The American left, acting on its Marxist training, interprets both current and historical realities in terms of various forms of group oppression – whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever else. The American right calls them race-baiters and man-haters, anti-individualists, and SJW idiots. Meanwhile, the American left calls the American right gay-bashing, Islamaphobic, privileged, and, most of all, haters. The right are seen as totally insensitive to the role their beloved individualistic, Euro-centric traditions played in unjustly excluding and oppressing whole groups of people that didn’t fit in, causing a cycle of domination and oppression from which the liberal tradition of law (and economics) cannot possibly free us. Meanwhile, the left is seen as drinking the collectivist kool-aid, and throwing off their individual responsibilities in favor of the ever-increasing power of the nanny state. This is not to mention their wholesale rejection of every traditional value upon which most stable civilizations have always been built, in favor of the insistence that ‘real’ justice requires social experiments with possibly disastrous outcomes.
Everyone…. Sort of.
Let’s evaluate one of these charges, racism, in concrete terms, objectively. Nobody denies historical racism in America. That would be stupid. What those on the right may want to claim is that that’s all been overcome now, and the constant harping on racism is actually just part of an ideological agenda that doesn’t know how to explain anything except in terms of group oppression.
But what are the facts?
The central government, through the auspices of the Federal Housing Administration, demanded and required that black neighborhoods be categorized in such a way that one could not receive an FHA loan in those areas. Due to the G.I. Bill’s huge impact on housing development, this decision basically created black ghettos. And the central government ran highways right through black economic centers. And the central government denied blacks access to property acquisition through the Homesteading Act. And the central government launched a disastrous series of centrally planned social engineering projects called The Great Society, which effectively destroyed a disproportionate number of black communities. And the central government ran the war on drugs specifically against minorities (we have the quotes, friends). And the central government and state governments have undertaken prosecution techniques that have quintupled the size of our incarcerated population – inevitably resulting in unjust outcomes for those with the least resources to defend themselves.
Hey conservatives! You hate it when the central government oversteps its bounds, right? You love the rule of law! You love it when people are free to live and cooperate as they please, (at least economically), don’t you? You always talk about how everybody in America has a chance to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I’m on your side. It’s just that when it comes to being black in America, there’s a whole bunch of very un-American stuff going on that undermines all of these values of yours, particularly for poor minorities. I’m going to argue that the left gets some things wrong, for sure, but when they get it right, they’re right. And the fact is that these policies set people up for generations of failure by undermining the very institutions that should be (according to you!) allowing them to prosper: property, family, community.
So you’re not wrong, you’re just totalizing. You have so totally condemned any complaint that comes from the other side as socialist claptrap, that you haven’t been willing to see where there’s truth to the claims – truths that conservatives should care a lot about. Notice that I haven’t said a word against individualism, capitalism, traditional values, etc. We’re not talking about ideology right now, we’re talking about facts. Even people with some bad ideas or people who over-emphasize certain things can sometimes notice something that’s true, even if they fail to grasp the whole picture.
Okay, now let’s try it the other way.
Let’s address a popular one here: the problem of ‘unfettered’ markets. The left kind of likes markets, when people are paid enough to support a family of 4 that shops at the farmers'
market, and when everybody owns their own businesses and buys locally sourced yarn cozies. Other than that, they’re not too thrilled with markets, where the 1% have all the wealth, there’s a lot of dark money influencing politics, corporations run your life, endanger you with unregulated products, and fail to provide free contraception to their employees.
But what are the facts?
We’re in the most prosperous period in all of human history. By ‘we’ here, I don’t mean Americans. I mean everybody. Abject poverty (living below $2 a day) will be completely eliminated by 2030 – it’s already down to 10%. The poor Asian countries are throttling forward economically faster than you can count, and even Africa is starting to pick up the pace. Inequality? P’shaw. Incomes are up, and child mortality, hunger, illiteracy, pollution, and poverty have all plummeted (check it out at humanprogress.org). The rise of capitalism has NOT resulted in suppressed wages and inevitable revolution. Marx just turned out to be wrong on that one. Increases in capital associated with labor (like education and machinery) meant increases in pay, and with ever-expanding cooperation at a global level, those put out of a job by more efficient techniques have found plenty of new things to do. We’ve got enough food for everyone – and the easiest places to distribute that food are places with solid infrastructure, which comes from the wealth built by businessmen. When you protested the ‘exploitative’ practices of businesses employing Asian beauticians, the Asian beauticians protested you. Requiring higher wages would mean hiring fewer workers, and many of these women were happy to work longer hours so that they could send extra money home. The rise of Wal-Mart has translated to such a huge jump in the buying power of poor Americans that economists equate it to getting a 20% raise. I could go on.
Hey progressives! You’re not wrong. You’re just totalizing. The needs of the poor, of minorities, immigrants, and socially excluded groups, SHOULD be getting more attention and care! But if you bring that care by insisting on a totally defunct economics, you’ll hurt the very people you’re trying to help. Did capitalism arise in the West? You bet. But is there NO positive contribution of a society just because they did other terrible, imperialistic things? Everybody’s a mixed bag, and that goes for cultures too (we'd better think so, or we're going to have to condemn every culture, ever). Some good, some bad. If we really care about historically marginalized groups, stop fighting an uphill battle against an entire economic system, and start fighting for the rights of everyone to be included in that system by helping them to acquire capital, gain access to creative approaches to education, get jobs, and start businesses. This isn’t a pipe-dream… it’s worked with stunning effects all over the world. What’s weird is that people don’t even know this, because it ‘doesn’t compute’ according to our warring ideologies.
The philosopher Donald Livingston calls this tendency of the post-enlightenment era to always think in terms of a totalizing ideology 'philosophical melancholy and delirium'. It appears that the whole world must be shaped by some ONE idea, so proceed to tying yourself in knots to make your ideology match your reality. But life isn't like that. It's complex. Both sides can be a little bit wrong and a little bit right. It just takes a bit of maturity and focus to keep your eyes on what's true instead of what fits neatly in your box. But I promise you it's worth it! and nothing could be better for free markets AND marginalized communities.