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.


  1. Would that be the evil Koch brothers ?

    If that is what you are suggesting , trhen you have it soooo wrong

    4% sociopaths . That is about acceptable. Better than 20% LIVs

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:00 pm @ 8:00 pm

  2. What does that have to do with my point?

    Beyond that, mental-health professionals actually think sociopathy in 4% of the population is intolerably high because of the disproportionate damage they do and the low likelihood that they can be treated.

    Comment by Lex — Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:36 pm @ 8:36 pm

  3. Come on Fred, now you’re taking up for Robbie Perkins, Greensboro most well known sociopath? How can you say any amount of sociopaths are acceptable.;-) -Billy Jones

    Comment by recyclebill — Thursday, March 21, 2013 9:30 pm @ 9:30 pm

  4. Billy,

    Thank the LIVs for Robme Perkins (-:

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, March 22, 2013 2:07 am @ 2:07 am

  5. I have been a pessimistic observer of politics all my 66 years of adult life. I have many of the liberals’ same concerns but see them from a different angle. What many liberals see as our individual, and our governmental obligation obligation, I see as the need for us to be more charitable and caring. This difference in attitude causes us to want different approaches to solutions.
    Frank @ or

    Comment by Frank H. — Friday, March 22, 2013 8:21 am @ 8:21 am

  6. And that’s the kind of discussion I’d welcome, Frank (although I think individual charity, at bottom, is insufficient to organize and fund all that we are capable of). My problem is with people who not only tolerate but even embrace sociopathy.

    Even the libertarians at the John Locke Foundation here in NC agree that private for-profits, private nonprofits and government each have their place, and that there are some things only government can do well. Yet some people continue to insist, in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, that government can’t do well some things that it manifestly does well, as well as with people who punch down because they can.

    Comment by Lex — Friday, March 22, 2013 8:35 am @ 8:35 am

  7. The difference seems to be that conservative empathy seems too often to come with strings attached. Not always, but too often conservatives tie their giving to their beliefs and expect those who receive their giving to believe as they believe. And if you don’t believe as they believe then they’re happy to let you suffer for the sin of not believing as they believe. Now is that true? I don’t know but that is the World’s perception of American conservatives so even if it’s not true American conservatives have a huge problem only American conservatives can solve.

    And liberals have nothing to do with what only conservatives can fix.

    Comment by recyclebill — Friday, March 22, 2013 11:04 am @ 11:04 am

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