Class / Feminism / LGBTQ / Race

Liberals Fall Short: System Failure

As I mentioned in part 1, I could go on ad nauseum on the pitfalls of liberal ideology, but as this is merely a three-part series, I will end it with the idea of liberals falling into the same traps as everyone else, no matter how enlightened liberal ideology might make someone feel. Going forward, I encourage you to read the other parts of this series, as well as be critical of liberalism in general.

Part 1 of this series: Violence and Nonviolence

Part 2 of this series: Liberalism as a Supremacist Identity

Treating the Symptoms

Liberals care about the butterfly effect. They like to think that one person making a small difference in their own lives contributes to a great difference in the world. They want to know that they are contributing to that greater good, and that if everyone just did as they did, the world would be a better place. This usually means liberals fight against individual oppression without acknowledging its systemic counterpart. Individual oppression is the symptom and systemic oppression is the cause, but so often liberals are out to combat symptoms. You see this all the time in acts of “sustainability,” or making “informed” purchases. And while in some cases, this can have an effect in one’s immediate vicinity (maybe), most of the time, we are still participating in an inherently exploitative economic system, and by practicing informed consumerism, we are not doing anything but continuing to pump blood through it, so this system can keep making decisions that undo our own.

You might think of this as a not seeing the forest for the trees issue, and you would be almost right. But that would still make you wrong. A few years ago, British chef and nutrition advocate, Jamie Oliver, went on some talk show to examine the inside of this working mother’s refrigerator to find out why her children were so sluggish and obese, basically. And when he found out her freezer was filled with frozen things meant to be dropped into hot oil until vaguely golden brown, he passed a Gordon Ramsay sized kidney stone, demanding to know how she could treat her children this way. He called her abusive, he called her a terrible mother.

Jamie Oliver looking constipated

It probably looked a little like this

Nowhere did he acknowledge that families who have health and nutrition problems have little to no support or education when it comes to feeding their kids the “right” foods. Overall, families that eat the healthiest, are also the wealthiest, and food insecurity is most vulnerable to low-income families. But Oliver was not there to express these inequalities, but espouse his views through targeted capitalism (buy this, not that), where a person’s consumer choices decide how good they are.

Between folks like Oliver and say, a volunteer working to “end world hunger” with a major charity organization, you might see these two people as opposites where one is scrutinizing the little picture and the other is focused on the big picture. Both parties want to help, but both parties are also failing to recognize the behind-the-scenes issues that affect people in a way that they will not be able to change. These are systems of oppression that keep poor people poor, the hungry hungry, and the malnourished doing the most they can on the least amount of energy. There are hundreds of examples like these where liberals ultimately can point out individual oppression but not systemic oppression.

Fools Don’t Know What Equality Is

Now I won’t spend a lot of time on this, because I already spend most of my discourse trying to explain to privileged people why they’re wrong, and a lot of this has to do with seeing inequality incredibly superficially. Not knowing what equality is, or what exactly it is aiming for is one of these superficial things. We learn from a young age that everyone is equal on the inside, but we don’t learn that people are still continued to be treated unequally, despite the kumbaya crap. This is why you have privileged people complaining about things not being “fair.” It’s not “fair” that achieving white students are “hurt” by affirmative action, but not the other way around. It’s not “fair” that if a girl hits a guy he’s not allowed to hit back. It’s not “fair” that straight allies aren’t welcome at this LGBT event. What happened to being kind to everyone? Why do we have to oppress some people in order to lift up others? What happened to equality?

racism hurts everybody button

But let’s talk about how it especially hurts me, the white man.

This is an EXTREMELY short sighted perspective of equality that “treating everyone the same” won’t even come close to fixing. You’re not being oppressed. You haven’t been oppressed for generations. The word “equality” has more or less lost its meaning because every time a privileged person brings it up to highlight some sort of inequality aimed at themselves, they fail to look at history or power structures. Comedians routinely talk about how they make fun of everyone, and how their comedy is equal opportunity. There is no such thing.

These liberals operate on their own perceptions of equality, which ignore institutionalized racism, sexism, and homophobia, systems which have made power relations unequal for hundreds of years. Trying to point out supposed petty inequalities against the privileged like this makes us all lose track of who is really in power, and how it will take longer than your lifetime to undo centuries of damage. To be bigoted is an individual failing something, and the way to cure it is to look deep inside themselves. This is the truth, but it also misses the much larger question of where that oppression came from and why it’s still happening today.

These liberals often operate as though the goal of anti-oppression is to perfect the Golden Rule, and that the main problem in society is the fact that there are a number of assholes behind oppression that need to be stopped. They don’t realize that the systems put in place encourage all of us to participate, and work almost autonomously to keep themselves alive. They don’t realize that the main point of not being racist has to do with eradicating this long tradition of inequality, and not just trying to avoid making others feel bad. They get wrapped up in “racism is hurtful” when the real issue is “racism harms people, and those being harmed are not white.” It is true, that racism is hurtful, but if we let our focus shift for one second, privileged people will think about that one time they were the butt of reverse racism, and believe that their hurt feelings are the same as being oppressed.

6 thoughts on “Liberals Fall Short: System Failure

  1. I really love the second part of this article: ‘Fools Don’t Know What Equality Is’. It’s astonishing how many people think that equality means blindly ignoring past inequalities that continue to affect society.
    As for the first part, you’ve made a really interesting point but it’s slightly undermined by the fact that Jamie Oliver went on to revolutionise British school dinners, making them healthy and nutritious rather than just as cheap as possible.
    Overall a really well-written article and a great read! I also love your blog title and the reasoning behind it.

    • Yeah actually with the Jamie Oliver thing, this was some years ago before he decided to make programs that actually changed schools and the food they give to children. I’m glad he did take those steps (I remember him doing some similar work in the US). It was just an example of individual liberalism where Oliver thought it was okay to berate a woman for basically being poor and not having those resources. Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

      • I see where you’re coming from, and if he did mean to criticise the mother for her situation then that’s obviously unacceptable – but he did later clarify his comments by saying he was disappointed in the government for putting poor or working (or both) mothers in that position in the first place. He also pointed out that information about food and nutrition is much more readily available to the poor in other countries than perhaps it is in England, which I think is a really valid point and a huge failing on the part of DEFRA and the FSA.

  2. Thank you for pointing out systemic failures. Where or how does individual responsibility come in?

    On a related but separate matter, in recent years, up in Canada, the general populace appears to acknowledge the systemic failure of an oppressive legislative system towards the Chinese during the country’s past history. Now it appears that every person who looks Chinese is coming out of the woodwork to claim a piece of the action involving government funding to right wrongs. Meanwhile those Chinese who actually suffered or have parents or grandparents who suffered under the systemic and historic racist laws get swept aside to make way for the new immigrants. The original Chinese come to Canada from a very small region of China and speak county dialectics now supplanted by standard Cantonese or Mandarin. The original Chinese and their descendants are a minority amidst a larger minority of new Chinese.

    • I think this kind of thing is going to happen no matter what. My grandmother likes to show me news clippings of people taking advantage of welfare by going into expensive grocery stores and buying sushi, etc. I know people who are completely supported by their wealthy parents, jobless, and not looking for jobs, who are eligible for low income housing. The UC Davis cop who pepper sprayed non-violent students received thousands of dollars in workers’ comp. Those cracks in the structures are always going to be there. What’s more important is whether these things are ultimately helping the people that need them, even if it means some people are taking advantage.

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