Sunday, May 13, 2018

Liberals: Many Good Causes (Some Bad Attitude)

Among some "Facebook Friends" and some real-world former colleagues at Miami University (Ohio), there was a robust bit of debate about a New York Times opinion piece on by Gerard Alexander, identified as "a professor of political science at the University of Virginia," with the piece given the provocative title, "Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think" (12 May 2018).

It's about Liberal hegemony in the entertainment and education fields, and Liberal condescension. And, of course, about zealotry in suppressing "microaggressions" and the occasional Right-wing to fascistic speaker on college campuses, and bad-mouthing opponents, e.g. supporters of Donald Trump. And it's worth reading and definitely important for Liberals (and Democrats) to think about moving into the major off-year elections of 2018.

I spent forty years as an academic, and I've been retired for a dozen; so I have a kind of liminal view from the edge, an important section of my "jagged orbit." From there, it looks like the most interesting analysis of Liberal snark might stem from a suggestion in Colin Woodard's American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011): many American academic Liberals are the spiritual descendants of traditional improving, reforming, good-government American Yankees and can be usefully thought of as Puritans without God.

This is an honorable tradition, at its most noble in its centrality to the American Abolition (of slavery) movement, and engaged in the crucial human purpose of tikkun olam, the healing, repair, and/or perfecting of the world. With or without God, such active citizens are necessary and useful, but often annoying. (And when armed, as in the 17th century, downright dangerous; but that lately hasn't been much of an issue.)

My more idiosyncratic complaint is with people on the academic Left who don't apply the sort of rigor they'd use in their fields — or even just rules of courteous debate — when it comes to politics.

Consider this example from recent (continuing, contentious) debate, as we American return to our intertwined hobbies of refighting our Civil War and judging one another and our/their ancestors. 

The US Civil War centered on slavery: that's clear from the documented record on secession. The motivation of individual soldiers, however — that can get complicated. Still, one can argue that whatever the motivation, the upshot of fighting for the Confederacy was waging war against the United States (hence, treason) and objective support of slavery, which had helped engender and preserve racism and in turn was supported by racism. So Confederate fighters of whatever motivation objectively supported Evil, while Union fighters supported the Good.

Now let's apply that sort of analysis to more recent American warfare. 

At least in its middle and end portions, US warfare in Vietnam and other places in Southeast Asia was primarily to prevent loss of face by the US and particularly Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, who didn't want to be the first US president to lose a war. That the US lost and is still here and doing okay, and arguably would be doing better if we'd never fought (even if the Philippines and Indonesia were now Communist) — this shows that by definition no literally vital interests of the US were involved. And a war fought just for "The Great Game" is evil. Hence, those who fought the war on the US side, however pure their motivations, objectively supported Evil. Those who opposed the war did well, and those who avoided or evaded service at least didn't provide significant objective support to Evil. So we are to prefer Donald J. Trump and Dick Cheney in this for avoiding (or with DJT's bone spurs even evading) service, over, say, John Kerry's initial service fighting the US war in Vietnam. 

Objectively, applying the same sort of analysis that allows blanket condemnation of Confederates in the US Civil War.

That conclusion on Vietnam "would gag a maggot," even as would a comparably glib argument from the Right branding all anti-War activists as traitors, having given aid and comfort to the Communist Vietnamese enemy. For the Civil War debate, though, we on the Left can listen patiently to fellow citizens (e.g. James Webb) if they argue their Confederate ancestors hadn't much seen slaves let alone owning one and hated the slave-owning planter class. But they disliked and feared the Federal government more and really disliked Union troops on their territory. So rebels, yes, traitors technically, but not necessarily more racist than their Union military counterparts.

And so forth — including refraining already from bigoted badmouthing of "White Trash" and, on the positive side, taking care to differentiate between and among "racism" (an ideology), "bigotry" (more of a gut feeling), "prejudice" (prejudging on the basis of bias, not facts or experience), and "systemic injustices" (which are difficult to perceive if we're profiting from them). And we can at least pause before we accuse someone of what may be the oxymoron of "unconscious racism."

So: Keep up the good work, Liberal elite, godless Puritan Reformers! But on the way, lose the superior tone; it's not winning converts to the Cause. 

No comments:

Post a Comment