Contours of Conservative Hypocrisy: Part Two
- by M. Junaid Alam
In this ongoing series aimed at dissecting right-wing terminology, we take a look at two crucial and oft-employed codewords of the Right: personal responsibility and reverse racism.
(See Part One)
A key component of the Right's supposed notion of "rugged individualism" is the insistence that the plight of any individual in society is mainly, if not solely, the result of some flaw in that individual's personality or behavior. Sniggering contempt is displayed for anyone who tries to highlight the flaws of the actual social system in which the individual lives. Anyone who can't find employment or fails to advance in some field, for instance, need only hang his head at his own stupidity, weakness, or whatever other personal shortcoming; all other actors and agents on the social scene are absolved of responsibility.
But this ethic is applied with extreme selectiveness: poor people, minorities, oppressed groups, and the working-class are sternly instructed to adhere to this protocol, but the business elite and their government friends are neatly exempted.
Hence, businesses are allowed to "externalize costs" - let owners reap maximum short-term profits by offloading longer-term consequences of production on the health of employees and the environment. Wealthy corporations also hold out their hands so they can stuff into their bulging pockets public money - generously thrown to them by the government - as "corporate subsidies," thus avoiding the perilous fate meted out to less fortunate souls in the glorious free-market system. Failing businesses run by grossly overpaid managers are also free to slash wages, benefits, and jobs of those underneath them to cut down costs which ballooned only because of their own incompetence, forcing employees to cope with unpredictable and sometimes dire consequences for their bosses' mistakes.
Precisely the same sorry, irresponsible, trend can be observed in government behavior in foreign policy. The vast reservoir of growing hatred and resentment felt by hundreds of millions of people around the world for America is the direct result of this government's underwriting of major atrocities across the globe - a fact openly recognized this year in the form of two major reports, one by the Defense Science Board and the other by the National Intelligence Council.
And because we live in the ugly untidy world of reality and not on an ideal fantasy island, people victimized by US aggression abroad (be it torture, mass bombardment, or supporting puppet dictators) do not necessarily make neat and clean distinctions between government agents and civilians. Therefore, America saw September 11th, a day on which thousands of innocents were murdered because the US government betrayed them, by (a) funding the very same cast of characters who struck the towers back when they were deemed "freedom fighters" for combating Soviet Marxism, and (b) leaving American civilians to deal with the fatal consequences of the elite's power and profit-driven meddling in the Middle East. Just another case of externalized costs.
This remarkable codeword is ensconced within the general framework of the earlier-dissected term moral equivalency, but deserves individual treatment because of its popularity among rightists, who reach to it almost intuitively. The basic premise is that affirmative action - for blacks in college considerations for instance - is merely racism in reverse, and therefore inherently unfair against whites. The very basis of the complaint operates on one of three assumptions at any given time: it denies the history of blacks being on the receiving end of an inherently unfair system of discrimination in the first place; assumes somehow that an equalization of opportunity has magically taken place very recently; or posits that since blacks are of less value than whites, their history of oppression is irrelevant and need not be compensated for.
The point was starkly illustrated when rightists on some college campuses set up politicized bakery sales in which whites had to pay a higher price for baked goods than blacks. Using the same setup, however, the point can also be utterly demolished. The bake sale demonstration completely covers up the historical reality preceding affirmative action - that is, it does not take into account the centuries of affirmative action enjoyed by whites. After all, if the bake sale demonstration was historically representative, for nine-tenths of the time the sale was going on it would have to be blacks who pay a higher price, since for centuries whites have, still speaking figuratively, been buying up the baked goods at far less cost than blacks. More bluntly, blacks were either slaving away under the white whip to produce the "goods" or producing them at such a menial wage to make them affordable to white consumers.
To paraphrase Cornel West, the choice is between letting blacks face a job environment in which they will be discriminated against, or letting blacks face a job environment in which they will be discriminated against, with institutionalized mechanisms to grant them some protections. At its heart, the argument against affirmative action simply reflects the fact that we still live in a racist society. The uproar over affirmative action-type programs, then, only validates the need to have them there in the first place.
M. Junaid Alam, 21, Boston, co-editor of radical youth journal Left Hook (http://www.lefthook.org), feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org