On Infrastructure and Injustice

There is the issue of public infrastructure and who pays for it. My dad brought it up to me and it led to an argument. He couldn’t understand why there was a national discussion about fixing infrastructure. And he seemed to assume that it was citizens and local leaders demanding this. But I’m not sure why he made that assumption.

First, this ignores that it is being talked about because the Republican president made it a main point of his proclaimed agenda. Trump campaigned on progressive-sounding rhetoric, including a promise for a New New Deal program for rebuilding infrastructure. He and those representing him repeated this promise many times. So, considering Trump is now president, all of this is coming from a federal level. The kind of infrastructure being discussed is such things as bridges, the kind of thing that politicians like to focus on. But most people don’t sit around thinking about bridges.

That brings me to a second point. The kind of infrastructure that concerns people is much more basic. They want a paved road so that they can more easily get to work and more quickly get back home after work to take care of their family. They worry about affording basic healthcare for easily treatable diseases and having clean water so that their children don’t get brain damage from lead toxicity. They would like reliable access to electricity, phone lines, etc. These were the priorities of the New Deal and the War on Poverty. These are fairly basic things that we expect in a modern industrialized society, the prerequisite for a functioning social democracy for all citizens.

The people most effected with infrastructure problems are the poor. This leads to multiple problems in solving these problems. Many poor people live in poor communities, oftentimes because of a history of racial segregation. Poor communities have poorly funded governments. But more importantly, it’s not just poverty. It is how that poverty is created.

The government regularly gives away trillions of dollars of public wealth to corporations, not just subsidies and bailouts but even more through cheap access to natural resources on public lands, which is to say from the commons that belongs as much to future generations (not to mention the money spent help corporations on the international market, including using military force to ensure they also have cheap access to natural resources on foreign public lands). By the way, the infrastructure to access those publicly-owned natural resources is typically built by government for free, for the sole purpose of the benefit of wealthy private interests who just so happen to donate lots of money to key campaigns and political organizations. The poverty we have in the US is enforced by those in power, not natural or God-given.

People don’t have a right to demand that their government serves their interests, that is the argument my dad makes. It’s obviously an insincere argument. What he means is that he doesn’t believe a government should serve anyone’s interests but the privileged, the worthy and deserving, ya know, people like him. Everyone else should solve their own  problems or else suffer. But that is mind-boggling ignorance. Civil Rights leaders attempted to solve their own problems at a local level, but were met with resistance and oppression. Residents in poor communities dealing with lead toxicity have attempted to solve their own problems at a local level, but officials and governments have ignored them. It usually takes decades or generations of local struggle before higher levels of government ever take notice, assuming their is a large enough protest movement or legal case to force them to take notice.

The thing is my dad acts like we have a functioning democracy, even as he knows we don’t. Besides, the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t want a functioning democracy. His argument against federal government being involved in local affairs is an argument that the federal government should not be democratic, should not represent the public nor serve the public good, should not be of the people, by the people, for the people. But he can’t admit it, not even to himself, because his actual beliefs are so morally horrendous.

It isn’t just about federal government. The same argument applies at the state level and even further down. Why should state taxpayers help with the problems at the level of communities? As far as that goes, why should the taxpayers in urban areas of a county pay for the infrastructure of rural areas of the same county? Heck, why should the wealthy people in one neighborhood help the poor people in the same city have access to basic utilities? Why have public goods at all? Why not make every all infrastructure privately owned? Why have any government at all since, as the right-wingers claim, taxation is theft and government isn’t possible without such supposed theft? Why not instead have a world of individuals where it is a constant war of one against all? As Margaret Thatcher said, “there is no such thing as society.”

If you don’t have the money, then you shouldn’t be allowed to drive anywhere, drink clean water, or go on living — who is paying for that air you’re breathing, you pneumatic welfare queen! That is the principled libertarian solution. How dare those who suffer and struggle demand a basic response of human decency and compassion! It’s not the privileged controlling the government and the economy who are authoritarians. No, it’s the poor people crying out in desperation who are the real oppressors.

My dad (and people like him) don’t understand and don’t want to understand the very system he benefits from. But on some level, I know he understands. That is the thing that bothers me. My dad is not ignorant, even when he pretends to not know something. I know what he knows because of past discussions we’ve had. Yet each new discussion begins from a point of feigned ignorance, with a denial of what had been previously discussed. It’s frustrating.

If my dad didn’t have his privilege, if he and his family were being racially oppressed, economically segregated, and slowly poisoned by the only water they have access to, if he and his neighbors were politically suppressed and if the government refused to even acknowledge his existence other than to hire more police to keep him in his place, if there had been a long history of political failure at the local level, if wealthy and powerful interests almost always got their way no matter the harm to local residents, would my dad honestly resign himself with libertarian moral righteousness that it was all his fault and that he must be punished for his suffering because his poverty is proof of his inferiority? Would he watch his loved ones suffer and do nothing? Would he just lay down and die? No, he wouldn’t.

It’s not just conservatives such as my dad. I see the same thing with disconnected liberals, in their attitude toward poor people when they vote the wrong way or when a homeless camp appears in a nearby park, and then all the good liberal intentions quickly disappear. I see how easy people are turned against each other, no matter their ideology. And I see how easy ideology becomes rationalization. It reminds one of how quickly an authoritarian government can emerge.

As the desperate unsurprisingly act desperate, the upper classes will demand a response and it won’t be to help alleviate that desperation. It will be a demand for law and order, by violent force if necessary. Put them down and put them in their place. Put them in prisons, ghettos, internment camps, or maybe even concentration camps. Just make them go away or somehow make them invisible and silenced.

The line of thought my dad is following down can only lead to one place, increasing authoritarianism. Without a functioning democracy, there is nowhere else for our society to go. Either that or eventually revolution. So, apparently my dad is hoping for an authoritarian government so oppressive that it effectively stops both democracy and revolution, forcing local people to deal with their own problems in misery and despair. That is the world that good citizens and good Christians, the good people like my dad, are helping to create.

What happens when those who could have done something to stop the horror finally see the world they have chosen, their beliefs and values made manifest?

But Then It Was Too Late

They Thought They Were Free
by Milton Mayer
ch. 13

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.

* * *

Later on, I was able to have a more fruitful conversation with my dad. That emphasizes what was so frustrating in that argument earlier. I know he is capable of understanding the point I was making. But something about it so often triggers him. It’s so easy for social conservatives to fall back on such things as Social Darwinism, as almost a default mode.

It’s not like I’m a great defender of big government. Most people aren’t for big government on principle. Few would turn to a government any larger than is necessary. The first response the average person has is to seek what solutions might be had nearby. They only turn elsewhere when all immediate possibilities are frustrated or denied. This isn’t about big versus small government. It’s simply about government that functions democratically, on any and all levels.

So, I finally found a way to communicate this to my dad. But it is always a struggle. If I don’t frame it in the exact right way, he reacts with right-wing ideology. I have to put it into conservative terms of community and social fabric.

I find that a shame because the framing I’d prefer is simple honest concern for other humans, as if they mattered. I don’t want to live in a society where I have to carefully frame every argument in order to not accidentally elicit knee-jerk prejudices. I wish we were beyond that point. I wish we could have discussions that went straight to the problems themselves, instead having to first somehow prove that those suffering are worthy of our compassion.

I did apologize to my dad for getting so upset with him and lashing out at him. It’s not what I want. But these debates aren’t academic. It’s real people suffering, millions of Americans. These people don’t care if it is local or national government that helps them solve problems. They just want a better life for themselves and their children. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for. I have no apology for caring.

Interestingly, one way I got my dad’s mind onto a new track of thinking is by sharing a passage from a book. It was something I had read yesterday, about old school progressives. For some reason, maybe because of the framing of religious moral reform, the following passage was able to shift our dialogue.

American Character
by Colin Woodard
pp. 134-135

When another terrible depression shook the country in 1893, reform movements sprang up across its northern tiers. Like the Massachusetts Brahmins, these turn-of-the-century Progressives weren’t opposed to free-market capitalism or Lockean individualism, but they did believe that laissez-faire was destroying both. Their philosophical mentor was the sociologist Lester Ward, the son of old New Englanders who had settled in the Yankee north of Illinois, and who became the greatest foe of Herbert Spencer and the social Darwinists. “How can . . . true individualism be secured and complete freedom of individual action be vouchsafed?” Ward asked in 1893. “Herein lies a social paradox . . . that individual freedom can only come through social regulation.” He elaborated a theory of collective action to maintain the conditions required to keep individuals free:

Such a powerful weapon as reason is unsafe in the hands of one individual when wielded against another. It is still more dangerous in the hands of corporations, which proverbially have no souls. It is most baneful of all in the hands of compound corporations which seek to control the wealth of the world. It is only safe when employed by the social ego, emanating from the collective brain of society, and directed toward securing the common interests of the social organism.

It was in essence the approach Massachusetts had been taking for decades, which would now be adopted by insurgents in other parts of Yankeedom (Jane Addams in northern Illinois, Charles Evans Hughes in upstate New York, and Robert LaFollette in Wisconsin), the Midlands (William Jennings Bryan in eastern Nebraska), and New Netherland (where Herbert Croly helped found the New Republic in 1914 and from whence came the movement’s greatest figures, Al Smith and Theodore Roosevelt).

Teddy Roosevelt, who served as president from 1901 to 1909, broke up Standard Oil, Northern Securities (which controlled both the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railways), the American Tobacco Company, and other great corporate trusts; intervened in a major mining strike to secure a solution beneficial to workers; and founded the National Park Service, national wildlife refuges, and the U.S. Forest Service. He presided over the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906, and the Hepburn Act, which regulated railroad fares. His goal, he told a rapt audience at the laying of the cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1907, was to restore the spirit of the early Puritans, who yoked the individualistic Protestant work ethic to communitarian goals and institutions. “The Puritan owed his extraordinary success in subduing this continent and making it the foundation for a social life of ordered liberty primarily to the fact that he combined in a very remarkable degree both the power of individual initiative, of individual self-help, and the power of acting in combination with his fellows,” he said. “He could combine with others whenever it became necessary to do a job which could not be as well done by any one man individually. . . . The spirit of the Puritan . . . never shrank from regulation of conduct if such regulation was necessary for the public weal; and it is this spirit which we must show today whenever it is necessary.”

 

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Size Matters

“If you owe the bank ten thousand dollars, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank a million dollars, you own the bank.”
~ attributed to various people

And other variations:

“If you owe your bank manager a thousand pounds, you are at his mercy. If you owe him a million pounds, he is at your mercy.”

“If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.”

* * *

“a TEN-YEAR-OLD lad in Indianapolis who was arrested for picking up coal along the side of railroad tracks is now in jail. If the boy had known enough to steal the whole railroad he would be heralded as a Napoleon of finance.”
~ Mother Jones

And another version, also attributed to her:

“I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.”

Or related variants, often misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt:

“The illiterate robs a freight car; the educated thief steals the whole railroad.”

“An uneducated thief will steal a ride on a railroad train. An educated thief will steal the whole railroad system.”

“If a man steal a ride on a railroad, he is called a “hobo;” If he steal the whole railroad his name is emblazoned in history as a financier.”

“Steal a ride and you are a “hobo,” liable to be shot. Steal a whole railroad and you are a financier, eligible to the United States Senate.”

“if a man steals a ham from a freight car, he goes to jail; while if he steals the whole railroad, he goes to the United States senate.”

* * *

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
~ usually misattributed to Stalin

Along with numerous variations:

“The death of one man: that is a catastrophe. One hundred thousand deaths: that is a statistic!”

“If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”

“One Murder made a Villain, Millions a Hero.”

“Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”

“If you shoot one person you are a murderer. If you kill a couple persons you are a gangster. If you are a crazy statesman and send millions to their deaths you are a hero.”

American Class Bigotry

“The system is still structured in such a way that one percent of the population owns 43 percent of the wealth, you end up with an embrace of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, especially upper–middle class and above, but the gay poor, the lesbian poor, they’re still catching hell . . . It’s not just black. It’s white. It’s brown. It’s the structure of a system . . . it’s worse [than ever].”
~ Cornel West

American society is divided by class and, ideology and parties aside, united according to class. Class identity and class conflict are the defining features.

That is because the lives of Americans are determined by class more than anything else, more than even race. Poor whites and poor blacks have more in common than either has with wealthy whites and wealthy blacks. This is seen in the most basic aspects of lives. The poor are more likely to live next to, work with, attend school with, be friends with, or even marry a poor person of another race than they are to do any of those things with a wealthy person of the same race. The class social order creates entirely different realities that Americans live within.

Racial animosity among the poor is often a result of proximity, not distance. But even then race is rarely the most important issue in the average person’s life. Most people simply worry about daily concerns of life, of getting by and making ends meet. It’s primarily the more economically privileged who have greater ability to racially segregate themselves by living in suburbs, gated communities, and gentrified neighborhoods, by attending elite colleges and sending their kids to private schools.

It is the middle-to-upper classes, a minority of the population, that hold not just most of the wealth but also most of the power and influence along with the privileges, opportunities, and resources that go with it. They don’t tend to worry about their next pay check, medical bills, paying rent, factory closings, home foreclosures, etc. In their greater luxury, these people are free to concern themselves about political galas, partisan campaigning, fundraising events, party primaries, political activism, identity politics, and culture wars. The rest of the population is mostly too busy living their lives and too disenfranchised from the system to worry about what concerns the economically well off.

It’s only the political class, not the majority of Americans, that are divided or like to pretend to be divided. But when it comes to issues of real political power and social privilege, most Republicans and Democrats of the political class are equally neocons and neoliberals. The political rhetoric that is used to create a mood of melodrama and divisiveness is rather superficial and misleading. Most Americans agree about most issues. Most Americans are for BOTH gun rights AND gun regulations, for BOTH abortion rights AND abortion limits, etc. Yet the divide and conquer strategy is quite effective, if only in terms of a sleight-of-hand diversion. It’s easy to rile people up momentarily or simply to demoralize them with the media-propagated sense of conflict.

There is a cynicism in how the political and media elite use these kinds of issues. They create an image of public opinion that doesn’t match the reality of public opinion. The ruse would be shown for what it is, if more of the population were to vote or revolt. It works so effectively because each individual realizes that the media-portrayed reality doesn’t match their own positions and experiences, which makes them feel disconnected from others and alienated from mainstream society, never realizing that people like them are the majority. It’s a highly developed form of social control, since it’s much easier for an elite to rule if the majority doesn’t realize they’re a majority.

The elite have a superior and often condescending attitude toward the rest of society. This expresses itself in many ways, from smug paternalism to righteous judgment, from fear of the dirty masses to opportunistic manipulation. You find it in how politicians of both parties act and in how the media talks. Listen to what Charles Murray says about poor whites in Fishtown, how Thomas Sowell talks about redneck culture, J.D. Vance’s admonishments of hillbillies, Bill Cosby’s criticisms of inner city blacks, etc. And that is just from the political right. The liberal class is known for this as well, specifically among the Clinton New Democrats and the mainstream media that is aligned with them. Smug liberalism was particularly bad this past campaign season and the arrogance of the liberal media was breathtaking.

Speaking of an elite can be misleading, though. The class divide can be remarkably slim at times. With economic troubles increasing and economic mobility decreasing, it’s getting easier and easier for the  upper class to slip down to the middle class and the middle class middle class to slip down to the working class while the working class itself falls further behind. But class identity maintains itself long after such changes occur, because as the entire class spectrum shifts downward almost everyone maintains their relative position within the hierarchy. It’s easy to forget how many Americans are on the bottom of society and how little it takes to gain a bit of class privilege.

The perceived or self-identified elite isn’t always extremely distant, either economically or geographically. Most Americans are working class without a college education. So, simply getting a college education leading to even the most minimal of professional jobs makes one a class above most of the population. It doesn’t matter that the public school teacher or county naturalist may make less money than someone with a good factory job. Class is ultimately an identity and having a college education can give someone a sense of superiority, no matter how slight it can sometimes be in economic terms.

What the college education can give an individual is potentially a position of authority, as even the most lowly of professional jobs can offer. A public school teacher can speak with authority to parents and the county naturalist can speak with authority to small farmers, and in both cases they have government backing their authority, even if that authority has little real force of power. It’s still a greater social position within the social hierarchy and that comes with certain privileges that are easily seen by those further down the ladder of respectability.

This is even seen in some traditionally working class jobs. Someone I know recently got a college degree and was hired on with the city department of parks and recreation. The previous head of the department liked to hire people who grew up on farms as they have practical knowledge about machinery, tools, etc. But the new head of the department prefers to hire college grads who have professional training as naturalists and so have expertise in forestry management, prairie restoration, controlled burns, etc. So, the newly hired employees are treated with more respect in the department and likely they’ll be promoted more quickly and paid more than the older workers. Working class experience and abilities are becoming increasingly irrelevant and of less economic value, hence of less social value. This person, simply by going to college, is now in a better position than most Americans. That certainly creates conflict in society and in the workplace.

It isn’t just that someone goes to college. It’s also what makes that possible. This person was raised upper middle class by college-educated parents. They made sure he took college preparation classes in high school, always encouraged him to go to college, and were willing and able to pay part for his college education. Plus, they modeled certain behaviors for him and helped him in school when asked. Most Americans never get these kinds of advantages that are the norm for middle-to-upper class families. At the most basic level, this is a very real class privilege, even when it is far from being part of the ruling elite.

I know many liberals who didn’t spend most of their lives in big cities in coastal states. They have all resided more years in rural farm states than anywhere else, but that has included living in liberal places like this Iowan college town. This creates a different mentality from someone in the same state who grew up on a farm or in an industrial town and who never went to college or lived in a college town. There are many college graduates in this liberal college town with working class jobs, but it is nothing like being working class in most places in the country working at some crap job like McDonald’s or Walmart.

I see how this different mentality effects people. Many of the people I know are good liberals. None of them are wealthy, often only a generation from working class, and yet they tend to have a strong sense of class identity, not unusually looking down on the poor. One liberal I know has made fun of coworkers for missing teeth. And another refuses to let his daughter play with the poor white children in the neighborhood. They dismiss poor whites as methheads and talk about tweakers for Trump. This also includes some fear and judgment of poor minorities, perceived as moving in from Chicago. It’s a strong sense of those other people being somehow inferior and unworthy, sometimes simply condescension but not unusually mockery. It’s not that they would openly be cruel toward the poor, but the attitude of superiority has to leak out even if unconsciously and I’m sure others pick up on it.

Some of that class consciousness was probably inherited from the larger society, learned from the behavior of older generations and absorbed from the media. That still wouldn’t explain how it came to be expressed so strongly in those who one might think, as liberals, shouldn’t be prone to class bigotry. Maybe it’s because many people I know, as with many of our generation, haven’t done as economically well as the previous generation. This creates class anxiety which is clear in many people having economic worries. The one thing they’ve got going for them is a college education. It’s what they have to prove their worth in the world and they hold the class attitude of seeing the lower classes as ignorant. Many of these people are of the liberal class of professionals, even if only barely.

This isn’t limited to liberals, of course. It’s just that I’ve become more aware of it among liberals. And it somehow seems worse when I observe it in liberals, as it contradicts how liberals see themselves. Many conservatives see no shame in class bigotry, as it is part of the conservative worldview of meritocracy and Social Darwinism. But in liberals, it feels particularly hypocritical.

For liberals, this also mixes up with identity politics. I’ve heard Democrats try to dismiss Bernie Sanders supporters and Donald Trump supporters by invoking what, to the liberal mind, are supposed to be protected groups. It was assumed that minorities, women, and LGBTQ people all supported Hillary Clinton. This was total bullshit, but it’s how a certain kind of liberal sees the world. In reality, Sanders won the majority of young and the poor, including among minorities and women and probably the LGBTQ as well. Then some of these people apparently went over to vote for Trump, as impossible as that seems to the liberal class.

This is an example of class disconnection. Economics doesn’t seem all that important when one has no serious and immediate economic problems. If you are of the liberal class, even on the lower end, most of the minorities and gay people you know are going to also be of the liberal class. This creates a distorted view of demographic identities. If you are a poor minority woman, Clinton’s middle class white feminism means little to you. If you are a working class gay man who lost his job when the factory closed, your most pressing concern at the moment isn’t same sex marriage. Worrying about such things as transgender bathrooms is a class privilege.

For most lower class people, gender and sexuality issues are far down the list of priorities. Even among working class straight white males, they don’t particularly care about culture war issues. Democrats have been pushing social liberalism for decades and yet the majority of the white working class kept voting for them. It was economics, stupid. The white working class isn’t going to vote against their own interests. It’s just that this election they didn’t see a corporatist candidate like Clinton as being in their best interest, whether that meant they chose to vote for another candidate or not vote at all.

The response of the liberal class is a clueless class bigotry. And if they’re not careful, Democrats will become the new party of class bigots, protecting the interests of the shrinking middle class against the interests of the growing working class. That would be a sad fate for the once proud working class party. The working class would be abandoned, left to fend for themselves with no party that represents them. Then the class divide will be complete, as economic inequality becomes a vast chasm. And the further the divide grows, the worse conflict will become. We might see some real class war, of the kind not seen for generations.

Is the smug satisfaction of class bigotry worth the harm it causes? As the economy worsens, perceived class position won’t save anyone nor will a sense of superiority be much comfort. Instead of Americans turning on one another, it would be to everyone’s advantage to see their interests more in line with the lower class majority than with the wealthy ruling elite. Even the rich would be better off in a society with less wasteful divisiveness and greater benefit for all.

Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects

Privilege is a tough subject. For most people, there are always plenty of others who are both more privileged and less privileged. Still, nuance and complexity isn’t how we tend to think about such things. It depends, as always, on what we focus upon and what we ignore—this typically being shaped by unconscious biases.

We don’t objectively compare ourselves to the larger social reality. And we don’t base our perceptions on intricate demographic data and comprehensive surveys. What we usually do is create a sense of our place in the world through personal anecdotes and vague media-filtered experience, through narrative frames and political rhetoric. This causes us to compare ourselves to the distorted and often fictionalized narratives portrayed in MSM news reporting and Hollywood movies—not to mention the influence of now near endless political campaigning and the subtle class war rhetoric that is drilled into our psyches. Besides that, it is human nature to focus on and, when possible, aspire toward what is above us. Even the wealthy will look with envy at the even wealthier. This is exaggerated in a high inequality society, where the gap between the rich and super-rich is as vast as the gap between the upper classes and all the rest, and such gaps continue to grow ever more vast. Only those near the bottom might bother to spend much time looking down upon those below them in the social pecking order, whether the differences are real (class) or perceived (race).

I’ve pointed out how this plays out for liberals—the privilege of the liberal class, the bias and benefits inherent to greater wealth and status, opportunities and resources. The liberal demographic is among the most economically well off and well educated. And, related to this, the wealthier of any demographic (race, ideology, etc) the more liberal people tend to be, often both in terms of social liberalism and classical liberal economics. It’s not only about those who self-identify as liberals. A similar pattern is found among libertarians and other right-wingers, from objectivists to anarcho-capitalists. It’s true of the Republican political elite and activists, the conservative pundits and think tank intellectuals, the business managerial class and inherited old wealth. But it’s also true of most people on the far political left: Marxists, anarcho-syndicalists, feminists, etc. Even the typical minority activist and politician is going to be far above average in wealth and education. To hold and defend any particular ideology or identity politics largely depends on a privileged status in society. It takes a lot of time, energy, and resources to commit to such activities—especially if one makes a career out of it. The poor, whether working or unemployed, whether white or minority, don’t have this kind of luxury.

There is an odd dynamic here. The middle-to-upper class are more ‘liberal’ in many ways, including for those on the political right. Those far down the economic scale are less concerned about defending liberalism in any of its forms, whether leftist standard liberalism or right-wing classical liberalism. In Western countries, even radical left-wingers who often are critical of ‘liberalism’ are more culturally liberal than the poor. On the other hand, the lower classes (i.e., the majority of the population) are more liberal/leftist in concrete ways than the political elite that claims to represent them—supporting: higher taxation of the rich and corporations, stronger social safety net, more effective regulations, less wars of aggression and military adventurism, etc. The supposed conservatism of the lower class majority is primarily symbolic, not necessarily based on specific political principles and policies. But it could be seen as genuinely conservative in the lower class’ demand for more emphasis on social capital and culture of trust, family and community—the very things that are undermined by upper class politics and economics, especially neoliberalism. Anyway, it’s a class divide more than an ideological divide, as the differences between partisan/ideological elites is negligible in terms of practical politics and actual results.

The main thing, anyway, is that there are these fundamental divides in our society. They lead to endless disconnections and conflicts. Our thoughts are distorted and our vision narrowed, causing endless confusion and misunderstanding. This is why privilege is so hard to see and understand. We rarely ever get the sense of the full context of our lives. This has worsened because of the segregation of not just ghettos, housing projects, and rural isolation but also of suburbs, walled communities, and gentrified neighborhoods. Physical distance leads to psychological distance.

Obviously, it’s not just about the hypocrisy of self-identified liberals living comfortable lives, even though their example is egregious based on the politics they outwardly support. This is a collective failure, not just of the dominant liberal order of post-Enlightenment society, or rather at this point we are all liberals complicit in this failure, even those who spend their lives complaining about liberalism and blaming liberals. Hypocritical liberals simply make explicit what is implicit to the world we live in. Even poor Westerners are part of the problems involved in a long history of imperialism, colonialism, genocide, slavery, exploitation, etc. Living in the West, we are all legacy beneficiaries of immense crimes against humanity in the past but also continuing into the present. This is particularly true of a country like the US, for being a subject of an empire has its advantages even for the poorest of subjects, not that it’s all that great of a fate even though there are worst fates.

As a liberal, much of my focus has been on other liberals. But I want to clarify this. There is a reason I identify as a liberal. It’s because of, not in spite of, my criticisms. According to my most utopian ideals and futuristic visions, I could identify as a left-libertarian, anarcho-syndicalist, democratic-socialist, etc. I could grab hold of some ideology as a way of distancing myself from liberalism. I don’t want to do that. Instead, I want to emphasize that I’m complicit in all that goes on in this society. I don’t want to merely stand back from it all or worse still pretend I’m above it all. That is what irritates me about many left-wingers. It’s true that left-wing politics has little overt power in the world today, certainly not in the United States. But I think it’s a cop-out for left-wingers to play intellectual games with detached righteousness, lost in their highfalutin abstruse historical and economic analyses, as if they aren’t stuck down in the sewers covered with shit like the rest of us.

Joe Bageant was a Marxist and considered himself far left of the far left, but he never forgot his roots in poor white Appalachia. He complained about liberalism and yet at times admitted he was a liberal of sorts—worse still, an educated liberal and an old hippie at that. He was trying to make his voice heard from within the belly of the beast, not observing the beast’s behavior as if a zoologist studying from afar. From the opposite end of the class spectrum, there was someone like Theodore Roosevelt. His class solidarity apparently was a bit lacking, as he didn’t espouse an ideology for the wealthy and business interests. He took socialists seriously, in that he argued they made some valid points. Unlike many mainstream partisans today reacting to the supporters of Sanders and Trump, TR didn’t just dismiss the perceived radicals as loud-mouthed rabble-rousers and malcontents. He argued that many socialists were simply social reformers, not utopian ideologues, and that the issues they brought up should be taken seriously—it being better to allow genuine reform if it prevents violent revolution. Both Bageant and Roosevelt were making the simple point that we should listen to those making complaints and try to understand where they are coming from—i.e., don’t shoot the messenger.

Here is what has been on my mind, a specific demographic that is some combination of middle-to-upper class, well educated, professional, and mostly white. Out of this demographic comes the politicians and activists, community organizers and social workers, intellectuals and academics, writers and artists, musicians and actors, journalists and reporters, etc. Despite being a minority of the population, they have greater power to be heard and influence than all of the rest of the population combined. They are, of course, more economically secure and comfortable than most of the population, along with greater opportunity for economic mobility. They particularly dominate the political and media spheres and so they determine the terms of public debate and controlling the framing of issues and narratives. These are the people who are most invested in the system and likewise benefit the most from the system, but they aren’t the people who experience the greatest harm from and costs of the system.

These are the privileged. These are the people who have the most insulated lives. They either don’t see or don’t understand many of the divides in our society. Certainly, they have little experience of those who live on the other side of those divides. They argue among themselves within a narrow frame of interests and ideas. Even the supposed radicals among them are safely contained within the dominant paradigm. Yet fissures are beginning to form in their walled reality. And the voices from outside are beginning to be heard. This disturbs their comfortable lives and puts them in an irritable mood. They realize their position in the social order is being threatened.

Even so, I don’t get the sense that most of these middle-to-upper class gentlefolk realize how bad it’s gotten for the majority of the population. Some do get it, but many more don’t. When I hear the criticisms of the supporters of Sanders and Trump, it becomes obvious that these critics are oblivious to the point of utter cluelessness. It’s not just economic problems getting worse: increasing poverty among the disadvantaged and growing inequality across society, higher rates of unemployment and underemployment (permanent unemployment no longer even being measured), the falling behind other developed countries in economic mobility along with the size and wealth of the middle class, stagnating or falling real wages and buying power, etc. It’s also a worsening of rates of mental health issues, suicide and other mortality causes, delayed marriage and divorce—and the destruction of all that held the social fabric together: deteriorating tight-knit farming communities and factory towns based on strong local economies, loss of high membership rates in labor unions and civic organizations, undermining of culture of trust and civic participation, weakening of democratic process and representation, disempowerment and disenfranchisement and demoralization of the lower classes, economic segregation and isolation, underfunding of schools and libraries and infrastructure and public services, and so much else.

This isn’t directly impacting most of the people the comfortable middle-to-upper classes. They usually don’t even see it’s impact on others, except occasional reports about it in the news media and occasional portrayals of it in the entertainment media. But even then, no real sense of what it means for those suffering and struggling. When they dismiss demands for reform from those below them, what they don’t understand is that these aren’t unreasonable requests. Those at the bottom of society don’t have the luxury to wait for slowly implemented moderate reforms. The system is broken. For the worst off, this at times can be a life or death situation. Some people are barely hanging on, at the end of their rope. As the economy worsens and the divides widen, desperation gets pushed to the breaking point with the inevitable result of soaring rates of mental health issues and suicides. Push it far enough and you will see even far worse consequences for all of society. The presently comfortable might find themselves increasingly uncomfortable, if they continue to ignore the victims of these oppressive problems. It’s not wise, much less moral and compassionate, to dismiss the pleas of the desperate.

* * *

The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness

The Desperate Acting Desperately

Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates

From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations

Republicans: Party of Despair

Rate And Duration of Despair

Privilege of Being a Liberal

The hardest thing for garden variety American liberals to grasp is what a truly politicized and hateful place much of America has become—one long mean ditch ruled by feral dogs where the standards of civility no longer apply. The second hardest thing for liberals is to admit that they are comfortably insulated in the middle class and are not going to take any risks in the battle for America’s soul not as long as they are still living on a good street, sending their kids to Montessori and getting their slice of the American quiche. Call it the politics of the comfort zone. (Joe Bageant)

In my last post, I spoke of the thankless task of being a liberal. Now I’ll talk about the privilege.

One of the most obvious factors of the liberal demographic is its position in American society. Liberals on average are among the wealthiest and most educated of Americans. In their class privilege, they are only second to libertarians. On top of that, there is race privilege as well, since most liberals (like most libertarians) are white. All of this while living in the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, a country that of course has had a white majority for centuries.

That is some major privilege. I don’t simply mean that in the sense of, check your privilege. This is also a privilege in the sense that offers resources and opportunities, maybe not unlike how some consider it to be a privilege to make a living as an artist or a privilege to live in a time of peace. Being a liberal is a rare and fortunate condition. Self-identified liberals represent a narrow spectrum of society. Most liberals are professionals in specialized fields. This is why one can accurately speak of a liberal class, not just a liberal movement or liberal ideology.

I know this personally, as a liberal among liberals. I don’t exactly live in the lap of luxury these days, as my lifestyle is now working class and severe depression is a constant struggle. Still, all in all, my life has been a thousand times easier than the majority of Americans.

I grew up in a middle class family, although our class status fluctuated a bit. My parents were highly educated professionals who ensured I got everything I needed growing up. I didn’t worry about anything as a kid, other than the typical kid stuff. My parents were teachers who were able to help me with my learning disability in a way few poor kids would ever be lucky enough to experience. At one point, I went to a wealthy suburban school where I got cutting edge help with my reading and memory issues—that suburb by the way is known for having been a sundown town that kept poor blacks out.

After that and while still young, my family moved to a fairly wealthy liberal college town. It’s where I live now, after having spent time elsewhere in the country. This town is fairly white and was even moreso when I was a kid. I had the privilege of being racially oblivious, as race issues didn’t negatively impact me nor did I have to see or recognize their negative impact on others. I lived in a bubble, a comfortable protected world. I didn’t have to worry about poverty, homelessness, underfunded schools, violence, crime, police brutality, racial profiling, school-to-prison pipeline, or any other crap that other less fortunate kids had to deal with.

It was an easy childhood, not that I realized it at the time. I could go where I pleased and do almost anything I wanted. It wasn’t always a happy childhood with my school problems, but damn it could have been far worse—and it is far worse for so many others.

As I said, I still live in this liberal college town. It’s a nice place to find oneself. There are plenty of jobs. Because of the university, research centers, hospitals and writers workshops, this community was barely touched by the economic recession and housing construction didn’t even slow down. There is a constant influx of state and federal funds supporting the good life we have here. Within walking distance of my apartment, there are numerous healthcare centers and public services, recreation centers and parks and trail systems, public and university libraries and also bookstores, museums and art galleries, and so much else. I’m surrounded by people who are economically well off and well educated. Even many of the bus drivers, taxi drivers, janitors, postal workers, bartenders, bakers, etc have college degrees. This is a hell of a town to be working class, even if like me you don’t have a college degree.

This is what it means to be of the liberal class. It’s not just college towns and wealthy suburbs. There are tech hubs like the Bay Area in California and Boulder in Colorado. There are other creative class cities like Portland, Oregon. There are the gentrified neighborhoods in all of the big cities. Then there are the expat communities abroad.

It’s not just the wealth, not just the resources and opportunities, not just the lack of overt racial oppression and other disadvantages. It’s a whole system of privileges and unearned benefits that makes the liberal lifestyle possible. This is what the liberal worldview is built upon.

Take health as an example. Most liberals take for granted being healthy. This is because most liberals spent their lives with access to nutritious food along with clean water and air, access to parks and recreation centers and gyms, and most importantly access to regular healthcare and dentistry. Liberals don’t have to worry about living in food deserts or having to travel long distances to find an emergency room for some untreated condition. This doesn’t just contribute to physical health but also to cognitive development. Consider major heavy metal toxic exposure—being free of this in childhood is no small privilege. Such toxicity, along with malnutrition and undernourishment, will stunt cognitive development and lower IQ, not to mention cause a whole host of physical and psychiatric ailments. And such illnesses and impairments can even be measured in terms of dollar amounts of lost income across the lifetime.

This isn’t to say no liberal has ever struggled and known hard times. I’m an example of that. I’ve dealt with learning disability and severe depression. I’m working class and at times have lived below the poverty line. Yet I almost always had the resources and opportunities to deal with my problems, no matter how hard they were. There were people around me to offer help or to lend me money. I’m certain that, if I had been born a poor minority, I would not have survived this long with what I’ve dealt with. I realize that, as shitty as my life can seem, I know little of what it means to struggle against impossible odds and feel like the whole world is against me. I understand just enough to realize how much worse life is for those less fortunate and advantaged.

It is a privilege to be a liberal and of the liberal class, even on the lower end of the liberal class. With privilege comes responsibility. No one born into this privilege earned it. Immense humility and moral obligation is in order. Instead of judging the less fortunate for doubting the liberal dream, liberals should seek to ensure all of their fellow citizens have similar access to resources and opportunities. Make that liberal dream a reality for everyone.

The Privilege of Even Poor Whites

I just don’t get the belief in genetic and cultural determinism. It doesn’t really explain anything.

As an example, “whites” used to have much lower IQs on average than do “non-white” minorities now. The first IQ tests were done in the early 20th century. It was a time of many social problems, not unlike these past decades. It was a time when ethnic Americans of European ancestry were targeted and scapegoated by WASPs not unlike how minorities are still treated.

Along with testing as low IQ, those ethnic Americans had higher rates of violence than have been seen since, much of it related to substance abuse, youth gangs, and organized crime. It was the highest rates of violent crime ever recorded in US history and, because of mass immigration from Europe, probably was the largest “white” majority in US history (or rather perceived “white” majority as those included and excluded is always changing).

That was the largest influx of “white” genetics and culture ever to happen on American soil. If “whites” are inherently superior, why didn’t that even larger “white” majority immediately drive down the violence and push up the IQ? It took decades before those early 20th century social problems improved with the help of public education, Progressive policies, the GI Bill, etc… not to mention oppressive Cold War tactics of cultural genocide and forced assimilation of hyphenated Americans into proper “white” mainstream culture, a part of the original purpose of such things as public education which is why the KKK supported it.

So, if even lower IQ and more violent “whites” were able to see vast improvements over such a short period of time, why is it assumed that “non-white” minorities today are different? Why wouldn’t the same improved environmental condtions that improved the lives of ethnic “whites”, if implemented universally, also improve the lives of all other Americans? Why is genetic and cultural determinism only applied to rationalize the social problems impacting some groups and not others?

This is a personal issue for me, as a descendant of ethnic immigrants, some who likely identified as hyphenated Americans.

My non-English ancestors experienced oppression and prejudice. They worked hard, and through generations of struggle they were allowed to move up in society.

My mother’s family a few generations ago were poor whites: distillers, farmers, clam diggers, manual laborers, etc; when they were lucky enough to find work. They definitely knew poverty and unemployment during the early 20th century. They were under-educated and uneducated, often illiterate and unable to write until recent generations. They wouldn’t have tested as high IQ. They also had many of the problems associated with ethnic Americans, such as alcoholism and bootlegging during Prohibition. They were simple people, just getting by in life, whatever that took.

It was only with my mother’s generation that most of her family began graduating from high school and, in some cases, getting college degrees. Within a single generation, many members of my mom’s family went from poor to middle class. Their perceived “whiteness” gave them privileges and advantages of social and economic mobility.

It wasn’t genetic and cultural determinism that had kept them poor and disadvantaged for centuries upon centuries. It was the social conditions that initially kept them at the bottom of society and that then allowed them to rise. Their perceived “whiteness”, after they had been either willingly or forcefully assimilated, doesn’t explain this change. Rather, their perceived “whiteness” was the change or an expression of that change. Before being “white” or fully “white”, they were treated as second class citizens and so they suffered the fate of second class citizens. The twentieth century, however, gave them new opportunities with a new racial and social identity. They were now “white” and hence “real Americans”.

Many whites take this kind of cross-generational upward mobility as a point of pride. Their family did it. So, it is no one else’s fault for those who are seen as failures. But this ignores the reality of our society, the remaining forms of classism and racism. It was also only a brief respite for many families, as new generations find themselves falling back down into poverty once again, no better off than the rest of the poor who have been stuck there. The American Dream has been a mirage because it never was built on a strong foundation, never was integrated into a functioning democracy.

The racial myth of superiority has been shown to be the lie it always was. Poor whites have always been the majority of the poor and those on welfare. A temporary respite from poverty for some white Americans didn’t change this fact.

Why do we want to use social categories to choose who will be allowed to succeed and who will continue to be punished with prejudice and oppression? Instead, why not treat all Americans equally and give them all equal opportunities and assistance? Making excuses of determinism helps no one and harms everyone as it undermines the very values and ideals that justify our country’s existence. If American isn’t about an actual American Dream accessible to all Americans, then what is it about? Do we really want to cynically embrace Apartheid? Why not live up to the hopes and aspirations our country was founded upon?

HBD Proponents, Racists and Racialists

I came across a typical racist blog post that is posing as being intellectually credible.

It is typical in its racism, but I suppose I should at least give credit to the blogger for being atypical in putting some effort into defending his racism. Basically, he gathers together all the data that shows blacks are bad and inferior, ignores any positive data and dismisses out of hand the entire history and context behind the data. Also, he only focuses on his own preferred scapegoat group while not pointing out similar problems and other problems among whites, not to mention among Americans in general when compared to other countries (see here, here and here).

It’s important that we don’t ignore arguments like this, even though they are motivated by racism. We should never let a single injustice go by unchallenged. This goes back to what I was saying in my last post. A racist, like any other true believer, is beginning with a generalization and then cherrypicks the particulars that conform to their preconceived conclusion. This is why, in that post, I emphasized the particulars. The details of reality are messy and don’t easily fit into simple categories.

It is so hard to respond to people like this because of a simple truth Lionel Trilling once expressed:

“Where misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood.”

But I’m a fool for truth. So I feel compelled to try, and I did try. I left a comment at that post which was deleted. Hence, my presenting my thoughts here.

By the way, I came across this racist blog post because hbd chick posted it with a bunch of links.

I like and respect hbd chick. She isn’t a racist and, as with me, she would point out that poor rural Southern whites have their problems as well. Even then, she admits that she is speculating and hasn’t objectively proven anything (in the scientific sense). Still, the fact that she would post this racist link in her blog demonstrates a problem that is common among the proponents of human biodiversity (HBD).

If HBD blogs are to be used as a platform for racists, that brings discredit to HBD. I think that would be a shame because bloggers like hbd chick have a lot that is worthy to offer.

HBD attracts some overt racists and even among those who aren’t racist they often don’t recognize or acknowledge racism. The issue of racism is an uncomfortable truth which, to the conservative-minded, is a politically incorrect issue to be denied and dismissed rather than discussed. Many HBD proponents seem less interested in taking a moral stance and prefer instead to claim they are just objectively presenting data. If they do this, they are shifting the blame to the cherrypicked data and denying responsibility for having cherrypicked the data in the first place.

Of course, it is a moral issue and those involved are taking a moral stance. Data never speaks for itself. It is we who use data in support of our speaking.

From a rational perspective, there are two basic problems with the racist argument and sometimes with the non-racist HBD argument.

First, correlation is not causation, but it can imply it. I’m very interested in correlations and so I don’t mean to dismiss them. I take them very seriously which is why I take seriously the responsibility to not use them in a dishonest or prejudiced way.

Second, the reason correlation is not causation is because correlating data by itself doesn’t meet scientific standards. Using careful research methods, one has to prove a correlation is valid and that it has a causal relationship. Also, one needs to control for all known confounding factors.

That is a high standard to live up to. Nonetheless, for the intellectually honest, it is the standard one must live up to if one wants to be taken seriously. Racists and the intellectually lazy, however, are unwilling to strive for such intellectual self-responsibility.

I was particularly pointing out the aspect of confounding factors. There are so many of them, a whole history of them in fact.

For the record, here is the deleted comment I submitted to the racist post:

It is hard to respond such arguments because the author doesn’t consider the confounding factors. Looking at correlations without looking at confounding factors is the complete opposite of helpful.

If socio-economic class and systemic racial prejudice were taken into account, what would remain of many racial differences. I have yet to see this fully analyzed, but there sure are a lot of opinions. I must admit I get tired of opinions in search of supporting data rather than people merely seeking data to learn what might be discovered.

Here is what has been proven and yet ignored by the likes of the author.

More whites do drugs than blacks, but more blacks are in prison for drugs. Studies have shown that blacks are more often pulled over by police than whites, more often have criminal charges brought against them than whites for the same behaviors, are more likely to be judged more harshly by juries than whites for the same crimes, and more likely to be punished more harshly by judges than whites for the same crimes. These are the inconvenient truths that most Americans don’t want to face.

Poverty and lack of social mobility are major problems facing minorities, the former increasing and the latter decreasing in America these past decades. This of course relates to racism. Data has shown how discrimination has limited opportunities for blacks for many generations now. There was discrimination during the Progressive Era government assistance programs. There has been discrimination since involving housing, employment and bank loans.

We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America. But those who point out the problems of blacks never seem to notice or acknowledge this disconcerting fact. Like blacks, what these rural whites share is poverty, lack of opportunity, and a long history of oppression/scapegoating by the upper classes.

We all know this. It is no longer an issue that can be argued. Why can’t we have an honest discussion about all of this? What would be so horrible about objectively looking at all the data instead of cherrypicking what fits our preconceived conclusions?

What we don’t know is, after all these confounding factors are accounted for, what remains for the differences in crimes and IQ. Many are willing to offer opinions, but few opinions are very well informed on the matter. We need to get serious about this and quite playing scapegoating games.

America has massive problems of racism and classism that are inseparable from problems of poverty, economic inequality and social mobility. These problems are larger than any other problems we face.

To offer context, I’ve previously argued about this issue with HBD proponents. So this isn’t new territory I’m treading – for example, see: IQ Dilemma: Inconvenient Correlations, Uncomfortable Data. In another post about IQ and racism, someone going by the name Szopeno commented and I responded thusly:

“Do blacks in the south and north are the same biologically-wise?”

Most of the blacks in the North came from the same population of blacks in the South. And before that most blacks in America came from the same few tribes in Africa.

“E.g. it would be enough that only smarter blacks were emigrating north; that would create a pattern you have shown, without creating any need to appeal to poverty rates.”

There is no known evidence that this was the case or none that I know of. Why speculate about an unknown (only smarter blacks were emigrating north) when we can theorize on the proven facts (poverty and related factors have negative impact on cognitive development and IQ). Nonetheless, that would as I argued still disprove the white supremacists.

“No to mention of course the question of admixture – Jensen in g factor wrote that white admixture is higher in northern blacks than in south.”

You could only argue this by ignoring some of the known facts. The Southern whites who have some of the lowest IQs in the country don’t have more black genetics. They are among some of the whitest of whiteys around. As I pointed out in a recent post, Southern blacks are found in greatest concentration precisely where the Scots-Irish, Scottish and Irish are found in the least concentration.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/maps-are-fun-us-data/

There are only two known commonalities between American blacks in general and American whites in the South. They are both environmental commonalities. First, as Thomas Sowell argues, blacks have a culture similar to poor Southern whites, a culture they certainly inherited from their time in the South and brought North with the mass migration. Second, the only other known commonality is poverty. Genetics is the very thing that most separates poor low IQ blacks and poor low IQ whites.

“All I say that what you have presented here is not an argument which could convince hereditarians.”

All the facts in the world couldn’t convince many hereditarians. I don’t deny the known facts about heredity and I actually find that field interesting, but I will never understand those who will ignore or dismiss known facts for the sake of speculation that better fits their interpretive lense. Why not begin with what we know? Why not go with the simplest explanation first?

That is not an atypical interaction with many HBD proponents. A whole lot of speculation on limited data. I have no problem with speculation, but I usually prefer to limit my speculation to the data. It’s not as if the HBD proponent is making an entirely unintelligent argument. They just seem overly attached to a particular conclusion or theory which makes one suspicious of their biases, possibly their prejudices as well.

I don’t know the data about ethnic genetic ratios in regional US populations. Let me assume that Northern blacks have more European genetics. Why would we jump to the conclusion that Northern blacks having higher average IQs is genetically caused? More European genetics also means lighter skin and hence, as has been proven, less racial prejudice experienced. Isn’t that a simpler explanation? Unless we scientifically know of a precise gene that makes blacks stupid, why would we want to believe that is the case? The only reason we’d do so is for the sake of racial bias, whether overt racism or unconscious racialism.

Besides, I’ve found most people making this argument find it inconvenient to acknowledge that many blacks have large percentages of European genetics. It is hard to be racist or racialist when the boundaries are blurred between the races. As for me, I find it fascinating that the average African American is about 1/5 European and 1 in 10 African Americans have more European genetics than African genetics. So, as for those 1 in 10, why do we call them African Americans in the first place? Also, what makes them ‘black’ if their skin color is closer to Europeans than native Africans?

Oh, the confounding factors! What is one to do!?!

My comment to the racist blog post was also added to the comments section of hbd chick’s blog (and she has the intellectual evenhandedness to let almost anyone post, even critics which is why I like and respect her even when I disagree with her). The only person so far to respond to my comment there was a someone called bleach:

“We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America. But those who point out the problems of blacks never seem to notice or acknowledge this disconcerting fact.”

Uhh maybe because the “fact” is total bullshit, you just made it up and keep repeating it without any evidence. AE has the actual numbers:

http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2013/01/black-homicide-rates-by-state.html

http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2013/01/white-murder-rates-by-state.html

Southern whites aren’t even the most violent amongst just whites; southwestern whites are. But the more important fact is how much higher, monumentally higher, the black rates are for every state.

Which everyone who wasn’t a hick from a 99% white Midwestern zip code KNEW ALREADY.

I’m not even going to bother with the rest of your claims, there is no reason to believe they have any truth when you keep repeating falsehoods and provide no data for anything. No one needs the opinion of an ignorant liberal hick on race relations, either. Have you even met any real life black people yet?

What is so interesting about his comment there is that he also commented on my post White Supremacy Defeated… yet again. His recent comment shows no knowledge of our ever having discussed this before. It is as if such people live in a bubble. Even when interacting with them, they aren’t listening to you or hearing anything other than the voices in their self-constructed echo chamber.

I’d previously explained the data to him. It isn’t just state by state data. It is data that is a combination of looking at both the North/South divide and the urban/rural divide. It’s not just that all Southerners are more violent, but that specifically white rural Southerners are the most violent. As for states over all, it would partly depend on which Southern states have higher ratios of rural whites to urban whites.

Also, he missed the entire point of confounding factors. What do poor rural whites and poor urban blacks have in common? Poverty. And what historical circumstances do they share in being poor? Centuries of oppression and prejudice, specifically in the South. Most of the poor rural whites are of Celtic ancestry. The upper class whites in the South have always looked down upon them. Before that, the upper class whites of Britain also looked down upon them.

For both poor blacks and whites, this has often been a severely violent history with political disenfranchisement. If poor whites are showing such problems without ever having experienced slavery, is it so surprising that blacks have had an uphill climb? When my parents were growing up, Jim Crow was still in effect. Even today, studies show that racism continues, including institutionalized racism.

These racists and racialist fellow travelers have never proven that these problems are anything other than the direct results of centuries of racism and classism. Yet they claim others as enforcing political correctness when those others point out inconvenient data that contradicts their cherrypicked data. The confounding factors are so numerous and complex that I doubt any scientific research has yet been able to control for all of them. It is so vast of a problem that we don’t know how to face it as a society.

It’s not as if I’m denying that genetics plays a role in human behavior and cognitive ability. But any theory proposed has to be scientifically proven with scientific data provided by scientific research. Just correlating a bunch of data found online isn’t the same thing as doing science. I love correlating data as much as the next blogger, but I take it for what it is.

In my thoughts, I return to my post about generalities vs particulars. The particulars are messy and can feel overwhelming whereas generalities can feel comforting as they give the appearance of providing simple conclusions and an orderly understanding, but the danger is this is too often superficial and deceptive.

To be a truth-seeker is to accept the responsibility of the moral force of truth, in all of its complexity and uncertainty. Yes, it is uncomfortable and sometimes even disconcerting. There are few easy answers and absolute knowns. But the alternative is much worse.

In my previous post, I presented two ways of focusing on data, the general vs the particular. There is also two ways to use data. You can use data as a way to speak truth to power or else you can use data to kick people while they are down. The sad part about the latter way is that the whole reason the poor, whether whites or blacks, are down in the first place is because they were kicked to the ground and have been continuously kicked ever since. After all this, to keep kicking them is to ensure they stay down. If we stop kicking them for a moment, who knows what might happen? For instance, they might stand up for themselves

What are the racists and racialists afraid of if they quit kicking the downtrodden and let them stand up with the rest of humanity?

If after that they fall down on their own, then be an asshole and point that out. But at least quick kicking them in the meantime. Heck, maybe even offer them a helping hand. Could you imagine if we gave these groups the same amount of assistance and compassion that they have received in oppression and prejudice? The worst part is those who like to kick the helpless the most are precisely those who have benefited the most and inherited the benefit of those who have gained the most from keeping those other people down.

All I can say is there are some sick assholes in the world.

Instead of just looking at the results of social problems, why don’t we look to the cause of social problems? The ethnic/racial ruling elite that existed in America’s oppressive past is basically the same ethnic/racial ruling elite that exists in America’s dysfunctional present. Is that mere coincidence? I think not.

I was imagining a truly worthy version of a HBD advocate. There is a worthy aspect to HBD theory. The data is interesting, but it is just a tiny piece of the puzzle.

I didn’t so much like the links offered by hbd chick, but I do like her blog. She is smart and I appreciate how data-driven she is, not in a cherrypicking kind of way. However, her focus is rather narrow on just HBD and so she mostly just looks at certain kinds of data and often doesn’t seem interested in data outside of that. I can’t blame her for following her interests, but I still can’t deny the sense that HBDers like her don’t appreciate the moral imperative of truth-seeking and truth-telling. It’s not just data. Human lives are involved.

I’m not an ideologue in the political sense and also not in the sense of having loyalty to theories. Even with my favored viewpoints, I’m only likely to defend them to the extent that they act as a proxy in my seeking balance with other perspectives and to the extent they act as conduits toward a greater field of understanding (which is why they are favored viewpoints in the first place). For example, I strongly appreciate Myers-Briggs and personality theory/research of all sorts, but I’m not overly identified with Myers-Briggs being absolutely true, although it is a theory that I’ve probably studied more than any other.

It isn’t just a loyalty thing. It’s obvious that hbd chick likes her own HBD theory, but she’ll admit to it possibly being wrong. So, she is less loyal than some HBDers. Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop her from remaining intently focused on a narrow band of data. My mind, however, wanders. I constantly have my toes in many pools. This allows me to see broad connections, the type of broad connections I rarely come across in any HBD blog.

I’ve had conflicts with HBDers such as JayMan because of this. JayMan’s blog is subtitled “Where Sacred Cows Go To Die”, but apparently that only applies to other people’s sacred cows. As for Jayman’s sacred cows, he’ll defend them at all costs. He has great loyalty to HBD, but moreso it is a narrow focus that seems motivated by a sense of thick boundaries. HBDers are particularly obsessed with boundaries between races, ethnicities and nations. I, on the other hand, am very thin boundaried in comparison.

I’m not an anything-goes universalist that wants to throw the borders open and let anarchism rule the land, although that would be an interesting experiment to do under the right conditions. But certainly, unlike most HBDers, I’m not an ethnocentric nationalist. I’ve noticed that there is an imperialist bias in the thinking of many HBDers. This became apparent in a discussion I was having in a post by hbd chick. Oddly, I’m apparently both more liberal and more libertarian than the average HBDer I’ve dealt with. I responded to that post with a post of mine where I discussed this issue of defense of empire as a defense of ethnocentrism.

There is nothing wrong in being narrowly focused. It makes hbd chick an impressive researcher. She focuses in on a particular area and it is amazing what she can dig up. However, it also leads to massive blindspots because of a lack of seeing the bigger picture and fully appreciating far different perspectives. One thing I notice is how rarely she discusses politics and world events. The type of analysis offered by someone like Noam Chomsky doesn’t even seem to exist in her world of data. I couldn’t even find any of her posts that included the likes of John Gray (the philosopher), Morris Berman and Wendell Berry. I haven’t come across a single HBDer who comes close to offering the subtle and wide-ranging insight of a Joe Bageant and certainly not the moral vision of a Thomas Paine, both being great examples of speaking truth to power.

One would think that HBDers would have a better ability to see outside of cultural biases, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I think the problem is that most of them don’t want to see other cultural views, either to understand them on their own terms or to understand their criticisms of American and Western culture. Understanding others doesn’t seem to be their main priority. People aren’t individuals. They are races, ethnicities, clans and nationalities. Most HBDers are smart people. It’s just they seem strongly driven by an agenda or maybe just strongly attached to their cultural comfort zone.

I’m trying to get into the mindset of why someone like hbd chick would post links to racist blog posts. To her mind, I’m sure she doesn’t see the racism at all. She just sees a blogger correlating data. She sees the data but not the lives behind the data. Certainly, what she doesn’t see is the cherrypicking and the ignoring of confounding factors. Even if I pointed this out to her, she still wouldn’t likely see it. It simply isn’t part of her HBD reality tunnel.

I remember the first serious lengthy discussion I had with JayMan. I found his view interesting, but I couldn’t get him to understand my view.

I pointed out the confounding factors and it didn’t change his mind. It was as if the confounding factors didn’t exist. He was sure it had to be a genetic explanation because that is what he was looking for. He expected to find genetics and so couldn’t see the relevance of what he didn’t expect. It was strange to my mind, this narrow focus.

I tried to broaden his perspective by pointing out that these confounding factors matter because of the implications of ignoring them, but he didn’t find the idea of morality compelling. He saw himself as an objective researcher looking for objective data. Genes were in his mind more objectively real than the people influenced by the ideas he was advocating.

I suspect something similar with hbd chick. although with less obtuseness. When I speak of truth as moral imperative, that probably would make no sense to her. She would deny having such a responsibility to truth and morality. She might like truth and choose to communicate it in her own way, but not because of a moral imperative. The fact that linking to a racist blog post has moral implications wouldn’t seem relevant to her. Like JayMan, she likely would see herself as just an objective researcher looking for objective data.

Morality and ethics is the one area I never see discussed in HBD blogs. It is all about the data. The framework of HBD is scientific or, I would argue, in many cases pseudo-scientific. There is an insular nature to the HBD community. They are mostly talking amongst themselves and preaching to the choir. A moral perspective would require them to peak their heads outside this ideological enclave and look at the larger world of people with other views, a world that where their beliefs and ideas lead to real consequences, not just for them and their group but for everyone.

I think that ends my time commenting at hbd chick’s blog. It just is too frustrating being the only voice pointing out uncomfortable truths to an audience that doesn’t want to know uncomfortable truths. They don’t want to hear it and I’ve done all I can do at this point. *sigh*

I’m brought back to Tim Wise’s insight: The ultimate privilege of being a member of a privileged group is not having to know or acknowledge your privilege nor the systemic and institutionalized privilege throughout society. It takes a lot to force a privileged person to confront their own privilege. That is a rare event.

As a society, our only hope is to help the next generation understand before they become identified with the system of privilege, specifically in terms of the society of ethnocentric imperialism. We need to encourage the questioning of our society, deep soul-searching and most of all speaking truth to power. Could you imagine a society that put truth before all else, specifically truth as a moral imperative? I’d love to live in that society.

On a related topic, I thought I’d point out another link that hbd chick included in her post. It is Kinship or Citizenship? by Steve Sailer, the author being one of the most well known HBD defenders. Basically, he is attacking the poor, powerless minority groups for supposedly being clannish and hence their supposed unfairly picking on all the wealthier, more powerful white folk. I decided to point out this article for how well the comments section tore apart his argument:

Rebecca Trotter says:
I don’t think it’s victim groups we have to worry about. Rather, the new clans who act in their own interests without regard for their fellow man or citizens are the hyper-rich, the Ivy league elites, wall street masters of the universe. Even Obama could only benefit from his race because of his position as the child of academic elites and a member of the Ivy league. It’s a minutely tiny number of minorities who are able to leverage their “victim status” for any gain! For the overwhelming majority being part of a minority group is still a major disadvantage and media concocted fears of the white majority aside, that’s unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. The clannish nature of our wealthy elites has been well documented and is probably the biggest threat to our democracy that America has ever faced. The pap we are fed to argue over is nothing more than a distraction.

Northern Observer says:
Sailer writes a nice essay and blows it all in his conclusion. If we are to take the idea of tribalism and clan politics seriously in America than we need to admit that the most dominant clan in America is the Southern White Conservative tribe. It is the behaviour of this political clan grouping that will determine the quality of political life in America for some time to come. The ongoing drift of this tribe’s politics to romantic irrationalism is something to worry about. In the big picture, homosexuals and African Americans are small potatoes. The Southern tribe’s rejection of the responsibilities of citizenship, as epitomized by the GOP controlled House and State Legislatures, is the most alarming political development in America today.

Frank Stain says:
It is an old and rather tiresome tactic of racists to suggest that the marginalized group identities formed by the efforts of the majority to defend its cultural privileges are in fact ‘clannish’ behavior. Hitler in fact argued specifically in Mein Kampf that the Jews are more clannish than other people, and act in concert to promote a Jewish agenda. Rather than the concentration of Jews in finance being a result of their exclusion from areas of communal endeavor, it appears to the anti-semite as evidence for the ‘clannish’ nature of the Jew.
Similarly, Steve Sailor is suggesting here that the efforts of blacks, Latinos, and Gays to claim full citizenship, and to reject the exclusions foisted upon them by white christians, are evidence of ‘clannish’ behavior, rather than an attempt to construct an ideal of full citizenship beyond the exclusions of race, sexual identity, and religion.

Eric says:
Does he have anything to say about the old WASP clan and its loss of power in this country?

Fran Macadam says:
Loyalty to clan precedes when citizenship no longer confers any benefit. Oligarchy is a form of superclan from which the mass of citizenry are excluded, by force if necessary. No wonder that this style of “warlord” governance, updated for the 21st century, has established and defends democratically unaccountable secret police tactics, such as mass surveillance and “homeland security” applied to all those outside their clan, to whom granting any real power would threaten their hegemony.

As for anyone reading this who cares about truth, including that of confounding factors, I’ll offer you the data:

In my major post about the North/South divide, it was the first time I explored the issue of violence and the South. I included an article by The Atlantic, The Scots-Irish Vote by Cameron Joseph. That article is a good introduction to the research done on the culture of honor. As general commentary, further down in my post, I add these thoughts:

…obesity rates (in developed countries) are correlated to both poverty and high wealth disparity (whereas, in developing countries, obesity and poverty are negatively correlated). So, societies with high wealth disparity tend to have higher obesity rates and societies with low wealth disparity tend to have lower obesity rates. But the real interesting part is that even wealthy people have higher obesity rates in societies with high wealth disparity. The explanation is that high wealth disparity societies tend to be more stressful places to live with higher rates of violence, bullying and social conflict. All of this stress impacts the poor and wealthy alike. The body responds, as a survival mechanism, to stress by increasing fat reserves. This is particularly true for babies whose mothers experienced high rates of stress while pregnant, in which case the body becomes permanently set at fat reserve mode.

I came across another example offering support for egalitarianism. Some conservatives like to point out the fact that gays have higher rates of suicide, implying homosexuality is unnatural and inferior. But, of course, it’s rather convenient for conservatives to ignore their own complicity. A study showed that “Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights”. When one group is singled out and treated unequally, all people in that social environment will suffer the consequences.

My point being that it is hardly surprising to find problems in an unhealthy and unjust society. It is also more than unsurprising that the worst victims of such a society show the worst problems. When talking about race and ethnicity, we are talking about problems that have their roots in the distant past. There hasn’t been a moment in the history of this country that these problems haven’t existed.

These kinds of problems came up again with the Trayvon Martin murder. In my post about it, I included a massive number of links and quotes. It is disheartening when you take it all in. It reminded me of a local case involving the death of John Bior Deng which I wrote about and added another post about the issues of racism and classism.

There are a few other posts of mine I haven’t mentioned yet which go to the heart of the data:

Disturbing Study Highlights Racism

Institutional Racism & Voting Rights

Obama vs The Bell Curve

Race & Wealth Gap

Prison Insanity

Old, Male, White, Religious, Rich Republicans Are Happy! Surprise, Surprise!

To Not Feel, To Not Care, To Not Know

This relationship of racism and lack of empathy is sad beyond comprehension. Talk about empathy isn’t just a philosophical debate or an academic exercise. White privilege is a very real thing with real impact on real people in the real world.

One of the benefits for whites of white privilege is that people, both whites and blacks, not only take your pain more seriously but they perceive it as being greater and more real than the pain felt by blacks. Racial prejudice is internalized and becomes unconscious. It’s just there, hidden and below the surface, but the effects are real and the consequences are great

This probably relates to why jurors, both white and black, punish blacks more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes. To say someone doesn’t feel pain strongly is to imply that they are less human, less worthy. Scientists used to do dissect living and conscious animals because they believed animals didn’t feel pain.

Empathy and the lack thereof is the core issue upon which so much else pivots.

Here is the article that brought so much sadness to my thoughts:

I Don’t Feel Your Pain
A failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities.
By Jason Silverstein
From Slate.com

Read that article and then read a post I wrote last year:

Republicans: Party of Despair

Considering conservatives have been shown to have a less inclusive sense of empathy, is it surprising what results from when they gain political power? Or to return to the issue of white privilege, which party in recent generations has fought against civil rights and racial equality? Also, might empathy inequality be at the core of economic inequality?

It reminds me of something said by Tim Wise (see the video at the end of my post, Knowledge Doesn’t Matter). What white privilege ultimately allows is for one to be ignorant of privilege itself. It isn’t just about not feeling and not caring. It is about not even knowing, ignorance of even one’s ignorance. Complete blindness and numbness, no voice to be heard, as if the uncomfortable reality didn’t exist. Like the three monkeys with hands over ears, eyes and mouth.

Libertarians: Privilege & Partisanship

Here are two blog posts that connect. They’re about some of the problems and limitations of the present conservative-leaning libertarian world view. I entirely agree.

http://usjamerica.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/libertarians-and-diversity-or-lack-thereof/

At the above link, the blogger is responding to these articles:

http://reason.com/archives/2009/10/20/are-property-rights-enough

http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2009/10/25/liberty-in-context/

And he responds with this commentary:

. . . libertarianism – as a political movement – is overwhelmingly white and male.  We tend to think of the racial composition of a political movement as just having electoral consequences, but it also has a profound effect on the core ideology of said movement.  At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, marginalized voices – racial and ethnic minorities, women, gays, etc. – are overrepresented among liberals and as such, the left that has been forced to grapple with the issues and concerns of marginalized communities in such a way as to make liberalism better equipped to deal with these issues.

It seems that insofar that libertarians experience oppression or constraints on their liberty, it is through the actions of the state rather than through culture, which makes sense. Libertarians are overwhelmingly white and male, and in a culture which highly values whiteness and maleness, they will face relatively fewer overt cultural constraints on their behavior than their more marginalized fellow-travelers.  Or in other words, a fair number of libertarians are operating with a good deal of unexamined privilege, and it’s this, along with the extremely small number of women and minorities who operate within the libertarian framework, which makes grappling with cultural sources of oppression really hard for libertarians.  After all – socially speaking – being a white guy in the United States isn’t exactly hard and that’s doubly true if you are well off.

Here is the comment I left:

You hit the nail on the head. What goes for libertarian these days tend to be rich white males. I pointed this out in a recent post of mine:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/libertarianism-rich-white-males-of-the-republican-party/

They’re concerned about freedom from rather than freedom for because of the reasons you stated. As they grew up with privilege, they’ve never known prejudice, poverty, and oppression. They don’t understand that there are still people in this country fighting for the basic rights and privilege that they accept as being their normal reality.

The thing is libertarianism wasn’t always this way. According to Chomsky, libertarianism began as a socialist workers movement in Europe. The founding father of American libertarianism was Henry David Thoreau who was very liberal and not pro-capitalist. I wrote about Thoreau’s libertarianism in another recent post:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/henry-david-thoreau-founding-father-of-american-libertarian-thought-by-jeff-riggenbach/

The second blog post I mentioned is this:

http://freesmith.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/neo-libertarians/

. . . new libertarians are really disappointed conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists, who seek an intellectual basis for their values and find it in the rock-solid certainty of an ideology characterized by an ethic of individualistic, leave-me-alone, I-can-do-it-myself sufficiency. These disaffected Republicans know the surface of libertarianism; the details, which are hinted at by Stossel’s review and expressed in greater detail by virtually unknown contemporary writers like Virginia Postrel (”The Future and Its Enemies”) and others tend to make our neo-libertarian very uncomfortable.

You see, it’s one thing if “they” lose their house because they violated the laws of the market; it’s quite another if “I” lose my job because my employer can import a Filipino who will work for a quarter of what I was making. Well, to the real libertarian the second example is just as much the laws of the market as the first, so too bad.

These two posts bring up important issues about right-wing libertarians. Too many libertarians are oblivious to the classical liberal roots of libertarianism and too few understand that libertarianism isn’t inherently conservative. There is nothing about the libertarian world view that requires a person to be for conservative ideology such as pro-capitalism, and yet libertarianism is entirely against most of the central positions of mainstream conservatism (nationalism, drug prohibition, and using the federal government to regulate marriage and abortions).

Libertarianism could be a powerful movement if libertarians didn’t make it into a partisan movement and didn’t make into class war. Libertarianism shouldn’t be just for rich white conservatives. If libertarianism doesn’t fight for the rights of all and doesn’t fight for that which oppresses freedom, then can it even genuinely be considered libertarian?

Liberal and even socialist libertarians exist, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the libertarians from right-wing think tanks and Fox News. Libertarianism began as a socialist workers movement in Europe, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the rich white conservatives who control the libertarian message. I’d love to see a big tent libertarianism. Until that happens, it’s unlikely there will be a third party that can challenge the two party system.

Faux Righteousness

There is one issue that is a hot button for me.  The issue is righteousness.  Actually, I don’t know if it’s just righteousness, but that is definitely a major part.

Like many people, I have tendencies towards righteousness.  I don’t like righteousness in myself any more than I like it in others.  I feel a visceral repulsion towards righteousness.  What makes me feel more righteous than anything is righteousness itself.  Which is a bit depressing as righteousness about righteousness doesn’t in any way negate or decrease righteousness.  But it isn’t a rational response.

When feeling defensive, it’s easy to feel righteous about one’s righteousness.  People often become polarized and feel more certain about their position than when they started.  For some people, this can become a permanent state… and I’d like to avoid such a horrible fate for myself.  I don’t want to spend my time looking for things to be righteous about, but admittedly there is plenty to feel righteous about without even looking for it.  The daily news, for example, usually offers any number of affronts to reason and morality.

In particular, American culture seems overly righteous.  Maybe this just goes along with the imperialistic patriotism found in any large and powerful country.  Whatever the reason, many Americans believe America is right about almost everything because many Americans think we’re on the winning side of history.  But Americans quite often turn this righteousness against other Americans.  And it goes beyond simply deciding who is the most American.  There is just a general atmosphere of conflict and attack, ridicule and criticism.  This tendency in American culture has become magnified as media has begun to dominate our lives.  We now have constant news reporting and commentary (with more emphasis on the latter) which feeds (and feeds off of) the constant internet buzz.  A popular form of entertainment right now is the verbal fights between the representatives of different tv news networks.  And then there are some silly pundits who think that constantly berating those in power somehow proves that they’re independent thinkers.

There are even those (whether preacher or pundit) who see themselves as prophets of moral righteousness.  They just have an inner sense of knowing they’re right.  They see themselves on a mission (possibly a divine mission) to save humanity and guide the righteous to the light of Truth.  This type of person seems rather arrogant to me.  This is the most extreme form of righteousness which can be used to incite extreme behaviors such as violence or else just incite general hatred and mistrust.  Righteous fear-mongering is particularly distasteful to me.  Somehow expressing either fear by itself or righteousness by itself doesn’t seem so bad as expressing fear and righteousness together… especially when further combined with populist anger.  I severely doubt anything good can come of it. 

Righteousness is opposite to so many truly beneficial values (humility, acceptance, sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, love, etc.) which are values I idealize even though I rarely live up to them.  Also, I see righteousness as opposed to knowledge and truth which are personal ideals I feel a bit more capable of living up to.  A very important aspect of humility is intellectual humility, knowing one’s limits and knowing one doesn’t have everything figured out.  Righteousness sometimes feels like false confidence, a bullying strength that hides an inner weakness.  When taken to extremes, there can be something cruel and hard-hearted about it.

I should point out that I’m not arguing for a relativist belief that there is no right or wrong.  A righteous person could be right (or they could be wrong), but my sense is that the correlation between being righteous and being right is often accidental.  Even if a person is absolutely right and can prove it beyond any doubt, is there any point in being righteous?  Perhaps it might be justified or at least it could be understandable.  But it seems most likely to me that the more righteous someone behaves the less likely they are to be correct.  The reason for this is that critical thinking is impaired to the degree intellectual humility is lacking.

I know that when I feel righteous I want to believe I’m right, and I want to believe that my hypothetical rightness somehow is important and somehow justifies my righteousness.  But I also know that when in a righteous state of mind I’m not being very impartial.  For certain, my critical thinking skills are impaired at such moments.  Because I value critical thinking, I try to counter my righteousness by determining to what extent I’m actually right or wrong.  The problem is that, even if I do (or think I do) determine that I’m right about something, it doesn’t make me feel all that better… nor anyone else for that matter.

Although I’m clearly not fond of righteousness as a general way of being in the world and of relating to others, it isn’t necessarily righteousness by itself that annoys me.  If a drunk or mentally ill person was righteously ranting nonsense on a sidewalk, I wouldn’t really care.  First, no one is going to mistake such ranting as intelligent commentary.  Secondly, this person doesn’t have much of an audience and if he has any influence at all it is very limited.  Or if someone just feels righteously angry about life in general,  I wouldn’t really care.  As long as they’re not trying to scapegoat some person or group for the world’s problems, there is nothing wrong with expressing one’s genuine feelings… but I wouldn’t consider righteousness to be a genuine (or not a genuinely worthy) feeling when an anger-fueled superior attitude is being used to cover up other feelings such as a sense of impotence or guilt.

Anyways, good or bad, isn’t it part and parcel of the American democratic sensibility to loudly declare what one believes to be right?  It’s definitely a part of the American mythos.  Take for example the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  It’s about the conflict of a truly righteous man trying to overcome false righteousness being used for devious ends, and it’s also about how easily the general public is manipulated by false righteousness.  There are any other number of stories (both true and fictional) like this which are about a person (often alone or with few allies) righteously struggling to get their voice heard.  On the other hand, false righteousness seems more common as it’s such an effective tool for those in power and for those who want to gain power.  But most people would like to believe their righteousness is genuine.  And there is usually a way to rationalize righteousness, a way to frame the issue so that one feels like the good guy fighting the good fight. 

It’s easy to deceive oneself when the stakes are high or whenever one is emotionally invested.  But how do you know when you’re seeing the world through a self-enclosed rationalization?  There are several ways.  First, if you have developed critical thinking skills, these can be helpful… but I don’t think that is enough by itself.  So, secondly, I would emphasize even more so the value of self-awareness (which correlates with awareness of the other).  If you are self-aware enough or have someone in your life to point out your blind spots (which to some degree requires sympathetic understanding of other perspectives), you’re more likely to be able to step back from your rationalizations.  Maybe it’s only when self-awareness starts to break in that you can then use critical thinking skills to come to understanding.  However one gets to this point of self-questioning, there has to be a desire to self-question in the first place.  Questioning the world has to be balanced by questioning turned inward (and if there must be an imblance I think it’s best to have too much emphasis on the self-questioning).  A person can only be genuinely righteous to the extent they question their own righteousness.

I guess that is the rub.  Righteousness is almost always turned towards someone else.  It’s hard to imagine the vocally critical type of righteous person being equally critical of themselves and being equally open in voicing those self-criticisms.  I can think of a number of political pundits and social commentators who are examples of extreme criticism of others.  Some of them may occasionally point out minor flaws of their own, but it is a small part of what they say and these meager confessions usually get lost in their larger message.  Maybe this comes down to entertainment value.  Watching someone attack other people is entertaining.  Watching someone morally contemplate their own weaknesses and failings would be boring… unless they were a particularly funny stand-up comedian.

My sense of aggravation towards righteousness is very much about the personal.  My own righteousness is constrained for the reason I don’t generally feel to be in a morally superior position.  I have no grand accomplishments and often I feel like a failure (or that I don’t live up to my “God-given” potential).  Yet, I do feel something like pride for what I’ve managed to accomplish (in that I’ve read and researched widely and have tried to gain some understanding on a fairly diverse set of subjects), but that which I’m proud of isn’t overly valued by society.  So, I do sometimes feel righteous when I meet people online who either are willfully ignorant (especially certain apologists) or else simply some combination of uninformed and misinformed (which everyone is to varying degrees).  But I know that doesn’t justify my projecting on to such people all of my frustrations and anger (and general unhappiness).  As a depressed person, I’m easily irritated and it isn’t anyone else’s fault.

The righteousness I feel comes from my sense of being an underdog.  Let me try to explain.  According to the social standards of success and respectability, I’m not all the way at the bottom with the outright losers and scum of the earth, but I’m no where near the top.  I’m not homeless and I’m not unemployed, and so I have that going for me.  But I am a bachelor who lives alone and I’ll probably remain a bachelor to the end of my days.  Despite having above average intelligence and some other natural abilities, I’ve always worked entry-level jobs and I just earn enough to get by (with little prospects for anything better in the future).  I haven’t had much in the way of external obstructions to moving up in the world.  I was raised with plenty of advantages and opportunities as a middle class white male in a developed country.  Still, I’ve struggled for “internal” reasons (some combination of psychological issues and genetics) and this just makes me feel all the more sympathetic towards those who didn’t have the advantages and opportunities I grew up with.  Life can be tough no matter where you begin, but it’s particularly tough for those who have so much going against them right from the start.

Plus, I have this basic sense of the precariousness of life.  Life can seem perfect one moment and hell on earth the next.  I may not be on the bottom, but it wouldn’t be hard for me to end up on the bottom.  People living in shelters and under bridges usually don’t start off life that way.  The majority of the homeless are mentally ill or traumatized veterans, but most of them once were normal people with jobs and houses, with families and friends.  The homeless aren’t a mutant sub-class of humans entirely isolated from normal (i.e., respectable) people.  Anyone can become mentally ill, get addicted to painkillers, get diagnosed with a costly illness, lose their job and house, go bankrupt, etc.  If you don’t have very strong social support (which fewer people have these days), it’s very easy to fall through the cracks and get lost there.

On the other hand, there are those who have lives that more or less work out as planned and they somehow avoid major catastrophes for most or all of their lives (death being the final catastrophe that finds us all).  They have a sense of being in control of their own life.  They feel they deserve what they have, that they’re entitled.  But I think most of this is just a matter of fortunate circumstances.  I understand why the illusion of control is so attractive.  What I don’t like is the sense of superiority that almost inevitably goes along with it.  If the rich person deserves being rich, then the poor person also deserves being poor.  If Americans deserve their power and luxurious lifestyle, then those in third world countries deserve to be stuck in slave labor jobs while their environment is destroyed and their natural resources stolen.  The unemployed and homeless deserve to live miserable lives.  Those without large savings and health insurance deserve to die of easily treated diseases.

Growing up a middle-class white American (and living for years in a very above average middle class town) has given me a bit of perspective.  I have some insight about what it means to have privilege and to take it as a given.  The issue I have with righteousness is that those who should feel righteous too often feel powerless and unheard… all the while the politicians, political pundits, and televangelists who act all righteous are usually those who grew up with privilege.  But it’s all relative.  One can almost always point to someone who had more privilege than oneself.  If you go by the words of the righteous people who get heard in the media, it’s not unusual for them to claim to be underdogs or to represent the underdog… which in most cases doesn’t seem authentic.

The facts are that most of the wealth and power in the world (including in democracies) is passed down according to relationships of family and class.  More money gets inherited by the next generation of the wealthy than is produced by means of capitalism.  A large percentage of politicians (including in democracies) are familialy related and of royal lineage.  Even today, research shows that a white male has massive opportunities beyond minorities and females.  Research shows that people born rich tend to remain rich and those born poor tend to remain poor.  Also, poor areas tend to be where there is heavy pollution which leads to low IQ and high rates of illness, and these areas are so polluted because of the industries run by the rich who don’t have to live in these areas.  IQ, in particular, has high correlation to economic success.  So, the game is rigged before a person is born.

Yes, occasionally someone through various factors (strength of will being the least of these factors) manages to escape their situation.  But, for every one person that escapes, there are millions or hundreds of millions of people equally worthy and equally determined who were crushed by circumstances.  The exception proves the rule.

As I see it, there is so much suffering and injustice in the world.  And despite Enlightenment ideals, the West has it’s fair share of underprivileged, impoverished and disenfranchised.  Where are the righteous voices to defend those who can’t defend themselves?  In the news, we constantly hear about what the rich and powerful are doing, but why do we rarely hear about the struggles of the vast majority?  Why aren’t there regular interviews with the poor and homeless?  Why aren’t there popular reality shows that follow the lives of people in war-torn countries?  Why aren’t there tv series based on families who live sick and hungry in refugee camps?  Why do tv commentators spend most of their time reporting on the same small set of topics and events all the while almost entirely excluding the everyday lives and experiences of the average and below average?

What are people who feel justly righteous to do in response to all of this?  Organize?

As an example, consider the peace protests against the invasion of Iraq.  They were the largest and fastest growing of any anti-war movement in American history, and the most widespread and most well-organized in world history.   That is a truly righteous populist movement if one ever existed, and it was ignored and dismissed by the faux righteousness of politicians (and the patriotic submission of the media in parroting that faux righteousness).  The justifications of the war were dubious, but it’s impossible to stop even an unnecessary war when it’s backed by political power and financial gain (which includes the revolving door between big government and big business and more specifically the corporate interest in media coverage). 

Consider how much worse it is when you are someone in the minority, someone with no ability to influence, someone with no ability to start large protest movements, someone with no ability to force the media to at least recognize you exist.

Part of my issue about righteousness is that public opinion has become something for those in power to manipulate.  There is a general mood that the news media isn’t doing a good job of informing the public.  Going by commentary I’ve read and my own observations, very little news seems to be based on investigative journalism or even basic fact-checking.  News reporters seem to rely too heavily on media releases by corporations and the government.  The media basically tells us what we should be righteous about… and the general public seems rather compliant.

I would be less irritated if I felt there was something worthy to be righteous about.  I’d love to live in a culture that was righteous about truth, where people weren’t just out for their own ideological interest.  Or why can’t people be righteous about compassion?  Why can’t we take all the money spent on the military and instead have a war on homelessness, poverty and hunger?

I feel demoralized by what I see in the world and I feel disenfranchised from what seems like a fraudulent political system.  I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  There are many people who rightly feel the system doesn’t benefit them, but the problem is that when people feel insecure they most often react emotionally rather than rationally.  And when people are in this state, they’re easily manipulated and easily riled up.  This collective sense of dissatisfaction is rarely ever directed towards any morally righteous end.