This has been a pretty good week for outrage (and that's not even counting the verdict that set George Zimmerman free) among my fellow Democrats. I have to admit it a bit (well, a lot) of 'outrage fatigue', because frankly absolutely nothing suggested by the GOP either surprises or shocks me anymore.
In the midst of rights being stripped from voters (especially elderly voters, minority voters, and college students), women (in several states simultaneously – my 'favorite' was the motorcycle vagina bill), and young black men buying Skittles and iced tea, the GOP is on a rant about light bulbs. Again.
Yeah. I know.
Anyhoo. I bet you were hoping I have a point.
I do: The purpose of the GOP propaganda machine for the last several decades (if not longer) has been to convince their base that they are a special subset of Americans (also known as Real Americans ™) who are the only ones who really deserve rights. In other words, they are doubling down on exclusionary politics.
This lies on an assumption that “those people” (do we really have to spell out who they are? See those whose votes are being marginalized, above) are not Real Americans ™ and are “taking advantage of” those poor, underappreciated Real Americans ™ .
An interesting example came to mind when I got drawn into an abortion argument (I know – but its like red meat, sometimes) with someone who I went to high school with, but didn't actually know in high school.
This woman, while making her many points about why it is important to punish women who get pregnant and don't want children also - and completely irrelevantly - stated that she and her husband paid 40% taxes last year.
I didn't want to get sidetracked from trying to give her good, solid evidence that making abortions illegal does not prevent abortions, so I ignored it at the time. But the statement and the sentiment it demonstrates illustrates well that envy is at the bottom of her political pyramid – envy and a feeling of entitlement.
If I had addressed her claim that she pays 40% of her income in taxes, there would have been two great places to dig in:
First, she must be doing awfully well to be expected to contribute so much to society – congratulations.
Second, if she's paying 40% of her income in (presumably income) taxes, she has an incompetent tax person and should fire him or her.
The point, however, is that she doesn't see herself as part of a larger community. She sees herself as a special, better Real American ™ for whom special rules apply. She doesn't acknowledge any benefit from living in a society, so she doesn't feel she needs to pay into a society.
Remember that I said she and I went to the same high school? Well, that high school was an extraordinary school in a dozen different ways. It was a public high school close to a military base in a rural (ish) area of California that served farmer's kids, military kids, and kids of military contractors (like me). It was ten miles from the ocean and fifty miles from anywhere else, on the central coast.
It had excellent music and arts programs, academically rigorous classes, and an excellent graduation rate. It was unusually economically, racially and culturally diverse, and the student population had a very low drug addiction rate and a very high graduation rate.
In other words, that school benefited enormously from investment in public education, in military expenditures, in agriculture expenditures, in funding for arts and music education, in excellent infrastructure expenditure for the town, in public health spending, and in dozens of other ways.
And yet, she can't see this. She sees only:
-Women having sex without being punished for it (enough)
-Gay people existing without being punished for it (enough)
-Poor people existing without being punished for it (enough)
She sees all of those people as getting “her” money and not giving her any benefit. She swims in water of privilege so clear she can't even tell she's in the water.
Let me be clear. There is nothing to envy in the situation of having an abortion. There is nothing to envy in being in a racial minority that is (still) subjected to ongoing institutional racism up to and including being killed with impunity for existing in the wrong neighborhood. There is nothing to envy in being gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual and having one's very existence be challenged and criminalized and otherwise marginalized.
And yet, if one believes, as this woman does, that these folk aren't Real Americans ™, then it's perfectly acceptable (in her mind) to envy that they dare to set foot in her country. And that is the mindset we're struggling against.
I wrote a lengthier and more 'academic' examination of this phenomenon several years ago entitled: All Humans are People: Or, Othering, Justice, and the Monkeysphere.
The 'monkeysphere' (or Dunbar's number) is a fundamental problem with society. As we deal with the concepts of justice and injustice, we always and perpetually run into the inability for many (most?) people to extrapolate their own personal 'monkeysphere' into the larger society, granting that larger society not only our own strengths, but our own foibles as well.
And don't you smirk at me, Mr. or Ms. Liberal. You (and I) are just as guilty of it. We marginalize those on the other side all the time. I have trouble finding the compassion needed to go into 'teaching' mode and 'communicator' mode on a regular basis, especially when I'm dealing with people who feel they are justified in taking away rights from people within my 'monkeysphere'.
It's a question for a philosopher, perhaps. Certainly Plato attacked it, in The Republic. So long as we see a disparity between the 'justice' accorded to those within our monkeysphere, and those outside of it (and we all do, on a regular basis) we will have value conflicts and envy and the politics of envy. So what can we do about it?