“How American Progressivism Overshot its Target”

Over the past several years, my Facebook feed has been increasingly bombarded with an unceasing current of self-righteous internet blog posts criticizing society for its backwardness. Despite considerable temptation, I made a mental calculation that the personal risk of alienating friends with my contrarian views and the professional risk of jeopardizing career opportunities (since Facebook doesn’t exist in a vaccum) was too high for me to stomach.

So, I kept quiet. Yet, after witnessing ignorance masquerading as progressivism time and time again, the ember of silent anger in the pit of my stomach has grown to an inferno. I have reached a tipping point, and I refuse to stay quiet any longer against the tyranny of “progressivism” in the digital age.

Can There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

In a typical American fashion, ours is a problem of excess. We are so openminded that we have become closeminded to the closeminded. We are so equal that we have become repulsed at the very thought of inequality. After all, the experiment that was America hinged upon on the very idea of equality.

And for a while, our staunch insistence on equality seemed to work – educational reforms meant our children received free public education, universal suffrage meant that women and blacks could vote, and disability reforms meant that the handicap received equal treatment. But just like everything in this world, there is a fine-line between too much and too little – a sweet spot Aristotle called the “golden mean.” And once this threshold is crossed, that much more of a good thing becomes increasingly bad. In our overzealousness for equality, we – as Americans – have overstepped that line.

Equality in an Unequal World

It’s safe to say that the casino of life does not give everyone an equal hand. You have to play with the cards your dealt. One might say that luck is baked into the very fabric of our universe. In fact, quantum mechanics dictates that probabilities forecast the outcomes of events at the lowest level of particle interaction. Extrapolating up by induction, we can see that determinism just isn’t a characteristic of our shared reality.

The problem with luck is that some people have it while others simply don’t. It’s inherently unequal. Sadly, not everyone can win the jackpot, and analogously, the casino of life picks favorites. Be it fame, fortune or good lucks, endowments in life are not equally distributed.

The disparity in allocation is not necessarily a bad thing, either – it is merely a de facto reality. A baby born into the royal family does not deserve his good fortune any more than the baby born into a rural village of Uganda deserves his station in life. The real issue is that the axiom of equality we Americans cling to dear life to is inconsistent with the inherent inequality of our universe. Fundamentally, it simply does not jibe with reality.

The American Identity and the Inalienable Legacy of Equality

As Americans, our shared ideals are tied so closely to our identity that to renounce these cherished virtues is simply un-American. Amongst these values is the inalienable right to equality, built into the framework of our country in the Declaration of Independence. The American identity has been reinforced through patriotism, shaming those who do not espouse the American way. Thus, patriotism as a normalizing force has taken equality past the golden mean.

The Transmogrification of Equality into Entitlement

The problem with ideas taken to an extreme is that they break down at scale. Out of our desperation to cling to the idea of equality for dear life came the transmogrification of equality into entitlement. After all, equality is an inalienable right. Regardless of context, I expect equality, period. Otherwise, you must be bigoted and un-American. Thus, out of the strict dogma of equality, came entitlement.

Unfortunately, unchecked entitlement has far-reaching psychological side-effects in the collective consciousness. The most injurious of these side effects is that entitlement undermines the notion of cause and effect. People begin to think, “why should I receive less than someone who works twice as hard as I do when we are inherently equal?” It also leads to an unhealthy degree of self-acceptance since our faults are no longer our own, but yours to accommodate.

In this age of thisisthinprivilege.tumblr.com, we subscribe to an aggressive predetermination philosophy to absolve us of our shortcomings. Because I accept myself since I am perfect and equal, I have no willingness to change. I am not a bad artist, you simply do not understand my artwork. Nor am I a bad cook. We just have different tastes in cuisine. Women who have not so much as held a door for another person in their life all believe that any man less than a prince charming is not up to par. Thus, the weltanschauung of progressivism in the digital age became self-acceptance only not by the self but by others, too.

The Fatalism of Online Blogging

As modern-day Americans, we’ve become so attuned to accepting our flaws that we resign ourselves of the agency for change. Instead of accountability, we ask for accommodation.

Rooted in the rickety foundations of our own insecurities, the zeitgeist of exoneration in our society is a destructive force: since at any instant, these foundations are liable to collapse, we respond to objections to our beliefs contentiously. What we lack in self-assurance, we make up for in outward-conviction. We have honed our ability to disarm detractors so expertly that our defense mechanisms have become reflexive: without a second thought, we respond to challenges to our ideas with mantras such as “check your privilege.”

Since the slightest disturbance can shatter our delicate illusion, these fatalistic rationalizations have become obsessive. We are more keen on convincing others of the correctness of our beliefs rather than ourselves to ward off our own misgivings. In many ways, our rationalizations have become a crutch we rely upon to escape feeling shame.

The problem with emotional band-aids is that there is still a wound hidden beneath.

Instead of looking within ourselves for change, we look to others. We petition, we pout and we blog away furiously, all in a fruitless quest for self-fulfillment.

When I was in grade school, I remember the refrain my peers would always offer in order to absolve themselves of blame: “I’m just not smart enough to do this.” As I quickly realized, there was by and large no such thing as “I’m not smart enough” when it came to math. It was simply “I’m not industrious enough to do this.” When I scored a 2040 on the PSAT, I realized that it was not because I was not smart enough to earn a top score, it was because I did not prepare hard enough. So, I buckled down and studied. Three months later, I retook the exam and earned a 2360.

The Land of Opportunity

From a historical context, I find the almost Neitzschian reversal of values entirely unamerican. Born into the philosophical creed of the enlightenment era belief that “man is endowed with the faculty to better himself,” our founding fathers also envisioned a nation where a man can thrive by virtue of his own efforts. The fatalism underpinning our modern-day “internet progressivism” is exactly antithetical to the axiom underpinning America as the quintessential “land of opportunity.” Thus, the idea of unearned equality is self-contradictory.

There’s No Shame in Feeling Ashamed

In doing just about anything to escape our own feelings of inadequacy, we have all but accepted imperfection. However, in order to change ourselves for the better, we need to surmount the ubiquitous fear of failure. In inuring ourselves to the pain of unmet expectations, we take the vital first steps to recovery.

Ultimately, true self-acceptance is not asking others to accept our flaws. It’s asking ourselves to accept our capacity to fix our flaws.

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