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Class as Part of the American Freedom Struggle

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I really appreciate this point Bernie Sanders made recently:

People are not truly free when they are unable to feed their family,” he said. “People are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. People are not truly free when they are unemployed or underpaid or when they are exhausted by working long hours. People are not truly free when they have no health care.”

It’s a provocative argument, not least because it suggests that the thing we take to be the cornerstone of American identity—freedom—isn’t actually enjoyed by many Americans. According to the 2014 Census, 47 million Americans live in poverty today, including 20% of American children and 36% of black children. According to Sanders, these people have been barred from the individual liberty that is the birthright of every American citizen.

But is it true to say there is no liberty without basic economic security? And if so, has Americans’ conception of freedom as a mostly political condition been, in some sense, impoverished?

When we tell stories of the American road to freedom, which is how we do frame a lot of our historical narratives in popular memory, we talk about white male democracy as a sort of baseline, and then women’s suffrage, immigrants from Europe, the Civil Rights Movement, Cesar Chavez, etc. Today we are finding room in this narrative for the gay rights movement. It’s possible that we sometimes include the union struggles of the 1930s in this narrative, although I think that’s more of an explicitly left telling of that narrative as opposed to the stories that spark Americans’ belief in themselves as a great nation getting better all the time. There is really very little room in this popular narrative for class, as the way we tell these stories to each other precludes a slowly expanding circle of Americanness that is ultimately fairly frictionless process where there are bad guys but they unreasonable and the good thinking people can look down upon them. That’s why there’s room for Martin Luther King fighting in Birmingham but call for the end to educational disparities based upon race that might inconvenience those “good thinking” white people in 1970 or 2015 and people freak out. This narrative I’m laying out is obviously impressionistic for the most part, but can basically be placed in data points on this issue with the rise of the Wallace campaign in the North, opposition to busing, etc.

So if this process is supposed to be mostly frictionless there isn’t much room for criticizing capitalism since that’s our true national ideology, more so than Christianity. Americans’ reluctance to criticize the tenets of capitalism has always served business interests well, helps explain why the U.S. has never had a strong left compared to European nations, etc. And of course it’s powerful today, only now finally coming under some mild rebuke because of the extreme nature of income inequality, a rebuke that makes business owners think of a moderate mid-20th century-style liberal like Bernie Sanders as Ho Chi Minh and Occupy New York as the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution.

But do Americans have freedom if they do not have access to good lives? Do they have freedom without jobs, without good schools, without access to healthy food or medical care? I would certainly argue the answer is no and I would say we need to frame these questions more centrally in the basic struggle for American freedom and that doing so would help us make these arguments more salient to everyday people.

On a similar topic, allow me to strongly recommend James Green’s new book on the West Virginia coal wars. I am reviewing it for an academic journal so I can’t do so here, but he expertly argues that we need to see the struggles of the coal miners in the early 20th century as absolutely central to our popular narratives of freedom. Given the utterly horrible treatment these workers received, including murder below ground and above, the widescale violations of civil and human rights, and the use of private armies to police the area, it’s a very compelling case to make. It’s also just a great read that would work as a holiday gift to someone interested in these issues.

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  • That’s why there’s room for Martin Luther King fighting in Birmingham but call for the end to educational disparities based upon race that might inconvenience those “good thinking” white people in 1970 or 2015 and people freak out.

    It would be nice if you could try harder to understand that the issue of education disparities is a lot different in 2015 than in 1970. Start with talking to
    A. Middle class black parents in an underfunded urban district who are moving to the suburbs
    B. Wealthy white parents in the same district who can get their kids in to elite schools that are 90% white and Asian in a district that’s about 80% black and Latino
    C. Parents in most suburban districts in large northern metro areas, which are mostly far more diverse than they were in 1970
    D. People who live in the majority of the country where these choices aren’t available or imposed on people, and where their decisions about their kids’ education are dramatically different and in most cases simpler

    • DrDick

      You on the other hand might look at the actual data and research on educational disparities in America. Again, educational opportunity in this country is structured by race and wealth, to the disadvantage of minorities and poor whites.

      • Oh, I’ve never looked at data, and I’ve never thought about this, in particular the part about poor whites.

        But thanks for engaging with the greater complexity and changes I pointed out.

        • DrDick

          Your comment on the other hand ignores that data and the actual dynamics of the situation. If Erik saying that your self-interested decisions act to reinforce and replicate the systems of class and racial oppression makes you uncomfortable, he is doing his job in pointing out the truth.

          • River Birch

            It’s very interesting to see how many commenters here seem to think “I’m trying my best!” and “I don’t have racist intentions!” should nullify the fact that their rational, well-intentioned behavior reinforces structural racism.

            • Please explain to me how staying in Chicago & getting my kids in to a 90% white and Asian elite school–either a magnet school or non-Union charter–funded by the taxpayers of a district that’s 80% black and Latino, is an act of racial liberation, while moving to a district where all kids go to the same 35% minority high school is racist. It should be easy for you if you’re correct in assuming the world isn’t at all a complicated place, and all ethical and political choices are in all circumstances easy, obvious, and identical.

              Also, since no white person is married to or is a parent of non-white children, what I do as a white parent is the same–racist or non-racist–as any and all white parents.

              • River Birch

                Who said it’s not complicated? It’s enormously complicated, which is exactly why one’s well-intentioned, rational, “just doing right by my kid” decision can be seen as perfectly moral and just through one lens *while also* obviously perpetuating an immoral and unjust system through another.

                Look, we all want to be the good guy. I get that. The fucked up thing about racism in America is that in a lot of contexts, even when we’re being “the good guy,” we can’t help but make things worse for our fellow citizens who face the greatest disadvantages. (I know this is not news to you, but please forgive me while I try to reformulate my point here.)

                I, for one, greatly resent being in a situation where practically my every action and preference has the potential to make things worse for the poor and people of color, even where I’m just trying to do the right thing for my kids, for Christ’s sake. My son thinks cops are awesome, trustworthy do-gooders, and he probably should, because he’s a blond white kid who’s never going to get stopped and frisked or shot in the face or choked to death for no reason, in all likelihood. But in teaching him to trust the police, have I created one more person who won’t question what they do? There’s no winning here, and I hate that.

                One thing I honestly don’t understand about this conversation is when I or DrDick say, “Every white kid pulled out of majority-minority urban schools perpetuates structural racism,” you and LeeEsq respond with “But I’m not a racist! I’m just doing the right thing for my kids!” Both are true (or do you disagree?), which is outrageous and why I would really like to see this country change on a fundamental level.

                • Let me know if you decide to stop preening and actually answer my question.

                • Oh, if I said or implied I’m not racist, please point it out. I feel no need to establish whether I am or am not racist. What bad things you may think of me doesn’t concern me.

                • DrDick

                  Exactly. Neither of us, nor Erik, ever suggested the motivations of people doing this are racist or classist, but their actions have racist/classist consequences.

          • If you’ll actually say something specific I’ll try to respond, but your comments are so vague that the only thing I can understand is you’re not engaging anything I wrote, or anything concrete.

            • DrDick

              only thing I can understand is you’re not engaging anything I wrote

              I would say the same for you. My statements have been every bit as specific as yours.

              • I’m comfortable with the judgements people will make on that claim.

                • DrDick

                  Please engage the fact that, regardless of your motivations, the kinds of actions we are discussing perpetuate and reproduce the structures of racial and class oppression. Also engage how do we correct that? Nobody has called you personally racist or classist, though your class position gives you choices most people do not have. That is the real dilemma here.

                • Yeah, I’m aware of the choices. I’m aware also that you don’t understand they’re not clear-cut. I’m talking about sending my kids to a suburban school district that’s only 45% white and Asian rather than staying in the city and dealing with the hassle of sending them to a magnet school that would be over 70% white and Asian.

                  And as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, while I’m white, my kids are not. But keep up your one-dimensional lecturing rather than engaging with complexity. And since I’m the first in my family to graduate high school, nobody was able to lecture me about class position. Thanks for stepping in and taking care of that.

                • DrDick

                  Again, I am not attacking you or the choices available to you, just your apparent unwillingness, which you demonstrate here, to engage ways to change the choices available to you. It may not have much impact on your immediate situation, but it will affect the choices and possibilities for others. Like you, my child is not white, so I also know the kind of issues this raises. I never said or implied that anything about this situation is clear cut or easy. Just the reverse. My only point is that if we do not start actively addressing and engaging it now, things will never change.

          • sibusisodan

            If Erik saying that your self-interested decisions act to reinforce and replicate the systems of class and racial oppression makes you uncomfortable, he is doing his job in pointing out the truth.

            I’m not quite sure that’s where the problem lies.

            I mean, it’s true, but it’s not a very useful truth. Because it contains little information as to how to act so as to change those systems. Which is the cause of at least half of what the pushback is on this subject to my eyes (I may not be reading accurately, of course).

            • DrDick

              The first step is to acknowledge and embrace the truth. Until we do that no solution is possible. What you and DanaHoule have effectively said is that there is no solution, or at least not one you are willing to accept.

              • Can you not read, or are you just being dishonest? Point out where I said or implied there is no solution, or one I won’t accept. And while you’re at it, feel free to show me you have the capacity to think about a problem that has more than one binary factor, and that you’re aware that good intentions don’t automatically create good & anticipated consequences.

                It’s unfortunate you have either an aversion to ambiguity or an addition to smug certitude.

                • DrDick

                  I am not the one with an aversion to ambiguity, where it exists. The consequences of the kinds of actions we are discussing are actually unambiguous. Where the complexity arises is that the effects of your actions can have consequences you personally oppose, which you do not seem to want to engage. Again, I have repeatedly said that intentions are irrelevant in this discussion. We are only talking about the consequences of certain kinds of actions. I fully understand the complexities that go into making those kinds of decisions. What you are not engaging is what kinds of alternatives can we create that do not have these consequences. I can think of many possibilities, but you do not seem to want to engage any alternatives that do not already exist. If you do not like the existing system, then you have a moral obligation to try to change it.

                  Again, nobody is attacking you, or anyone else here, personally. I and others are actually asking you to confront the actual ambiguities of good intentions having very bad results and trying to imagine solutions to that.

              • sibusisodan

                What you and DanaHoule have effectively said is that there is no solution, or at least not one you are willing to accept.

                DrDick, you’ve lost me completely here.

                I can’t make the logical leap between saying ‘acknowledging my complicity in structural racism doesn’t tell me how to act to end it’ – which is kinda what I hoped I was saying – and ‘there is no solution to it which I am willing to accept’ – which is your reading.

                • DrDick

                  You seem to read that in the most negative way possible. There are two clauses in my statement connected by an “or”, indicating two alternatives. One is that, as you say yourself, you do not see a solution. The other possibility is that you do see possible solutions, but they are personally unacceptable to you for whatever reason. Please note that my first choice is that you did not see a solution, which is also my reading of both of your remarks.

                  I do not think I, or anyone else has a responsibility to tell you the answer, though I can suggest possibilities. I do think that anyone who, as you and Dana both seem to do, does not like the current situation has a moral obligation to directly engage the problems and try to change it.

    • All of these situations, btw, demonstrate that class, race, geography, residential segregation, governance, inequality, and the health of the democratic process are complicated matters, and that with almost every matter they’re all intertwined, often in ways that don’t seem obvious. It’s a reason why Bernie’s laudable focus on class and inequality still strikes a lot of people are incomplete, as he shows less understanding of, and passion for dealing with, the inequalities tied to race, gender, cultural/social otherness, geography, etc.

    • jpgray

      Given the scope of Erik’s usage, I think in some cases you can safely replace the word “racist” where he uses it with “human.” Trying to make sense of it wherein “racist” means something definite in some cases will just lead to confusion.

      The reason it is meaningless is that if exploitation of a racist system is a racist act, any pursuit of self interest will be a racist act in a society defined by racism (like ours!).

      Even the act of naming your kid something not popularly associated with a subjugated minority is an indirect exploitation of that system, and therefore a racist act, given how employers are statistically shown to scrub certain “ethnic” names from the call back list, despite identical resumes.

      That this is true whether the name is “Pranay” or “Madison,” true whether or not the family is a member of the minority itself, etc., seems not to have occurred to Erik.

      Or, maybe to him such things are not racist acts, or they may or may not be, and we can actually talk about something definite.

      • UserGoogol

        I don’t see what the big deal is: nobody’s perfect. The idea that everything is tainted with racism should not be treated as grandiose metaphysics about original sin, just that… we all do things which are bad, and the badness we do are not just isolated one-off acts, but should be viewed as part of its larger context. So yes, everyone’s a bit racist. It can’t be helped.

        • I don’t see what the big deal is: nobody’s perfect. The idea that everything is tainted with racism should not be treated as grandiose metaphysics about original sin

          That’s also theology. Someone else might be convinced by the same facts about structural “sin” that they have to take some action: to stop doing some racist act, to interfere with other people doing racist acts, to join a movement, to become a nun. Whatever.

      • DrDick

        Nice, fact free hand waving there. I realize you do not give a damn about anyone who is not you or at least much like you.

        • jpgray

          People living in their society act as though they are living in their society. This is no deep discovery or great inscrutable insight. Unless you think just saying it makes it so.

          Since facts are your desire, I know personally exactly two families that went the private or suburban route to escape what would be the enrollment of their kids in a majority Hmong public school. Are both families racist? I have no idea, as I am not as bold a racist-sniffer as some. What race do you suppose these families are? That much I do know, but I wonder if you can guess from their above “racist” act.

          If you can tell what I give a damn about so easily, answering the above should be pretty light work for you.

          • I’d send my kids to racially mixed St Paul Central in a heartbeat. I’d home school my kids before sending them to the all white suburban HS I attended.

            • jpgray

              That’s the thing – I have no idea if school quality was the reason for their actions, or if the data even show any difference in quality between the schools in question.

              Others seem to be able to figure many things out very easily just by the behavior alone.

    • twbb

      “Start with talking to”

      Why are we always urged to “start talking to” the people least impacted by the problem?

      • Huh? “Impacted” is a strange word to use when the discussion is framed as victims and perpetrators. And are you saying families that aren’t wealthy and whose kids live in an underfunded school district aren’t “impacted’ by any problems?

        • River Birch

          I think twbb is saying here is this: Why should we “start by talking to” the people you list, all of whom are vastly more insulated from the structural racism being discussed than the poor families of color without the means to switch to better schools? How about we “start by talking to” them instead?

          • So wait, black parents who don’t keep their kids in Schools with a lot of poor black kids are racist just like white people?

            Thanks for showing things are just like they were in 1970!

            • DrDick

              Educated, affluent minorities who move to economically segregated communities are equally guilty of perpetuating class inequality. This is not a complicated concept.

    • C is important to the extent that progress in integration (or really anything) messes up the clear argument that made perfect sense when things were worse. Urban=bad schools, suburb=white is fine for political polemics–and can remain statistically the case even as it’s improving–but if taken to an extreme, would suggest the need for revolutionary change, everywhere, even as things are on track to getting better. True, it also masks the lack of progress. It would seem helpful to have more information, both for policy makers (one assumes they’re able to sieve out the data they need anyway) and for ordinary people whose actions affect their and other people’s lives.

  • NewishLawyer

    This is basically a return to New Deal liberalism. FDR talking about how necessitous men are not free men and seeing 1/3rd a nation.

    • Bernie really is just a New Deal liberal. But in 2015, that’s socialism. What times in which we live.

      • Peterr

        In the 30s, FDRs critics on the right called it socialism, too, you know. It pissed off the rightwing then, and it continues to piss them off today.

        • postmodulator

          It makes me think of how one of the Norman Rockwell “Freedom” paintings was “Freedom From Want.” I bet if we poke them right we can get most of the GOP frontrunners to call Norman Rockwell a Communist.

          • LeeEsq

            Norman Rockwell was a liberal artist that was beloved by conservatives and hated by liberals because of his artistic style and general subject matter. If you look at a lot of his more political illustrations like “Southern Justice” or the “Four Freedoms”, they are plainly in the manner of mid-20th century American liberalism. Its just that Norman Rockwell’s style was an American version of Soviet Realism and mid-20th century liberal culture desired more abstract art. Conservatives loved the realism.

            • postmodulator

              I was aware that his politics were to the left of where people would guess. I still think it would be funny to get Ted Cruz to denounce him.

              • joe from Lowell

                There has been some remarkably stupid writing lately on the theme “If you ignore Rockwell’s political work, his work is pretty apolitical, and what kind of racist could be apolitical during the civil rights movement?”

          • BiloSagdiyev
    • Vance Maverick

      The author of the Quartz piece makes this point, although with an amusing performance of bafflement. “Can Sanders possibly be right in this insane claim? Amazingly, he derives his argument from Roosevelt!”

    • Malaclypse

      Semi-OT, but we were talking about Twain in a thread yesterday, and today I found out the following:

      In a letter dated this day in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to the International Mark Twain Society to acknowledge that he took his famous “New Deal” from the following passage in Chapter 13 (“Freemen”) of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court:

      “…here I was, in a country where a right to say how the country should be governed was restricted to six persons in each thousand of its population….
      I was become a stockholder in a corporation where nine hundred and ninety-four of the members furnished all the money and did all the work, and the other six elected themselves a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends. It seemed to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was a new deal.”

      Source: http://www.todayinliterature.com/biography/mark.twain.asp

      • Wow, that’s a nice pull. I’ll have to file that one away for future trivia contests.

    • Murc

      Necessitous is an excellent word.

  • DrDick

    Bernie is, as usual, absolutely right about this. Indeed the dawning of that reality through my research is the reason I became a socialist in my 50s. Indeed, the primary tool of oppression against women, minorities, and LGBT folks has always been economic and social marginalization. That said, American elites have long denied the reality of class have artfully constructed a mythic hegemonic vision of America that is classes, with unlimited mobility for anyone who is motivated, skilled, hardworking, and innovative.

    • Peterr

      American elites have long denied the reality of class have artfully constructed a mythic hegemonic vision of America that is classes, with unlimited mobility for anyone who is motivated, skilled, hardworking, and innovative.

      The First Rule of Class Club is you do not talk about Class Club.

  • LeeEsq

    FDR made the same point is Second Bill of Rights address when he noted that a “necessitous man is not a free man.” The big divide between classical liberals, the ideological ancestors of today’s libertarians and modern liberals that arouse during the late 19th century was that modern liberals began to argue that some level of economic and material security and therefore wealth redistribution is necessary for freedom to exist. Modern liberals still thought that socialist arguments against the market economy were dumb side but they did agree that government needed to make the market play fair in order to increase general prosperity and freedom. The classical liberals like Herbert Spencer in the late 19th century or Frederick Hayek in the 20th century thought that this would just lead to full socialism.

  • Bruce Vail

    OT — I read Green’s ‘Death in the Haymarket’ this summer and thought it was really good. Highly recommended.

  • NewishLawyer

    Speaking of schools, upper-middle class urban liberals do things like this:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/12/here-come-the-public-school-consultants/419208/

    I’ve noted this before. There is a segment of the liberal middle and upper-middle class that can:

    1. Afford to live in cities; or

    2. Afford to send their children to private school;

    3. Not both.

    Since this group tends to be educated and wants their children educated at similar levels, they are going to do stuff like this. Or they are going to go to charter schools.

    • Yup. NYC to some degree, and Chicago to a much greater degree, and I’m sure many other urban areas are creating double-layered systems of taxpayer-funded schools, one for those parents who can manipulate bureaucracies, and one for the really disadvantaged kids.

      • LeeEsq

        To a large extent, New York and other big cities already had a double-layered system of public schools. Elite and entrance exam dependent public high schools like Bronx Science in NYC, Boston Latin, or Lowell in San Francisco existed since the 19th century. Big cities seem to do horrible when it comes to secondary education. They can generally create lots of good elementary schools but can’t seem to create an equivalent number of good middle and high schools.

        • There’s a big difference in the scope. More Nobel prize winners have graduated from Lane Tech in Chicago than any other high school in the world. That’s in part because Chicago had only a few selective high schools. Every other kid went to a neighborhood school. But now, despite the schools having far fewer students than 50 years ago, and closing 50 neighborhood schools a few years ago, CPS actually has more schools today, because there are so many charters.

    • postmodulator

      I’m right in that segment. We happened to find an okay suburb with highly-rated public schools which is also far from lily white, but it’s not my first choice for where to live. (In fairness, nowhere in the state is.)

    • Pseudonym

      Great article, if depressing. The underlying problem is that there are too few good schools and too many bad ones. But even beyond that the class (and, by proxy, race) issue is laid out explicitly: “One of the best metrics, she says, is a school’s attendance rates: High absenteeism, around and above 30 percent, say, suggests parents are not minding their children’s education—but extremely low absenteeism means driven parents are sending their children to school with strep so they can go to work.” Better schools can’t fix those problems. And even those who don’t support a generous safety net for adults tend to be more charitable when it comes to children.

  • Davis

    For conservatives, freedom is for business to pursue profits without government interference, ignoring the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful. “I owe my soul to the company store.”

  • jpgray

    What business leaders in the US have always been frightened of is that the government will learn the trick of spending money to employ people and/or or pay them well when business fails to do so.

    That government-sponsored full employment would in many ways benefit business directly by increased demand is immaterial – the title of “job creator,” the power of it, to threaten horrible things should creators lose “confidence,” would not be willingly given up even in the greatest depression (as it wasn’t).

    So to them, any scheme of massive government employment, however benign, is the Bolshevik revolution – if it’s not pushing them off the stage, it’s definitely changing the scope and power of their role forever. Nobody gives that up without a massive fight.

    We got to run this experiment in massive spending and public employment during WWII, and most everyone was led to forget about it. The Chamber of Commerce for one never forgot!

    After Citizens United, the poor citizen is less than free even in speech. Freedom’s available to all, but the full power of its usage requires one of the following: (1) enormous organizational skills and talent; (2) just gobs of money.

    Bernie can never win the nomination, but I’m thrilled he’s running as nobody with a war chest to build could make this argument directly.

  • Peterr

    So if this process is supposed to be mostly frictionless there isn’t much room for criticizing capitalism since that’s our true national ideology, more so than Christianity.

    Amen.

    To listen to the TheoCon voices, one would get the impression that Jesus spent a lot of time speaking out against gays, abortion, and premarital sex. To read the gospel stories, OTOH, one hears Jesus saying a helluva lot more about money than sex — and what he says about money ought to make a lot of those in the richest nation on earth who claim to be Christian very nervous.

    • Origami Isopod

      claim to be Christian

      Nice Scotsman you got there. Very authentic.

      • Peterr

        No ill will intended, as I include myself as one who claims the name of Christian — I’m a pastor.

        I was simply trying to say, perhaps too briefly, that anyone who takes for themselves the name of Christian and also wraps themselves in the gospel preached on Wall Street has some cognitive dissonance to deal with.

        • Origami Isopod

          I was alluding to this fallacy. Sorry to say, you can’t just declare they’re not “real Christians.”

          • Peterr

            I’m quite familiar with True Scotsmen, and wasn’t trying to say that — just harking back to Jesus’ words about serving wealth and serving God: you can serve one or the other, but not both.

            These very clear words from Jesus have not prevented many on the Christian Right in the US from attempting to prove him wrong.

            • postmodulator

              Even when I was younger and less cynical I could see all the semantic games constantly going on in society. Every word of the Bible is the literal truth! Except the words “rich man” and for some reason the word “wine.” America is the freest country in the world! As we’ve carefully defined “freedom.”

              In my dotage I just think that everyone is lying to each other and themselves all day long, and it’s the only thing (barely) holding society together.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              it seems to me most of the time the ‘true scotsman’ is deployed as shorthand for “no, they really are all the same”

              • Lee Rudolph

                To distinguish the true true Scotsmen requires looking under the kilt.

                • BiloSagdiyev

                  What is worn under the kilt?

                • Bill Murray

                  a second kilt. it gets cold in Scotland

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  Bill M: the true Scotsman carries the hair dryer for that reason

            • DrDick

              All too true. The Rabbi Yeshua of the Gospels is a radical pacifist, socialist, feminist who condemned the rich to hell and rebuked the judgmental and ostentatiously religious.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I was simply trying to say, perhaps too briefly, that anyone who takes for themselves the name of Christian and also wraps themselves in the gospel preached on Wall Street has some cognitive dissonance to deal with.

          Au contraire, mon vieux chou! They have simply (and no doubt unconsciously) adopted the Baha’i notion of “progressive [sic!] revelation”: the Gospel of Wall Street is the legitimate successor to the previous gospels; now there is no God but Mammon—a thoroughly Christian Mammon (take his word for it!).

        • NonyNony

          I was simply trying to say, perhaps too briefly, that anyone who takes for themselves the name of Christian and also wraps themselves in the gospel preached on Wall Street has some cognitive dissonance to deal with.

          Not really. Most people are Christians by tribal affiliation, and not by conscious choice. They don’t think about the implications of their in-group membership beyond the markers that mark them as part of the in-group.

          You don’t get cognitive dissonance if one of the dissonant ideas is something you literally never think about.

    • carolannie

      The so-called Christians fortify themselves against this by claiming that anyone who doesn’t worship wealth and thinks money hoarders are mentally ill actually is covetous, wanting the wealth for him/herself (OT:Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s [list of stuff]). They seem to forget the New Testament completely and at all times.

  • Ormond

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amartya_Sen

    “For instance, in the United States citizens have a hypothetical “right” to vote. To Sen, this concept is fairly empty. In order for citizens to have a capacity to vote, they first must have “functionings”. These “functionings” can range from the very broad, such as the availability of education, to the very specific, such as transportation to the polls. Only when such barriers are removed can the citizen truly be said to act out of personal choice. It is up to the individual society to make the list of minimum capabilities guaranteed by that society.”

  • Looking at the comments on yesterday’s thread, it occurred to me that the objections were coming from people who want to consider themselves (as I do) liberal, not racist, on the side of the poor and working classes.

    It seems bizarre to look at it from the other side, from someone who kind of proudly accepts racism as a belief or as a fate in some way, or something. But racism in the U.S. is a class marker in a weird way, because doing things that can be interpreted as racist shows you’re not lower-class, to people who care about that. How do you show you’re not someone who’s going to let your kid associate with black kids? By taking them out of public school, by having them do activities that working class people and black people can’t afford or don’t feel comfortable doing. How do you prove to a racist that you’re not a hippy slacker? Same thing. How do you prove you want to do right by your kids, to perfectly well-meaning people? It turns out to be the same thing.

    This keeps us from addressing real problems. (So does, in my opinion, the overemphasis on school funding, which both plays into the idea that money and proper management can solve every problem, and seems too close to thinking that the problem is just that we don’t fund schools the way Europe does, but that’s off-topic. And so does seguing into vague ideas about structural change, I think.)

    People who are interested in thinking about education in connection with the kinds of issues Erik brings up may be interested in some of Harry Brighouse’s posts at Crooked Timber.

    • joe from Lowell

      But racism in the U.S. is a class marker in a weird way, because doing things that can be interpreted as racist shows you’re not lower-class, to people who care about that.

      This is strange to me. Explicit racism is a marker of low class around here. It makes you “white trash.”

      • Pseudonym

        Agreed. I think the relevant difference isn’t that the wealthy are substantially more or less racist than the poor, but that the former’s racism is, well, classier.

      • Lee Rudolph

        I wonder if bianca steele meant there to be a “not” between “because” and “doing”.

        • joe from Lowell

          I asked that too, but look at the next two sentences. She says that taking your kids out of public schools to avoid black people is how you show you’re upper class.

      • Explicit racism among certain groups of white people marks you as low class (like using the term “white trash”). There are white people who react to that marking with a mixture of resentment and pride–we call them “Trump voters.” Then there’s the implicit racism: it just didn’t feel safe; a parent has to use her intuition; etc. And there are the stupid people who think they’re saying the quiet part quieter than they are.

        The point isn’t that everyone who moves their kids does so for racist reasons, but that if a racist wants to know if you’re low class or OK (from their perspective), whether you went to some effort to choose a “good” school, which is always a whiter school, or at least a school where the minorities present are taught their place, tells them part of the answer.

        Also, if you grew up with implicit racism (edit: or rich people’s explicit but privately expressed racism), you may well associate that kind of racism with being rich (and find it easier to avow your personal racism than if you grew up with racist working class people and view the middle class as a liberal refuge from that).

        eta: not sure why “implicit” makes a difference to the point Joe quoted

        • joe from Lowell

          It makes a difference because demonstrating one example of a theory failing demonstrates that the theory has problems.

          I sincerely hope your first line wasn’t an attempt to chastise me for using a term to describe other people’s feelings, immediately before you did the same thing with “OK” and “a ‘good’ school.”

          if a racist wants to know if you’re low class or OK (from their perspective), whether you went to some effort to choose a “good” school, which is always a whiter school, or at least a school where the minorities present are taught their place, tells them part of the answer.

          Wow. No. I think you’re overestimating your degree of insight into the thinking of the people you’re attempting to describe. For example, the phrase “if you’re low class or OK (from their perspective)” is completely backwards. To white racists, being anti-racist is not a marker of low class; quite the opposite. It’s a sign of an elitist disdain for the Real Americans who live in the suburbs – like a David Brooks column from 2001 about liberals in their decadent enclaves on the coasts.

          Now, being a white family that is unable to move to the suburbs because of money is seen as a marker of low class, because it’s directly about not having the money, as opposed to being about not being racist enough. God knows the perception of the South Boston bussing protesters as low class wasn’t endangered by their racism.

          • It makes a difference because demonstrating one example of a theory failing demonstrates that the theory has problems.

            What theory would that be? The theory that your comment is responsive in any way to mine? The theory that if something occurs to Joe that makes a comment wrong, everyone must agree?

            The theory that Joe is the kind of man who takes one comment addressed to him as an invitation to be harassed for rest of the thread?

            For example, the phrase “if you’re low class or OK (from their perspective)” is completely backwards.

            The opposite of what? I said “whether you’re A or B” and you said “that’s wrong; quite the opposite.” Is this a sign of your own high-class education?

            • joe from Lowell

              What theory would that be?

              Why, this one: But racism in the U.S. is a class marker in a weird way, because doing things that can be interpreted as racist shows you’re not lower-class, to people who care about that.

              You don’t know what your thesis anymore? That’s not good.

              The opposite of what? I said “whether you’re A or B” and you said “that’s wrong; quite the opposite.” Is this a sign of your own high-class education?

              Settle yourself down and I’ll try to clear up your confusion. What’s backwards, and I explained over the course of the rest of the paragraph, is the idea that A and B are seen as mutually exclusive, contrary characteristics. The truth is exactly the opposite of that – demonstrating yourself to be racially “OK (from their perspective)” is not an exercise in proving yourself to be of a higher class, but an exercising in demonstrating that you’re just folks.

              I think your affront at being disagreed with is out of scale, and interfering with the clarity of your thinking. And reading.

              • I think you’re making stuff up and hoping it will be seen as plausible enough to stick, and that people will decide you must have gotten the better of the argument.

                edit: note that most other people here have been able to comment on what’s said or on the topic without making judgments about other commenters

            • joe from Lowell

              If anything, anti-racism is used as a class marker among wealthier but not elite white people, at least here. Maybe it’s a regional thing and the signaling works differently elsewhere in the country. There are, of course, big differences in the scope and shape of racism in different parts of the country.

              • You’re making the totally unwarranted assumption that racism and anti-racism are nearly entirely correlated with class. It could be true that in your mostly anti-racist circles, it’s a valid generalization that racism is seen as a mark of a lower class, To assume that this means all the people of the same economic status as you, much less the others, are anti-racist makes no sense.

                Among wealthy people, awareness of racism and a wish to oppose it are a class marker, which is what I said. I also said that is frequently only possible because in their class, explicit racism is common, if only behind closed doors (though occasionally in front of them as well). They are overcoming something they’re very aware of in their own background, in cases. They weren’t suddenly enlightened about “structural” racism they were unaware of. They have a much better knowledge of this country’s racism than any middle class person who thinks racists are the other people.

  • toberdog

    “Freedom’s just another word for ‘nothing left to lose.'”

    “Really?”

    “No, not really.”

  • DAS

    I have an uncle who moved to Finland. He feels more free in Finland than he did here, because of Finland’s robust safety-net: he can devote more time to his freelance work or decide to start his own business and not worry about what would happen should his small business fail.

    Every so often you hear talk about encouraging entrepreneurship in the USA. I am not sure if the way to really build an economy is entrepreneurship (I know plenty of entrepreneurs in Nigeria, but nobody is using them as an economic model). But if we do want to encourage entrepreneurship, the way to do so would be to have more socialism: it’s easier to start a business if you don’t have to worry about providing you and your employees with health insurance and if you have a safety-net to catch you if you fail. As I remember a small businessman of my acquaintance saying

    When I was considering starting my business, I became more of a libertarian than I already was, as I was concerned about the paperwork in complying with government regulations and that sort of thing. But now that I have a small business, I am a somewhat of a socialist: I’m a smart guy, so I can figure out the paperwork and how to comply with regulations. What I need is government provided health care so I can compete with big businesses in finding talented employees without trying to figure out how I will pay for them to have health benefits (which is a bigger cost than extra taxes) as well as to be able to have my wife, who is super talented at her work, work full time at our business rather than having to remain employed elsewhere to have health insurance for our family

    • Gareth

      What kind of small business did he start, and how well did it do?

      • DAS

        Digital media company. It’s doing quite well.

        • Gareth

          Good for him. I’m not sure it works as a general principle, though. By that logic the best country for entrepreneurs is Saudi Arabia.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      The Ghanaian government is using Nigeria as a model ;-).

    • LeeEsq

      Many Swedish academics argue that social democracy is an experiment in radical individualism because it allows more people to live on their own and not require help from kin or community.

      • Ronan

        The Swedish often score highly on world value surveys, implying “individualistic” values

        http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp

        This makes sense as (afaik) the Swedish model isn’t really about tying yourself to group obligations in the name of societal solidarity , but (as u say) replacing those obligations with a technocratic state which will rationally dole out benefits and allow the individual flourish. Culturally, societally, institutionally, I think this is more or less unique to Sweden and perhaps other north euro countries , and can’t be replicated to the same extent in other contexts

        • LeeEsq

          There do seem to be problems with the Sweden’s model. The recent book The Almost Nearly Perfect People did point out that you can also argue that Sweden’s model is just as totalitarian as it individualistic because of the extent it is trying to free people from traditional social bounds regardless of what people actually want. I’m not sure whether Sweden’s system can assimilate people from more communal and traditional social systems that easily. Expecting people to jump several decades or centuries of social change at once is tricky.

  • Pseudonym

    That’s why there’s room for Martin Luther King fighting in Birmingham but call for the end to educational disparities based upon race that might inconvenience those “good thinking” white people in 1970 or 2015 and people freak out. This narrative I’m laying out is obviously impressionistic for the most part, but can basically be placed in data points on this issue with the rise of the Wallace campaign in the North, opposition to busing, etc.

    Sorry for being combative, but this is where I differ (or “freak out” in your words). Doing the right or best possible thing for one’s family might involve contributing to structural racism in our compromised society. Supporting George Wallace is not doing the right thing. Both actions might be “racist” in your sense of the word, and intent doesn’t especially matter to the victims, but they aren’t equivalent. Indeed, your suggestions on how actually to address these systemic issues all seem to involve supporting policies that run counter to George Wallace. If you think the solution is for white liberals and leftists to explicitly send their children to bad schools then say so.

    • Bill Murray

      If you think the solution is for white liberals and leftists to explicitly send their children to bad schools then say so.

      wow is this disingenuous. The main solution is for people to work together to help make the schools better, which cutting and running explicitly does not do.

      • Pseudonym

        It was meant to be a rhetorical counterpoint to George Wallace that was also objectionable. The real answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but I’m still waiting to hear where.

    • PhoenixRising

      AFAICT it’s broader than that: Anyone who cares about inequality, including black people who happen to be parents and any parent of a black child, will send their kids to lousy schools. To be mistreated by racist systems, pushed out and into the school to prison pipeline and suffer the consequences for life…or else we’re racists just like whites who resisted busing or George Wallace voters.

      Erik’s a smart guy, but you can’t tell it from his statements about what other people should do to educate their kids of all colors, races and creeds to avoid perpetuating racism (pro tip: it’s always correct to throw them onto the fires of late capitalism as human sacrifices). All these problems are really complex and need system-level solutions, which is why 13 years of public education is an appropriate place to enact one’s politics.

      It’s telling that the regular commenters who are actually raising children of color in our racist society find these suggestions of how we can prove we’re committed to a more just society…less than convincing.

      Your best bet is to ignore the swipes, because there’s actually a lot of interest/important in this post and others like it.

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