On Being Radically Pragmatic
I sometimes think about the saying that if you're a conservative before thirty you have no heart and that if you're a liberal after thirty you have no brain. I am under thirty and generally quite liberal so, as far as I can make it out, I still get a few more years with both my heart and my brain.
That's good not only because I generally find it's best to make use of both, but because I find that it’s trickier to peg my politics into one camp or the other. I've noticed that I have some odd libertarian tendencies on a lot of political subjects but I fall decidedly on the progressive (almost radical) left on others. Sometimes both tendencies manifest in unusual ways on the same issue. The move toward both extremes has happened almost simultaneously over the last two years or so and I've spent a considerable amount of time trying to make the two fit together.
I pay close attention to news and read a lot of history and everything my brain has collected on the subject tells me to be distrustful of centralized authority and profoundly skeptical of fallible humans who volunteer to wield power over others. My heart, on the other hand, feels sympathy, anger, and compassion for as well as solidarity with the victims of that authority and that power. It aches for the government that wields it to make restitution and take responsibility for the damage it does.
Fundamentally changing and reinventing and rebuilding the aspects of our country that are broken is always a worthwhile pursuit, but bettering the lives of those who are suffering is even more so. Any push for radical change at the expense of concrete incremental progress should account for the wellbeing of those who will bear the heaviest portion of that sacrifice. More and more the progressive left is a coalition of individuals who will bear very little (young, white, somewhat more affluent, college-educated, exurban voters that skew male).
Too often the concept of progressive change involves, not the revolution it frequently claims, but large sweeping legislation passed by the existing congress and to be enforced by the executive branch and state agencies as they currently exist. Those agencies and mechanisms are riddled with loopholes, inefficiencies, and prejudices that have accumulated over centuries and still lead to exclusion, injustice, and inequality in the implementation of those progressive programs we already have.
Progressives and liberals should be concerned about the proliferation of handguns in our communities, but they should also be concerned that what few regulations we have apply very differently to handgun owners will differing complexions, and be incredibly skeptical of law enforcement’s ability to enforce them fairly. Progressives and liberals should be concerned about the costs of college, but they should also address the exceedingly segregated nature of public schooling and the radical disparities in funding and quality of education at those schools. Progressives and liberals should be concerned about the regressive nature of many of our tax policies but should be exceedingly skeptical of how legislatures and agencies choose to allocate what resources they already have to the communities that need them.
My brain and my heart are both progressive, but they inform my progressivism in different ways. In my experience, a radically progressive reading of our history lends itself to an exceedingly pragmatic view of how to solve problems. It implores the reader to require that the government take responsibility for its citizens well-being, and simultaneously nurtures a profound skepticism of that government's ability to treat its marginalized citizens justly and with compassion equal to that of its more privileged.