Friday, April 20, 2012

Tricia Rose, Social Justice, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Beastie Boys, and Black Crowes

I saw a lecture by (charming, charismatic, funny) Brown professor of Africana studies Tricia Rose last night, and it was a reminder how ludicrous the task is that the “bleeding-heart libertarians” have set for themselves in wanting to incorporate “social justice” into the heart of libertarian thinking (or in Matt Zwolinski’s revisionist account, in arguing social justice has always been a major component of classical liberal thinking). 

This (mostly white, fairly moderate-seeming, very Brown University) audience was surely the kind of crowd that routinely deploys the language of social justice – and Rose deploys it in friendly, happy, anecdotal, non-threatening terms that would likely seem palatable to your average talk show audience (she has written two books on the philosophy behind hiphop). 

Yet it seemed to boil down to (or rather be a taken-for-granted synonym for) talk of wealth redistribution, fighting to preserve big-government programs like Obamacare, and, even more creepily, encouragement of people like the school teacher who says he is looking forward to teaching ninth-graders to be social justice activists themselves.  Why, that’s just bound to mean a more libertarian society, right? 

Perhaps the most condescending and authoritarian bit, though, was when Rose had the whole audience raise their right hands to recite a long, long pledge she had written about how to work toward social justice without blaming yourself for society’s past sins – and she had people begin pledging and reciting before telling them what they would be swearing to.  Sign this social contract and read it later, as it were – likely a pretty good indication of how much she (happily, cheerily, positively) thinks we can all trust her judgment.  I’m sure students love her.

These are our philosophical kin, Zwolinski (and Tomasi and Levy)?  But not those awful moderate Republican types who talk about markets and individualism all the time, of course.  Well, you go to the family reunion next time, then, because I don’t have the patience for it anymore.  Nor for any further BHL nonsense. 

If you treasure your status as intellectuals as much as you seem to, there comes a time to admit you’re wrong, and it would be impressive and admirable for the BHL faction to do so immediately after the release of the liberal-tarian manifesto Free Market Fairness.  Indeed, they are plainly morally obligated to do so, as, all joking aside, they are attempting to dilute the one philosophy that can save this society by transmuting it into the very philosophy that is rapidly destroying society, on campus and in Washington, DC. 

There is not some aspect of this that their opponents “don’t get,” “need to study more,” or are “resisting.”  BHL is false and destructive, and, as usual, I have been entirely too kind in my criticisms.  I will not continue to be if they persist in this self-indulgent,
socially destructive, historically-ignorant con game.  What they are doing is, in a word, evil.  I think they must know it on some level, but they pride themselves on playing this particular philosophical game. 

And like all “social justice” activists, they gaze into their own hearts and see compassion and warmth there, so how could they be the villains?  (C’mon, man, relax, play along, befriend the left, turn off your mind, embrace the Rawlsians and the hippies, it won’t hurt, aside from destroying capitalism...)

On a brighter note, all manner of celebrations occur this weekend. 

Tonight, there’s the release party for the documentary Revisionaries about political battles over textbook contents.  Tomorrow, of course, is Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday – and a release party for leftist conspiracy theorist Sander Hicks’ new book, Slingshot to the Juggernaut, which the Queen will probably never read.  Sunday is Earth Day, if people still care. 

But what really makes me happy – and indeed, makes me feel even more like I’ve returned to my Gen X youth than hearing a Brown professor lecture does – is the news that May 5 brings a celebration of a different kind, the induction of new bands into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and I see this year brings Gen X favorites Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Beastie Boys, along with older acts such as Donovan.

But I will defy expectations and instead of linking to videos by those bands link to another new inductee, Faces.  There is a Gen X angle here, though: It’s very obvious in retrospect how much the Black Crowes were influenced by this band, so in a sense you were listening to more Rod Stewart in the 90s than you realized.  


Xerographica said... far as I know...I'm the only person to have been banned from the BHL website. Here's my discussion with Zwolinski that resulted in my banishment...Fallibilism vs Fairness.

The point that I failed to convey to Zwolinski in our discussion is that social justice is fine and wonderful...but it shouldn't trump basic economics. The biggest obstacle that libertarianism faces is that liberals do not understand basic economics. Nah, the biggest obstacle that libertarianism faces is that libertarians do not understand basic Zwolinski clearly demonstrated in our discussion.

But...I wouldn't write the BHL project completely off. As long as Peter Boettke is a guest blogger there's still hope. Andrew Cohen is pretty solid as well...States Must Do Bad...but, given that he's a political philosopher, not sure if he'll be able to help Zwolinski learn the economic arguments for libertarianism.

millsrevenge said...

"social justice is fine and wonderful...but it shouldn't trump basic economics."

What makes "economics" more important than doing right by your fellow human being? If "economics" can't be used for the betterment of society, then what's the point?

Xerographica said...

millsrevenge, sometimes when I'm hiking in different places I'll encounter some unknown berry that looks edible. Then I'll ask it worth it to try it? Economics basically boils down this this one question...Is it worth it?

Whenever I eat any fruit or vegetable or nut or grain...I try and imagine who exactly was the first person to decide it was worth it to eat that plant. Did the emptiness of their stomachs influence their decisions?

Then I'll think of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Do you know why Adam and Eve never studied economics? Because economics is the study of scarcity. The Garden of Eden was the epitome of scarcity was not a problem. thing was scarce. Just one thing... knowledge. Eve decided it was worth it to break the one rule in order to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

By choosing to eat the fruit...Eve made the very first sacrifice. She sacrificed abundance for knowledge. Much in the same way that Odin sacrificed his eye to drink from the Well of Wisdom. That's the sacred.

On the profane side...on occasion we might hear somebody say that they'd give their left nut for something. They'd sacrifice something they value (their left nut) in exchange for something that they value even more. What would I sacrifice my left nut for? What would be worth it?

The hard part to understand is that there's nothing that's profane. Anything you sacrifice for is your God. Look through your receipts and you'll see who your Gods are. Keep track of what you spend your time doing and you'll see who your Gods are. We're all trying to spend our way back to the Garden of Eden. Therefore, there is no religious tolerance...there is simply tolerance.

You sacrifice your taxes to your Gods and I'll sacrifice my taxes to my Gods. May the best Gods win. And may Nietzsche roll over in his grave.

Anonymous said...

Todd - I get where you're coming from, but I also think that this way of thinking has lead to libertarianism being the bastion of a small group of like-minded nerds, rather than a political movement that can make a real difference.
There are two paths to small-l libertarianism: (1) the first path, taken by my brother, is through right-leaning politics and an emphasis on the free market, and (2) the second path, taken by me, is through a left-leaning concern about inequality and injustice....which - when combined with the hard facts of economics, politics, and psychology - often leads one to conclude that government intervention does not actually reduce inequality and injustice.
Folks on both sides are prone to impurities of libertarian thought (e.g., Ron Paul's anti-immigration stance and my own inclinations toward allowing for some basic forms of social insurance). But that doesn't mean that they aren't worthy allies in the fight for more liberty overall.

Todd Seavey said...

But the crucial part of your story, I think, is that bit about "when combined with the hard facts of economics, politics, and psychology." We really need to ask what gets people to _those_ fastest, and experience does not suggest that for most people the quickest route is giving them some inspiring ideal largely at odds with them and then waiting -- and hoping -- they'll get properly disillusioned.

Likewise, I would not suggest focusing on, say, God and hoping that this focus leads people gradually to the realization that "Thou shalt not steal" is one of the most important Commandments -- they may just stay obsessed with religion in general.

People gung-ho for "social justice" have not proven to be the most free-market-loving segment of the population. We should not be encouraging more people down that path.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. But a huge majority of young people arrive at adulthood with an ingrained moral sense of anger at inequality and injustice. That's okay, because there *is* indeed a lot of inequality and injustice in the world....even in a perfectly free world! We're already conceding the battle if we try to convince people that their moral outrage is invalid. Better to persuade them that injustice/inequality are impossible to eradicate...but that well-intentioned government policies often exacerbate those very problems.
So - in other words - we're not "giving" them the ideal....We're just working with the ideal that they already have. I would also argue that this ideal is probably biologically programmed. Our moral emphasis on "fairness" is probably an inevitable outgrowth of our species' dependence on reciprocal altruism.

Todd Seavey said...

People have all sorts of conflicting moral intuitions, and the last thing we should do is hand them rhetoric giving shape and reinforcement to the _wrong_ ones. Not _that_ many young people are full-blown "social justice" advocates, after all, even if they have some vague notions of "fairness." Don't nudge them toward formalizing those sentiments.

Similarly, a far _larger_ portion of the population have vague religious sentiments, but would you, as a pro-science skeptic like me, ever suggest that we should therefore formalize their intuitions by encouraging our fellow skeptics to adopt the language of Deism or moderate ecumenical Protestantism?

"Well, most people already believe there is at least some sort of 'higher power' out there, so..." Blah blah blah. No. Better to speak the truth. Especially with attention spans getting shorter every day.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I'm not sure I'd be so dismissive of the notion of fairness. Is it fair that 7 family members died in one car crash in the Bronx? Is it fair that some party boy inherits millions of $ from his parents, while hard-working immigrants struggle to afford health care? I don't believe that it's inconsistent for a "libertarian" to feel distressed about these types of outcomes...In fact, I think think it's very *human* to feel distressed at these types of outcomes. That doesn't mean that the government can do anything productive about it. I think it's extremely unwise for libertarians to dismiss basic human emotions as "wrong." An emotion can't be wrong, and that's especially true if an emotion is just a state in the brain caused by swirling neurotransmitters.

Todd Seavey said...

Calling "social justice" the only alternative to dismissing emotion and fairness is like saying we have to endorse the labor theory of value because people will inevitably get tired, or that we have to craft a new and better form of fascism because people will always tend to like leaders. Social justice is a complex philosophical idea with a horrible history and terrible baggage, not some universal human impulse. Do not encourage it.

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