Thursday, November 04, 2004

Progress and Cultural Education

To respond to Matt H. --

1. I'm skeptical about any idea of progress. Progress toward what? How do we know? It seems to me to smack of hubris to say that we in 2004 are more enlightened than folks in, say, 1904 or 1004; or that we, Democrats, are more enlightened than you, Republicans (and besides, don't those other folks think the same thing?). The idea of progress rises and falls on the worth of human reason; and I for one am not confident about the strength of human reason.

2. I'm skeptical about the idea of education as the means to spur "progress." Is ignorance really the problem? Anecdotally, I know smart, knowledgable people who think gay marriage is an awful idea; and I know people or more modest education and intelligence who think that anyone opposed to gay marriage is a neanderthal.

Apart from the anecdote, it seems to me the divide isn't between the ignorant (are the ignorant, anyway, those who disgree with us?) and the sophisticated; the divide is between those who hold a strong view of the separation of private morality and law; and those who whold a weak view of that same separation. I hesitate to call this a religious/secular divide (I'm Catholic and have a fairly strong view of the divide between private morality and legal sanction), even though it may in fact translate to the religious, on the one hand, and the non-religious, on the other. Either way, the issue it seems to me boils down to the way we envision our society and our society's collective priorities.

I agree with you, Matt H., that progressives (which is a much better term than
"liberals") need to take this opportunity to create a more effective way to meet their goals (I would suggest that actually articulating those goals first would be helpful--and perhaps finding a charismatic spokesperson to do just that would also be useful). But I would also suggest that persuading people to adopt progressive views has less to do with education than it has to do with persuasion--convincing people not that they don't know what you know (and they need to learn it, from you); but rather that one vision of society is better than another. Maybe this is just semantic (persuasion v. education), but I do think there's a substantive difference (persuasion, after all, entails more than reason alone), and that difference reflects a certain understanding of what exactly it means for a large segment of the population to adopt a different political perspective--especially in the context of the current election