Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Elephant at the Tea Party

I'm going to take Jamelle's word for it over at postbourgie when he says that there's been a bit of an internet uproar over Charles Blow's recent piece in which he wrote of the racial make-up of a tea party he attended:
Thursday night I saw a political minstrel show devised for the entertainment of those on the rim of obliviousness and for those engaged in the subterfuge of intolerance. I was not amused.

I understand why it may not be the most polite, or diplomatic thing to say, but the elephant in the room is this: in today's world, conservatism is an argument for racism.  One can be a racist and not be conservative.  And one can be a conservative, and not racist.  But the two certainly seem to go together like cookies and milk.

The reason for this is really quite simple.  The most basic principle of modern conservatism is that we all create our own success; each of us, no matter our lot in life, is perfectly able to grab those bootstraps and give 'em a good tug.  The problem is, decades after the civil rights act, there is still a profound amount of racial inequality.  And while some of it might be explained by racist managers or schoolteachers, the overwhelming fact is that minorities just aren't doing that well.

Now, liberals have an explanation for this.  It's the old story (now with 1000x more scientific data!) about good old social determinism.  "You are what society wants you to be."  The whole thing can get pretty complicated, but the internal logic is damn airtight: Beginning at birth, via structural mechanisms, social capital is built that will lead one into a statistically predictable social outcome.  That's a fancy way of saying, "Growing up in a posh Greenwitch home is a lot better for you than a project in Detroit."  (The sad thing is that we know how to change all this but... well that's a whole 'nother post.)  Anyway, racial inequality solved.

Poor conservatism.  It still believes in fairy tales.  Well, at least the one about contra-causal free will.  Conservatism can't have racial inequality as long as it's not law.  According to its charming view of human nature, we can all be CEOs and corporate bankers, astronauts and doctors!  And if we aren't, well it's our own damn fault for not dreaming!

But then there's the racial thing.  If all this were true, then we should, year in and year out, see a pretty random distribution of success.  Since no structural inequalities exist to hold us down, the same number of kids from Greenwitch should be going to Ivy League schools as kids from Detroit.  Since all of us has, at the moment we turn 18, access to the same level of social capital, then we shouldn't see the effects of parenting, culture, schools, income, education, neighborhood, etc.

But wait... maybe there's something else that might account for the persistence of these social indicators.  Something impervious to environmental and social pressures.  Something inside these individuals that makes them behave this way... I know, how about their race?!!!!!!!!

Of course, the racial explanation is incoherent for a variety of reasons, none of which are worth getting into.  But suffice it to say that, to someone maybe on the fence, not that comfortable with the whole lovey-dovey, multicultural, "let's try and change the world" thing - conservatism provides a nifty explanation for this seeming conundrum.  Not that anyone will ever admit to it.  It's kind of a hush-hush thing.  I'm not sure one better even admit it to oneself.  But then again, conservatives don't really believe in the power of the unconscious either...

(image: Pauline Lazzarini)


  1. I love that painting. Great artist. Do you have permission from the copyright owner to display this on your blog?

  2. Strangely, I was waiting for her response. Yet she first declined, then decided it would be OK. Very nice painting indeed.