there is nothing sadder than american progressivism. first of all, it was never coherent: the only plan was to help people by subordinating them. all day every day for what's coming up on centuries now, the left gets a bunch of experts together to tell us how to fix...black people. it has not changed in decades; there are no ideas, no imagination, just autistic repetition. de blasio is going back to the high-rise housing project. the first time around, it was a straight-up reservation system, and the indian reservation was also a progressive program for the uplifting of a backward race riddled with pathologies. the basic model of the 'great' 'society' was the internment camp, built by demolishing actual streets, houses and communities. in this case it was the imposition of a completely state-dominated concrete environment designed by evil cretins, i.e. experts: just the sort of people who rise in our meritocracy. then you wondered why the residents tore the place up. let's see...it must be their pathologies! we need professors to tell us how to fix them again. and again. and...
or how about some forced residential integration? in both these cases, allow me to point out that community cannot be imposed on people through sheer prescription, backed by force or even incentive. perhaps there is a bit of energy on the left just now. i am just begging y'all not to use this energy to run backwards to the same old disasters. also i am saying this to you straight up: you don't know how people do live, and you don't know how people ought to live, and the only decent situation is one in which people decide that for themselves, not where harvard professors decide it for them. the first datum for any actual movement toward social justice has just got to be this: people's autonomy must be respected. it's their account to themselves of themselves that matters; to think anything else is just to perpetuate the privilege to which you purport to be opposed: your own privilege, bill de blasio; your own, rahm emanuel.
daniel patrick moynihan, let's say, was what we might term an internal colonialist, bwana in a pith helmet on safari to uplift the dark continent within and bring to it the blessings of civilization.
probably folks like those think that they have devoted their careers to remediating the hierarchy they are themselves perched atop, and they propose to remove it specifically by its ever-more thorough exercise. they are enjoying it, claiming it, and imposing it. and simultaneously they are identifying it as the problem they're trying to fix. spend the next few generations in withering self-examination instead of other-examination, alright?
black people and poor people or trailer trash or whomever you're thinking of: they are far more qualified than robert reich to decide how they should live, and unlike robert reich they have a right to. i'm serious: there is no ph.d. that will help you know how people should live; there are no ethical qualifications, no certifications, no expertise except living your life with other people in your place. for example, cass sunstein prescribes the nudge, but the whole thing just effortlessly assumes that people like cass sunstein understand what each of us should be nudged toward. there are no experts on that but each of us. and you should contemplate the extreme arrogance of people who simply take it as a given that they know how everyone should live. that's an ethical failure, a golden rule violation. but it also just shows the breathtaking incomprehension, self-regard, and unconscious evil of the privileged, and helps reproduce the structure of that privilege generation after generation. and the program is supposed to be egalitarian. no doubt they're off rocking davos on behalf of the oppressed.
people like reich and sunstein exemplify the ways class and race are articulated or actually made now: they move back and forth from academia to think-tank to state, through the archipelago of social-science expertise, epistemic prestige, and real power. (and i am telling you that even rahm and bill are future distinguished professors at the kennedy school of government or whatever as they wait to cycle into the cabinet.) but reich and sunstein, for example, take on the neutral voice of the social scientist and they are chock full of statistics. this voice is an extremely central example of the 'unmarked' position of privilege: they do not implicate themselves in their advocacy. but the social sciences - overlapping with a medical model of pathologies and also a criminal-justice discourse - have been the nexus of racial and class construction since the early twentieth century. (before that they measured your skull and tried to fit your people into the sequence of evolution: somewhere between slug slime and nature's crowning achievement rutherford b. hayes.)
all the state-implemented racial transformations, each layer of new welfare and housing programs, each new war on poverty and discrimination, has been justified by the social sciences. many have been unalloyed disasters, but expertise always gets it right this time, by its own account.
the thing about expertise, especially the (pseudo-)scientific variety: you ought to be silent before it: you have to bow to the facts; the claim is to a special power to declare what is real. and yet the categories of the statistical tables just recirculate and reinforce the wretchedly problematic race and class taxonomies, and the whole thing presupposes that we have a right to gather information on them so we can address their problems: their problems as named by us. the power dynamics are completely inbuilt, the numbers a kind of spectral emanation of the a priori stance and categories. and a long century of this has left us fundamentally untransformed. these hierarchies are more extreme and intransigent than when y'all started. how have democratic administrations done at ameliorating income inequalities, for example? i will say again: that's because the solutions and their rhetorics are imposed by direct exercises of domination by the very people who are the problem, from the very top of the power hierarchy. that just is not going to have liberating effects: not last time or the time before that and not next time.
[note to post-marxists: guess what? political hierarchies and hierarchies of knowledge are as real as economic hierarchies, and in general they coincide. it is not necessary for robert reich to be the richest man in the bay area for him to be a person of tremendous privilege in more or less every dimension.]
how are we going to get better on race and class and so on? start by giving up. you have no status that entitles you to re-locate people or re-educate them, to watch or cure or name them. until it's their own voices, not the experts and political authorities speaking on their behalf, it's all sheer cultural domination or even annihilation. let go. let people make their own lives.