Friday, August 10, 2012

None so blind

In the course of exploring the history and dynamics of bigotry, of moral exclusion, and the history of money (particularly the similarities between the goldzone Great Depression and the Eurozone Great Recesssion), it has become clear to me how very poor conservatives tend to be at learning from history. Which is not, of course, how conservatives typically see themselves. On the contrary, they usually regard themselves as respecting the lessons of history.

Alas, this is not often not true. What one sees instead is a repeat of past mistakes.  So, just as during the Great Depression, we now get "hard money" conservatives worrying about the prospect of inflation even as inflation expectations are low and falling. The same people economist R. G. Hawtrey characterised in the 1930s as shouting "fire!, fire!" in Noah's flood. They cling to what gives them a sense of order, what dangers resonate for them, rather than seeing clearly what is before them.

Been here, done that
Similarly, the current debates over queer* emancipation are literally a re-run of past debates over Jewish emancipation--right down to exactly the same accusations being made against queers as were previously made against Jews (being an offence against God, being against the Christian basis of Western civilisation, that they corrupt everything they touch, that they prey on children, that they spread disease, etc etc). Ever since the Enlightenment, and particularly the Industrial Revolution, the opponents of equal protection of the law have always, in the end, lost. Yet here conservatives are, mounting the same barricades all over again in a cause it is clear they will and are losing.

Upon examining these recurring patterns, you build up a checklist of the standard evasions. For example, Rafe Champion's recent comment that:
That is why I have so much contempt for the Same Sex Marriage brigade. Nobody is suffering for want of same sex marriage. Get  your freaking priorities in order and do something to help people in genuine need.
Anyone familiar with the history of unequal legal standing recognises this one: it is the "wait your turn" response. And, strangely, it turns out never to be "your turn", there are always more urgent matters.  It is, of course, a nonsense view of social action, as if there is a single set of priorities that everyone must follow and things can only be changed or approved in a single sequential order. It is a way of dismissing the group seeking equal treatment as "clearly" morally deficient because they do not have "proper" moral priorities.

It also shows a deep failure to engage in that act of moral imagination that Adam Smith called sympathy and put at the heart of his moral analysis in The Theory of the Moral Sentiments. Of being apparently unable to project from the importance marriage has in one's own life, and the life of those around one, to others.

SF writer John Scalzi has expressed how unequal standing in society works quite nicely with his recent post on different levels of social difficulty. (With follow-up posts here and here while fantasy author Jim Hines has one here.)

[Read the rest at Skepticlawyer or at Critical Thinking Applied.]

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