Some thoughts on civil rights & social issues

Erin just asked me in an e-mail:

I’d be curious your stance on a more civil-rights focused area as well (lgbtq, women, seniors and young people along with the standard racial discrimination) as I’ve seen an uptick in the media about it recently, and I am feeling some small legislation may be coming around at various points (and who knows, maybe the mathew shepard act will finally pass…).  It’d be a small focus, but still something to keep an eye on.

My response, which can hopefully serve as a conversation starter:

My stance on civil rights issues is complicated. I mean personally, it’s not. It just seems intuitive to me that people should be treated on a completely level playing field, and I really don’t understand how anyone can think naked bigotry is the least bit justifiable. Life’s too short to live with such corrosive hate.

However, it’s not the most salient political set of issues to me (with the notable exception of drug policy), precisely because it is so intuitive. Most people have very set views on these issues one way or another, and because there isn’t a lot of biconceptualism (swing voters in English) among the voting population on civil rights matters there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver politically. More than anything, the variable that will decide social justice issues in our favor is time; as older bigots die off and are replaced in the electorate by younger, more tolerant people, the tide will turn. That is already starting to happen on gay marriage and the same will happen on many remaining gender and racial issues in coming decades.

The other thing is, I believe these issues, while important, don’t form the backbone of a society’s big-picture identity. Once the most grievous injustices like codified race-based discrimination are out of the way, the distribution of wealth and the arrangement of economic incentives is much more important in determining whether a society is healthy or not. Right now, America’s economic incentives are downright destructive and are heading in the wrong direction. Income inequality is the worst it has been since 1928. When wealth concentrates too much into the hands of a fortunate few, the political system is inevitably rigged to favor the few, often at the direct expense of the many. Our economic system also fails to assign value to social or environmental priorities, and in the process causes the degradation of community and overexploitation of natural resources. In my opinion, these are the most dangerous current threats to the nation and indeed the world because they are incredibly difficult trends to reverse and can cause lasting damage to human welfare. This is why I suggested the Carrots & Sticks focus be on advocating sustainable prosperity; the term captures all of the stuff I just mentioned, and I’m wary about focusing too broadly at the expense of a core message.

But Carrots & Sticks belongs to all of us, not just me. I’m certainly open to discussion. Bring it up to the whole group if you want, and let’s see what folks say. In fact, I think there is an avenue we can work certain issues in where social backwardness directly interferes with other policy areas (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the War on Drugs are key examples).

Let’s see what everyone thinks….

-Jeremy

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