Wednesday, June 6, 2012

push comes to shove

On Twitter, last night, Will Wilkinson gleefully celebrated the ascendancy of the Republican party, retweeting your typical reactionaries like Tim Carney as they whooped it up for the old GOP. I read Wilkinson, and I think he means it when he says that he hates movement conservatism, but he clearly works hard to live in their world. He'll advocate a cosmopolitan political philosophy, but his effect is to support movement conservatism. When you spend 90% of your time attacking middle class government workers and their ability to improve their lives, and occasionally drop in a bon mot about how immigrants are people too, your net effect is to support the revanchist Republican party.

To me, Wilkinson has always seemed like a type: a smart person made stupid by his petty resentment. He's got a fine political mind, but he is so resentful towards his perception of liberals that he ends up celebrating men like Scott Walker.

I expect this sort of thing from, say, Peter Suderman, whose descent into pure movement conservatism hackery comes from a very obvious place: he lost his job, when Culture11 folded, and smartly recognized that he could stay employed forever if he simply embraced straightforward Republican politics. Nor am I surprised by Reihan Salam, who should be taken as any young politico as a symbol for how one develops a reputation in Washington; he's actually an extremist, which a streak of real cruelty within him and an incredible disdain for people who disagree with him. He just expresses that disdain with a smile, and he's friends with the right people, so he has a reputation for equanimity. Look beyond the PR and you'll find someone who looks at his opponents with profound unfairness.

I have one political goal which underwrites all the others: to improve the moral imagination. That means that you expand the sphere of your empathy. You see more and more of yourself in other humans and then can't help but insist on the best for them as you do for yourself. We kill teenagers in Yemen because our country is a failed moral state; Americans have written Muslims (among many others) out of the sphere of our empathy. We ignore the horrible conditions of our homeless and mentally ill because we don't consider them human. And those celebrating the results in Wisconsin do so because they aren't public sector workers, so they don't care about the decline in public sector welfare. Same as it ever was.

I never figured Wilkinson for one who wants to shrink the moral imagination. But every day, he takes it to liberals harder than he takes it to conservatives. Every day, he grinds his personal resentment, his palpable and obvious sense that he's been wronged, by somebody, at some point, and he uses it to support a party that now stands for the most noxious bigotry. When he writes in ways that could be construed as liberal, it's airy, inconsequential, typically relegated to his personal blog. When he attacks liberalism, he does so concretely, and at The Economist. He may not want to live in a Republican world. But his effect on the world is as just another Republican operative.

Update: Emailers really aren't having this one. There's probably wisdom, there.

Update II: See here.

8 comments:

Paul Sherrard said...

"I have one political goal which underwrites all the others: to improve the moral imagination. That means that you expand the sphere of your empathy."

An admirable and beautiful project.

Your choice of words reminds me of this passage from Murakami:

"It's all a question of imagination. Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine. It's just like Yeats said: 'In dreams begin responsibilities.' Flip this around and you could say that where there's no power to imagine, no responsibility can arise. Just like we see with Eichmann."

Jon EP said...

On that whole "i have one political goal... to improve the moral imagination" thing... Not to belabor the point, but didn't you say recently that "I'm not a big fan of raising the level of the discourse." So, well, huh?

Freddie said...

Elevating compassion and being polite are two different things.

Phil Perspective said...

I don't see why you should have apologized. Everything you said was the truth.

Freddie said...

Thanks, Phil.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

"You see more and more of yourself in other humans and then can't help but insist on the best for them as you do for yourself. We kill teenagers in Yemen because our country is a failed moral state; Americans have written Muslims (among many others) out of the sphere of our empathy. We ignore the horrible conditions of our homeless and mentally ill because we don't consider them human. "

The ability to pivot from the need to expand the moral imagination to the assertion that people whose politics aren't the same as yours are people who don't consider homeless people and Muslims human is... pretty... um... breathtaking.

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