As a conservative Christian, I was introduced to WORLD Magazine and Marvin Olasky in the 90’s. Olasky - one of several supposed ex-communists with a dubious past and a lying streak - talked a lot about ‘compassionate conservatism’ and the need for conservative Christians to support urban people. Yes, I voted for the first time on the premise that I was doing good for myself and my community. I did see welfare as an impediment to working and living securely. What I thought about were the kids I was working with. It didn’t lead to more secure communities through the advancement and strengthening of nuclear families, but less-secure communities. I think I believed in compassionate conservatism not only because I hadn’t yet seen the extent of economic deprivation and theft in Working Class communities of color and other abandoned WC communities. At the time, I knew and saw the desperation of my Black and Brown Working Class community and my own Working Class family, which had received government subsidies before and after my father lost his employment to privatization, alcohol abuse, and epilepsy. Welfare before the Reaganites and the New Democrats altered it was not going to work on its own because it saw money to poor families as merely a form of aid. It should have realized - as conservativism and more-compassionate liberalism certainly still fail to realize - that child-raising is work. Pregnancies are seen as interruptions from work - and thus income - rather than as a form of valuable, creative work in and of themselves.
The Experiment: Capitalism versus Socialism
The Experiment pitted the market economy of the West against the command economy of the East. The West boasted large, vibrant industries and other highly productive sectors, while dirty antiquated factories and outmoded farming methods dominated the East. About the only staple that was cheaper in East Germany were potatoes, which could be distilled into vodka, so that lower caste East Germans could commiserate better with their abundant Russian comrades. State-guaranteed health care in the East did not translate into a healthier society. In 1990, life expectancy in the West was about 3½ years longer than in the East for men, and more than 2½ years longer for women. The socialist mentality of full employment for everyone led to more women working in the East than in the West. As the education system in East Germany was deeply rooted in socialism, the state ran an extensive network of schools that indoctrinated children into the socialist system from just after their birth to the university level. While it’s true that today East Germans perform better at STEM studies than their Western counterparts, that may be explained in part by the influx of numerous poorly educated immigrants to former West German areas, and the extensive money invested in the eastern region since reunification. Even though East Germany was much better off than other Soviet satellite countries, East German socialism offered few advantages over its capitalist western counterpart. They apparently think East German socialism is preferable to West German capitalism.
Why So Little Empathy and Compassion Within American Culture?
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas; the class which is the ruling material force in society is at the same time the ruling intellectual force. I submit that neoliberal capitalist culture in the U.S. deadens feelings of social solidarity, pathologizes how we view ourselves and stunts our natural feelings of empathy and moral responsibility. The Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, argued that it’s all about class and power as the ideas of the ruling class take on the everyday status of common sense, of universal truths. It would be incorrect to assume our rulers are a coven of diabolical conspirators who gather at Davos to consciously devise their wicked schemes. There’s actually a remarkable symmetry between neoliberalism’s ruling ideas and the convictions held by elites. In any event, to the extent these ideas are internalized by working people, we police ourselves, thus reducing the elite’s need for visible coercion. Make no mistake, there is nothing more dangerous to ruling class interests than people getting in touch with their inborn, wired sense of empathy and then acting as their sisters’ and brothers’ keeper. To reiterate, ideas do not have an independent existence apart from economics. Finally, exposing the class power behind culture points up the absolute necessity for basic structural changes in our dominant economic system and its empathy-enervating ideology. Of course, I don’t mean to imply that the elite’s attempt at cultural hegemony is complete.
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