Thursday, June 14, 2007


Our Caregiver may be a Republican

I tend to get all worked up about some of the things that I write about in this blog. For example, my previous post was an expression of my deep pessimism about whether we could ever achieve a society in which everyone has enough to eat, has adequate housing, has work that is useful and provides a reward to the worker, and so on. I concluded that a pure, unregulated market economy would never provide such a society and that there would always be a class of people who work for starvation wages.

My wife and I have a caregiver. She is a lady from the Philippines. She and her husband both take care of elderly people. I've found that the best caregivers are Filipinos and Filipinas. They like the work and are not in the least bothered by the fact that caregiving does not provide upward mobility. They are happy to be able to work for decent wages and to send money home to their families in the Philippines.

I started expressing my skepticism about our economic system, but the caregiver interrupted me. She insisted that there is plenty of work in this country and that anyone who is willing to work at the jobs that are available can earn enough money to support a good life.

I've reflected on what she said. There is truth in it. She sees the economic system from the point of view of an individual who looks for work, finds it, and works and earns money. She sees no reason to doubt that anyone can do as she and her husband have done.

I realized that this particular way of looking at society, of seeing how it specifically affects the observer, rather than looking at society as a whole and seeing how many people are left in poverty is characteristic of many conservative Republicans. I don't know whether our caregiver will vote for Republicans if she ever becomes an American citizen. Filipinos tend to become Democrats when they vote. Perhaps looking at society from the viewpoint of your own best interest is not necessarily a defining mark of a conservative. Many conservatives also look at the distribution of incomes and regret the existence of a permanent class of poor people. Their solutions tend to be self-help for young people, to encourage them to follow the example of our caregivers and not give up to discouragement. They tend to distrust attempts by government to provide jobs and support for the poor.

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Good blog entry Al.

I draw on Nietzsche and Marx a lot despite their political differences. This is basically a response to your caregiver and conservatism.

If people are accustomed to being oppressed by ideologies that involve submissiveness and the existence of an eternal afterlife, it may not even be within their realm to either think of concrete earthly progressive action or to care much about it.

So sure, if the idea of a good life is to do whatever it takes to fit into a pre-ordained system and merely survive, and then you get to go to heaven, there isn't much call for progressive politics. How much more progressive can things get than going from a baby to an adult with any job, to making babies, to going to heaven?

There is little room for progressive politics when there is disseminated an ideology involving "progressive metaphysics".
Good point, Michael.

However, we must not overlook the important progressive politicians and other influential progressives who are also members of a conservative religion, namely Catholicism. Most Catholics tend to be quite "liberal" regarding public generosity toward the poor and unfortunate, as opposed to "conservatives" who resent having their money "stolen" from them to benefit others. Catholic teachings are very conservative regarding birth control, contraception, homosexuality, and abortion. Many Catholics simply ignore these teachings. What can poor Pope Benedict do? All he can do is rail against "ala carte christianity."
While helping the poor could be seen as progressive, there's also a somewhat cynical way of looking at it. For instance, many years ago I was introduced to the Left idea that FDR's "New Deal" programs were conservative in that they preserved capitalism by way of making a few concessions. Regardless of whether or not I agree with this, one thing it did teach me is that politics were even more complex than I had imagined.

So while there is ostensible merit in providing for the poor, it need not reflect a progressive diffusion of empowerment so much as a Machiavellian mode of maintaining centralized power.
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