Nearly every talking head on Fox Business news is going on with some shtick about how the left is “socialist” or “anti-capitalist”. Their attitude is only causing harm, because they believe that capitalism is perfect and the market is perfect. For instance, John Stossel reacts to forcing an egg farm to recall 500 million salmonella infected eggs by saying (paraphrased), “Let the market decide. That company will get a bad market experience, and people won’t buy their eggs, and then they’ll change their practice”. It’s more important to him to have pure free market, then to save some people from dying from salmonella.
Speaking as someone on the left, I think capitalism is pretty much the best economic system we have, but it’s also a flawed one. And that recognition is the difference between me and dangerous idealism on the right. Their idealism is going to hurt people.
More recently, after the Obama election and the New Town massacre, and listening to the promotion of how good it is for everyone to own and walk around with guns, and how the 2nd Amendment helps fend off an out-of-control government, I feel I am hearing the same idealism. A sort of idealism that seems has lost it grip with reality. I hear arguments that are images in which embattled good folk are fending off home invasions with the shotguns in their door-side umbrella stands, and rapists being shot in the doorways and kitchens. As if home invasions are happening to say 5% of households all around us every day, or that every day women are shooting their rapists. As if the these practices are in such obvious current use that it definitively proves that removing guns will have a huge impact on our daily safety. Cap this with the ultimate bogey man of an out of control government and the 2nd Amendment’s reasonable calling out that risk, and you can see how an unrealistic idealism is in play solely for the purpose of fending-off fear.
I’m using ‘idealism’ in the sense of leading with ideas rather than material facts, where ones emotional state is driving a set of ungrounded or unproven ideas, and where there is no interest in working on finding a best solution. In this mode, there is little interest in investing in discovering material facts, identifying realistic scenarios, and testing possible solutions. Idealism is the hammer forcing the preconceived answer into every question. It is not a good basis for discussion, let alone policy. It’s been used by the Right in American political speech to justify name calling: “liberals”, “socialists”, “anti-capitalists” and other demonizations while dressing themselves up in what they imagine to be a good life of freedom: “free-markets”, “unrestricted capitalism”, and no restrictions on guns. It’s got to be tough working from that fearful place.