Archive for December, 2012

27
Dec

The Church of the United States

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

The First Amendment to the Constitution declares with authority that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  These two prohibitions on the power of Congress were written by the Founders to prevent an American recurrence of how religion had been handled in England up to the time of the founding.  Many of the settlers who came to America had done so in order to escape religious persecution in Europe and the founders were certainly familiar with the history of the Church of England.  The First Amendment would tend to distance the authority of the church from the authority of the government.  However, in a process likely unanticipated by the founders, the US government has been moving ever closer to becoming a church in its own right.

To understand how this works, it is necessary to step back and answer two foundational questions:  First, what is a church?  Second, what is a government?

At its core, a church is an institution developed around a set of core, common beliefs which we refer to as a religion.  Religious beliefs tend to include a number of normative beliefs (belief in a divine being, a day of  judgement, and an afterlife are common in America) as well as a number of moral beliefs (such as prohibitions against murder or adultery, a commitment to doing good deeds, and the encouragement of forgiveness and understanding).  Churches in the modern United States are typically unable to enforce their beliefs beyond their powers of persuasion.  Churches provide society with a moral authority; it is the church that tells us the difference between right and wrong.1

Government fills a different niche.  Domestically, a government is required to perform two essential functions:  To make, update, and abolish rules; and to enforce those rules.  In other words, the government is the legal authority of a society.  To enforce the rules — laws — that the government creates, it is given the power of coercion.  The government can, and frequently does, punish rulebreakers through the use of fines, imprisonment, or both.  Laws may be moral (prohibiting murder), immoral (endorsing segregation), or amoral (enforcing speed limits).

The democratic nature of American politics has generally meant that most laws with moral content reflect a broad moral consensus across society.  Laws passed without a moral consensus have tended to fare somewhat poorly.  The Civil War was prompted in no small part by the immoral institution of slavery and the laws which supported its continuation.  The civil rights activism of the 196os was also a response to the immoral institution of legal segregation.    Same with women’s suffrage and the feminist movement.  In each case, the government was forced to respond to demands that the law be brought into alignment with the moral good.

Increasingly, the government has been attempting to put itself in front of the moral curve in an attempt to redefine morality ahead of or contrary to the traditional moral authorities.  The first major experiment in government defining a moral position was prohibition; alcohol was seen as a moral hazard that lawmakers jumped in to destroy, only to find a backlash so great as to make the “cure” was worse than the disease.  The Supreme Court’s repeated attempts — and failures — to develop a coherent legal standard for a subject deeply infused with moral considerations has led to a perpetual (and perpetually pointless) argument about abortion in America for at least the past 30 years.  Stem cell research, marriage, contraception, the distribution of wealth, the value of work, and the notion of personal independence and responsibility have all become subjects of government concern in recent years.

By offering its opinions on an ever wider field of moral issues, and by using its legal power to push aside traditional moral authorities like the church, it appears that the government is attempting to become a moral authority in its own right.  By carefully avoiding any mentions of divinity, the government is able to establish its authority without running clearly afoul of the First Amendment.  It is not, after all, insisting that a particular god be worshipped, or imprisoning people for their normative religious beliefs.  The government is, however, threatening to undercut moral religious beliefs by imposing mandates, fines, or loss of work on people who do not behave the way the government feels they should be morally compelled to behave.

The government becoming a moral authority poses great risks to freedom in America.  As a moral authority, the government would have the power to declare right from wrong.  The phrase “might makes right” could hardly be more poignant.  Moral debate will move from principled arguments among peers to legal arguments over who should or should not be punished.  Hard moral questions will be decided not by convincing our countrymen, but by bureaucrats distanced from and disinterested in the opinions of the people.  Disagreements will result in the losing party going to jail.

As most of us learned in elementary school, American government was built around the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances.  Everyone knows the three branches of government separate the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, and each branch has the power to check the other two.  Some people knows that federalism, the separation of national from state governments, is itself a separation of powers with its own sets of checks and balances.  The separation of legal and moral authority enshrined in the First Amendment is also a separation of powers that comes with checks and balances all its own.

Whenever two separate powers are combined, the result is always a loss of freedom.  Please do not worship at the Church of the United States.

  1. A brief note about atheism is in order, because atheists have no formal institutions of their own.  Atheism remains, at this point in US history, a decidedly minority belief system.  Most people who identify as atheist were raised in religious households, around religious neighbors, and with religious friends.  The defining feature of atheism is the rejection of normative religious beliefs, particularly the belief in a divine being.  Although atheists may also question the moral beliefs, that’s hardly a defining feature of atheism; plenty of religious people challenge or defy their churches on moral questions as well.  In truth, atheists tend to stray no further from the moral beliefs into which they were socialized than do people of faith. []
24
Dec

Christmas in America

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Christmas.  It’s one of America’s most popular and publicized holidays.  Starting well before Black Monday and continuing all the way through to Christmas Eve, the shopping season was, as ever, a stunning display of American wealth and prosperity.  Though it’s celebration is nearly universal throughout American culture, Christmas in modern times is not without its minor controversies.  This season reminds us of the clash we have constructed between Free Exercise and Establishment of Religion, which is but a single front in the battle over religious freedom in America.

What often gets lost in these battles over Christmas is the fact that the founders never intended the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause to be at odds with one another.  Indeed, both clauses are two sides of the same coin.  They protect us from government interference with religious practice by denying the government the power to establish a church (as England had done) or to punish people for holding different faiths (as England had also done).  In theory, tolerance and acceptance of other faith traditions is left as an exercise for the People, so long as it’s done against a backdrop which says that they cannot simply ban a religion they don’t like or compel worship of a religion they prefer.

Of course, the story is far from being that easy.  As the government has expanded into more and more aspects of Americans’ daily lives, it has had to cross swords with religion in ways that should never have been possible.  The annual ritual of complaining about how Christmas is treated in schools is only possible because nine out of ten children are in government schools.  The legal struggles over contraception are only possible because the government, although still working through proxies, is essentially the country’s lone health insurance provider.  As the government increasingly acts as a moral authority, in addition to being a legal authority, it is likely to continue intruding into the sphere of religion.

Governments, of course, make poor moral authorities.  They are institutionally not very good at it.  And as the founders would no doubt recognize, it is dangerous to blend absolute moral and legal authority into a single entity.  That is, after all, one of the main reasons for separating church from state.  The mere fact that religions can claim exemptions from laws — that the Constitution compels exemptions from laws — does not provide a good long term solution to protecting religious freedom.  What, after all, can be said of the religious freedom of people who demand freedom for a religion which is too small, or too strange, to be recognized by the government or in the courts?  Or what of the atheist, whose moral code may run as strong and as deep as that of any person of faith, but who cannot claim a religious exemption to anything because an atheist has no religion to exempt?

The plight of religion in America is important, even for people who are not religious.  But for today and tomorrow, it is no more important than our families, our friends, our loved ones, and our fellow citizens of the world.  And so at the risk of sounding overly religious, I say to the 95% of Americans and to everyone around the globe who celebrates the day:

Merry Christmas.  Merry Christmas to you all.

20
Dec

Hispanics for Border Security?

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

As I was performing research for a future post, I happened to come across some poll results posted at Resurgent Republic which includes some data which, if true, comes across to me as surprising.  Included in the poll results was this table showing Hispanic support for various policies regarding immigration.  As might be expected, many of the supported policies include suggestions for removing the illegal status from people who have come to the US, or who plan to come to the US, without going through the current immigration process.  One of the higher ranked policies, however, is “increasing border security,” although such an increase is apparently not desirable if it comes in the form of “aggressive steps to seek and deport undocumented immigrants.”  What on earth does that mean?

One possibility, backed up somewhat by a Pew Research poll, is that the approval of increased border security reflects the presumptive acceptance of a compromise in which immigration policy is made easier, but is then enforced according to its terms.  Says Pew, “Some 46% of Latinos and 43% of the general public say both better border security and enforcement and a path to citizenship should be given equal priority when it comes to dealing with illegal immigration.”  Indeed, such a compromise is a common theme in many of the comprehensive immigration reform proposals I’ve heard come and go for the past several years.  It’s a compromise that makes a lot of sense on paper, but which conservatives rightly resist due to the near certainty that promises of stronger enforcement will not be kept.

Another, more cynical possibility is that tighter border security is seen as  a way to protect the current batch of immigrants from future immigration.  I haven’t seen any data suggesting this understanding, although it does have a certain logic.  Hispanics who are in the country legally — even those who have been here for generations — are harmed somewhat by illegal immigration.  Political rhetoric focuses on Hispanic people who are in the country illegally and tends to neglect people who have immigrated legally or who are citizens born and raised here as Americans.  Even Democrats — who are seldom charged with racial insensitivity — spend most of their time talking about people who are in violation of the law but deserve a second chance, and very little time talking about people who have broken no laws at all.  This paints a black cloud over the legal Hispanic population which certainly does them no favors.

If there is a sincerity behind Hispanic interest in increasing border security, then Resurgent Republic is right in thinking that the border security issue may ultimately bode well for Republicans.  It seems, however, that there is a great deal more context which needs to be considered and which tends to undercut the potential for conservative benefit.  Either way, the idea that Hispanics would support greater border security at all falls well outside the usual political discourse.  If that result is real, it’s certainly something worth pondering.

17
Dec

Of Cornball Brothers and Racial Insularism

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Philosophy

Making news during the middle part of last week was a comment by ESPN’s Rob Parker regarding the racial authenticity of NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III.  The comment provides a great living example of one aspect of racism in today’s America and underscores the challenges faced by the Republican Party in attracting the minority (and especially the black) vote in coming elections.

Here’s a quotation of what was said (emphasis added):

Rob Parker: “But my question, which is just a straight, honest question, is: Is he a brother or is he a cornball brother?”

Cari Champion: “What does that mean?”

Skip Bayless: “Explain that.”

Parker: “He’s not real. OK, he’s black, he kind of does the thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black but he’s not really, like, the guy you want to hang out with because he’s off to something else.

Champion: “Why is that your question?”

Parker: “Well because that’s just how I want to find out about him. I don’t know because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancée. There was all this talk about how he’s a Republican, which, I don’t really care, there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods was like, I’ve got black skin but don’t call me black.”

At its core, what we are witnessing is a brand of racial insularism which has been carefully cultivated by the left since at least the 1970s.  Conservatives will recognize it as the same web that is used to attack black conservatives like Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice.  It’s the product of a delicate web of skin color, culture, privilege, and overt racism which acts to ensnare racial minorities for the benefit of the Democrat Party.

To understand the web requires an understanding of how all four parts tie together.  At its core is a union of color and culture which provides its members with a sense of identity.  That identity, of course, does not enjoy white privilege, and so is disadvantaged in our society.  Overt racism, like that used by Mr. Parker, is used as a tool to keep dissenters in line.

The color-culture identity is something that’s relatively hard for white people to understand because they don’t experience their identity in that way.  Indeed, if asked, most white people would likely assert that there is no such thing as white culture at all.  Dr. Mikhail Lyubansky does an acceptable job of explaining why those people are mistaken, but for my purposes, it’s enough to note white culture is the America’s dominant culture and that blindness to white culture is an element of white privilege.  That said, for white people, understanding color culture may be easiest by considering a different cultural identity, such as religion.

Using Christianity as an example, consider the tenants of protestant Christian belief.  The price of entry into that identity is your belief that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.  But there are other elements, too.  These include things like believing that the Bible is the word of God, living by the Ten Commandments, attending church regularly, praying, and marrying within your faith.  If you miss enough of the other elements — or even just one for a long enough period of time — and other Christians will likely doubt the sincerity of your Christianity even if you never stop believing that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.  Once that happens, you will tend to find yourself isolated from your faith community and you may even find people saying hurtful things about you.

Color culture (in this case, blackness) is exactly like that.  The price of entry is your skin color (in this case, black), but there are also other elements.  Among those elements are the two pointed out by Mr. Parker: Not marrying a white person, and voting Democrat.  By missing those two elements, Mr. Griffin exposed himself to doubt about his blackness, even though the color of his skin never changed.

By injecting themselves into the black cultural identity, Democrats have secured an extremely powerful position within that community.  Indeed, while conservatives talk about wanting to encourage free thinking blacks, we neglect the reality that such free thought is an element of white privilege.  Blacks are decidedly less free in this regard because, no matter how conservative a black person may be, to actually vote Republican crosses a cultural boundary in ways which are unknown to white culture.  What’s more, voting Republican is seen as a threat to the cultural identity because Republicans themselves are seen as hostile to blackness, because Republicans are seen as the party of white privilege and as promoters of (structural) racism.
When viewed from that angle, it’s easy to see why people like Mr. Parker would have such unkind things to say about blacks who vote Republican.  Like any member of an identity group, he most likely feels a need to protect himself and his identity from attack.  That the attack comes from apparently within arguably makes it even more severe.  His overtly racist remarks can be seen as a sort of defensive strike or as a means of promoting a cohesive culture.  They are, in other words, the racial equivalent of telling someone they’re going to go to hell for something they’ve done.

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13
Dec

Money, Peace, and Freedom

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

Continuing to ponder my colleague’s comments about the Republican and Democrat parties, his statement that Republicans are about money and Democrats are about peace raises an important point about the current state of political messaging.  In short, it sucks.  My colleague identifies as a Libertarian, which means that he has placed himself off of the Republican/Democrat political spectrum.  Since that doesn’t happen entirely by accident, I’m comfortable assuming that he has put at least some independent thought into the parties and his own position.  Even with that, he still comes up with money (R) and peace (D).  That fact does not bode well for conservatives.

When considered objectively, the stated associations are difficult to reconcile with reality.  Democrats currently make up seven of the top ten wealthiest members of Congress and are well represented at the CEO level in many Fortune 500 companies.  Entertainers, many of whom are no strangers to wealth, also skew heavily Democrat.  Meanwhile, even as President Obama is winning accolades for withdrawing the military from Iraq and Afghanistan, the level of tension and violence in the Middle East has grown significantly without the stabilizing influence of the United States.  We have experienced more acts of terror committed against us under President Obama than we did under President Bush, and programs like Fast and Furious have contributed significantly to violence very close to home.  Republicans hold no monopoly on money, nor do Democrats have any particular claim to having made the world more peaceful.

For my part, I consider the Republicans to be the party of compromise and the Democrats to be the party of theft.

Republicans are the party of compromise in both flattering and unflattering ways.  On the positive side, Republicans have a willingness to listen to different or opposing ideas and find ways to incorporate some of those ideas into their policies.  At its best, this helps to build a broader base of support for policies which support Republican objectives, even if Republicans may not get to go as far as they would like or have to accept some policies which cut against their ideals.  On the negative side, Republicans have a tendency to give away their ideals in a futile attempt to avoid being attacked by the liberal media.  While Republicans couch these giveaways in terms of positive compromise, what usually happens is that they end up compromised because the left doesn’t stop until they get everything that they want.  In such a world Republicans get nothing lasting in return.

I consider Democrats to be the party of theft for all of the obvious reasons.  As supporters of wealth redistribution, their policies end up being systematic forms of theft.  Their environmental policies, land policies, and mountains of regulation all act to take value.  Democrats are also well known to use thethreat of policy changes as a stick in negotiations, threatening to regulate an opponent to death unless their opponent behaves in the right way.  In the private sector, such a practice would commonly be known as extortion.

For Republicans, fighting off the image of both money and compromise seems crucial toward improving the way the party is perceived.  Frustratingly, Republicans are only seen as the party of compromise by those on the right, who have witnessed time and again the supposedly conservative party giving away conservative principles for slightly less awful press coverage.  Where Republicans found the most energy was during the height of Tea Party activism, when Republicans were acknowledged (if only grudgingly) as the party of responsibility.  Responsibility won huge inroads in 2010 and continued to be a great strength in 2012, despite the 2012 election being decided on other grounds and despite a seemingly concerted effort by Republicans to appear as irresponsible as possible.

Whatever word is ultimately chosen, it’s clear to me that neither “money” nor “compromise” are going to win elections.  Responsibility can, but that label requires Republicans to act the part.  Of course, whatever word is chosen, Republicans will certainly need to work to bypass the mainstream media in promoting their image.  To work within the media framework does nothing but make them the party of stupid.

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10
Dec

Liberal Privilege

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

From the way the term gets promoted and used, and even from the recent description I gave, one might be inclined to think that the idea of privilege extends only to groups who we traditionally consider to have been disadvantaged.  White privilege is easily the most well known flavor of identity privilege, with male privilege not too far behind.  In reality, the concept of privilege can be applied to any group which holds the dominant social/cultural position.  As a white male, it isn’t often that I find myself outside of America’s social/cultural orthodoxy; I’m not usually a minority.  One area where I likely am a victim of privilege, however, is in politics.  What follows are some initial thoughts about political identity and liberal privilege.

The realization of liberal privilege began last weekend during a crew dinner at my volunteer job.  One of my colleagues, entirely unprompted, decided to start talking to me in some extreme generalities about politics.  His essential statement on the subject was that he looked at the difference between Republicans and Democrats by saying that Republicans are about making money, and Democrats are about peace.  He went on to explain that he is a Libertarian, and that Libertarians are about freedom.  “Money, peace, and freedom,” he would echo a couple more times before the conversation drew to its uninspiring close.  “Money, peace, and Freedom.”

Despite the, uh, hard hitting nature of his comments, it struck me that my internal response was somewhat interesting.

Before I found out that my colleague is Libertarian, the first thing that caught my attention was his description of Republicans as being really good at making money.  In particular, I was completely unsure how to take that remark.  On its face it sounded like praise, but under our current political speech codes, being someone “good at making money” isn’t necessarily something to be proud of.  My defenses went up, thinking, “is this guy about to start smearing conservatives?”  I never did find out the answer to that question.

What ultimately kept me in the dark about his opinion of conservatism was my own concern about looking for an answer.  To seek an answer would likely have kept me tied up in the conversation much longer, and may well have led to me expressing some conservative thoughts.  After all, whether he was smearing Republicans or not, that they make a lot of money is hardly the first association I want someone to have with them.  But to replace money with something more widely regarded as positive would give away my own conservatism.  Knowing the crew consists mostly of liberals, that was something I didn’t want to do.

As I thought about that aversion further, I realized that somewhere along the line I internalized the message that there is something improper about expressing conservative beliefs.  That somehow saying conservative things was impolite, in a way that goes beyond “religion and politics” as conversation topics to avoid.  Were I to become identified as conservative, that might cause people to view me in a negative light.  For the same reason, when I do talk politics in mixed company, I’ll tend to deflect toward my more liberal sounding positions, in hope of at least coming across as a moderate.  Despite being a conservative, raised in a conservative family, and living in a Republican leaning city, I’ve still been conditioned to feel like my beliefs are best left hidden from public view.

Concern over speech codes and feelings of “wrongness” are exactly the types of feelings I see in discussions regarding identity privileges of more traditional sorts, like race, gender, and sexual orientation.  To the extent that political affiliation is an identity, I’m fairly certain I experienced a moment of liberal privilege.  What that may mean for conservatism should be an interesting topic to explore.

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6
Dec

The Anti-Conservative Blame Game

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

There’s apparently a lot of press going around discussing who will take the blame if the country falls off of the “fiscal cliff” being discussed currently in Congress.  The reporting, it seems, says that it will be Republicans who get blamed despite the fact that Democrats control both the Senate and the White House.  There’s apparently even a poll saying that the people will blame Republicans.  None of this should be surprising when you consider that Republicans were blamed for obstructionism even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.  Also unsurprising is the Republican response, moving to the left to try to avoid taking the blame.

When will the Republicans learn that they are going to be blamed for something no matter what they do?

Following the 2008 election, conservatives had staked out some relatively straight forward and common sense positions on how to manage government finances.  Republican proposals have been consistent about two major topics which remain the subject of much debate.  Republican proposals are intended to reduce spending and to raise government revenue.  Importantly, however, when Republicans say “revenue” they actually mean “revenue”, in contrast to Democrats who say “revenue” but mean “tax rates.”  The Republican plans were designed to ensure that more people have jobs and that more people got pay raises.  Without lowering the tax bar at all, more people would end up paying taxes because more people would have more income.

Republicans won big on the economy in 2010 and in 2012.

Republicans seem to have taken the 2012 election as a general repudiation of all things conservative.  Reality, though, is that that’s not what happened.  Among people whose top issue in the 2012 election was the economy, Romney beat Obama nationally by a relatively wide margin.  The economy has been a core issue — the core issue — for Republicans ever since Obama first took office and they have carried the day on that message consistently, despite media hostility, ever since.  Where Republicans failed in 2012 was in not realizing that the presidency is about more than just the economy.  If it were, Romney would be the President-Elect right now.

“If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”

For conservatives, those words from Captain Jean-Luc Picard should never ring more true than they do today.  The risk of being blamed for something shouldn’t deter conservatives from doing anything at all.  The reality is that it’s not a risk that our side will be blamed — it’s a certainty.  If we oppose the Democrats, we’ll be blamed for getting in the way of Obama’s economic plans.  If we go along with the Democrats, we’ll be blamed when their economic plans succeed in further destroying the economy.  If we pursue compromise with the Democrats, we’ll be blamedfor both.

Given that there’s no upside to playing along, it should be obvious that there’s no downside to playing against the Democrats’ wishes.  The outcome for us is the same either way, the only difference is in a few minor details.  However, the outcome for everyone else could be drastic.  By staying true to conservative economic principles, Republicans could calm an increasingly listless base.  What’s more, staying true to our principles would let us actually help people, regardless of whether we get credit for it or not.  And if by some chance our ideas truly are awful, at least we can say that we’ve done something for which blame is warranted, we can find new ideas, and we can move on.

Being blamed by the left is part of being conservative.  It’s time we got used to it, and stopped caring.

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3
Dec

CCLT: Six Degrees of Majority Privilege

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Identity-based privilege is a concept which is deeply entangled with structural identityism.  Indeed, although the focus is different, the two concepts are essentially the same thing.  The main difference between them is their focus and the contours of what each one seeks to describe.  The concept of privilege is relatively unknown in conservative circles other than to the extent it gets used by the left to shut out people and opinions from debate.  But, like the identityisms, when the term isn’t being used as a weapon, it provides a helpful and widely applicable framework for understanding the world.

The easiest way to illustrate privilege is with the story of two children, Alice and Bob.  Alice lives on a family farm in Iowa with her parents and siblings, while Bob lives with his father in an affluent neighborhood in California.  Alice and Bob have little in common other than that they’re five years old, and both think that it would be the greatest thing in the world to have lunch with Kevin Bacon.

Bob’s father is a wealthy man with an important job in the entertainment industry that keeps him out of the house much of the time.  He frequents a country club not too far from his home that, coincidentally, often has on its lawn none other than Kevin Bacon.  Bob’s father and Kevin have spoken many times and even shared the odd round of golf.  Bob isn’t in school yet, but will start at a private academy next fall.  Kevin has seen pictures of Bob and Bob knows that his dad knows Kevin.

Alice’s family has owned their farm for generations and they still tell stories about the blood and sweat her grandfather put into their land.  As independent farmers, times have been tough with the rise of corporate farms, but a can-do attitude and quality livestock have allowed them to keep their farm.  Her father works from dawn until dusk tending the field and repairing as much of his equipment as he can.  Her mother tends to the animals.  Alice is just now old enough to join her siblings at school in a town about 15 miles away.  Alice’s father thinks “Kevin’s Bacon” is a breakfast food.

To have lunch with Kevin Bacon, Alice and Bob face wildly different challenges.  For Bob, all he needs to do is ask his dad.  For Alice… well… yeah.  She could send him a letter which one of his assistants would read and probably discard.  She could take up acting — no need to imagine your audience wearing chicken suits if your audience is nothing but actual chickens — but most people aren’t good enough to act for Hollywood.  Even if she were that good, she would still need to be discovered in the middle of nowhere, Iowa.  Even if she got discovered, she would still need to track down Kevin Bacon and offer up some reason why he and she should share lunch.  After years of personal effort, sacrifice, and luck, it’s possible that Alice could win what Bob was able to get in the course of a ten second conversation.

That, in a nutshell, is privilege.

Three things about this illustration are critical to note.  The first is that Alice and Bob were differently situated through no fault of their own.  Bob never did anything to injure Alice, and Alice was never injured by Bob.  Neither one chose the lives that were given to them.  The second is that with hard work and determination, it’s possible for Alice to, one day, have lunch with Kevin.  The third is that it could take Alice years and, despite her best effort, it might not happen at all.

Of course, lunch with Kevin Bacon is a metaphor for any of a number of different good things a person may want.  It could be wealth, power, or fame.  It could be a good education, a good job, or a good family.  It could be feeling accepted by society, by your peers, or by your friends.  It could even be the absence of being surrounded by negative messages or not being a victim of structural identityism.

Because it is such a wide-ranging concept, the idea of privilege manifests in a number of important ways.  It certainly shapes our domestic politics, as it forms the foundation of what we call “class warfare.”  It also likely affects our foreign policy in ways which go well beyond President Obama’s frequent apologies to the world.  But even beyond that, privilege (or the lack thereof) affects individuals in the way they live their lives and understand themselves.

Privilege is not a concept about which conservatives need to be afraid.  Indeed, conservatism holds many keys to fight the problems of privilege.  But as with identityism, we’ve committed so strongly to the world as it ought to be that we’ve lost sight of the world as it actually exists.  This is an area where we need to improve.

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