Conservatism, pt. 2

I got away from my main point talking about the shooting, I think. Emotions got the better of me, I suppose.

My point was primarily that I identify with a lot of the toxic beliefs that those angry young white men have. The most toxic one to me is that the world is fair.

It’s not. If you truly believe the world is fair, ultimately, you are going to develop some terrible beliefs. I don’t know how to justify children starving or dying of illness. I don’t think it’s God’s fault, but I also don’t think God is going to help out either.

This is a common problem for religious believers–theodicy, or the problem of suffering–and it’s a large part of why I’m not religious anymore. Bart Ehrman, Duke theologian, articulates it a bit here:

How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

My fundamental problem with what I see as the core of American conservative beliefs, is that they hold American society to be a mostly fair place.

  • The free market works, AND we live in a free market society.
  • The wealthy earned their money. Therefore, people in poverty too did something to deserve it.
  • Fortunate people are Godly and deserve their good luck. Again, by extension the unlucky deserve their luck as well.
  • Private charity can take of those in need. American society is not so unjust as to require things like social services, affirmative action, etc.

Those are four big problematic ideas for me, and they’re a large part of why I drifted away from conservatism in college. But. But but but but. These are uncontroversial beliefs among many US conservatives. And they are terrible. If you are even remotely privileged, these beliefs essentially tell you it’s okay–you deserve it. 

These angry young white men all had a sense of entitlement that I had. They were decent, young, middle-class men. Surely the world was going to be their oyster. It wasn’t that easy.

But they deserved happiness! They deserved money, and sex, and good careers! Someone took those dreams away from them–whom?

Women? African-Americans? Immigrants?

That’s my point. These angry young men believed they were owed ideals, money, women’s bodies, that never belonged to them. Their core belief system seemed to reinforce the idea that they deserved good things happening to them–it is only fair. But the world isn’t fair.

And so my problem with conservative beliefs in the fundamental fairness of the world, as I see it, is that they create two terrible outcomes.

  1. You are fortunate. Congratulations. Maybe you’ll donate a little bit of money to charity, but fundamentally if people are righteous, decent people they would have your luck. So it’s not really a moral imperative to help the less fortunate.
  2. You’re not fortunate. Clearly you’ve been wronged, because the world is a fair place. It’s time to get angry.

These aren’t the only outcomes, of course–that would be silly. But I’ve seen an awful lot of #1, and #2 seems to not be uncommon either.

The world isn’t fair. And that’s okay, sort of. We’re humans. We can create social systems and structures to mitigate the worst effects of poverty. We’ve made a lot of positive steps towards the equality of all humans. Shit, we’re not living in a feudal system anymore–that alone is worthy of praise. We can improve peoples’ lives if we want to.

But with conservative faith in the Just World fallacy, there’s just this sort of deadly complacency. This seems to be especially true among some of the evangelicals I know–having the “correct” belief is enough to guarantee heaven, so why bother with deeds?–but it’s seen in a lot of conservative policies. You see it when Jeb Bush tells single mothers to just get married already. Or why have abortions, ever, when you can just find the right husband who earns enough to raise all of your children? Why help the poor, when charity will obviously take care of it? Why bother to improve things at all when the world is going to end anyway?

So, anyway, that’s my long-winded explanation of how being raised conservative turned me into a liberal. And it’s why I think those angry young men probably were raised to be conservative–the core belief of entitlement practically demands it. I had it too, years ago, and I still remember its appeal. A simple explanation for the world, where I had been wronged? It was great, and seductive, and the only problem of course was that it was 100% dead fucking wrong.

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