Monday, June 26, 2006

Possible Worlds or the Common Good?

American Prospect Online - Party in Search of a Notion

The Democrats need to become the party of the common good. They need a simple organizing principle that is distinct from Republicans and that isn’t a reaction to the Republicans. They need to remember what made liberalism so successful from 1933 to 1966, that reciprocal arrangement of trust between state and nation. And they need to take the best parts of the rights tradition of liberalism and the best parts of the more recent responsibilities tradition and fuse them into a new philosophy that is both civic-republican and liberal -- that goes back to the kind of rhetoric Johnson used in 1964 and 1965, that attempts to enlist citizens in large projects to which everyone contributes and from which everyone benefits...The common good is common sense, and the historical time is right for it, for two reasons...By 2008, we will have lived through seven-plus years of an administration that has done almost nothing for the common good, that has unleashed the most rapacious social Darwinism we’ve seen in this country for at least 80 years, and that has catered to its interest groups far more, at once more obsequiously and more arrogantly, than even the Mondale-era Democrats did. Americans are, and will be, ready for something very different.

I'm taking an algebra course at our local community college these days, ostensibly because I need to learn enough math to read the literature in economics Ifor a research project on preference--and with only 2 years of high school math and none in college I have a long way to go. But the real reason is that I just want to learn math--partly because I just plain like it and partly because, bizarre as it may seem, I want it to be the case that I could have gone in for science--I want there to be a relatively nearby possible world where I am a chemist, a dentist or a veterinarian.

I have a powerful intuition that my actual well-being depends in part on the way it is for my counterparts at nearby possible worlds--the way things almost might have been for me. When I go through a check-out line or order something over the phone I am always struck by how easily it could have been me working at a boring job, trapped in a confined space scanning groceries or stuck in a carrel taking phone-orders, doing boring, repetitious tasks and living a lousy life. I escaped that kind of life by a fluke, by the skin of my teeth--the possible worlds where I am a supermarket checker or customer service representative, a data entry operator, waitress or bank teller, are only a hair's breadth away. What drives me morally, and politically, is my interest in making these worlds more remote by seeing to it that people, particularly women, have a wider range of opportunities and so a better chance to avoid those lousy jobs.

Other people seem to be driven by the same intuition the proximity of nasty possibilities. They contribute to disease charities not only because they imagine that they may get cancer or heart disease but because they have a sense that they easily could even if they actually don't. They contribute to charities that benefit crippled children because, even if their kids are healthy, they know that they could easily have had a crippled child. They recognize that worlds where they or their children are sick or crippled are close by and contribute to help out their nearby counterparts.

Anecdotal evidence at least suggests however that most don't notice their counterparts who are poor or who are stuck doing drudge work. They don't look at Walmart women and shudder, as I do, with the realization that they escaped that work and that life by the skin of their teeth, by pure dumb luck. In part it's a lack of imagination: they can't imagine what that life would be like--8 hours a day behind that check-stand in a noisy, ugly place, constantly exposed to the public, scanning that stuff, over and over and over again, with no way out, no way to achieve, nothing interesting to do, nothing to learn, nothing to figure out, making $8/hour, and then heading home to cook, clean and go to bed until it starts over again. In part it's the wildly unrealistic idea that people have a fair opportunity to avoid those bad lives and that they, regardless of their life circumstances, would have done better--and that is just false.

I don't trust sentiments about the common good--particularly given that many people simply cannot imagine what the lives of many of their fellow citizens are like and how little opportunity they have to escape. Politically, people vote for what they take to be their own interests, and the interests of people like themselves. To the extent that they are concerned about people who are less well off they regard that as the business of charity--pitching coins into the Salvation Army kettle or buying Food for All cards at the supermarket checkout. And even then their charitable efforts only extend to starving children and the destitute--not to the miserable women scanning their groceries.

Maybe I have a different take because I got beaten up. After high school, when I worked as a clerk-typist for a local bus company, I reflected and realized that by rights I belonged there: I was just a high school graduate (barely) with a D+ average and only 2 years of math--my qualifications were the same as, or worse than, anyone else's in that office. Every day when I came home my mother cheered me on and pushed me to go back: "Who ever heard of a girl that doesn't work?" Every day she, and the women I worked with told me "Who do you think you are," in those words and in other words. What makes you think that you can, or should, be doing anything other than this job? And I knew that they were right--the only thing that set me apart was that my mother had money and managed to buy me into an expensive college that specialized in nurturing rich underachievers.

So that I believe is the solution: to get it across to people how narrowly they escaped living rotten lives and the extent to which their escape was a matter of pure dumb luck--the luck of being born middle class, of being white and of being born on one side of the border rather than the other, the luck of having opportunities and second chances that most people don't get. This is the liberal political equivalent of Jonathan Edwards "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God": we are, all of us who are reasonably well off, suspended by a hair over that modal pit, separated by the narrowest logical space from the innumerable unhappy lives we might easily have had but for pure dumb luck. Who do we think we are?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The White Man's Burden

Western Civilization's Burden

Wow, this is a little weird but hit the link. I have to say I buy into this. And I'm also a great fan of Kipling's. What's the problem?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Segregation: you asked for it--you got it

AP Wire | 06/02/2006 | LA reporter allegedly attacked for investigating charter school

LOS ANGELES - Police were investigating a KABC-AM reporter's accusations that a man assaulted him and grabbed his tape recorder after he attempted to interview the principal of a charter school that a host at his radio station said was "openly segregationist." Reporter Sandy Wells was chased and tackled by the man Thursday after a school employee told him to leave Academia Semillas Del Pueblo campus east of downtown, said station spokesman Steve Sheldon...

The school came under scrutiny by KABC host Doug McIntyre after he received a tip from a listener...Sheldon said. The Web site for the school described it as a kindergarten through eighth grade public school "dedicated to providing urban children of immigrant native families an excellent education founded upon their own language, cultural values and global realities."..."It's exclusionary, it's separatist, it's openly segregationist," McIntyre told KABC-TV.

Here is the result of a bi-partisan effort by conservatives and liberals to promote segregation: a segregated "charter school" where poor Hispanic kids are taught Nahuatl, an indigenous language of Mexico, that boasts the lowest scores on standardized tests in the whole school district.

The conservative media have gleefully picked up the story and are quite informative.RedState has an extensive account. But they strategically ignore the fact that this school is a conservative initiative: a charter school, publicly funded but free to run its own affairs without the interference of stifling government bureaucracy. This is part of the grander program to farm out public facilities and services--schools, clinics and prisons--to "faith-based" organizations and entrapeneurs. Now the conservatives are upset because tax payers' bucks are going to support this enterprise--I doubt that they'd be any happier if it were self-supporting.

But if the money comes from a conservative initiative, the ideology comes from fringe left identity politics packaged in the multicultural gobbledygook of the education industry:

Our vision of education emphasizes a student centered school society that cultivates academic excellence, talents, humanist ethics, positive culture, and social consciousness for students grades K-8 and their parents. Our pedagogy is meant to enrich the human capacity to transform our reality into one that is more just. We believe our school will be an integral member of a community, capable of providing learning and leadership opportunities to the entire community.

Ancestral Mexican schooling ethos embodied social ideals and appreciations intended to develop the child as a complete person. The indigenous heart of our vision is a repossession of an identity denied from our children in standard schools.

Here is a fruitful collaboration by the left and right to warehouse kids who have been written off, run by a cultural entrapeneur who has set himself up as a "community leader" to get funding. The state pays him to act as boss nigger keeping his "community" occupied and keeping their kids off the street so that they don't make trouble. Poor but ambitious immigrant parents sent their kids to this charter school rather than a conventional public school because the imagined that they'd get a better education. Everyone smiled indulgently and jollied them along because they knew these kids would never make it into the mainstream much less become doctors, engineers or accountants. At best, they would become "community leaders" and "community activists," scrounging grants from the multiculturalism industry to staff crappy little projects in the slums--payoffs by left and right segregationists to keep them away from white neighborhoods.

Everyone was happy because they know jolly well what works and wanted to avoid it at all costs: integration, achieved if necessary through school bussing. No one wants to read about the school bussing program in Raleigh, NC that boosted standardized test scores for poor black and Hispanic kids. After blacks in North Carolina and elsewhere in the south fought for integration, whites on the left and right were delighted to hear the headmaster/community-leader of this charter school in Los Angeles assure them that he "didn't want to drink from the White water fountain." And now blood-and-soil conservatives have a bonus: they point gleefully to the shenanigans at Academia Semillas Del Pueblo, where kids are taught to look forward to the Reconquista of the US Southwest, to make the case that Hispanic immigrants cannot or will not assimilate and are out to take over.

Most immigrants and minorities manage to avoid this crap, but some of the poorest and most naive and others who are just unlucky, get hamstrung between left and right segregationists, pushed by the left to preserve or invent their culture, language and cohesive "communities" and then slammed by the right for failing to assimilate. Multiculturalism at work