Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, March 21, 2013 7:35 pm

An imagination beyond one’s tribe

Quote of the day, from Sir Charles at Cogitamus:

I have been a liberal for a long time as have many of the people I’ve known.  And let me assure you, it wasn’t because back in 1980 or 1984 or 1988 all of the cool kids were doing the liberal thing and supporting food stamps.  It was because I — like most people who hung in there during the Reagan years — had the moral imagination to consider what life might have been like if I lost the lottery and was born poor.  It was because a study of history led me to understand how tenuous the climb to middle class status had been for so many people and how much the government giving people a hand up had meant to vast swaths of society.  I was a white male middle class kid, but I understood that the world was bigger than my tribe, a spirit that continues to animate most people on the left.  I did not grow up in an ideological household.  … [My parents] were both very devoted to overall notions of fairness.  (Neither has voted for a Republican since 1976 — I take some of the credit.)  I took that overall spirit of fairness and constructed a political view that struck me as consistent with it — a kind of Rawlsian view of the world long before I ever heard of John Rawls.

Emphasis added, because the concepts included therein are so critically important for a society to function.

“Moral imagination” is just another word for empathy. Without it, we are nothing more or less than sociopaths, we have way too many of those already and we are making more by the day.

The notion of life as lottery is something many conservatives and so-called libertarians find risible. But when you compare social mobility in the U.S. with that of other wealthy Western countries, you find something interesting and disturbing: Only the U.K. has less social mobility than we do.* Parents’ wealth is the biggest single predictor of offspring’s financial success. I suppose it was only coincidence that I learned today that Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget would ax the state’s inheritance tax completely.

History does indeed show that a lot of people are middle-class today only because their ancestors who were not fought to be. The labor movement of the ’30s, the right of women to vote, the civil-rights movement, and perhaps most importantly the desegregation of K-12 schools and higher education in the face of bitter resistance, all played a part in helping to increase the size of the middle class. And it’s no coincidence that all these efforts are under attack today, or that those attacks are funded by a very small number of very wealthy people who think the Constitution mandates a plutocracy. I suppose it is only coincidence, then, that the same gov I mentioned a graf ago is attacking teaching the liberal arts (such as, oh, say, history) in the UNC system.

Yes, by hook and by crook, the gov and the thugs who fund him seem bent on keeping the proles proles and turning more non-proles into proles. Sir Charles suggests above that they do not understand that the world is bigger than their tribe. I think the problem is bigger than that. I think they understand and actively seek to screw everyone who is not part of their tribe, because this hypothesis is the simplest explanation for what is otherwise a set of decisions difficult to justify on grounds of fairness, practicality or public good.

Evidence to the contrary is welcome, but I’m not holding my breath.

*Corak, Miles. 2006. “Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults? Lessons from a Cross Country Comparison of Generational Earnings Mobility.” Research on Economic Inequality, 13 no. 1: 143-188.

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