The Exportation of Sin

Last month, New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote an article criticizing Ted Cruz’s “too brutal” form of conservatism. “The best conservatism balances support for free markets with a Judeo-Christian spirit of charity, compassion, and solidarity,” said Brooks with a timid sigh and a giggle. The term “Judeo-Christian” seems lately to belong only to conservative pundits like Dennis Prager and banished nightmare elves like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, but Brooks, whose writing career has been one long effort to seduce his reader into a warm bubble bath, seems determined to jump in the fray and to convince us that U.S. political and economic life does indeed resemble the “charity, compassion, and solidarity” of Old and New Testament hellfire and donkecruzy bartering.

It’s an illusion that seems to get reinforced every election year, and the Republicans tend to be the ones responsible for patching up the dints and damages where pagan belligerence has taken place. “This is a country built on Judeo-Christian values,” said Ted Cruz after his victory in the Iowa caucuses, apparently claiming the destruction of Native American civilizations and slavery under that heading. Perhaps he should.

On the opposing end of political discourse are today’s Progressives, the Secular Humanist answer to Christian conservative dogma. Mainstream Progressives are not, however, free from such wishful thinking. They have adopted the Hillary Clinton worldview, contenting themselves with a local struggle inside of the wealthiest economy ever, while that economy creates more and more devastation outside of its domestic boundaries.

“Humanism needs to stop making the enormous and inexcusable category mistake of emphasizing the importance of human wellbeing while mostly ignoring the problems of poverty and economic inequality,” said philosophy professor David Hoelscher in an article last year. “Economic inequality” will not have any real meaning until Americans come to terms with the extent to which their economy is built on overseas sweatshops and slave labour. It’s hard to forget the story about the 18 Chinese iphoneworkers who committed suicide in the Apple factory in Shenzhen, in response to which the factory put up suicide nets outside of their housing complexes. Somehow, though, we manage. Forgetting them, Progressives prefer instead to bury that ever-growing root of all corruption and imagine for themselves an innocent and diplomatic new liberal society, laughing heartily at the messiahs of the Christian rightwing. Jane Austen understood this easy contentedness when she wrote about the petty personal lives of people with slaveholdings in the Caribbean.

The Republicans are a lost cause, but we already knew that. Progressives, however, should be more radical, more against what’s happening just out of sight. It’s not enough to want equality for all Americans when that equality is built on invisible human misery.