Monday, January 11, 2010

The Real Reid Gaffe, Pt. 2

To continue from my last post, Obama's response to the event, highlighting Reid's commitment to "social justice", says it all. He's referring to the liberal belief that the current state of racial inequity - in the classic words of former president G. W. Bush - "a history of racial discrimination".

Black achievement rates are much lower than whites. Some liberals say this is because of active discrimination. But even more say it's a little of that, but mostly a dysfunctional social system in which families, neighborhoods, and schools aren't providing the same opportunities for development for black children that white social structures do. And because liberals believe in socialization, we see this dysfunction as a result of our immoral, racist past. Thus it is our responsibility to actively redistribute resources into the black community to help build social capital.

Republicans have no such commitment to "social justice" because they define it differently. They see the current inequality as the fault of blacks themselves. They see our racist past as having no bearing on current structures. Thus they feel no obligation to make personal sacrifices, either at the personal or state level in order to repair a broken system.

It is a logical position. But it reflects deeper beliefs about consciousness and personal identity that would seem to give support to a racist perspective, even though not necessarily racist itself. I think most conservatives would love to see blacks do well. But they obviously are not.

So why is this? There are only three possible answers, and only two are available to the conservative: genetics or free choice. The third option is socialization, but that is a view contrary to the conservative philosophy of individual autonomy, and the embrace of which would require social ownership of individual outcomes - and any social ownership implies human rights and must lead directly to redistributive taxation. Genetics is racism, defined. So leaving that aside, the only available option is the mysterious notion of free choice. This would, one presumes, allow the individual to overcome any genetic or socialized determination within reason.

This is a fair enough position, granting the long and complex philosophical history of debate over free will. Its embrace by conservatives is not radical. And by doing so one is freed from many obligations to create a society in which certain freedoms are guaranteed, as long as those freedoms are the domain of individual, not social origination.

And so in the Republicans we have a modern conservative party that has little interest in social justice. In fact, it spends much of its time defending individual justice from the concept of social justice, as its logic sees misguided social obligations as a threat to the freedoms of those being compelled to sacrifice.

And of course, if one were a racist, the modern conservative movement would seem a sensible fit: blacks don't deserve our charity, just not because their self-efficacy is originated individually but instead because they're simply inferior. And so political aims become aligned. The tricky part, for those of us on the left, is parsing the difference.

Since racism has become almost unanimously seen as wrong, all but the most extreme racists hide their true feelings for fear of public outrage. And as any one who has spent much time trying to understand the racist mind and its historical expression will know, racism is a highly subversive and subconsciously driven pathology. Many people who in fact hold deep-rooted racist feelings will not admit to being racist, either to themselves or others.

One could then see how a liberal, who believes that black inequality is due not to genetics or free choice, but to socialization, and sees many parallels between racist and conservative thinking, would be skeptical of conservatives when they claim not to be racist. Of course it is perfectly possible that they are not. Yet it is also perfectly possible that they are.

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