Saturday, April 26, 2014

The ripening inequality debate

I agree with this,
I remember white South African liberals bemoaning apartheid while the maid served supper. I grasped only recently (after reading Mark Gevisser’s excellent new book Dispatcher, about Johannesburg) that most of them didn’t want to end apartheid. They just liked talking liberal talk. It made them feel virtuous, and set them above peasants who actually believed in apartheid. In fact, apartheid liberals resemble liberals today who bemoan climate change while flying everywhere and not voting for parties that would tackle the problem (I know: I’m guilty too). As climate change gets forgotten, the latest fake liberals are the Davos types who bemoan inequality at billionaire-sponsored cocktail parties... Apartheid ended partly for the same reason why communism collapsed in 1989, and why inequality may yet diminish: the ruling class became ashamed. 
There is a form of similar cognitive dissonance, even sheer hypocrisy, that underlines current liberal thinking on issues like inequality. The displacement of entrenched ideas happens through a slow process of ripening of the anti-thesis. It is of course difficult to estimate whether the anti-thesis has acquired enough traction (or breached a threshold) in the minds of the collective (say, ashamed them enough) to over-throw the extant ideology. Interestingly, history shows that once the dialectic is in motion, as is surely true of the debate on inequality, reversals can happen very quickly.

Has Obama's "inequality as the defining challenge of our time" campaign and Thomas Piketty's "serious" book provided the triggers, especially the United States, for "complicit" liberals to become "activist" liberals? I think it may have. 

1 comment:

errata said...

That's interesting and makes me wonder if change precipitates suddenly if the direction it takes may be uncontrolled. If so and if we dislike the result, any mid-course correction may be impossible. Also, I'd be interested in any preparatory efforts that can be made to aid such a change in a desired direction. (Head the stampede away from the cliff!)