I find that I am drawn more and more from the philosophical and policy writing that originally motivated me to start a blog to a strange sub-genre of literary criticism. The criticism of blogs and policy writing may be something my tiny collection of readers really wishes to focus upon. It's probably not going to completely stop anytime soon. It's just impossible not to offer criticism of much of the commentary being circulated today. I am, however, going to refocus my energies on my own (quasi-)original thought and social criticism as well. I don't want this blog to become a 'Daily Howler' about blogs.
So today I am going to break things down to the basics. What really matters?
This an unbelievably broad question. The liberal movement of today answers it in an extremely scatter-shot fashion. The Republican accusation that the Democratic Party focuses on 'group rights' over 'individual rights' is truer than I find comfortable. Moreover, the liberal Democrats who focus even on those 'group rights' are not the dominant power in their own party. The dominant faction, the Democratic Leadership Council, is committed to carefully balancing all those group rights so that everyone is 'happy' but the public is not offended by the tilt toward liberalism. This takes the idea of 'felicific calculus' to a whole new universe. Shouldn't there be a way to boil all the interests of the groups 'the left' represents down into a coherent, single list of priorities?
The 'group rights' approach is based on the premise that everyone best gets 'their share' if we individually advocate for each group. The problem is that we get so bogged down in group advocacy that the issue of collective advocacy for society can get lost in the shuffle.
Again we ask, 'What really matters?'
I think it can be boiled down to a few core points. There are four key concerns of a civil society:
1.) Justice/Natural Rights - This includes quite a bit. First and foremost it means ensuring that all members of society enjoy equal protection of the law. It also means making certain that there is always someone to advocate for the individual dignity of any member of society. It is also critical that we remember a key maxim: 'My freedom ends where your nose begins.' There is a key element of personal responsibility inherent in freedom. Not the counterfeit 'personal responsibility' argued by conservatives, but genuine responsibility to give one's best effort and to respect the rights and freedoms of other members of society. This is not exclusive to the working and middle classes or the poor either. The corporate classes and the wealthy must also respect the individual rights of others and the law should not grant them undue license to disregard those rights. 'Justice' also includes the problem of law enforcement in a civil society, but it is very important to remember that the purpose of law enforcement must be the protection of the rights of all members of society. Police power must not be a means of social or political control over the poor and the working class. Civil rights agendas fall into this category and the overarching goal of securing the rights of all members of society should be put above identity politics.
2.) The Economy - This includes the obvious but it also covers quite a bit not generally considered in this light. Alternative energy, environmental questions, and other issues of sustainability are core economic concerns whether the right wishes to admit it or not. Simply ignoring the issue will not make the problems go away and conservative 'optimism' increasingly looks a refusal to accept the facts as they are. It is certainly true that not all 'green' complaints are equally valid. Criticism of agrotechnology that has saved a billion lives worldwide is simply moronic. Yet it is equally moronic to believe we can continue to exhaust natural resources at a railroad pace and not expect unpleasant consequences. We must also, no matter how unpleasant the right and the center find the prospect, also seriously consider means to effectively prevent the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of individuals and corporate entities. This concentration of wealth prevents money from properly circulating, which harms the economy directly. It also creates undue power and influence which is a danger to the freedom of civil society.
3.) Health care - It is important that society be able to provide for the health of its members. We are the only major industrialized nation in the world not to make some effort to do so. Of the industrialized nations that make such an effort, the majority provide care to their citizens much more effectively at less cost. This does not necessitate a national health service or a single payer national insurance system. Though those systems are the most economical way of controlling the costs of the system and the most effective way to provide access to care to all members of society they are not the only alternatives. It is important, however, that we do so. We should work for that goal until it is achieved and we should constantly work for improvement of the system short of that final goal. This is both an economic issue and a moral issue. It is important enough to deserve inclusion in its own right.
4.) Education - This is another moral issue of grave importance. It is less important to economics than our culture had made it but our increasing linkage of employment to education means that the economics of education cannot be ignored either. This is an area in which we are stuck in a moral and fiscal quagmire. Our educational policy is coercive and dehumanizing. It is also highly inconsistent in its rate of success. Even if it were completely successful it would still be immoral. We systematically strip children of their individuality as people and treat them as identical copies of the fictional 'average child.' A tiny minority of children fit into the system. Most simply go along and do not make waves, their gain from the system dubious. A significant number, however, are destroyed by the educational system. Their faith in their own abilities, their belief in their own future, and their understanding of life and society are crushed by a system that has more in common with the prison system than compassionate teaching. This is not the fault of teaching or teachers, but of bureaucratization of the education system until the schools exist to justify the system of administration. Our schools are something very close to fascist and neither liberals nor conservatives appear ready or able to address that fact. Furthermore, a rather ridiculous 'populist' movement to 'democratize' education has eroded the ability of teachers to teach. This is being replaced by the politicization of curricula in every subject from science to history. This cannot be allowed to continue. There needs to be a limit to the tyranny of the ballot box and school is a very good place to draw the line.
Here it is then: a four point diagram of the issues that most fundamentally concern a civil society. We have a long ways to go in every one.
My challenge to both parties is to stop quibbling about who can take more money from corporations and get their asses into gear.