Friday, March 04, 2016

Reforming the Bernie Sanders Revolution

If people intend to see the Bernie Sanders revolution continue, I would like those within the movement to make the effort to advocate for three reforms among their fellow revolutionaries.

Reform 1: The poorest of the poor around the world matter.

If the moral principle at play here is that there is a moral permission - even a moral obligation - to take firm those who have a great deal of wealth to those who have little, then there is an obligation to help those in extreme poverty.

The Sanders revolution to date has utterly ignored those who are in extreme poverty around the world except to say, in one instance, that it would be wrong to help them if doing so involves a sacrifice on the part of those who are far wealthier.

I think from a moral responsibility [sic] we've got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don't do that by making people in this country even poorer.
Seriously, in this quote - the only quote I know of where Sanders even discusses the global poor, Sanders effectively states that morality prohibits him from helping the poorest of the poor if it means that the people from which he is taking campaign contributions may be made poorer.

This is one area where Sanders really should come forth and say, "That was a mistake. That was totally wrong."

Yet, it must also be said that the policies to date that have cut extreme global poverty in half did not result "making people in this country even poorer." The people in this country - even those in the middle class - have become slightly wealthier. Perhaps they have not gotten wealthier as quickly as they would like, but the claim that they have been made poorer is false.

If the claim is that the Sanders revolution is claiming some sort of moral high ground, he completely undermines that claim when he endorses a principle that it is wrong to help those closer to the bottom of the economic ladder if it makes those above them poorer.

In fact, this hypocrisy, if not corrected, suggests that the "Sanders revolution" is just another political power play by another political interest group buying government favors with their political contributions. It is a group buying a politician who promises to implement programs that will make them wealthier, without regard as to what the effects will be on those who are below them on the global economic ladder. Sanders may have decided to go for "the second 10%" rather than the "top 10%" (perhaps because competition among those serving the top 10% is so fierce), but he is advocating nothing that is, in fact, morally different.

Taking the interests of the poorest of the poor seriously requires building into the discussion of every policy proposal what its impact will be on the poorest of the poor. It requires the opposite of simply ignoring them as if their interests - and their status as fellow human beings - is irrelevant. And it require actively rejecting the idea that it is immoral to help the poorest of the poor if it imposes a cost on those who are considerably wealthier.

And it requires an intellectually honest evaluation of the effects on these people - not some hand-waving rationalization a that allow one to the conclusion that they will benefit along an intellectual route that contradicts real evidence and violates sound reason.

So, my first proposed reform: The poorest of the poor matter.

Reform 2: Respect the scientific consensus and the principles of evidence and rationality.

The practice of using political ideology to filter good science from bad science must end. On matters of scientific knowledge, the scientific consensus has a privileged status.

This includes such things as the climate change, genetically modified foods, nuclear power, gender differences, and innate versus learned abilities. Picking up the claim of some rogue scholar and declaring, "He is correct because I like his conclusions," or dismissing the consensus of experts because their conclusions contradict a cherished personal belief is intellectually reckless at best.

This does not mean accepting without question or criticism the claims of mainstream science. This is a burden-of-proof claim. Hard-working experts in a field are entitled to a presumption that they know what they are talking about. However, with a lot of hard work, one can understand a field well enough to question that consensus - to become one of those people whose hard work grants them a presumption of understanding. This requirement cannot be met merely by reading a couple of Internet memes and listening to a similarly uninformed friend rant during lunch.

During the political campaign, many Sanders supporters pulled out a lot of questionable data to rationalized their cherished beliefs. For example, there was the widespread use of Internet polls to "prove" that Sanders won the first Presidential debate. No reputable scholar would give an Internet poll the time of day, particularly when compared to scientific polls engineered by experts to give reliable results. Yet, because the Internet polls gave the Sanders supporters conclusions they liked, they filled social media with bogus claims that those Internet polls proved the scientifically engineered polls wrong.

So, my second proposed reform is that intellectual integrity, evidence and reason, and the scientific consensus all matter.

Reform 3: Quit using the decisive language of political scapegoating.

This refers to the types of finger-pointing language where a politician of political movement points a finger at some group of individuals and identifies them as "the other" - a threat that the politician promises to deal with if given political power.

Trump uses this when he refers to Mexicans as rapists and murderers, and when he promises to treat all Muslims as terrorists. Sanders does this when he speaks as if all millionaires and billionaires belong to sons secret club that us conspiring to rob the middle class of their wealth, their property, and their freedom.

Mexicans, Muslims, and millionaires all make up very diverse populations - sone good, some bad. Pointing a finger at a diverse group and telling the people to think of all of them as "the enemy" is the essence of bigotry.

There is no objection to the practice of pointing to the Koch brothers and their promise of a billion dollars in aid to politicians that will help them to consolidate their wealth. Similarly, there is no objection to be made to pointing out how Goldman Sachs may be purchasing influence in a future Clinton administration with over $600,000 in speakers' fees.

The problem comes when one overgeneralizes and directs political contempt to a whole group, where many individuals are entirely innocent of the wrongs being attributed to them - the way Trump targets all Mexicans, and Sanders targets all millionaires.

This is actually a more general call to discuss the issues themselves, rather than resort to "us" versus "them" scapegoating. It is an easy policy to implement. It simply involves refusing to use collective nouns in condemnation except in places where everybody in the target group is, in fact, guilty by definition.

This, then, is my third reform: Refrain from the practice of lumping people into groups and then condemning the whole group.


A person who is participating in the Sanders revolution, or in any movement for that matter, does not need to simply accept things as they are and follow along without question or challenge. It is perfectly legitimate - it is actually morally obligatory - to look at what is going on and ask if there are possible areas for improvement. There is always room for improvement. If the Sanders revolution were to continue, I would hope that it would come to embrace the suggestions for improvement made in this post.

No comments: