I had a lunch discussion recently with two former co-workers. Both of these men are engineers in their 30s who are fairly hard-working, competent and successful, pulling six-figure salaries. In the free and dynamic America of yore, these men would be proud of where their choices in life had taken them. But this is 2014, they are white, and they are MSDNC-watching left-liberals in a “Blue” area.
“Mark” started saying how lucky he feels to be an engineer because the work is physically so much easier and safer than being a field worker or factory hand, and pays more. I agreed, while reminding Mark that the work is mentally exhausting, something much-demanded by society (the market), and something most people wouldn’t even attempt. In other words, reminding Mark that he deserves his salary.
As if to answer me, “Ross” instantly went into a description of himself as “born into privilege”, saying how he had never really chosen anything in his life, but his course has always been determined by the social forces pushing him along and granting him privilege. This was strange, because I know for a fact that Ross works hard, which is a choice right there. So I reminded him of the constant stream of choices that he faces – be it as simple as “go back to work after this lunch, or not?” – and how those choices affect his results, like having a salary or not.
I won’t bore you with too many details. The conversation continued as a debate of Free Will implying self-responsibility and pro-liberty politics, vs. Social Determinism implying “you didn’t build that” and re-distributive, left-wing politics. We didn’t get into politics much; it lurked in the background.
But I want to tell you about the discussion’s ending. Here’s the short version: I was nice enough, yet Ross and Mark were red-faced with anger and embarrassment – because they didn’t “win”. I punctured their bubble.
At first, Ross could not process my point that all people have choices, by which they determine their own success. Asking near-childlike questions, he had me explain the concept over and over. “What if a person is born in poverty?” I’d explain how poverty is indeed a circumstance shaping the person’s life; but they still choose their *response* to it. Poverty may limit a person’s range of choices, but even poor people still face a stream of choices, that only ends when a person dies.
If a poor person joins a gang or develops a drug habit – and sticks with it, in adult life – that’s a series of choices they made. Likewise if, for better success, they work hard to get a G.E.D. and become a shift manager at the local McDonald’s, it is a series of choices they made. Likewise, my life-long self-education has been a choice. Thus I explained.
As Ross caught on, he correctly saw the implication that the McDonald’s shift manager would *deserve* her success being greater than the gang member’s or drug addict’s – just as he, Mark and I each deserve our success. And Ross didn’t like that idea. Smiling his best “Jane, you ignorant slut” type of patronizing smile, he suggested that I was out to rationalize backward, unjust notions.
With a smile right back, I pointed out that nobody was rationalizing anything; my success having come from my hard work and personal choices was not a rationalization, but a fact; and a fact that his determinist philosophy badly needed to deal with. That was the exact moment when Ross turned beet-red.
His words turned sarcastic (suggesting anger), while his voice turned quavery (suggesting anxiety). I could see that Mark, now silent, was also getting red – with a deer-in-the-headlights look of uncertainty around his eyes.
Mind you, nobody raised voices in this discussion; nobody called names or made the least of personal attacks. All I did was display my moral confidence, my certain knowledge that I had earned my success – and imply that Mark and Ross should also be morally self-confident, as they had earned theirs.
My doing that alone, nothing more, made these two men visibly feel both uncertain and violated. The interaction ended there, as we’d run out of time. I think it says a lot about left-liberals.
Lefties live in a world where lack of moral self-confidence is a required personality trait. Humility is not required; leftists usually proclaim their beliefs with arrogant certainty. But among those beliefs is a dogma to the effect that no one, including the leftie, *deserves* to have any confidence or any certainty, since no one is ever better than the worst “poor” criminal out there. Any educated, enlightened person must genuflect and display his official, dogmatic lack of confidence that he could ever be right about anything. THEN he can go on to make arrogant proclamations (provided they are left-wing).
If someone shows a different way of being – if someone thinks differently from the leftie, and has moral confidence in doing so – showing, for example, confidence that her success is deserved – many a leftie will find that person threatening. Tactic A is to smile and patronize the person as benighted; perhaps tactic B would be ridicule. If neither works – if the tables are turned, if the left-liberal’s worldview is punctured or exposed as the hollow thing it is – then the average leftie will go into fear and anger.