Dave Anderson: Finding Common Ground on Race Issues | Opinion


The struggle between liberals and conservatives around critical race theory reflects many battles between competing moral views. In moral philosophy, the debate between retributivists and utilitarians on the topic of punishment has a similar structure. Retributivists argue that you should punish someone based on the crime and the type of punishment they deserve. Utilitarians argue that you punish someone, assuming they are convicted of a crime (or tort), in order to promote the greater total good of society.

Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, which says that the right act is the one that promotes the best consequences. Retributivism is a form of ethics that focuses on the duties we have to others based on actions taken in the past. Deontology is also closely related to the rights tradition, a tradition of moral and political theory that guarantees the rights of individuals (e.g. to freedom of speech and religion) regardless of how the expression of those rights, with few exceptions, would affect others.

This is because retributive theories of punishment are driven by past actions, while utilitarian theories of punishment are driven by the future consequences of actions. Moral theories do not all have the same time.

The debate on racism, likewise, is driven by the past for liberals, and certainly radicals, while it is driven by the future for conservatives. How? ‘Or’ What?

Conservatism is essentially defined by the desire to preserve the values ​​of the past. While conservatives definitely base their thinking on doctrines like the US Constitution, they look at the issue of race from the perspective of what we can do in the present to create a better future for people of color.

Conservatives believe that blatant forms of injustice toward African Americans and other minorities were eradicated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the War on Poverty and affirmative action. In their view, everyone in America now has an equal opportunity to excel in education and employment. So they are turning to political and economic policies that will help all Americans, regardless of race.

Liberals are driven by their belief that the miserable past treatment of African Americans by the white majority continues to harm them in the present.

In their view, blacks (and other minorities) do not enjoy the same political and civil rights, and they do not have the same educational and employment opportunities. Appropriate public policies are needed to address this injustice.

Given the intensity surrounding the critical race theory debate, a catch-all for any attempt to teach the American history of racism (and other forms of discrimination) in K-12, the time has come to find a way to unite the majority of the country recognizing that there will always be rival camps.

Thinking about the time of morality is one way to get into this massive conflict. Everyone must find a balance in their own life between the concepts of past, present and future. And while there’s no one way to balance the three, living your life where 80% to 90% of your focus is on one of the three can create problems.

The same goes for a country.

Conservatives need to take the past more seriously, which means acknowledging the pernicious ways in which racism has spread throughout our history as well as in our social institutions today. Some of these conservatives need to be detached from the mainstream conservative narrative and think more like centrists; indeed, only about 30% of Americans identify as Republicans. Some of them are moderate now anyway, and many independents who are inclined to vote Republican are also moderates.

The same dynamic is happening on the Democratic side.

There is a group of Americans, probably in the 40-50% bracket of voting-age adults, who are neither past- nor future-driven in their political thinking on race and most issues. Finding a way forward on the subject of race and racism requires a new medium.

Rather than asking people to share the difference on policies, it could be very productive if people find a better balance between past, present and future in their own thinking.

A just society should not be guided by the past or look to the future from an uninformed point of view. It must be at the center of the dynamic, finding a fair middle ground in the present that the majority can accept and embrace, one that is the basis for building a better and fairer society in the future.

Dave Anderson edited “Laving: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework” (Springer, 2014), taught at five universities, and ran for the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in Maryland in 2016.


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