Posts Tagged ‘identityism’


Income Taxes as Class Protections

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy, Politics

In the buildup to the “resolution” of the Fiscal Cliff, there was a great deal of discussion about the effects of tax rates on the American economy.  For Democrats, the magic word was “revenue”, meaning how much more money the government could take from the hands of the private sector.  For Republicans, the magic word was “jobs”, meaning what that money meant to the entrepreneurs who need help to maintain and grow their businesses.  There was a great deal of talk about the “rich” needing to “pay their fair share,” and the plight of the middle class who are perpetually caught between government welfare programs and self-sufficient wealth.  But amidst the flurry of frequently repeated words, one comment caught my ear which I only heard once, but which struck me as so powerful as to be the most important thought in the entire debate.  Those taxes tied to high incomes are classist and serve as a means to insulate the “rich” from upwardly mobile Americans.

The key to understanding the classism of taxes is to understand what it means to be rich in America.  Our political discourse treats “the rich” as a single group of people with access to far more money than any “ordinary” person could ever hope to gain.  In reality, there are at least two different groups of “rich” in America with different profiles and different concerns.

Classic examples of “rich” people in America include Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and the Kennedy family.  Those people, and others like them, are rich in the sense that they have accumulated a great deal of wealth which they hold independently of any other productive activity in which they may be engaged.  In other words, their bank accounts are overflowing and would continue to do so even if they never worked another day in their lives.  So too with the other wealthy people who have come out in favor of high taxes on the “rich”.  While these people have piles of cash, it isn’t their income today that makes them wealthy.

The other group of “rich” people in America are a lot of people that we might not normally consider.  While everyone knows that doctors and lawyers make tons of money, they mostly aren’t the people we think of as being among “the rich”.  Neither is the small business owner who can certainly earn a good living.  Indeed, as any Jane Austen novel can attest, the professional class of doctors, lawyers, and business owners is distinct and different from the gentry or aristocracy.  In America, where money and class are intimately related, professionals (especially business owners) have the ability to jump into the higher classes if only they are able to accumulate enough wealth.  Ultimately, though, these are people who still need to be able to generate income in order to better their lives.

Seen in that way, consider the effect of raising income taxes on people with incomes over some arbitrary amount.  For people already in the higher class, this won’t affect them very much because their incomes are rather beside the point — Bill Gates will still be a billionaire even if the government doesn’t let him earn another cent.  However, for people striving to earn their first billion dollars, a tax powered income cap of $400,000 would force them to wait over two thousand years before having that first celebration — assuming they never spend any money on anything.  Even at more modest tax rates, higher taxes still impose barriers to entry which will reduce the number of people willing or able to move into the higher class.

A tax based on income is a real barrier to upward mobility particularly for people (such as minorities) who don’t come from a background of privilege.  Earning wealth in America already requires a commitment to saving (and an ability to save) plus a knowledge of investing (and an ability to invest) which tends not to exist (and may not be possible) among the lower classes.  As taxes become more confiscatory, and as the tax code makes shielding wealth from taxation more difficult, the level of knowledge required to succeed becomes ever greater.  A person escaping from poverty will need to rely more on strangers for help and support, and so will be more susceptible to bad advice whether given honestly or by people trying to take advantage.

Historically, the upper classes have gone to great lengths to maintain their status above the people in the classes below.  Rules of society, the privilege of money, and even armed conflict have all been employed to protect “old money” from new.  But I am aware of no other time in history when the rich, by appearing to harm themselves, have so successfully won popular support for their own class protection.  While everyone focuses on the people who have already become rich, it is the people who are most successfully trying to get there who will experience the greatest harm.

Far be it from me to say that the rich in America — a class which includes most politicians — is trying intentionally to structure the tax code to prevent other Americans from intruding into their class.  But like any other identityism, classism need not be intentional to be real.  The fact remains that raising taxes on higher income earners imposes barriers to upward mobility which will tend to further separate the rich from the people who are trying to get there.

High taxes on the rich are classist; not against the “rich”, but the “poor”.

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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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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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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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Racism, Sexism, Classism, etc.

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Racism.  Few words in the English language have the power to destroy all chance at intelligent conversation between the left and the right.  In too many places at too many times, charges of racism have been used as weapons by the left to silence the right about a myriad of subjects about which the two sides might disagree.  Weaponized charges of racism, however, are not what this post is about.  What this post is about is how racism, sexism, classism, and so forth (let’s group those under the word “identityism”) remain viable topics for discussion about which conservatives need to become more engaged.

Identityism comes in two basic forms.  The overt form of identityism is the type that most people are familiar with and is what conservatives typically think about when we hear the term.  Overt identityism is slavery, it’s Jim Crow, it’s women being unable to vote, and it’s the invectives that get spewed at people who look or act differently.  Overt identityism, in other words, is the awful stuff that we more or less knowingly do to people because of some identifiable difference.  The systemic form of identityism is less known, particularly in conservative circles.  Systemic identityism is girls staying out of science and math, it’s black people sitting as a group at lunch, it’s inner city poverty, and it’s the difficulty people who have been laid off have finding another job.    In other words, systemic identityism is any condition in our society which causes harm to an identifiable group of people and which perpetuates itself with little or no conscious effort from anybody.

As a society, we’ve made great strides against identityism during the past 60 years.  The landscape of racism, in particular, has changed dramatically since the 195os.  Overt racism has been largely eradicated and has become so stigmatized that whatever is left stays hidden mostly out of the public eye.  Success has varied with the other identityisms, but overt identityism in most of its forms is routinely discouraged.  Make no mistake, these are victories.

But while overt identityism is on the retreat, systemic identityism remains largely unaffected.  Systemic identityism is much harder to address because there is no particular individual, or even a particular group, which is responsible for its continuation.  The systemic problem includes a lot of inertia, where particular groups get trapped in situations because they simply don’t have the tools or experience to know how to get themselves out.  What’s more, some of the things that we see as problems may not actually be problems at all, but merely different outcomes than the ones that we are conditioned from birth to believe in.

The greatest problem that conservatives have with identityism is the belief that being identity blind is enough to create true equality.  Systemic identityism doesn’t work that way.  It doesn’t matter, for instance, how sex-blind NASA is; NASA will have trouble hiring women because women won’t apply to NASA, because they never learned math or science, because their teachers didn’t teach them math or science, because we “know” women aren’t good at math or science, because NASA has trouble finding women to hire.  The only way out is to notice the closed logic loop and to then actively do something about it.

Of course, what must be actively done is a complicated subject for many other days.  The key for now is to realize that identityism, particularly in its systemic form, remains alive and well in America.  We have an opportunity to offer real solutions — the left offers only to replace one oppressive system with another, but they have at least noticed that there’s a conversation going on that they need to be a part of.  It’s time for conservatives to join in.

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