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Every social institution is governed by hierarchies, ladders of success that reward some talents and behaviors with social and economic benefits while punishing other behaviors. Hierarchies are omnipresent in society, so deeply embedded in the human condition that they are completely unavoidable. It is worth noting that, ethically speaking, not all hierarchies are equal. Hierarchies corrupted by human malevolence reward the worst in human behavior. Hierarchies that recognize the incalculable worth of the human spirit produce positive results. Socialism is a malevolent hierarchy in that it rewards violence, theft, and dehumanization. Whereas capitalism (not crony capitalism) rewards those that produce items of value for a broad range of people.
The key driver in all hierarchies is the concept of value, that there are things more desirable and important than other things. Acknowledgment of value begins a competition for that which is valuable. That competition begins a sorting process between those that are variously equipped with the personal traits to effectively navigate the hierarchy. There are those that inevitably rise to the top of the hierarchy and those that fall to the bottom (and everywhere in between). We thus have one of the cosmic problems that has plagued all of civilization: competitive hierarchies are the unstoppable motors that bring wealth, prosperity, and security to society. However, they also, regardless of their relative ethical prescriptions, create inequality.
Inequality can become a serious problem within even the fairest of hierarchies. People with advantages tend to use those advantages to procure new advantages, while those without advantages often don’t have the tools to move up the economic/social ladder. In effect, this dynamic, often called the “Matthew Principle” or the “Pareto Effect”, shuffles fewer and fewer people to the top of hierarchies and stacks more and more people to the bottom. (Marxists often assert that this is only a problem within capitalism, yet it is quite clear that even communist dictatorships have a 1%). In free societies, the Pareto Effect can pose a real threat to the structural integrity of the ladder of success. It’s one thing when those with truly antisocial behaviors are on the outside looking in, but when honest, hard-working people get stuck on the lower rungs simply because of a lack of tools, then we have a serious problem. “Bottom-heavy” hierarchies are brittle, foment resentment, and ripe for revolution.
A healthy society recognizes the deleterious effects of this cosmic problem and takes steps to alleviate it. Such a society would foster the dignity of the individual and promote meritocracy as a system for attaining success. A healthy society would encourage the creation of social institutions that focus on alleviating the real suffering of those struggling to keep up with a demanding world. A healthy society would see the intrinsic value of all citizens and develop an educational system that seeks to maximize that value. A healthy society would have a government that gives serious thought to the unintended consequences and inevitable trade-offs of economic and social policy.
We, however, do not live in a healthy society.
Instead, what we have is a society where meritocracy is smothered by the grime of entrenched corporatism, a bloodless Leviathan that uses regulatory capture to grease the rungs of the ladder of success. We have a series of crumbling institutions–most notably the church–that have squandered their social capital and allowed their moral mission to coopted by an inept, corrupt federal government. We have an educational system that exploits talented kids by saddling them with soul-crushing debt while simultaneously teaching kids the doctrine of resentment and hate. Finally, we have government that has, in its own ham-fisted way, failed to effectively combat the problem by throwing money at it through projects like The New Deal and The Great Society.
We have, in effect, created a moral void, one that is being filled by social justice activism through the vehicle of critical theory. And their motives are far from pure. Thomas Sowell perfectly encapsulates the driving philosophy behind the many variations of critical theory since its inception: the goal of their so-called equity isn’t justice or fairness, its pure, simple revenge.
The vision of the left, full of envy and resentment, takes its worst toll on those at the bottom – whether black or white – who find in that paranoid vision an excuse for counterproductive and ultimately self-destructive attitudes and behavior.
The social justice movement is, in effect, a rebranded version of neo-Marxism. The critical theorist at the heart of this movement understand that defending Marxism through economic arguments is virtually impossible, so they have simply shifted the focus of the movement to intersectional cultural identity. Following communist activist’s Antonio Gramsci’s formula of institutional capture, they have successfully positioned themselves within America’s leading institutions (universities, the media, pop culture) and are proceeding rapidly toward eventual cultural hegemony.
Good faith actors among us, both liberal and conservative, must recognize that the ultimate goal of the social justice movement isn’t the reform of corrupted, unfair hierarchies or even the well-being of the disenfranchised. The goal is to uproot the western enlightenment ideas at the core of the American experience: reason, individual liberty, objective Truth, the Judeo-Christian ethic, and above all, the very idea of value. They have no intention of creating a better ladder to success; they want to kick it over. This is a philosophy of envy, of deceit. It is a way of thinking about the world that offers meaning to the empty through the visceral experience of bloodlust and vengeance.
And, unless we can somehow muster the will to stem the tide, we will all be equal in our misery.Published in