The Dark History of Liberal Reform | New Republic

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CK MacLeod

WordPresser: Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001.

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36 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Earlier today, there was a comment explaining that racism was a pre-enlightenment attitude.

    Would that it were. Would that it were.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

      I wasn’t going to say anything, being the local anti-Enlightenment crank, but…Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

      I sort of glossed over that comment at the time, but if anything, it seems kind of backwards. I’d feel a lot more comfortable arguing that racism was actually a product of the Enlightenment and the early Industrial Era than anything else. I’m not arguing that prior to that, societies were more egalitarian. Instead, I’d say that racism was a solution to a set of political problems that were particularly pressing in that era. It provided justification for slavery and westward expansion in the US, not to mention imperialism for all the countries that were in a position to be imperial powers.

      It’s no particular wonder that it got entangled with the scientism that was popular towards the end of the 19th century. However, it’s unclear what message we’re supposed to be drawing from that entanglement. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to set the record straight because being correct is an important goal in and of itself. However, every time I’ve seen the subject come up, people have usually argued that it’s some sort of cautionary tale, without necessarily being very clear on what we need to be on guard against.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

        When 99.9% of people never went more than 25 miles away from the spot in which they were born, racism was less of a problem.

        Is this a trivial observation or a terribly insightful one?Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

        @pillsy

        I think you answered this question in your reply to me further down.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to pillsy says:

        Instead, I’d say that racism was a solution to a set of political problems that were particularly pressing in that era. It provided justification for slavery…

        Taking it one step further: the enlightenment gave rise to systematic intellectually defensible justifications for racism. Racism goes way back, seems to me. Modern justifications of it are/were … well … modern.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to pillsy says:

        pillsy: [E]very time I’ve seen the subject come up, people have usually argued that it’s some sort of cautionary tale, without necessarily being very clear on what we need to be on guard against.

        Clearly, to guard against the kind of people (in power) who are not clear on what the cautionary tale tells us we need to be on guard against.Report

  2. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    The article ends with an anguished “looks like the lesson is that everyone sucks!” No. The lesson is that when someone comes up saying “I’m not making a decision about morals or preferences, I’m simply behaving in accordance with scientific fact“, we should look really carefully at that scientific fact.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DensityDuck says:

      To see if the fact really is a fact, or just an interpretation that aligns with their ideology?Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        The most fundamental problem is that scientific facts can merely inform your decision, by letting you have a better understanding of what the consequences of your actions might be. Whether those consequences are good, bad or indifferent is not a question that science can answer.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

          Okay, let’s get out the knives and start cutting into the meat.

          What, exactly, lets us figure out what is good? What is bad? What is indifferent?

          (Have I welcomed you to the board, Pillsy? Please, let me rectify that. Welcome to the board.)Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird:

            What, exactly, lets us figure out what is good? What is bad? What is indifferent?

            I don’t know if the problem with this question is that it’s too hard to answer, or that it’s too easy to ask. 😀

            Less facetiously, I usually rely on a blend of emotional reactions and a very half-assed sort of rule-based utilitarianism. I find that this rarely puts me so far out of step with people that I’m actually talking to that communication becomes impossible.

            Can I back up moral statements that strike me as axiomatic in a way that will convince anybody else? Doubt it.

            Do I find myself having to convince anybody else of the truth of moral statements that strike me as axiomatic? Less often than I’d expect.

            (Have I welcomed you to the board, Pillsy? Please, let me rectify that. Welcome to the board.)

            Thanks!Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

              Rule-based emotionalism mixed in with utilitarianism?

              Dude. We should sit together and drink and argue. I can’t imagine that we’d disagree about enough to the point where the evening would be unpleasant.

              If you’re ever in the Denver area, let me know.

              You, me, and a couple of people I know can spend a quite pleasant evening yelling “NO! I disagree!” about trivial things.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

              In thinking about this some more, I’m seeing how someone (anyone) raised with this morality would fit in very well with everyone else raised with this morality no matter what year it happened to be. No matter what culture it happened to be. It works in the USA in 2016, it works in China in 3714, it works in Persia in 100.

              It gets you to different conclusions each time, of course… but that seems less important than the whole “working” thing though.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah. I think I like it because it mostly allows me to talk to people. I have little defense against getting things wrong because they cut against my intuitions, but I’m not sure I’m convinced any approach to morality that I’ve seen has a convincing record of doing otherwise.Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    “this would read like right-wing paranoia: The state’s most innocuous protections reframed as malevolent and ungodly social engineering.” That actually reads a lot like Foucault.Report