Sunday, December 07, 2014

What Can I Say For Liberals?

I have posted before on what I think it is to be liberal.  At the time, I said it was to place (or aspire to place) universal justice over in-group loyalty.  Another way to put it would be that there is a trade-off between breadth and depth of our social ties and (generally speaking) a liberal is one who favors breadth and a conservative is one who favors depth.  Or, most simply put. a liberal is one who seeks to broaden social ties, or to broaden the circle of people we are willing to take into account.  To be conservative (I suppose) would be to seek deeper and tighter social ties, among a more narrow circle. And to be anti-liberal is to resent liberal for seeking draw the circle too widely.

All of this came to mind after reading these recent posts mocking liberals for their concern about the Eric Garner killing.  The basic criticism of white liberals who are offended by police killing black men is (perhaps predictably) that they are phony, shallow, superficial, and inauthentic.  After all, you are professing empathy and solidarity with people you don't really know or understand.  It comes across as smug, superior and patronizing.  It is an attempt by people living in comfort and safety to appropriate for themselves someone else's trauma in order to have more excitement in their lives and to show moral superiority to the blue collar cops, or to people who don't care.

And, yes, I think there is some truth to these accusations.  Some of it is just an attempt to be trendy like boycotting GMO and keeping up with the latest food fashions.  Empathy for people you do not know, who are outside your experience is bound to be more superficial than for people you really do know and understand.  Such attempts do often mean projecting one's own interests and desires onto other people and, as such, comes across as offensively patronizing.  Worse, it can mean trying to force the purported targets of one's sympathy to meet one's own preconceived notions, a thing that can be more intrusive and offensive than simple, outright hostility, let long simple indifference.

So, as a liberal, what do I say in our defense?  I suppose that I would say that the liberal approach for all its flaws, is still better than the alternative.  The alternative, after all, is to say, why should I care, it doesn't affect me or anyone I know.  And I will grant, such a response is genuine.  It is sincere.  It is authentic.  But all that proves in the end is that genuineness and sincerity and authenticity don't count for much, in an of themselves.

Cross-posted at Essayist-Lawyer

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