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[personal profile] pastwatcher
Something I think I should say, that has been prompted by recent conversations: I'm not a liberal, and neither do I particularly like liberalism. When I've said I was a "social liberal", it was either because that was a phase, or because I didn't have the vocabulary to say otherwise. I have recently come to understand what "liberalism" really looks like most of the time, and to realize that my current way of thinking is only superficially, or one-dimensionally, compatible with it. (My current way of acting? I just hope to work on it.)

No, I haven't lost interest in social justice, far from it. But the "liberal" idea of social justice is a dream that says we can keep our society functioning basically the way it is, only we'll stop oppressing people: everyone will have much closer to equal access to society's "best" resources. Or more realistically, we'll keep trying to be less oppressive. That's for those who acknowledge that "social progress" is not linear and does not come without continual struggle, and that oppressions have been invented before and can be invented and perpetuated in the future. A more enlightened liberalism also recognizes that along any axis of privilege and oppression, the privileged ones are missing out on a lot of oppressed people's talents. Certainly, if we didn't have all this racism and classism and gender-policing nonsense and many other oppressions, we'd see a much more cooperative, efficiently run society. That's about as far as I can push liberalism, I think.

But this "social liberalism" is still something of a wishy-washy abstraction. Our society's structures cannot necessarily be divorced from the oppressions they depend on, whether we immediately see how the dependence works or not. To truly change those oppressions at heart would be to acknowledge that differences among people are good, truly useful, and do not need to be hierarchical. And that would probably go with big changes in the effective use of many of our fundamental social constructs, including money. To stop knowing what "equality" really means, because we stop prescribing or expecting to know what people want.

Moreover, social justice seen through a lens of liberalism is just about helping oneself, one's friends, or being abstractly moral. But that's not enough, because morality has its limits in how it compels people to act. And as someone who cares a whole lot about morality in myself and others, and who often accesses my views on social justice through morality first, I don't say that lightly. (Notice the bold! :))

The thing is, social injustices are long-established, complex power dynamics between people: in the US where I live, but there are different yet often related dynamics the whole world over. That power is a form of capital, and to leave out analyses of how that capital affects the rest of economics, is to do economics badly. I usually call this capital "culture", and simply say that economies depend heavily on cultures. Perhaps that sounds too abstract. Perhaps it is not enough to point out that we have a culture where materialism is revered, and we have advertising and media that perpetuate this system. A culture where filthy rich people, far more often than being ashamed of their money, actually form social groups and compete to show off how they can spend, either on their glamorous wardrobes and houses or on their glamorous charities. Perhaps it would be better to point out that when people think their 'poor' people are white, they go for better welfare policies, across time and space. That when women become more prevalent in an area of employment, that field's social status and wages are likely to go down, and when men take over it goes up. And so on. (Perhaps, on the other hand, people can recognize that culture should be changed, but not to realize that they themselves have the ability to do so--on every level from money to location to socializing to art. Art is of course a tool of creating culture, and conscious art can have many repercussions...)

One can look at problems between countries and say there's "xenophobia", and indeed I had someone just the other day tell me the meme that "some countries do really well because they're racially homogeneous and have xenophobia". But that gives a false sense of equality, erasing the contributions of worldwide racism in favor of abstraction. White supremacy and anti-black racism, in particular, may be more or less or differently present in different places, but they are overwhelmingly there. That anti-black racism translates to racism about skin color in general, and we know this affect international relations; it affects trade between nations. I still don't have the skills to analyze how Orientalism, indeed the concept of the "East" and the "West" and the "Not Counted", affects international relations; I think it's more often acknowledged but not analyzed enough.

Look at how mostly-white European countries, the ones people so often hold up as having their acts together in terms of social policies, show episodes of wild unchecked anti-black racism.* One could ask how relations go between Sweden and countries with more black people, if such relations exist--I'm no expert, but it's a factor. You can study how specifically white privilege and anti-black racism may look different around the world, but they are overwhelmingly there to be found. There's really a lot more to say there...but the fact that so many dark-skinned people around the world are poor, is no coincidence, they don't just "happen to" live in countries with less capital. Racism that was invented for colonialist purposes, but that spread like wildfire. I don't suppose that's the only broad social justice dynamic that affects economics; people do bring up gender inequalities when they talk economics.

But the point is, while "economics" and "social justice" are not the same, they are connected. Because "social justice" means a lot of things, it is inherently about acknowledging the connections between things, and because "classism" is a huge thing, economics does come into it. Perhaps not enough. On the other hand I keep noticing people who like to focus on economics, which is about power, exchange, and desire, as if it were orthogonal to social justice. For some (mathy types, but not only them) economics is coded as a "hard, numerical, strategic" way of looking at society, and social justice as "bleeding-heart, moral, unquantifiable"; that dichotomy is bullshit. It is not a hard absolute distinction people always make, but it is a direction of thinking that can mean getting trapped in circles.

(Inasmuch as these ideas may be interesting, I should credit a lot of sources, most of which I can't name; this is just a personal attempt to synthesize.)

*Very small example: here. Very large example: google "Swedish racist cake" and look at who was watching and laughing in the video, how the identity of the artist was used as an excuse, and so on. I'm not condemning European countries, nor am I intending to erase the ethnic conflicts they do have, trying to say the US is any better, or trying to make a whole conversation about this; I'm saying there are amazing ways racism can combine with xenophobia or lack of consideration for other countries.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-10 08:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm not quite sure what exactly your critique of "liberalism" per-se is, but perhaps that's because we define the term differently? I see "liberalism" as a matter of focus-direction, at least in common-parlance, in favor of social change, contrasted against conservatism, which holds onto the status-quo and elevates the past/a mythic version of the past.

Liberals and conservatives can disagree in where society should go, while still retaining these basic orientations.


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