Is more progress possible in modern society, and if so, how do we get from here to there? What can “the wise” teach us about our values that will bring about greater peace, justice, prosperity, equality, and happiness? What role will progressive/grass-roots politics play, versus conservative/reactionary/top-down politics? How does this all relate to economics and social policy? Let’s discuss.
A friend who is more conservative noted that Fox News reported that gangs are increasing their use of high-powered rifles in regard to attacking police officers. Gosh you want to smack your forehead when you think about the back and forth between relatively normal citizens and cops… (relatively normal meaning: a non-sociopath, non-career-criminal type individuals – from the small-time drug peddler to the D.V. offender to the average law-abiding citizen who is black or anarchist or something). My response was the following, and it basically amounts to a progressive view of social problems. Conservatism has something legitimate to add to analyzing social problems (more than it does when it comes to supply-side economics (slash taxes, spend on the military) and the reflexively-anti-progress of the Christian Coalition wing of the party. A good example is gun rights: conservative voices should be heeded. My basic belief is that the number of gun-related suicides, robberies, murders, and mass murders clearly indicates that we have a legitimate problem, and conservatives would agree. The solutions to said problem are different though, depending on the lens through which one views it.
As long as we have a society that is totally out of whack in many significant ways, there is going to be an abundance of suffering and misplaced anger: basically, what progressives believe leads in large part to criminality. Couple it with technology (e.g., high powered rifles) and you’ve got yourself a problem. Progress is possible, and at one point, society was much more susceptible to the protests, struggles, and organization than it currently is. Deep, primary-type prevention and smart intervention on a societal level make a difference in crime (mass shootings, drug activity, the need for prisons, etc.) and are superior to reactive approaches to solving social problems. The “War on Drugs,” for example. Sociology as a discipline is great. I studied psychology and philosophy more, but I have always had a respect and appreciation for the study of society. Check this out and you might as well!
In general, I chalk a lot of the social unrest we see on display to class issues. The adjective for seeing class as a big (if not the biggest contributor to virtually every social outcome is called “class-conscious.” Things like unimpeded ability to organize in the workplace, sanitizing politics of the pernicious effect of money, properly-funded and well-designed public education, more affordable daycare, school lunches, and universal option for healthcare go a long way to preventing unrest. If you want to see progress in society, how can conservatism help? Conservatism is, almost by definition, about preserving the present and idealizing the status quo. Yes, it is about preventing foolish ideas from becoming big social programs (i.e., wasted resources), but political liberals and their restive constituents have pretty much always led the way toward dealing with social problems. Social justice is an important goal, and a responsive, progressive politics is the way. I’m not talking about anyone with the last name Clinton. I mean true, grass-roots, bottom-up, local, responsive, clean politics.
This is why big money influencing society in myriad ways is so corrosive. “Our society resembles an immense machine that ceaselessly snatches and devours human beings and which no one knows how to master. And they who sacrifice themselves for social progress are like persons who try to catch hold of the wheels and the transmission belts in order to stop the machine, and are destroyed in their attempt,” Simone Weil lamented. I hope she is overstating the issue, because it’s frightening and depressing to think of her metaphor. Unfortunately, I don’t think she probably is. One who has had an eye on this kind of thing for probably over 40 years is the left’s hero, Ralph Nader. Well, some blame him for electing Bush, but that is another matter. He adds: “Just when many conditions seemed ripe for a progressive political movement, the likelihood is fading fast. Concentrated corporate power over our political economy and its control over peoples’ lives knows few boundaries.” Let’s take the criticism up one notch with journalism professor, Robert Jensen: “Capitalism is fundamentally inhuman, anti-democratic and unsustainable. Capitalism has given those of us in the First World lots of stuff (though much of it of questionable value) in exchange for our souls, for our hope for progressive politics, and for the possibility of a decent future for children. Either we change or we die – spiritually, politically, literally.'”
It’s probably not hyperbole. Think about how money in the hands of massive, trans-national, completely unpatriotic pharmaceutical companies has influenced the opioid epidemic. Read about it here. It is obvious how the military-industrial complex influences America – everything from budget/expenditure to war, to the need for oil, to environmental degradation, to geopolitics. I keep echoing this idea because it keeps coming up over and over again as I read the news: money has a corrosive influence on our country, especially when it deeply influences (dominates?) politics, criminal justice, and healthcare. Any complaints you hear about health care or ObamaCare or the ACA – filter that through a filter of skepticism around money. Ask the complainant why money plays such a huge and deleterious role in medicine. Literally, how much influence should money have on disease treatment and prevention? I say very little. It’s just noxious. Check out this article.
I asked a friend named Ellen Nimleh what she thought. Her reply was worth quoting:
Fear and intimidation is the only tool they seem willing to use. That’s not what our founders imagined/intended yet here we are.
I believe hurt people will hurt people, and so it’s no great leap to understand why crime and violence are becoming more and more prevalent.
The already traumatized are re-traumatized in this country, to the point that they no longer care who they hurt (if they ever did). Being born into poverty, in my opinion, is the catalyst that propels childhood (and later, adult) trauma.
Until we find workable solutions to poverty, nothing will improve.
What to do, then? It’s a complicated question, obviously. However, here is an interesting angle, by moral philosopher Judith A. Boss, from her neat book Analyzing Moral Issues: “Simply redistributing opportunities or wealth does not solve the root problem as long as the underlying conditions that disadvantage certain people still exist. What is needed, [philosopher and theorist John] Rawls argues, is a change in the social system so that it does not permit these injustices to occur in the first place.” She is noting that it’s not enough to tax and redistribute if the current system stays status quo, just as it is not prudent to stitch a wound up with bacteria inside. In both cases, sterilization is needed! We need to work to remove the corrupting influence of money – bribery, essentially – from political campaigns, first and foremost. There are many laws that, if not watered down by politicians and their corporate benefactors, would make a difference. Empathy and love are paramount in determining how to reform society so that it is more functional, fairer, and has more elasticity/longevity. Tall order, I know.
I will now present a few quotations on social justice, sociology, and so on. Find your own quotes and proverbs in the Wisdom Archive by entering keywords such as class consciousness, progressivism, justice, or social problems. A diversity of viewpoint is a good thing! With 25,000 quotes on 28 different values and awesome searchability, you’re bound to find quotations on values you like. Quotes on wisdom is a strength of the free tool, and there must be 1,000 of them. Enjoy.
I’ve come to the floor of the Senate four times with the following amendment: It is the sense of the Senate that we will not take any action that would create more hunger or homelessness among children in America. I have been defeated four times. First several times others came out on the floor, Senator Dole did once, majority leader, and he said, “The Senator from Minnesota is just trying to embarrass us. He’s just trying to pretend we don’t care about children.” And I said, “Prove me wrong and vote for it.”
We’re all so isolated: if we had live, ongoing, popular organizations, this wouldn’t be so true. The history of the labor movement in the United States is interesting in this respect, actually; when people were really working together organizing, that overcame the isolation. In fact, it even overcame things like racism and sexism to a great extent.
Why would the citizen tie his or her fate to the nation-state, which is perfectly willing to sacrifice the lives and liberties of its own citizens for the power, the profit, and the glory of politicians or corporate executives or generals?
One of the most fundamental mistakes that liberals made after World War II was, time after time, to seek social progress through the courts rather than through the political process.
In the United States of America today, there is massive injustice in terms of income and wealth inequality. Injustice is rampant. We live, and I hope all of you know this, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. But most Americans don’t know that. Because almost all of that wealth and income is going to the top 1 percent.
If freedom makes social progress possible, so social progress strengthens and enlarges freedom.
For all the current focus on criminal justice in the United States, it is striking that no official statistics are compiled on corporate crime, though it is flourishing on a scale that makes most street crime seem petty by comparison.
Much of the social progress of the past two centuries can be credited to the courage and energy of the pioneers who introduced reforms such as public health, the abolition of slavery, and even democracy itself, often against the violent oppression of the established order. Such progress would scarcely have been possible without the belief that one’s conscience should be one’s guide.
There is poverty in this country, and homelessness, and people without healthcare, and crowded classrooms, but our government, which has trillions of dollars to spend, is spending its wealth on war.
he deepening federal and state budget deficits are causing cuts that affect the most defenseless and least powerful of Americans. That, of course, is the direct consequence of plutocracy – rule by the wealthy. Their ownership and control of the nation’s private assets is growing while the poor and middle class are losing. The latest figures show wealth inequality is growing in America and is the worst in the western world.
It’s the shame of American schools that the young are not taught even the basics about pacifism and nonviolence. We raise our children in a culture saturated with violence and then wonder why individuals, groups, and nations keep opting for fists, guns, and bombs as the way to settle differences.
Yes, I’m a liberal, and I’m proud of it. It’s a term we need to reclaim. Because I believe most Americans are liberals just like me. Most Americans believe in helping people. And most Americans believe that government has a role to play – to create opportunity, to protect our environment, to provide for the common good.
[The early Christians illustrate] how a steadfast and heroic moral minority undermined the world’s greatest empire and eventually came to power. Faced with relentless and spectacular forms of repression, they kept on meeting over their potluck dinners (the origins of later communion rituals), proselytizing and bearing witness wherever they could. For the next four years and well beyond, liberals and progressives will need to emulate these original Christians, who stood against imperial Rome with their bodies, their hearts and their souls.
In Chicago, the Socialist party won 3.6 percent of the vote in 1915 and it got 34.7 percent in 1917! But with the advent of World War I, speaking against our involvement became a crime; Eugene Debs and hundreds of other Socialists were imprisoned.
Where political discourse lacks moral resonance, the yearning for a public life of larger meaning finds undesirable expression. The Christian Coalition and similar groups seek to clothe the naked public square with narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.
That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.
Why is it that the federal criminal code and the laws of fourteen states allow a sentence of five years for selling five grams of crack, but to get five years for selling cocaine, you need to be found with five hundred grams?
Loud and righteous opposition to Trump should not blind anyone to the deep weakness of progressive politics in the United States, and their reflection in similar problems afflicting the center-left across the world. Many voters see the Democrats as the party of subprime mortgages and incestuous relationships with Wall Street, while the latest Clinton candidacy has highlighted a politics of distant cliques and dynastic entitlement.
I want workers and consumers to have control over their own economic lives. I want everyone to have fair conditions that fully utilize their talents and potentials. I want incomes that accord with the efforts people expend in their labors. I want what is produced, by whom, under what conditions, and with who consuming the result – all determined in accord with enhancing human well-being and development, and all decided by the people involved and affected.
More quotes about progress and social and economic justice are available for free here.