“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” –George Orwell, Animal Farm
As a lifelong Southerner, I’ve been inundated with implicit and explicit lectures on the sanctity of femininity and the veneration of the elderly. By virtue of their biology and life experiences, women and seniors in the South, and beyond, are afforded baked-in courtesies.
Women are given free admission and beverages on Ladies Nights at social venues. Between Early Bird deals and 55+ menus, our elders can get the same food for a value price at dining establishments. Strangers offer their seats freely in public accommodations. Parents caution their kids and their uncouth spouses not to curse and act unruly around them. Everywhere there is a bubble of concern that shields women and seniors from stress, strain, and duress.
To be sure, this bubble has a much smaller radius than it did a generation or two ago. The old courtesies have begun to fade as we adjust to a world that is less formal, regimented, and performative in its kindness. But the bubble still exists and boasts a fierce core of supporters. Those supporters represent tradition and decency.
And, by most accounts, they are conservative.
By definition, to be conservative is to believe that the way things are is the way they should continue to be. To continue to adhere to codes of chivalry and respect for elders is emblematic of core conservative values.
To the extent that conservatism embraces values of kindness and consideration, I think it’s a great thing. If you read my other posts a little too quickly this week, you may be surprised to read such an endorsement, but I promise it’s true.
The essence of chivalry is kind regard of others. Because women have occupied a rarefied social status for the better part of the past few hundred years in Western society, chivalry has fixed its steady gaze of regard on them. Because the elderly are seen as both our collective parentage and our collective future as time moves forward, we venerate them, as well.
The only thing I ask is that we find reasons to honor and regard the other people with whom we share our world, because the reasons are there. Honor young people because they have fertile imaginations and boundless enthusiasm. Honor people of color because of their valuable perspectives and their patience and grace while living in a society that was not built for them, a society that often mocks them and thwarts their efforts at success. Honor men for meeting the demands of a quick-changing society and navigating confusing messages about gender roles and expectations. Honor gay and transgender individuals who must scale an impossible mountain of misunderstanding about who they are and what they want from the world. Then circle back and honor women and the elderly again because they must deal with people who opt for the anti-chivalric approach and try to take advantage of them because of their perceived weaknesses.
I don’t think it’s a big ask.
The irony I have been skirting here, the punchline I have been withholding all week, is that the staunchest conservatives, the ones who save a special dose of venom for those who espouse “progressive” values of social justice, are playing the same game as those they loathe.
What is there to say about a social order that puts women at the front of every line and gives financial incentives to seniors, strictly on the basis of a demographic identifier? I’d call it affirmative action. I’d call it an utter disregard of merit in lieu of an unearned handout. Dress it up and call it tradition, and you’re golden. But if others extend that empathy and goodwill to groups of people you deem unworthy, it’s radical left nonsense.
To be sure, there are nuances of this discussion that I have not explored. But I do think it is helpful to expose the false narrative that kindness and regard is the exclusive domain of backward-looking or forward-looking perspectives on society. Instead, common human regard is a bedrock of most people’s stated belief systems.
But to paraphrase George Orwell, some people are more human than others. And that’s why common human regard is often not as common as it could be.