Passive Progressivism

Hamlet:
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

King:
What dost thou mean by this?

Hamlet:
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.

Hamlet (Act 4, Scene 3)

The phrase “bleeding heart liberal” has always created in me some tension between skepticism about those who use it as a baseless slur against left-wing ideology and recognition that those calling themselves “liberal,” “progressive,” and/or “Democrat” are as likely to disappoint me as right-wingers (although for different reasons).

A Twitter conversation today with Camika Royal prompted by my Are We (Finally) Ready to Face Teacher Education’s Race Problem? led to this:

I have previously examined how the status quo of power in the U.S. seeks to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. only as a distorted passive radical, and I have recently called out my own field of teacher education for the tendency of education professors to complain and then comply.

Passivity and compliance, I note, are both necessary for maintaining the status quo of inequity in the U.S. and the central qualities among so-called progressives.

Progressivism rightly viewed is the antithesis of conservatism—although in the U.S. both terms are rarely understood, expressed correctly, or embodied in their original meanings.

Progressivism is inherently about not only recognizing the inevitability of change, but also embracing change for often idealistic ends (and thus, when taken to an extreme, the “bleeding heart liberal” paralyzed by that idealism).

Conservatism is about maintaining (conserving) conditions within a framework of traditional (enduring) values.

Neither term or ideology is understood or practiced with much faith in the U.S., but with great regret, I must note that the negative connotation of “bleeding heart liberal” rings all too true when we examine the behavior of many on the left, including self-professed progressives.

U.S. progressivism as liberalism is mostly about symbolism and lip-service.

Liberal Hollywood talks a great game, but never gets off the bench.

The liberal academy, much the same—ironically clinging to traditional norms of the aloof ivory tower that discourages public intellectualism as base, beneath the scholar.

And the liberal media? The greatest disappointment of all as the mainstream media in the U.S. is trapped in the objective pose of recognizing both sides of every issue—as if the world is a ninth-grade debate team contest.

Passive progressivism is more powerful in the U.S. than the conservative center that keeps the U.S. moving forward at a glacial creep anchored by racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, and widespread inequity.

Progressivism is nothing without the radicalism of action, as expressed by Howard Zinn:

From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical….The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.

Much as Democrat and Republican are different sides of the same partisan-politics coin, progressive and conservative are different sides of the same static coin in the U.S.

And thus action in the U.S. is marginalized as radicalism, serving only to benefit the world as we now have it.

To have a world otherwise, we must all embrace radicalism.

See also here and below:

3 comments

  1. Beth Henry

    Thanks for the inspiring post and poem. As a former corporate lawyer who has become a proud radical in the past few years (with much activity including five arrests for civil disobedience), I wonder how you think we can get more folks “off the bench.”

  2. Pingback: Passive Progressivism | My BlogThe Philosopher's blog.

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