from the pages of July/August 1995

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Worry About the Liberals

By Z Staff

 

Everyone with eyes to see clearly, ears to hear accurately, hard-acquired knowledge to withstand manipulation, and a heart that nourishes human values is, of course, in a tizzy about the Right. But what about the mainstream liberals? On many issues, they look good compared to Gingrich. But liberal ideology has horribly disturbing facets even if you ignore its mistaken assumptions.

For example, liberals think that our basic economic system is okay, even wonderful, and that we just need to be more vigilant to avoid the nagging, nasty problems we suffer: poverty, alienation, ecological catastrophe, and war. We have to monitor the system, they urge. We have to regulate it, they intone. Of course, as radicals, we know capitalism will only be regulated and monitored by using tools subordinate to the very system we are trying to correct. What can be accomplished this way is what we fight to win, over and over, no more or less.

But as hard as it may be to temporarily suspend our better judgment, suppose that mainstream liberals are right that the underlying system is largely okay and that we just have to guard against its peripheral potential for degrading, impoverishing, and asphyxiating us. There is one thing we would still fail to understand about the "classic liberal position."

No one would casually install a kitchen appliance or a heating system in their home that by its very nature exuded, say, a poison gas, so that the householders had to constantly curb, rechannel, and clean up after the gas. No family would use any item in their home that required constant monitoring and regulating to avoid disastrous consequences.

Similarly, no town would opt for a sewage system that dealt very well with many types of waste -- this corresponds to the (ridiculous) liberal assumption that capitalism deals well with allocation and innovation -- but that dealt with other types of waste in ways that caused disease or devastating fires so that the town would have to devote all its energy to perpetually curb, tend, or recover from diseases and/or fires. Why would any sensible person in the town celebrate this approach to waste disposal, unless, of course -- the exception that proves the rule -- the person benefited from the waste system, was protected from the diseases and fire, and didn’t care about those who weren’t?

So even if we held a typical liberal view of contemporary relations and thought harmful outcomes were just an annoying by-product, we would still much prefer a new system that wasn’t counter to people’s best interests and that didn’t require constant monitoring and regulation

So, if we lived in a poisoned house, we would constantly be on the look out for a different way to cook the meal, or heat the living room. And if we lived in a burnt-out, diseased neighborhood, with a perverse sewage system, we would look for a better way to handle the garbage. Unless, of course, we didn’t care about anyone but ourselves and we had a way to avoid these ill effects. Then we might defend destructive ways of doing things, because they benefited us.

 

So what’s confusing us about the mainstream liberal position is this: if a person sincerely believes that capitalism brings, as a byproduct, a host of irritating and even grossly destructive outcomes requiring constant struggle to curb or correct, shouldn’t that person be excited to hear about an alternative economic approach with no bad effects? Shouldn’t they hope a better alternative is possible? Shouldn’t they be depressed when an alternative proposal proves to be worse than the status quo? Shouldn’t they then want to try harder to find new alternatives, rather than to say, triumphantly, "OK, that shows that I have to stick with my poisonous house, my pyrotechnic sewage system, my greed-promoting, ego-erupting, solidarity-negating, soul-deprecating, equity-annihilating, culture-crushing, diversity-denying, war-promoting, democracy-destroying economic system?"

Well, yes, unless, of course, the person has found a way to escape the poison or sickness or fire, or the poverty and alienation, and to profit from others’ suffering, and doesn’t care about the rest of us.

 

When you look at it this way, noting that liberals celebrate the existing economy eagerly and deny the need to consider a better one, the difference between conservatives and liberals is that the former admit to thinking most of humanity deserves to suffer at their behest, while the liberals deny this view to the public, and to themselves, but reveal it as their own with their continuing hostility to finding a better economic system. Liberals and conservatives alike defend their advantages. Unless doing so is consistent with their advantages, they don’t give a damn about alleviating, much less eliminating, oppression.