What I want is a movement for social justice that has the honesty and the confidence to continuing that fight without constantly grinding up innocent victims in its wake, to maintain both a commitment to fighting for equality AND a commitment to treating people with basic fairness. I want a movement that matches its passion with understanding and a willingness to forgive.
Well, yes; therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? Why does this never seem to happen? Why do movements ostensibly devoted to the most utopian ideals invariably end up as circular firing squads after betraying those ideals and alienating themselves from everyone they hoped to convert? “Some animals are more equal than others.” “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” “We’re the People’s Front of Judea!” It’s pretty much a cliché at this point, yet in the eternal sunshine of the spotless academic mind, tomorrow is always a brand new day where human nature will finally be a blank slate and all of our schemes will finally work according to plan.
Well, anyway, that’s Freddie at his most optimistic and inclusive. That’s the writing of his that gets widely shared and retweeted by people who love the idea that there’s still a Last Honest Leftist out there fighting against all the other ones making us look bad. But after quaffing a mysterious potion, his much-more-realistic twin Freddie deBergeron comes out to illustrate the violence inherent in the system:
You could say that what we want is to squash the variance in outcomes – to narrow up the bell curve on test scores and GPA and the like so that all students are more tightly spread near the average. That would necessarily reduce the number of high outliers too, which seems contrary to the whole American ethos of excellence, but as a commie I’m cool with it. But is that what we really want? And do we have any evidence that, at scale, we can narrow the spread in that way? I’m skeptical.
…The fact of the matter is, mobility is necessarily antagonistic to equality. Every student who moves up pushes another one down. These values are in direct tension, and yet no one seems to pause for a moment and really critically evaluate what we’re asking for. If your interest is in promoting equality then you should agitate against mobility, as true mobility will result only in more outliers – both above and below the mean. If instead you are concerned with simply providing a better quality of life for the most possible people, then you should focus on redistributive economic systems that ameliorate the effects of poverty and create a downward pressure on the wealth of those at the very top. Then you can allow education to go back to being education, rather than seeing it constantly as an instrument of economic manipulation – a role for which it has proven totally unsuited.
Two posts, written one day apart, the first one wishing that leftism could be something other than what it has repeatedly demonstrated itself to be, the second one complaining about progressives who can’t get what they want because they don’t recognize the incompatibility of the things they’re demanding. All I can say is, blogger, critique thyself.
I’d always been surprised at how many times I see Freddie being linked to by conservative writers, but now it’s making more sense: he’s cheerfully reinforcing everything they’ve always said:
Conservatives: “We believe in equality of opportunity; they want equality of outcome.”
Generic progressives: “What a straw man! We don’t want to make everyone equal; we’re just saying that there’s no true equality of opportunity until systemic imbalances are addressed, and—”
DeBoer: “Actually, yeah, equality of outcome sounds great! Unfortunately, sigh, it doesn’t seem realistic. Also, here’s my latest post illustrating the ugly aspects my fellow leftists would prefer to ignore. By the way, I’m a proud 4th-generation Marxist.”
Conservatives: “My God, give this man a PA system and a stage. Can we set up a Patreon for you, sir? Whatever you need, let us know.”
It’s embarrassing to remember that I used to consider him one of my favorite bloggers, but if I’m being charitable to myself, I note that within a very limited range, he’s consistently correct: online leftism is a useless joke, a bunch of cool kids reproducing the cliques of the high-school cafeteria against the backdrop of political idealism. That’s all true as far as it goes, which isn’t very, thankfully enough. Indeed, liberty and equality have always been inherently conflicting goods. This is a basic principle of political philosophy. Generally, most people are not honest — or stupid — enough to come right out and say, “Well, so much the worse for liberty, then.” Oh, I don’t doubt that he genuinely hopes for a world of politically squared circles, even as the logic of his political convictions leads him inexorably on toward the sorts of dystopian conclusions he explores here. It’s just that his type of oblivious incoherence illustrates the truth of Orwell’s observation: One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.