Oh is this a long post....Forgive me for not linking to the various books and writers I discuss below. They are easily found and identified on the beautiful Web.
William Saletan is in love
with Jonathan Haidt's stupid book on why "liberals" don't understand "conservatives."
As I pointed out in this
post nearly two months ago, Haidt needs a starter course in sociology, and has no understanding of Daniel Bell's formulation of dividing "liberal" and "conservative" into the cultural, economic and political. Haidt attacks people like me as if I'm the same as a tattoo-wearing, ear-pierced gay guy living like Carrie Bradshaw in the city. Sorry, Haidt. Your definition of "liberal" actually fits Donald Trump, Jack Welch and their lifestyles more than mine. And that's the number one problem with Haidt's book.
But let's now move to William Saletan's problem in his NY Times Book Review of Haidt's book. Get a load of the last sentence of one paragraph and the next paragraph from Saletan's review:"...Workers who vote Republican aren’t fools. In Haidt’s words, they’re 'voting for their moral interests.'
"One of these interests is moral capital — norms, practices and institutions, like religion and family values, that facilitate cooperation by constraining individualism. Toward this end, Haidt applauds the left for regulating corporate greed. But he worries that in other ways, liberals dissolve moral capital too recklessly. Welfare programs that substitute public aid for spousal and parental support undermine the ecology of the family. Education policies that let students sue teachers erode classroom authority. Multicultural education weakens the cultural glue of assimilation. Haidt agrees that old ways must sometimes be re-examined and changed. He just wants liberals to proceed with caution and protect the social pillars sustained by tradition."
If he just left it at Haidt saying that people vote for their moral interests, I can buy that. My argument against the Democratic Party leadership for the past thirty years is they diluted their economic message to a point where most workers don't believe Dems will follow through on their usually last minute campaign rhetoric. So, religious minded workers, of which there are still many, vote for the guy who will stop "moral decay." If that's all Haidt and Saletan want to say, then I'm fine with that, and so is Thomas Frank if one really reads his "What's the Matter with Kansas?" which is really about the corporate takeover of the Democratic Party when Frank talks about what blocks the solutions he proposes.
But no. Saletan and Haidt just can't help themselves. They must buy into right wing nostrums that sociologists (who talk with welfare recipients, follow their lives, and analyze patterns in public policy) knocked down long ago.
Start with welfare. Is it really true that "public aid for spousal and parental support undermine the ecology of the family?" Did it ever occur to these guys that quite a few women used welfare to help escape from bad men? Or even bad Dads? My God, at long last, will these guys read Christopher Jencks and William Julius Wilson? Will they actually pull out a Michael Harrington book or Barbara Ehrenreich's or Francis Piven's books on how poverty programs actually work to protect women and children?
As John Schwarz pointed out, in "America's Hidden Success," the abuse in welfare was actually quite small in the late 1960s and through the 1970s when Republicans like Ronald Wilson Reagan (Mr. 666) led the demonizing of welfare. Three of every four welfare mothers had two or less children, even during the 1970s. The welfare Moms tended to go in and out of welfare depending more on whether their children became sick (a flu or cold kept a poor Mom home from her minimum wage job, that led to her firing because she could not be absent more than three days in a row), or when the Mom's former and more often abusive boyfriend or father may have found her, and she and the kids had to get out of town in a hurry. And let's face this fact, shall we? All of the welfare financial abuse you can possibly add up is nothing compared to one military contractor's scandal and certainly is a microbe scale compared to the looters on Wall Street. Even when Robert Reich, as Secretary of Labor, pointed out that corporate welfare ate up more than the entire welfare (Aid to Dependent Families and Children) budget of the US government, then President Clinton, aided by the odious Richard Morris, laughed at Reich's naive sensibility for even pointing out that fact.
So, Clinton joined Republicans in killing the AFDC program, and as we have seen, poverty did not go down over time, poverty went up. It went down in the first several years after 1996 because of a growing economy. The women who had some skills went to work, and the others faded deeper into poverty without the government money. But a look at the poverty rate this past half decade tells what happens when the economy does not perform so well as a whole for workers. Nice job, Clinton. Nice job, Saletan and Haidt.
But Saletan is not done with his cocktail party assumptions posing as analysis. He writes: "Education policies that let students sue teachers erode classroom authority." As a lawyer who follows constitutional law battles fairly closely, there has never been a rash of students in the US or other civilized nations suing their teachers. Ever. Have students sued school districts? Yes. To end segregation. To enforce anti-discrimination laws. To protect against bullying. Are there frivilous lawsuits, too? Yes, but those lawsuits lose most of the time. How that undermines the authority of a classroom is something Saletan needs to explain. But no. Saletan just wants to re-enforce propaganda and say to those who have studied human behavior and public policy, "If the legend is believed, the legend is fact." No, the legend is still a legend and that's why we have continued problems that we just can't seem to solve.
Saletan then finishes off with the flourish that "multiculturalism" undermines assimilation. Those sociologists, anthropologists and historians who have studied immigrant communities in the US in late 19th and early 20th Centuries, before multiculturalism, would simply laugh at that formulation. Those separate immigrant communities, Jewish, Italian, Irish, Polish, etc., only began to assimilate into the larger American Protestant English speaking culture with the growth of unions, and the growth of economic opportunities. Saletan also seems blissfully unaware about the more recent studies showing marked assimilation among children of foreign born children into what I disdainfully call "Mall culture" and "corporate media advertising culture" where the children are highly unlikely to do what the parents do, which is stand on a street corner on Sunday morning looking for an odd job for a dollar. People assimilate. They will speak the larger group language if they are brought into the larger group. No rocket science there. But it tends to cost money or demand some re-distribution of wealth downwards, not upwards.
Saletan then goes on to say:Another aspect of human nature that conservatives understand better than liberals, according to Haidt, is parochial altruism, the inclination to care more about members of your group — particularly those who have made sacrifices for it —than about outsiders. Saving Darfur, submitting to the United Nations and paying taxes to educate children in another state may be noble, but they aren’t natural. What’s natural is giving to your church, helping your P.T.A. and rallying together as Americans against a foreign threat.
This nonsense is what really drew my fury. "Conservatives" don't understand anything better than "liberals" and certainly they don't understand "parochial altruism" better. If anything, it is liberals in the Congress (less the pure cultural ones than the economic oriented ones) who have stood tall against trade treaties that beggar American workers while sending jobs to Mexico, India and China, and other destinations--far more than the Republicans. And tell me about the conservative religious people in churches who have actually given money to help those in Darfur. They have done so not as much as the so-called "liberal" churches, but it's sufficient to cause us not to paint with any generality whatsoever in this regard. It's a phony distinction Saletan and Haidt are drawing here, and it is clear they both need to get out more.
But why do they draw the distinction? It's because Saletan and Haidt are Clinton or Obama liberals, after all is said and done. Neither "gets" the New Deal. Neither have read Michael Harrington, and if they did, they were simply too dumb to understand him. Really. Dumb. Lacking in intellectual capacity. And how Haidt and Saletan never came across Bell's formulation is part of why they are dumb. It's not as if they have not been exposed to Daniel Bell. They know who he is. But they have never read "Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism" or "The End of Ideology" (Memo to Saletan and Haidt: The latter book is not what people taught you in college it was about when it was mentioned in passing). If they had, they would not write the drivel they are writing.
Saletan starts to realize how dumb he and his buddy Haidt are when he writes:Many of Haidt’s proposals are vague, insufficient or hard to implement. And that’s O.K. He just wants to start a conversation about integrating a better understanding of human nature — our sentiments, sociality and morality — into the ways we debate and govern ourselves. At this, he succeeds. It’s a landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself.
So how does one have a conversation if no matter what we say to the "conservative," they won't listen to logic, reason and empirical evidence because they are tied emotionally to hierarchy as a value? Also, if Haidt's proposals are "vague, insufficient or hard to implement," then shouldn't that be a clue that Haidt has not thought out what he is writing? It's not as if he's Karl Marx identifying the machinery of capitalism and then being vague in an earlier separate pamphlet about "The Revolution." Haidt thinks he's solved a problem that he can't even diagnose correctly. And Saletan applauds him.
Sorry. I know I'm angry. But I'm going to be 55 years old--and excited about ordering off the senior menu at Denny's later this year. I've read right wing and left wing articles and books since I was in elementary school as a precocious 11 year old in the year America began to fall, i.e. 1968. I have watched generations of adult writers and leaders fail to grasp the essentials of humanity, the essentials of how wealth is generated and distributed, and how to make changes in public policy that would lead to a better sense of community and peaceful relations among people. And all Saletan and Haidt want to do is restate in a pseudo-scientific garb the Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC) 1980s rhetoric that says the New Deal never worked, and is over, and we have to trade manufacturing jobs for finance and service ones. And just slog through the culture wars as best we can.
Some prescription. Some vision.
And to justify that vision, Haidt and Saletan are reviving that 1980s attack on "liberals" for not "understanding" "conservatives." But note the words are in quotes because those words obscure more than enlighten unless they are qualified and defined with the wisdom of a Daniel Bell right from the start. What makes Saletan and Haidt dumb is they, as intellectuals, should know best that these words are most often empty vessels in which we place our prejudices, not our knowledge.
Still, let's face this reality. Saletan's review and Haidt's book are par for the course for the cocktail party circuit that permeates the NY Times Book Review reviewers. It is par for the course for the contrarian writers at Slate.com. And it is par for the course in the cocktail party circuit and country club set in Maryland and Virginia, who never venture out into the poverty of Washington DC. But it is a frustrating pity how articles and books of this nature re-enforce the ignorance of the power elite in our nation.