1960s under Kennedy and Johnson, it became unrecognizably different. According to Dr. Paul M. Johnson, Department of Political Science, Auburn University, since then, more than half of the federal budget has been composed of entitlements. (At the same time, of course, crime and family destruction has become epidemic.)

Another significant influence on social work was the perfusion of analytic language into the American culture and its intertwining with entitlement philosophy so that a new template was given tangible form, like a golem: eternal victimhood. Someone’s gonna pay for whatever went wrong with your life.

As I’ve grown and learned over these last thirty years in the field, I’ve spoken at conferences all over the country. I’ve met hundreds if not thousands of colleagues, heard innumerable lectures from other social workers, and witnessed the increasing political and professional uniformity, the lockstepping from one break-out session to the next. I’ve sat quietly as hipsters in suits mock the people I’ve voted for, the things I believe in, and my very integrity for believing them. Finally, with a sigh of relief and acceptance, I resigned from the national professional association that publicly rants and raves about diversity, but wants no such messiness in its own ranks and files.

I have come to accept that the core values of modern social work are absolutely anathema to me personally and professionally:

  1. Humans are capable of perfection if they would just follow the rules. At a broader level, this means that utopia is possible if only everybody plays nice. As Frank Burns said on MASH:  it’s nice to be nice to the nice. It’s all about the nice.
  2. Almost all human suffering is the result of an oppressor or an abuser. Nail him. Keep in mind: it’s almost always a white man.
  3. Human life does not include children living in their mothers’ uteruses.
  4. Morality is relative. What’s good for you may not be good for anyone else. Thus, the edict -- never let anyone else’ opinions or needs stop you from having a good time.
  5. No one has the right to judge anyone’s behavior. No matter what.
  6. You not only can have it all, you deserve to have it all. Money. Friends. Family of your own invention. Sex with whomever you wish. Career. Children. Transgender surgery. And the taxpayer should foot the bill. It’s the nice thing to do.
  7. The Democratic party is the only “appropriate,” “loving” political option. Anyone with conservative leanings is a racist, greedy misogynist.

These values have become inviolate. There is no discussion. And your obedience to the party line is expected. I recently met with a colleague for lunch. During our otherwise lovely meeting, she said -- referring to the overreported feminist one not the pro-life, unreported one -- “So, wasn’t that march fabulous!?!?” As if I’d gone. I said very little: “I don’t do crowds.” And I left it like that.

So what are the core values of a conservative social worker?

  1. Life is a fallen, fragile mess. We can’t control what cards we are dealt, but we can choose how we respond. For those reactions, we are accountable. Period. And no one ever responds perfectly. Ibid: fragile mess.
  2. Life is a struggle for everyone. Understanding the things you are doing that hold you back is good and is not “blaming the victim.” When we understand and own our defects, we can choose other ways of living that are healthier and more productive. With the exception of rare cases, how you respond to whatever hurts in your life is up to you. Abuse, though horrific, is not sufficient to excuse you from being an abuser yourself.
  3. Government entitlements don’t lead to love or happiness and often do lead to powerlessness over the long term, hence the correlation between increased entitlements, family breakdown, and out of control violent crime. Increased financial dependency (like chemical dependencies) can lead to resentment and eventually loss of vitality. It’s not about whether people need and get help. People will always need help. It’s about who gives it and how.
  4. We can’t have it all. It’s about choices. There is a price for everything.
  5. Morality is not relative. There is absolute good and evil. Moral relativity was invented by people who don’t want to feel bad about picking your pocket.
  6. If it feels good enough to lie about then it’s probably not good for you.
  7. The definition of life extends to children being carried by their mothers for nine months.
  8. Judgment of a person (e.g., their salvation, the state of their soul) is rightly verboten, but judgment of behavior is not. It’s essential for social functioning.
  9. Niceness is not the measure of societal or interpersonal wellbeing. Righteousness, compassion and consistency are.
  10. Family is fundamental for any society to function.
  11. White men are not responsible for the ills of the whole world. All men and all women are.

Suffice it to say, this conservative magna carta is not popular in social work. But for people who truly want to change their lives, it works just fine.

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