May 22nd, 2007
|03:35 pm - I Am Not A Radical|
One of my dis-satisfactions with the state of US politics for the last 30 years is that the political spectrum is so far to the right compared to most of the rest of the first world. As a goodly number of people both inside and outside of the US have pointed out, in Britain and much of the rest of the EU, candidates like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton would make perfectly reasonable conservative candidates, while actual liberals look much more like the US Green Party, and almost all Republican candidates would be relegated to extremist fringe parties that few people would ever consider voting for.
I would personally find that state of affairs to be nearly ideal. In such a political climate, I would happily vote for the liberals and if the conservatives won, I would be disappointed and occasionally angry, but never filled with the mixture of disbelief and abject horror that has been my reaction to the entire post-1970s Republican party.
However, my problems go well beyond simply disliking how conservative the current US political spectrum has become. In addition, I dislike the fact that my own fairly mainstream euro-socialist politics are considered unacceptably radical and so I regularly end up associated with actual radicals and that association is usually a very poor fit for me. For me, a nearly ideal situation is to have a pleasantly bland nanny-state that provides for its citizens and is generally worthy of trust but otherwise fairly easy to ignore. I actively want to have a government I can generally trust and have absolutely no interest in destroying the current social order. My only vision of this concept is of massive death and suffering, and even if I'm not the one suffering or dying, changes that have those sorts of results are almost always a bad idea. As I discuss here, the differences between my views and those of actual radicals is fairly profound. The quote in the middle of this post that fits moderately well with my own ideas, although, as I state there, I'm somewhat further to the left.
My first true realization of the difference between liberals and radicals came decades ago, when I was learning about feminism. The goals of liberal feminism seem to me to be not only a very good thing, but completely obvious. In contrast, radical feminism always struck me as a mixture of the unlikely (including almost the entire concept of patriarchy) and the impossible (short of drugging the entire human species, eliminating pornography is an utterly silly and impossible goal). After some recent on-line reading and discussions, my view of much of political radicalism has sufficiently crystallized to the point that I can definitely say that it's not for me.
I'm not seeking radical or drastic changes in first world society, I do not think they are either necessary or desirable. I very much think that the US needs to be vastly more like Western Europe in essentially all of its policies, but I also like and enjoy the general nature of first world society. For example, I've known people who want to get rid of private automobiles, I don't. The US certainly needs better public transport, but even in EU nations with excellent public transport, there are still a great many private automobiles, because they are exceedingly useful. I definitely believe that all vehicles should burn renewable, low or zero polluting fuels or be battery powered, and I'd be happier if some form of distributed interactive network automatically controlled all cars, since human drivers make far too many mistakes, but I think the basic concept is sound. The same holds true for most of the rest of first world life. I love consumerism, I just wish goods were made in a more environmentally friendly fashion (something the EU is doing a fair job of working on), just as I want agribusiness to produce food organically, and in both cases, I'm willing to vote with both my ballots and my money to help make that happen. However, all of these are changes in how things are done, and not drastic revisions in the general first world way of life.
In any case, I'm socialist (in the sense that I wish all essential services to be taken care of by the government. From my PoV, capitalism works wonderfully for consumer goods and very poorly for essential goods and services) technocrat who is happy with the overall shape of modern society. I consider life in the first world to be definitely and obviously superior to any of way of life humans have ever lived, by every measure possible. Obviously, advances in technology will change this way of life, and some of these changes will likely change it radically, but I'm in general much more comfortable with technological advances than the plans of people driven by ideology. Also, in general technologically driven changes have been of vast benefit to human society, the same is far less true about ideological changes, which are a far more mixed bag.
My problem is that the US is barely a first world nations by many measures and most citizens of the US consider ideas that are on the left end of the mainstream in most of Western Europe to be as radical and extremist as Soviet-era communism or anarcho-capitalism. It would be very nice to live somewhat where my political views were not considered to be radical.
Current Mood: thoughtful
I'm not a radical either.
Your idea of eliminating "force" (which would effectively eliminate the entire concept of government, as well as not doing what it claims) seems fairly radical to me, since it would involve major changes in all facets of first world life.
I don't seem to fit anywhere into the political categories you've outlined here. Can I be half a radical? I strongly disagree with certain aspects of radical feminism, but I also strongly agree with other aspects of it; consequently, I find the "liberal" and the "radical" viewpoints to be approximately equally severely frustrating and inadequate. I have a less strong opinion on the anarchy issue, but I know for sure I don't agree with all of it and I also know for sure that I find it worth thinking seriously about even though I don't feel like I can come to any very definite conclusions. So I feel sandwiched somewhere between the "liberal" and the "radical" viewpoints on both issues.
I had an interesting conversation with soe coworkers at lunch today about almost the same topic. I told them I was a registered Democrat because we don't have a Labor party in the US. From everything I've seen and read, I'd likely be Labor if I were in the UK. Interestingly enough, the two guys I was talking to are both Republicans of the Southpark variety, so they seemed to grok what I was saying. Ironically, the day before I got very dirty looks from one of their Dominionist Republican colleagues when I told him I was a socialist. Sometimes it's just easier to use that title, even if it's not strictly true. I guess it's one I hesitate using after being raised in the Cold War era.
One of my biggest complaints about the current government system here in the US is education. I believe that all education should be equal and not based on property taxes or socio-economic status. A child in southeast DC deserves the same education that a child in Fairfax, VA gets (and that doesn't mean lowering the Fairfax child's education but raising the DC child's). How many future brilliant scientists or surgeons are we sacrificing because of the inequities in education? I think this is one area, in particular, that needs to be the focus. If some attention isn't paid to the children of today then where will we as a country be in 20 to 75 years?
A child in southeast DC deserves the same education that a child in Fairfax, VA gets (and that doesn't mean lowering the Fairfax child's education but raising the DC child's).
Gods yes! Much of the problem is simple due to the relatively tiny amount the US government spends on any social programs, especially education. If we significantly increased funding to education and welfare and instituted national healthcare I'd be vastly happier with the US. Other than lacking the ability to start more pointless wars, I honestly don't see what would be post by reducing military spending by 50%. Of course, all of this is made worse by the total Republican victory wrt public opinion of government. People 25+ years ago did not distrust the idea of public schooling and anyone considering home schooling would be (rightfully) looked at as a total wackball. Now, in education and many other fields, no one trusts the government to manage social programs and so the Republicans get the boost in popular opinion they need for their mad an vile program of privatization.
I can't help but wonder sometimes if their goals toward the privatization of education don't have a Dominionist agenda. The voucher program is a good idea in theory, but put into practice in many areas this would amount to government money going to fund church run schools. It's sad that the majority of private education in this country is run by religious organizations with their own particular agendas. I'm not saying there aren't good schools out there run by churches (Friends school in Baltimore is top notch and I have a lot of respect for some of the Jesuit run Catholic schools) but there are a lot of small K-12, teach the kids that creationism is science, the Bible is fact and history, and possibly worse which ultimately could be very harmful to a child.
I recently saw a clip from one of the news shows (20/20 or 60 Minutes, I don't recall which) where they described a voucher system in one of the EU countries. Basically, the parents can send their child to any school they wish and the funding (a set number for each child in the country) follows the child to whatever school they are sent to. This actually produces healthy competition among the teachers to find new and innovative ways to teach the children and to stay sharp themselves, otherwise the parents may pull their children out of their school the next year if they don't like the results. I see this type of voucher system as healthy and positive encouraging the teachers rather than a political agenda to pull money out of public schools and put them into private religious schools.
Of course the kids in DC DESERVE an equitable education but how will they get it even if the monetary resources are equalized?
Frankly, attracting teachers to an area with a crime rate as high as SE DC is far more difficult than getting them to come to Fairfax.
The Johnson welfare reforms of the mid 1960s reduced poverty in the US by half in 3 years. These gains were then gradually eliminated over the next 30 years by Republican greed-heads. Do that again, and crime will drop in DC. Also, the best solution for such problems is one that was proven to work through 20 years of studies (early 70s to early 90s), busing. Bus the kids from the poor, & more violent inner-city schools to wealthier schools and their GPAs, test scores, and college admissions all go up to about the average of kids in wealthier school. Meanwhile, the kids in the wealthier schools do not drop in any of these. Lots of people object to busing, but given the results of the studies, I have little patience with the whinings of bigots and fools.
One of the things that angers me most about Republicans is despite clear proof otherwise, they regularly argue that problems relating to poverty are insoluble and use these lies to justify eliminating programs that do vast amounts of good.
Republicans also have a tendency to blame it on the poor people themselves, which is a part of that whole Protestant work ethic BS. "Your poor, you must be lazy or stupid." I've seen plenty of poor people that had brilliant minds, but lacked the opportunity, often because of circumstance, to really live up to their full potential. My own father is a great example of this. He was born in 1934 and his father died when he was 14. It was the 40's and he was the only son so, needless to say, he dropped out of school and went to work. If he had had the opportunity, I'm sure he could have been a brilliant engineer or inventor (He once built a bicycle built for two, with no instructions or blueprints and little more than a base idea of what it should look like, out of two old bikes.). Granted, he was able to claw his way out and work his way up to manager of a plastics plant, but really, he could have been so much more, you know? Conversely, I've seen a lot of CEO's in my time that I've seriously wondered how they managed to graduate from high school, much less earn an MBA.
When Johnson's Great Society programs began, the US had a poverty rate of 19%, by 1973, we reached the all-time low of 11%, which increased to 14% when the Reagan administration began their cuts in 1981. We are currently hovering at about 13% (data from 2005). The homicide rate per 100,000 in those same years was 4.9 (1964), 9.4 (1973), 9.8 (1981), and 5.9 (2005). Clearly, these statistics do not tell the whole story.
We have learned a lot about the social welfare programs of the 60s: some worked, some didn't, and so many were chronically underfunded or cut completely during the 80s and 90s that we cannot be sure how effective they would have been long-term. If we want to live in a DECENT society, we have to do much much better but I have my doubts as to whether this will happen. I watch our trade deficit with China and our national debt (much of which is owed to China) increase exponentially as the value of our dollar drops like a stone, and I know that we will face more than one socio-economic crises in the not-so-distant future. Clearly, our military spending is destroying our ability to meet the needs of our people, much as it did Rome and the Soviet Union.
The truth about life and the pursuit of education and livelihood in this country can be so much harsher than are indicated by even the most sobering national statistics.
Consider Compton in CA, with a general poverty rate of 28% and 35.6% of those under age 18 and a murder rate of 67/100,000 (both from 2005) or Gary, IN where 25.8% of the population lives below the poverty line, including 37.9% of those under age 18 and a murder rate of 58/100,000 (also from 2005). What will it take to bring positive changes to communities like these? Why does it seem that we have all but given up trying?
The Supreme Court essentially eliminated busing based on color back in the 90s and it seems unlikely that this will change. I agree with you that we absolutely need more integrated AND equitable school systems, with the efforts focused on socio-economic integration. There is much that we can learn from the busing as it was conducted in the past. IN truth, wasn't only fools or bigots who found it lacking. It was NOT the unqualified success that it was often portrayed to be in creating equity OR integration and led to an unprecedented growth in private schools. I have wondered whether one possible answer may be to create safe, self-contained, campus-like academic districts where students of all backgrounds attend classes.
We need NEW answers for a nation that has grown and changed considerably since the 60s. We need to address the issues of language and citizenship, of a failing medical system and a looming environmental crisis, among many others. We need progressive think tanks and research groups to examine what has been succesful overseas and the funding to give new programs a real chance to succeed.
You definitely have a good point there and I think that even if the US did change to a more EU based system today it could potentially take years (probably decades) to undo some of the damage that's been done. The culture of poverty and disenfranchisement doesn't change because the government changes the way they do things.
Thanks for clarifying some things! I'm glad you're not for Soviet-style anything.
Radicals would be those folks who actually want something like Communist China or the Soviet Union. Puritans going politicial is how they sound to me. I read a Maoist newspaper on the bus once and it sounded like a Chick tract meets Das Capital.
As for me, I'm still trying to grok the idea that mainstream US society is not comprised of born-again fundies. This has led to some interesting confrontations with people more in touch with mainstream America than I am.