Monday, January 14, 2008

Finding myself, Part II

Some on both sides are racist.

There you have it.

Much of the response to my last post and those before it has been denials or minimizations of the role that bigotry plays in encouraging individuals to choose the right or the left. For every true believer in the institution of marriage, for everyone worried about sin, there's someone else who wants to see an amendment against gay marriage because a man and a man, that's icky. For everyone genuinely upset about the death toll in Iraq, there's someone convinced that the Jews got us (the real Americans) into this mess. For everyone concerned that our students are not getting enough Aristotle or Mill, there's someone who's never read anything by Toni Morrison but is convinced that there's no way a black woman writer could be anything but a PC plot to oppress the white man. For everyone... that's the idea, and no, I do not mean to imply a literal one-to-one correspondence.

If you decide you're for the left or the right, whether 51% for or 100%, you will have to minimize the amount of bigotry floating around on your side. It's easy, if you choose the right, to acknowledge that there are voters on the left who are there because they want to destroy the stranglehold Israel and the Jews have on our precious nation. If you're on the left, it's no problem admitting to yourself that some vote Republican because they see sex-as-pleasure as fine for men but not women, and are threatened by anything that would change the natural state of affairs. But once you go with one or the other, you have to pretend that the bigots on your side are the exception, while the opponents are probably motivated by prejudice above all else.

The reason that the right has something of an edge in all of this is that political correctness, which prevents open racism and sexism, does not prevent all forms of anti-Semitism. While it remains no more acceptable to say "I hate Jews" than to declare one's hatred of any other group, if one can spin anti-Semitism as either pacifism or populism, then it suddenly rises in acceptability. An anti-Semite can paint himself as one who courageously says what the powers that be would rather he did not, but say it he must, for our boys in Iraq, for our lower-middle-class here at home. Of course, such rhetoric is not limited to the left, and could potentially shift from the populist-paleocon right to that wing's mainstream. But this isn't about making predictions, it's about finding myself. And what I've found is that pointing to the bigotry of one side or the lack thereof on the other will not be enough to convince me either way.


Miss Self-Important said...

I'm not sure I understand what you're looking for. Are you looking to join the party that opposes the fewest victim groups? The one that meets you on a majority of specific issues? The most philosophically consistent one? What, specifically, are you seeking--an ideological identification, a party, or a candidate? It seems like your search could be simplified if you narrowed its object.

Phoebe said...

MSI: This helps a lot.

"Are you looking to join the party that opposes the fewest victim groups?"

No--in a field where everyone's someone else's victim (the often-quoted Jonah Goldberg sentence about the white man being the Jew of the left...) there'd be no point. Plus I'm wary of lists of officially victimized groups.

"The one that meets you on a majority of specific issues?"

Yes and no. The problems are not caring about every issue with equal intensity, and siding at different and unmeasurable points on the spectrum between the two sides on various issues.

"The most philosophically consistent one?"

No. Since there are opposite views on either side, they seem about equally consistent.

"What, specifically, are you seeking--an ideological identification, a party, or a candidate?"

I'm set for ideological identification, although I need to relearn about US politics to be sure. The candidate issue can be resolved through process of elimination, so it comes down to the parties. I want a party. But the ideological clarification will have to come first.

alex said...

With only two parties, whichever one you choose, you will find yourself in the company of roughly half of the nation, which is going to include a lot of unsavory characters.

I think the "party choice" question is much easier than the "ideological clarification" question. I don't know if I would prefer left or right if I had to consider the movement as a whole - but evaluating at the politicians at the top of every party, I find the choice gets considerably easier.

Withywindle said...

You don't mention affirmative action--where are you on that? I do find race-conscious policies to be a distinct evil from race-conscious sentiment--and the Democratic embrace of affirmative action policy strikes me as something to be judged distinctly from racial hatreds, right and left. To my mind, to be judged more harshly.

As to the judgment of formally race-neutral policies with disparate impacts on whites, blacks, Jews, what have you--you are right that there is a tendency on all sides to minimize the salience of the blemishes of their political allies, and to maximize the salience of the blemishes of their political enemies. With no particular love of Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul, say, I find them less repugnant and dangerous than Al Sharpton. (All these monosyllabic nicknames!--I detect a pattern.) But just because every one engages in such behavior doesn't mean they're all wrong--some allies are worse than others.

I am divided as to the priority you place on the sentiments of your potential political allies. I do think character matters a great deal, both of your political representatives and of your political allies. But I worry that your phrasing of the issue elides character with notions of sincerity and authenticity, of purity of heart, that is either dangerous or futile when applied to politics.

Miss Self-Important said...

As far as party identification is concerned, Alex is probably right. The lack of options distributes crazies into both camps. To a lesser degree, it also distributes conservatives and liberals into both camps. I suspect that party affiliation is a more practical decision, and one governed by more immediate constraints--where you live and the local politics and networks of obligation around you, how your family votes, one major issue that matters to you above all, etc.

Conservatism and liberalism though seem like more fundamental orientations, even if people often treat them as synonymous with or predictive of party affiliation. If you're looking for a political orientation, the real questions seem to me not to be who agrees on which issues, but what is the purpose of government? What falls within the purview of politics? What does a good state look like? And so on. In terms of these questions, conservatism and liberalism may seem more consistent than if you look at them as changing constellations of interests. But I guess Withywindle disagrees.

Phoebe said...

Alex: Agreed. My working plan is to vote against the loony, and reregister whenever I think the opposing party is running a loonier loony.

Withywindle: Unfortunately the answer will not be in this issue. I sympathize with the left's motivation but not practice, and the right's practice but not motivation. In terms of college admissions, which you hear the most about, very little of the process is fair or objective to start with. Even if race were left out of the mix, selective colleges would be trying to create mini utopias, not simply select the best candidates. Issues of over- and underrepresentation would still be raised. And, racism is undeniably still a problem. So the whole "it's not fair" critique of affirmative action doesn't convince, at least not in terms of college admissions. However, I see something frightening about a society where people think it's perfectly normal to check a box describing their race on any form for any reason. Ideally the US would be transitioning to race not mattering, but once this box-checking is institutionalized and internalized, it will be much harder for that day to come. And then there's the obvious: once data on who's what exists, it can be used for things far creepier than attempting to create campuses that resemble Benetton ads.

MSI: "If you're looking for a political orientation, the real questions seem to me not to be who agrees on which issues, but what is the purpose of government? What falls within the purview of politics?"

But this still leaves the question of issues that don't make sense together but are both called "conservative"--social conservatism and classical liberalism. At least in America, and the center-right in Europe is another story, but that's not really relevant to my dilemma.

Miss Self-Important said...

I thought that the distinction between classical liberalism and conservatism was a modern effort to lend libertarianism historical cred by anchoring its ideology in the American founding? (And true, the liberal/conservative divide is originally French, not American.)

There is a school of historiography that believes that the American founding was essentially Lockean and therefore based primarily on property rights, but there is a competing interpretation that the founding was fundamentally republican and based on an idea of civic virtue, which was later eroded by the astonishing commercial success of the early republic. I find the latter account more convincing, and a better explanation for the connection that we still make between economic, social, and moral issues. (And I do think these issues are connected.) It's true that the history of American political parties doesn't map onto a liberal/conservative dichotomy perfectly (for example, Federalists and Whigs used to be the protectionists, and now the Dems have primarily taken up that position), but I think the positions do appear more connected if you take into account philosophies of government and politics. If gov't is supposed to encourage classical virtue, for example, then you can see why there would be an emphasis on intact families as well as, say, liberal education and militarism--three otherwise unconnected issues. (Though of course, interpretations of classical virtue vary as well.)

schMaltzLover said...

There is another option. Rather than agonize over your appropriate political affiliation (what group to join), maybe you could agonize about your own political sentiments. Could you be jumping to conclusions? Viewing the world with blinkers?

The reason that the right has something of an edge in all of this is that political correctness, which prevents open racism and sexism, does not prevent all forms of anti-Semitism.

Is there really open anti-semitism? (I assume you accidently dropped the work open, unless you care more about veiled anti-semitism than veiled racism or veiled sexism). Or could it be an irrational attachment to identity that's leading you to conure up figments?