Monday, September 5, 2016

Values Voters

"The Triumph of Virtue over Ignorance"
(1745) oil on canvas by G.B. Tiepolo.
Cultural rebellion.

Traditional masculine identity under threat.

The nytimes today describes the "rolling coal" phenomenon, in which emissions limitations are removed from trucks to make political statements in thick clouds of exhaust.  The cover photo shows an event populated by blue collar white Americans in traditional garb - jeans, t-shirts and baseball caps, standing around a dirt pile while a suped-up pick-up belches thick black smoke.

I keep trying to empathize, to understand.  But core values of mine are being denied: feminism and the freedom for men to not have to embrace strict conceptions of gender; our obligation to not pollute the planet.  These are questions of morality.  What these people are doing is thus immoral.  Is their expression a defense of immorality: that one ought to be able to pollute, and that men need be defined by a strict gender code?

I can't help but see a picture of non-inclusive identity built of values that creates suffering among the marginalized:

  • homophobia leads to dehumanization and bullying not just of gays but of sensitive boys and men
  • patriarchy limits women's equal rights and leads to domestic abuse and lower pay
  • white identity denies multiculturalism and relegates minorities to "other" status leading to discrimination and lack of empathy
  • denial of science results in climate change that is devastating the planet
  • revelling in selfishness and the principle of "might makes right" promotes authoritarian, undemocratic values, leading to dismissal and exploitation of the disadvantaged
Much has been made this election of the sense of anger among the white working class.  It is claimed that their anger is legitimated by globalization which has devalued their work.  But what of the cultural narrative which has counselled not an embrace of change but stubborn rebellion and adherence to toxic values? 

America has a long history embracing values that today most would find repugnant, but in their time resulted in horror:
  • publicly condemnation of homosexuality as immoral
  • waterboarding
  • denial of women's place anywhere other than in the home
  • condemnation marriage between races
  • promotion of segregation
  • Japanese internment
  • destruction of vast forests leading to extinction of plant and wildlife
  • eradication of Native American peoples
  • slavery
All practices that were rooted in assumptions, principles, beliefs.  They were not engaged in out of anger, but of ideas that were embraced and taken to logical conclusions.  If one does not first hold the value, one will not engage in the behavior.  To the extent that people in this picture have embraced immoral values, they will engage in immoral actions.  Their actions - gratuitous pollution, ostracisation of non-traditional masculinity - will not be individual cases of moral failure, but the product of a system of values.

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