30 December 2016
In a private communication, I got some interesting pushback on my recent blog post which attempted to demonstrate, pithily, how certain traditionalist ends required a certain radical logic to reach them – and vice-versa. In particular, this gentle reader of the blog noted that when discussing the pelvic issues – pornography, prostitution and their relationship to ‘rape culture’ – I seemed to be importing categories, language and reasoning from social constructivism and 1970’s second-wave feminism (through Hedges). He wondered, in particular, how I squared that importation with the otherwise thoroughgoing realist High and Radical Tory categories I was using to describe the other forms of reciprocation and symmetric duties.
I had thought a bit about the best way to approach this question, and wondered if it wouldn’t be better to explore the realist resources on these specific topics and work my way from the back end, instead of trying to reason myself into an ad hoc agreement with positions with which I might sympathise, but whose philosophical assumptions I don’t share. After all, I have on this blog posted both qualified support for, and qualified criticism of, the feminist position; suffice it to say, I have very little sympathy for feminist censoriousness, joyless prudishness or sublimated Puritanism. I should be sorely dismayed should my own criticisms of pornography or the sex ‘trade’ fall into the same category.
Let’s start from the basics, then. What did the first realists think? What were the attitudes, firstly, of Plato and Aristotle toward sex? Plato and Aristotle certainly did not live in a polis which disdained, censored or irrationally feared expressions of sexual appetite, and therefore it would not be fair to either of them to categorise them as prudes. (Personally, I lean toward Plato more, so please do not take it amiss that I privilege his treatment of the subject here.) In Plato’s case, even though ‘platonic love’ is now a byword for a wholly-celibate kind of love, what he says about the erōs between a man and a woman (or between two men) is more interesting. He has, in fact, a deep and thorough appreciation for the erotic urge – far deeper and more thorough, in fact, than his predecessors, who saw it primarily as the means by which men begot heirs. The sexual drive is a powerful creative force which can inspire the greatest and most sublime works of art and poetry and philosophy. Alternatively, it can drive a man or a woman to the depths of madness and isolation.
This kind of madness at first appears, and indeed can be, a highly-destructive evil. But in the cases of divine or oracular inspiration which outwardly appears to be madness (or rather, beyond the reach of human reasoning), it serves the good. The way in which erōs serves the highest good, Plato argues, is if it is yoked to a kind of philos: if the pre-rational, divine/animal appreciation of the flesh can evoke, toward the same person, a rational appreciation of the soul. The classical Platonic view, therefore – which indeed was adopted by classical Christianity – is that sex and sexual desire serve purposes beyond the merely biological. It is indeed procreative, as the pre-Socratics were wont to teach. But it is also an urge which comes from a part of the human soul beyond the reach of reason, which can touch the divine, and bring forth all manner of good from the soul. But all the better, if it is further yoked to a kind of friendship and companionship that unites two souls as well as their bodies!
This realist, and, dare I say, Tory view of sexuality, is hardly Puritanical or censorious; the appreciation of the flesh – pre-rational, animal, ecstatic, playful, Dionysian – is very much there and at the forefront. But there is still a philosophical appreciation of what sex is for, what purposes it serves, and how it can build people up as well as getting them off. And there is an understanding that there’s more than a bit of danger involved, when we touch on matters that go directly to a person’s most private nature – directly, that is, to where they withdraw from society, and become (if I may be allowed to abuse Aristotle’s observation a bit) either a divinity or a ravening animal. Or either, depending on the mood. Or both.
What we are really asking when we speak of prostitution on ethical grounds, is this question: is sex a form of labour which can be likened to other forms of labour? Should having sex be considered a ‘job’ or a ‘trade’ like being a plumber or an electrician or a farmer? Or, considering the dangers of venereal disease, abuse, exploitation, and so forth: should having sex for a living be considered analogous to being a factory worker or a miner, who are subject to similar forms of exploitation and grievous bodily harm? Let’s consider, then: what is at stake for the factory worker or the miner? ‘On the job’, the coal miner’s body is indeed exposed to the dangers of injury and chronic illness, such that their lives are drastically shortened and the ends of their lives are often a choking, gasping misery. But when he is working, is he ever deliberately exposing to his fellow miners, to his boss, or to his boss’s clients, those private and vulnerable aspects of his pre-rational divine/animal nature, that would appear to a lover during an act of sex? Is that vulnerability ever put on display?
Even to ask the question is to point out, in part, the absurdity of the analogy. Those who follow my blog know full well that I don’t want to trivialise the travails of the working class, particularly not those who have been as badly-treated and abused as coal miners. But there is a definite difference in kind between sex ‘work’ and the sort of bodily abuse they are subject to ‘on the job’. Coal miners do not have an enviable job, but many would say that there is a dignity in what they do, and they guard that dignity fiercely.
But with a very, very few exceptions (and those notably in societies where received wisdom about sex, traditional gender roles and so on have been actively suppressed by majoritarian demand), women and children in the sex ‘trade’ do not have and cannot claim that same dignity. Leaving aside trafficking: physical assault, rape, shell-shock in proportions seen only in combat veterans – and the fact that nearly nine out of ten women and children in the ‘trade’ want to leave it – point to a reality that the sex ‘trade’ is not one comparable to and analogous to other jobs. Taking the most vulnerable and most private aspects of a woman’s personal life and the most private parts of her body – which can and ought to be a source of divine madness and inspiration in the men who would pursue her! – and making them a commodity to be consumed in the marketplace to whomever would pay, is an egregious capitalist abuse of erōs, rather than any expression of it a philosophical realist is obliged to acknowledge as healthy or desirable!
Slightly trickier is the depiction of sex in art. After all, erotic imagery, and appreciation of the visually- and audibly-arousing, does indeed have a place in that ‘divine’ inspiration Plato’s Socrates esteemed so highly, from which flows forth art and poetry and philosophy; and one needn’t delve very far into the history of the Western visual arts and poetry to figure that one out. From a realist perspective, there’s nothing wrong with art that hints at, or even drips with, sensualism and erotic longing (otherwise, we’d have to take entire books out of the Bible, for one thing). But there is a quality that distinguishes erotically-charged art and literature and so forth, from pornography, that is not merely the presence or implication of ‘naughty bits’. But what is it?
Referring back to the ‘realist’ position above, I wonder if the distinction to be drawn is not, after all, a kind of ‘short-circuit’ or a level-confusion that happens. Just as there is a distinction between the ideal form and its representation; just as there is a distinction between philosophy and poetry; and just as there is a distinction between the object of artistic inspiration and the work of art representing it, surely there is also a distinction between the object of sexual longing and the depiction of that longing? If the depiction of sexual desire becomes the object of sexual fixation, are we not doing violence to our own sexual drives, in the same way as we would do violence to our reason if we pretend that a landscape painting is actually a mountain range, or to our faculties of enjoyment if we refuse to suspend our disbelief when watching a movie? Again leaving aside the questions of sexual exploitation explored in brief above, there strikes me as a kind of cheating that occurs with pornography, that does damage to our own reasoning and capacity for true æsthetic appreciation, that doesn’t happen when we read Shakespeare’s Sonnets, for example.
So where does this leave us? Hopefully, in a position where we can take principled stands against the chattel exploitation of the bodies of the poor and vulnerable, and against the commercialisation of our sexual natures which belong within the intimate society of the home. But also, hopefully, where we can avoid the opposite extreme of prudishness and Puritan prying and censuring of others’ sexual tastes, desires and private lives.
25 December 2016
20 December 2016
A brief quote by philosopher Richard Swinburne:
I don't think I changed my beliefs in any significant way. I always believed in the Apostolic succession: that the Church has to have its authority dating back to the Apostles, and the general teaching of the Orthodox Church on the saints and the prayers for the departed and so on, these things I have always believed.Though attaining the mind of the Church is indeed incredibly important to me, I want to be clear that Dr Swinburne has here better expressed than I could, my own attitude toward how and why I believe what I do, and why I consider myself Anglo-Orthodox. I am a member of, and a committed believer in, the One, Holy, Sobornyi and Apostolic Church. Full stop. But I still do not regard the Anglican Communion (or the West more generally) with anything less than a brotherly, familial fellow-feeling. And I still do not think even a whit less of the many good and thoughtful people who still make their spiritual homes there. But such reflection only deepens my consideration of why I had to leave it. Looking back, I find I did not change even a particle of what I believed. I felt only that such a belief was better expressed in a community which experienced that belief as a continuous, organic, living and incarnate reality.
19 December 2016
They tell me love trumps hate...- 19 December 2016
... and I’d agree;
But Love I love, is not their kind of ‘love’.
What kind of love - please tell me now - is it,
That starving Haitian sweatshop workers feel
When they are taking pennies for their work?
What kind of love primly tells Africans
That they’ve too many children - so, ‘no aid’?
What kind of love was shown to Libya
When black Libyan bodies fell to lead
And then were cast unmarked into the earth
As NATO fuelled feuds at Tawergha?
What kind of love is shown still closer yet,
That throws mere words to parched, dirty Flint,
Who cups her hands for one mere thirsty gulp?
Yet wealth and treasure still cross oceans far,
To Syria with sanctimonious scorn
As this new era’s mujahedeen maul
The innocent with USA-made guns?
What kind of love for Berta Cáceres?
Or for the Indians still near at hand
Who call upon the bones of those THEY love,
And pray they won’t be bulldozed overnight
As they defend their own ancestral lands
Against Mammon’s callous, uncaring spite?
What kind of love, with suff’ring faced, falls still?
Yet love still lingers, gracing places bleak
And broken, ‘mid the thunder and the shock,
And works invisibly, not blustering
Or boasting of itself. The quiet speak
In voices gone unheard in districts high.
But in them sounds a far-off trumpet note,
Both clear and high, if ears you have to hear.
It sounds no anthem, for no earthly pow’r,
But princes yet will to its music bow.
18 December 2016
Today is (on the New Calendar) the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ, here represented on a Greek icon. It is a Sunday on which it is good to reflect on both the social and the subversive reality of the Incarnation – the reality in which the Word of God, God Himself, became a flesh-and-blood human being; interposed Himself within and interrupted history; and recapitulated within Himself all three of Old Israel, the Roman Empire and the philosophical truths of the Greeks.
The Incarnation matters, because in honouring the forefathers and righteous (and, indeed, often not-so-righteous) ancestors of Christ, we pay tribute to the fact that Our God is in every respect like us, and indeed in every respect like the least of us – with the exception that He does not sin. We in the Orthodox Church acknowledge that Jesus Christ had a name – Yehoshua, ‘God is salvation’. That He had a sex – He was a man. That He had a birthplace – Bethlehem – and a birthday, which we celebrate each year at this time. That He had a human mother – Our all-holy, immaculate, most-blessed and glorified Lady, the Mother of God and the Ever-Virgin Mary. We acknowledge that He had a tribe, the tribe of Judah. We acknowledge and celebrate the descent of Christ from Abraham and David the king. We acknowledge that He had a community – Nazareth; and we acknowledge that He was a political subject of the Roman Empire. We acknowledge that He had a trade – that of a carpenter. The Incarnation means that Christ was not only a man, not only a Jew, but a working man, a labourer, one of the common people – born not to wealth and luxury, but to the sweat of His brow and the fatigue of His back, the ache of His feet and the callus of His hands.
And, to be clear, we are talking about God. The Source of all Good. The uncreated, all-powerful and all-knowing. The Maker of all that is, seen and unseen, known and unknown. God made Himself humble and mortal and vulnerable, placed Himself squarely within every single one of the dependencies and limits human beings are subject to as contingent, created beings, subject to weakness, illness and death. In the words of the late, great Robin Williams: phenomenal cosmic powers – itty bitty living space. And we of the Orthodox faith in particular, believe that because God became this limited, dependent, mortal human being, named Jesus Christ – that we human beings, even in our limits, dependencies and mortality, are capable of becoming like God – if we take up our Cross and follow Him.
Being like God and taking up the Cross does not mean we must abandon completely our earthly homes for some kind of pie-in-the-sky Gnostic vision. Just as Christ laboured in His life in His native country and in his own village – among His people and also amongst the foreigners – so also must we labour where we are, and love the places where we live. Just as Jesus honoured His mother and loved her even until the end when He was nailed to the Cross, so also must we love our families. As the Apophthegmata have it, even cœnobites who forswear the world and all its goods, who leave their homes and birth-families for the cloister, must still be obedient to their brothers (or sisters) in that cloistered life. And even hesychasts who flee to the wilderness in emulation of Christ must still live lives of self-giving love for the strangers to whom they find themselves nearest, just as Saint Herman did.
But for most of us ‘in the world’, the Incarnation still calls upon us, not only to live as the heathen do, by ‘taking care of our own’ – though we must do that as well. If we would seek to become like God in the way God has become like us, then the Incarnation necessarily calls us to solidarity with the lowest and the least or, as the daily prayers of the Church would have it: the sick, the suffering, the sorrowing, the afflicted, the captives and the needy poor. The Incarnation has cosmic and ontological implications: God not only condescended to what we are, but also overcame the results of our sin in the reality of death.
As such, we are likewise called not only to charity for the least of our fellow human beings (as even the Pharisees gave charity in condescension!), but to seek for them the due of justice. The cosmic justice and the forgiveness of debts implied in the Incarnation and the Crucifixion of Christ is spelled out in the accounts of the righteous Forefathers of Christ. As the Lord spoke of Abraham as the latter begged Him to spare Sodom for the sake of even one innocent life: ‘for I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgement; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.’ For this reason Abraham was chosen to be called out of what is now Iraq, and in his great old age to be spared the misery of childlessness – which would be a death-sentence to slow starvation in such a society, in a strange land with no kin. But even in this wretched state, he and Sarah showed great kindness to three strange wayfarers (who, in Orthodox iconography, turn out to be the Trinity disguised).
As for King David, the egregious episode of adultery and murder with Bathsheba and Uriah (and the internecine conflict that followed) unfortunately overshadows a life – public, private and military – which was for the most part devoted to justice and equity. He defended his people from a brutal seafaring aggressor when he was only a boy, defeating a powerful general. He refused to indulge revenge against his enemies among his own people, such as Abner; and he showed great kindness and forbearance to both Saul and his family even after Saul tried, multiple times, to have him killed. He distributed the spoils of his military victories not only among his armies but among the common people of the tribes of Israel. For these reasons, and because after the death of his son Absalom he truly repented of his grievous injustice against Uriah, he is still regarded kindly by the authors of Scripture.
The radical promise of the Incarnation, and the examples of the Holy Forefathers of Our Lord, point us to a way of life in emulation of a God who, in the words of the Psalmist himself, ‘executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry… [who] sets the prisoners free… [who] opens the eyes of the blind… [who] lifts up those who are bowed down… [who] loves the righteous … [who] watches over the sojourners… [who] upholds the widow and the fatherless’.
These things are to be kept in mind as we celebrate the miraculous birth of Christ Our God, in a cave, in a manger among the animals, to a wayfaring young woman and her woodworking husband who could find no better lodgings.
The Democrats’ loss on the eighth of November this year can, and still should, be made into a teachable moment for the American left and left-of-centre. The Democrats thought that they could win an election, under our current electoral rules, on the strength of a coalition of professionals, plutocrats and the traditionally-‘underrepresented’ minorities (blacks and Hispanics). But they lost, in a major way, among their traditional bases in rural areas and among white working-class voters; and this cannot be attributed solely to factors like racism (even though, yes, racism still is a real thing and we need to take real steps to counter it). Nor, it must be noted repeatedly and insistently, did the Russians have anything to do with why the Democrats lost, except indirectly.
No – there are three big reasons that the Democrats lost big in these distressed (but not minority) areas. The first one is the economy, and this is where the Democrats’ rears got handed solidly to them, with Clinton making less than no effort to appeal to working people in ‘old economy jobs’, cosying up to the big banks, and backing the same big corporate-friendly trade policies that hurt American workers throughout the entire election. The second one is foreign policy, where most white voters (and most voters in general) wanted a drawdown from wars that never seem to end and never seem to be winnable. And they particularly took a more doveish view on Syria than Clinton did.
But the third reason that the ‘left’ lost so heavily in these areas, is because they just didn’t bother with them. ‘Flyover country’ got written off. The people who live here got called ‘deplorables’. Those of us who supported Bernie in the primaries (again, most of us coming geographically from the rural North and Rust Belt areas) were accused by Clinton proxies – wrongly – of being ‘privileged’ and ‘entitled’. In short: locality (and in particular locality based in those parts of America which have been traditionally anchored in the ‘old economy’) no longer mattered to a Democratic Party, which now seems to value its jet-setting cocktail-party set, and its control over the commanding heights, over any other considerations.
Rediscovering and reappropriating the politics of the local, the politics of community, the politics of subsidiarity and sobornost’, therefore, has to be a top priority for those of us on the left. Sanders pointed imperfectly, and incompletely, to this direction. Two thinkers who are even now pointing in a similar direction are the high-elder of political communitarianism Amitai Etzioni, and the idiosyncratic American socialist Gar Alperovitz.
Gar Alperovitz has written directly to this effect in The Nation, where various visions of a localist left turn were floated. Alperovitz’s vision is particularly interesting and attractive, in that the development of worker-ownership and local experimentation with providing official support to urban credit and producer cooperatives, can (if it succeeds!) provide an institutional impetus for rural Midwesterners in particular to rediscover for themselves a populist legacy which capitalised on similar ideas.
Amitai Etzioni puts forward a cultural rather than an economic argument for solidarity, and even on economic issues he tends toward a kind of New Deal and postwar-settlement arrangement. But he still points in a similar direction to Alperovitz, arguing that progressives need to focus on strengthening local institutions like schools and post offices, even if they may be less efficient on a macro level than regional ones. He argues for many of the same things the new urbanists want, too – discouragement of sprawl, and better design of public spaces (parks, sports fields, walks and bike paths) to make them more liveable for people. But most of all he argues that progressives need to stop disdaining people who don’t share their globalist priorities. ‘[N]obody can bond with seven billion people,’ Etzioni writes, ‘and almost everyone feels more responsibility toward those closest to them. People have profound needs for lasting social relations, meaning, and shared moral beliefs.’
We need to focus not so much on technocratic tweaking from the commanding heights, but on strengthening local institutions at the grassroots where they already exist (including labour unions, environmental protection groups, clubs, schools, post offices, and – yes – churches, particularly those of the traditional Apostolic faith), and building them where they do not. We need to rekindle old strategies for political organising at the local level. And, yes, we need to be able to articulate economic policies that directly benefit the people who voted for Trump, and as we must on foreign policies that don’t send their sons off to die needlessly. And we may need to organise outside of the established parties to do so. But it is certain: the future of the left is local, if it is to have a future at all.
12 December 2016
A few hard truths:
- There will be no refuge for the family from the state, without a state-guaranteed return to the family wage.
- There will be no end to the evils of the ‘throwaway culture’, without an end to an economy that treats workers as expendable, replaceable cogs.
- There will be no recognition of the humanity of the unborn, without a deeper cognisance of the environmental inheritance we leave to future generations.
- There will be no security for the common American, as long as we keep producing and paying for the bombs that rain down death in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
- ‘Rape culture’ will continue as long as porn goes uncensored and institutional abuse of poor, trafficked and enslaved women falls under the abominable, ‘legal’ euphemism of ‘sex work’.
- The more power we give to the government to torture and abuse prisoners in the name of national security, the more empowered it will be to lie to and mislead us.
This will all remain equally true under Trump, as it has under Obama.
06 December 2016
If we are to believe Fyodor Dostoevsky, the big question for political philosophy is a spiritual one.
Do we strive to become the man-god, or do we humbly seek the God-man in pilgrimage?
Most, if not all, of American politics does not even approach this question. The comfortable, middlebrow, middle-class, suburbanite mind, whether ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’, is mired in moralistic therapeutic deist categories which sever man from all gods, from all consideration of the absolute, from the Platonic forms. The ‘good’ is a matter which is assumed, not sought after, and with very few exceptions the bourgeois centrist thinking on the matter is settled. Is not man better left to ‘be good’ whilst ‘making good’, without any true or honest consideration of what ‘good’ actually is? The assumptions even just beneath the surface of life go unchallenged. The soul of the bourgeois centrist is lulled and disoriented, as in a dreamlike state; it is asleep. Worse than asleep—it is as though dead.
But in the soul of the radical, the revolutionary, the reactionary, ah! Here—where that dreadful and fundamental question, ‘Chto delat’?’ is asked—here is where the spiritual forces begin to play. And (let us be as clear on this point as Ransom was!) not all of the spiritual forces are good or angelic. Once that terrible and fatal question is asked, once that seal is broken, once that trumpet sounds—not only are the angels roused to battle but also the demons awaken and begin to attack the soul. Here is where prophets true and false begin to preach of a Kingdom of Heaven drawn near. Here is where the very ground is split open and Hell pours forth upon the earth. Ideologies and grand ideas represent only the surface of this fight, however, and even within ideologies (as within nations, states, cities, churches and peoples, even within the person herself), the battle is fought at a feverish pitch.
The Satanic and sodomite impulse, the impulse to pervert and mutilate what is true for the sake of the will to power – the impulse of Shigalev and Smerdyakov – this impulse so often associated in Dostoevsky’s mind with the revolutionary, can be found at work in the reactionary mind as well. It is not just in Stalin, Pol Pot and other extremists of the left. How else, indeed, can the throwing of innocent men and women from helicopters be justified? Or the concentration and extermination camps of the Germans? Or the mass starvation of the Bengalis? How else can the horrific atrocities the Japanese visited upon the long-suffering Chinese people even be contemplated?
Looking at the crimes of the twentieth century in particular, an age in which ideologies of left and right reigned supreme, one is led to conclude that the reactionary mind is tempted, just as the revolutionary mind has been, to strive toward man-godhood. Particularly and especially if it kneels in total obedience to power, if it exalts worldly Caesars beyond the possibility of rebuke, and if it builds up Towers of Babel for itself.
And on the other hand, there have been revolutionaries, redeemed Raskolnikovs – even, yes, among the socialists and the communists – who have felt the stirrings to seek Christ, to look in the humble and ordinary places for the God-man.
Dorothy Day was one such. Righteous Martyr Maria Skobtsova and her fellow-martyrs, Blessed Ilya Fondaminsky and Priestmartyr Dmitry Klepenin, were three others.
And I would argue that Gilbert Chesterton, Simone Weil, George Parkin Grant, Father Sergei Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – while not saints – are in the same spiritual vein, as are John Milbank, Hayao Miyazaki and Alasdair MacIntyre. These are all people whose radicalism led them to the idea, not of universal unity through universal slavery, but of the idea of unity through a free and self-sacrificial spirit, even through a single act of self-denying and self-emptying gift: in other words, their search led them to seek the personal essence and will of the incarnate God-man.
The line is not, and never has been, between radicals and reactionaries. If I may borrow shamelessly the conclusions of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and of Simone Weil, the line between good and evil is drawn down the middle of every human heart, and the freedom to choose between obedience to the I Am that leads to being, and disobedience that leads to destruction, lies before every single one.
05 December 2016
Racism is a reality that still exists in American society today. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, yet it is – and not only controversial, but one which many people simply check out in response to, because it has been addressed in all the wrong ways to all the wrong people. But here’s the reality: in regards to access to credit, access to housing, payday lending, schooling, policing, prisons, military recruitment – black Americans still face an inordinate number of institutional hurdles and potholes that simply don’t exist for ‘white’ Americans. Heck, even on health care – where are all the community clinics which should exist in black neighbourhoods? And why does Planned Parenthood primarily target black communities, if not because (just like the payday lenders and petty usurers they truly are) they understand full well that the family and economic situations of black Americans are more likely to lead them to seek abortions?
Here’s Dirty Little Secret #1. All of these racist institutions are, to a one, run, maintained and upheld by urbane, well-meaning, polite, cultured, liberal, ‘white’ Americans who in all likelihood never so much as uttered the ‘n’-word in their lives (or at least, never in public). And all of these urbane, well-meaning, polite, cultured, liberal, ‘white’ Americans would assuredly take umbrage at being accused of racism (that’s a failing of the rural, ‘deplorable’, uncouth, uncultured, wrong kind of ‘white’ people, don’t you know?), even as they continue to uphold and entrench it.
And here’s Dirty Little Secret #2. There is no grand ‘conversation’ that needs to be had on this. There is no great ceremony of racial reconciliation that we need to entertain. There is no intellectual scourge we privileged ‘white’ folks need to whip ourselves with often enough in penitence – if that would even help! We could start taking practical actions, from the local level on up, to fix a number of these racial problems tomorrow, if we were so inclined. Obama has had eight long years to bring these issues to the table, and he’s sadly only just started to address two of them (prisons and policing), and even then in ways which are not particularly productive.
We all know that these racial problems won’t go away under Trump, because he isn’t interested and his supporters simply aren’t interested; and to the extent they do pay attention to these problems, they focus solely on the most narrowly atomistic and individualist possible level. Unlike his erstwhile European counterpart, the American conservative is, by and large, a bourgeois creature most closely concerned with his bottom line, to whom spiritual and moral exhortations have diminishing effects. But the ‘deplorables’ aren’t the first ones to blame! Take a look at the list of the most segregated cities in America – LA, Boston, Miami, Philly, NYC, Milwaukee, Detroit. Look at how many incidences of police brutality happen in LA, NYC, Baltimore and the like. And then tell me with a straight face that racism isn’t actually a white liberal problem. (Our problem. My problem, as it were, if I’m being honest!)
But I’m not here to argue for more self-flagellation or mea culpas. Seeing our own sins can be healthy, but there’s been far too much virtue-signalling on the topic of racism and far too little productive action. So I’m here to talk about practical, common-sense measures.
With regard to the credit problem – the huge elephant in the room when we talk about racism – we can start by advocating for non-profit credit cooperatives and Raiffeisen societies that specifically work for and are run by black people and minorities without access to credit. Microfinance was a big thing for the fashionable ‘white’ liberal crowd when it was pioneered in India and Bangladesh; but we have plenty of neighbourhoods and people here at home, in the US, who could use services like that first. We can start funding and crowdsourcing urban farms in black communities to help provide cheap, healthy food. Or, heck, let’s encourage rural farming, too! Call it ‘forty acres and a mule’, updated for 2016.
With regard to policing – police face a tough and often-thankless job that is made even tougher and more dangerous by a(n often deserved) lack of trust. The most promising ways of dealing with that lack of trust – ways which both reduce racial tension and make it easier for the police to do their jobs well – are actually being pioneered already in places like Providence, Rhode Island. Community-police collaborations are pretty humdrum, not at all a sexy, tech-savvy front-page kind of policy. But ultimately these collaborations seem the most promising avenue of building trust and defusing resentments before they boil over, and avoiding the kind of high-profile deadly race-fuelled confrontations that seem to be plaguing so many police departments around the country. Black lives matter – and black lives are best served and protected by institutions that take the time to earn their trust.
With racially-predatory institutions and market actors like payday lenders, Gosnell-style abortion clinics and for-profit prisons, though: a far harder line is needed. And this is where bourgeois ‘white’ liberalism really needs to take some much-deserved heat, because they have been active, even instrumental, in defending every single one of these predatory practices that victimise black and minority communities every single day.
Those of us who are on the left have to face these problems head-on, as they exist on the ground, and put some ‘skin in the game’ rather than hiding behind the usual political bromides and academic theories. Unfortunately, it seems too many of us want to continue blaming the usual scapegoat of the rural bumpkin, who – whatever his own attitudes and level of knowledge might indicate – has very little to do with the real, daily-life problems many black Americans face today (and who is sick of being blamed for them).