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September 04, 2013

Community Organizing, Explained

The phrase "community organizing", often heard during the 2008 presidential election, is meant to evoke fuzzy visions of empowerment delivered by Benevolent Elites whose motives are not open to question. That these elites would never voluntarily live or work in the communities they profess to care so deeply for (much less send their children to school with the offspring of the weak and downtrodden) miraculously escapes the fierce scrutiny of the Fourth Estate.

The glaring conflict between the professed and practiced values of the Benevolent Elite ought to be a warning that they do not actually want what they claim to want. You won't find them living in the integrated communities they claim to support. And they certainly don't view their children as sacrificial lambs to be offered on the altar of the common good:

... Mary Ann, let me break the news to you. My children are not in a public position. The mayor is. ... No, no, no, you have to appreciate this. My children are not an instrument of me being mayor. My children are my children. And that may be news for you, and that may be new for you, Mary Ann, but I want you to understand -- no, no, no, you have to understand this. I'm making this decision as a father."

Our President and Attorney General oppose vouchers and charter schools for poor black families but send their children to tony private schools (the Obama girls attend Sidwell Friends and Holder's daughter attended Georgetown Day School, where the Attorney General serves on the Board of Trustees). But what's good for the elites isn't necessarily good for the rest of America, is it?

Individuals and groups of all sorts have always differed from one another in many ways, throughout centuries of history and in countries around the world. Left to themselves, people tend to sort themselves out into communities of like-minded neighbors.

This has been so obvious that only the intelligentsia could misconstrue it -- and only ideologues could devote themselves to crusading against people's efforts to live and associate with other people who share their values and habits.

Quite aside from the question of whose values and habits may be better is the question of the effects of people living cheek by jowl with other people who put very different values on noise, politeness, education and other things that make for good or bad relations between neighbors. People with children to protect are especially concerned about who lives next door or down the street.

But such mundane matters often get brushed aside by ideological crusaders out to change the world to fit their own vision. When the world fails to conform to their vision, then it seems obvious to the ideologues that it is the world that is wrong, not that their vision is uninformed or unrealistic.

...To those with the crusading mentality, failure only means that they should try, try again -- at other people's expense, including not only the taxpayers but also those who lives have been disrupted, or even made miserable and dangerous, by previous bright ideas of third parties who pay no price for being wrong.

And that's the real point of community organizing, isn't it? The would-be organizers are never the ones who pay the price for advancing policies they would never voluntarily submit to. Fortunately for them, being a member of the Benevolent Elite means never having to follow the rules you set for the less affluent. So go ahead and send your children to expensive private schools that are anything but inclusive.

Don't worry if your policy proposals disparately impact the very folks you claim to be concerned about:

State Education Superintendent John White took issue with the suit’s primary argument and its characterization of the program. Almost all the students using vouchers are black, he said. Given that framework, “it’s a little ridiculous” to argue that students’ departure to voucher schools makes their home school systems less white, he said. He also thought it ironic that rules set up to combat racism were being called on to keep black students in failing schools.

...The left likes to talk a lot about disparate impact. In ruling against the NYPD’s stop and frisk program, Judge Shira Scheindlin even found a new term for it–“indirect racial profiling.” So imagine what Democrats would make of a policy that disproportionately harmed black students trying to get a decent education if the partisan roles were reversed.

And above all, don't worry about the validity of your arguments or how your policies would actually work in the real world:

Another hole in Benedikt's logic is the presence of another option on the spectrum of urban public-school avoidance: magnet schools and charters. Plenty of well-off urban parents who do send their kids to public school choose selective magnets, or at least charters that require some parental involvement to apply. If you send your kids to public schools that are disproportionately wealthy and white compared to the city as a whole, are you an evil person? By following Benedikt's thinking on private schools, the answer should be yes. But since, like “suburbs,” the words “magnet” and “charter” appear nowhere in her piece, she is implying sending your kid to an elite public magnet school is a morally pure choice while sending her to private school is evil.

The same goes for gifted programs and tracking. Are parents who send their kids to the local public school's gifted program evil as well? If not, how is their decision to make sure their child is challenged academically any different than that of a private-school parent?

You're a member of the Benevolent Elite, and you're just trying to help the Less Fortunate! Rules - even your rules - are for the little people.

You know: "Them".

Posted by Cassandra at September 4, 2013 06:59 AM

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Comments

...To those with the crusading mentality, failure only means that they should try, try again -- at other people's expense, including not only the taxpayers but also those who lives have been disrupted, or even made miserable and dangerous, by previous bright ideas of third parties who pay no price for being wrong.

I actually had a left-leaning (although she would deny the label) friend say that to me. We'd been talking about schools and I had argued my side of school choice, home-schooling, etc., often citing the lousy outcomes in inner-city public schools. Her response: Well, just because something hasn't worked doesn't mean you stop trying.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. That's exactly what it means if you're actually reality-based - or even in the same neighborhood as reality. If 20, 30, 40, 50 years of trying something have created a heart-breaking mess, maybe it's time to stop doing what you're doing and try something, you know, different.

As for the Atlantic article about parents moving to the suburbs, Megan McArdle sums it up thusly:

... parents who think that they are supporting public schooling by moving to a pricey district with good schools are actually supporting private schooling. They’re just confused because the tuition payment comes bundled with hardwood floors and granite countertops.

Posted by: Elise at September 4, 2013 11:00 AM

What is it about the human trait of "self-interest" that these "elites" find so distasteful that they would rather be perceived as frauds?

Posted by: spd rdr - benevolence, with cheese at September 4, 2013 11:12 AM

Eric Holder started off in public schools but ended up in a public high school for intellectually gifted students.

Don't schools like that have exactly the same effect as private schools - siphoning off the best and brightest students?

McArdle's comment is brilliant. I've always thought the reason she draws so much invective is that she has a way of really nailing an issue (which, if you're on the receiving end, can be downright painful).

Posted by: Occupy Don Brouhaha NOW!!! at September 4, 2013 11:19 AM

What is it about the human trait of "self-interest" that these "elites" find so distasteful that they would rather be perceived as frauds?

They don't understand enlightened self interest. To them, self interest (or at least other people's self interest) is synonymous with selfishness. They don't understand that self sufficient people pay the bills for their Nanny state. After all, you can redistribute income that isn't there in the first place.

At the same time, they're uncomfortably aware that the votes of self sufficient people are a LOT harder to buy.

Posted by: Occupy Don Brouhaha NOW!!! at September 4, 2013 11:22 AM

"Fortunately for them, being a member of the Benevolent Elite means..." never having to say you're sorry.

There fixed it for you.
Again.
Velcome.
The bill is in the mail.
0>:~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 4, 2013 12:07 PM

There's a lot of truth to the idea that you shouldn't give up just because you haven't succeeded yet. The problem is that you have to have some basis for believing that the approach you're taking could somehow lead to the result you wanted if only you worked hard enough. Otherwise, you're not determined, you're just insane.

There's also a grain of truth in the Mayor complaining that his children shouldn't be some kind of extension of his office. Of course he should make the decision as their father. No one faults him for doing that. They fault him for making the decision about everyone else's children as the Mayor, in aid of disastrous policy instead of in the best interest of the children.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 4, 2013 02:53 PM

I fault Emanuel, Joe Biden, Barack and Michele Obama, and Susan Rice for claiming to believe one thing (that private and charter schools draw badly needed resources away from the public schools and that hurts poor students) and then doing precisely what they claim is wrong, harmful, and bad.

That's the worst sort of hypocrisy.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 4, 2013 04:15 PM

The world becomes more and more like that in Tom Kratman's A Desert Called Peace and sequels, the Carrera Series. I used to think that some of Heinlein was bleak.

Posted by: htom at September 4, 2013 06:52 PM

"Well, just because something hasn't worked doesn't mean you stop trying."

Dear sweet Lord almighty; that phrase just about sums up progressive logic . . .

Posted by: CAPT Mike at September 4, 2013 08:02 PM

There's a lot of truth to the idea that you shouldn't give up just because you haven't succeeded yet. The problem is that you have to have some basis for believing that the approach you're taking could somehow lead to the result you wanted if only you worked hard enough. Otherwise, you're not determined, you're just insane.

In complicated systems - education, the economy, the environment, international relations - there's always a way to find a basis for believing the approach you're taking could somehow lead to the desired result. The friend I referenced is a very intelligent person and a decent human being. She is absolutely convinced that a public school system is a good approach and, therefore, must remain certain there is a way to make it work.

Furthermore - and I believe this is something most people on the Right do not begin to understand - the idea of accepting any ideas favored by those on the Right is anathema to her. When the alternative to someone's course of action is proposed or supported by a group that is considered selfish, greedy, cruel, misogynist, racist, and either actively evil or dangerously stupid, there is no way someone can accept that alternative.

Whether it has to do with status signaling or with self-image or with a rational calculation about using group shorthand to make complex decisions, the fact is that a significant number of Americans will reflexively refuse to seriously consider policy prescriptions from the Right. That means they must continue to support whatever policy prescriptions stand in opposition to those of the despised group. And, luckily for them, most policy decisions are so complex they can always believe there is some tweak, some "more of" that can make their preferred prescriptions work.

Posted by: Elise at September 9, 2013 12:13 PM

Elise:

I agree with pretty much everything in your comment, except I would take it one step further and say that many of the things you note aren't limited to the left.

The friend I referenced is a very intelligent person and a decent human being. She is absolutely convinced that a public school system is a good approach and, therefore, must remain certain there is a way to make it work.

Well, I'd like to think I'm an intelligent person and a decent human being, too :p

And I (despite having sent both my sons to private school) believe public school is a good thing, too. I remain utterly unconvinced that abolishing public schools would be an improvement on the current situation.

Do I think they're not run efficiently? Yep.

Do I think the Dems are wrong, wrong, and wrong to oppose charter schools and vouchers? Yep.

Do I think public schools could be made better? Absolutely.

One can believe all of those things without wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Furthermore - and I believe this is something most people on the Right do not begin to understand - the idea of accepting any ideas favored by those on the Right is anathema to her. When the alternative to someone's course of action is proposed or supported by a group that is considered selfish, greedy, cruel, misogynist, racist, and either actively evil or dangerously stupid, there is no way someone can accept that alternative.

This is a criticism that could fairly be made about many on our own side of the aisle. That kind of thinking is something I've opposed for as long as I've been writing, but it's not limited to progressives. Public debate has devolved into "my team rules/your team drools" rather than "this way is better/that way is better for the nation and here's why". Possibly it has always been that way, but the Internet has made it possible for more people to join in the 'debate' and that tends to result in a lowering of the tone all around. And yes, I include myself in that :p

When I look at most public policy issues, I continue to find the serious (and there are quite a few I can't take seriously because they're essentially reactionary) right-leaning ones more credible. I find it little short of amazing how many leftie arguments (disparate impact is a HUGE one) have been ardently embraced by the Right with absolutely no sense of irony when the intended beneficiary is someone they want to help.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 10, 2013 08:16 AM

Yes, I was unclear about my friend's stance. She is adamantly opposed to vouchers and, as far as I can tell, to any argument that the public school system as currently structured needs overhauling rather than simply more money, better managers, etc. I, of course, failed to apply the technique I learned here, that of asking her to explain how she would fix the public school system in DC or, for that matter, in her own city, and instead argued futilely. Unintelligent of me as well as unkind.

I agree with you that both sides are guilty of the "we rule, you drool" (love that) mindset but it feels different to me on the Left than on the Right. (Yes, I know - feelings. How Left of me.) The Right seems to reflexively oppose Left-supported policies out of a desire for political advantage, a desire to fix "their" little red wagons, a "well, he started it" mentality. The Left seems to oppose Right-supported polices out of a conviction that the Right is somehow beyond the pale of human decency.

I'm willing to admit I may be wrong about that, perhaps blinded by my own preference (usually) for the Right's world view, but that's how it feels to me. The Right's view, while childish and opportunistic, seems less dangerous to me - it leaves some room for horse-trading or, if you prefer, compromise. The Left's does not; in fact, it doesn't even leave room for negotiations since who wants to do a deal with the Devil?

And, yes, I realize my view is just a variation on the old idea that Republicans think Democrats are wrong while Democrats think Republicans are evil. I make no claim of originality here; I just believe this type of mindset is more important than many on the Right understand.

Posted by: Elise at September 10, 2013 11:17 AM

The Right seems to reflexively oppose Left-supported policies out of a desire for political advantage, a desire to fix "their" little red wagons, a "well, he started it" mentality. The Left seems to oppose Right-supported polices out of a conviction that the Right is somehow beyond the pale of human decency.

I think that's pretty accurate :) The only thing I would add is that I do hear an awful lot of folks on the right saying that progressives are evil/stupid and actively want to destroy America and all that's holy in the Multiverse. That may be true of a very small number of strongly ideological Lefties, but I don't think it's broadly true of most Democrats. My mother in law's a Dem. So is my daughter in law. So is my oldest and dearest friend. They are all smart people with solid value systems. It's just that when they weigh priorities, they come down in a different place. And perhaps most importantly, they don't agree with us on the likely consequences of Doing X.

That's a pretty big problem, because most decisions in life are influenced by what we think the result will be, and which harms we fear most.

I hope that I didn't come across as critical of your comment. I really did agree with you.

I'm pretty stressed at work right now, and if any of that existential angst/tension is slipping into my comments, I apologize in advance. I agree that that the "they're evil" mindset is more prevalent than many of us want to admit. But I hear righties saying the same thing so often that I believe we tend to discount/ignore the same phenomenon when it comes from our side.

I have always believed, and continue to believe, that most people generally mean well. Many of us - myself included - don't think as deeply as we might about the gazillion public policy issues as perhaps we should, but honestly -- who has time to be an expert on everything? Most people are focused on living their lives, and policy debates come in a remote second or third or fourth.

This may be the fundamental flaw in representative government - there's little incentive to become as engaged as one needs to be to make responsible decisions. That's why I vote conservative - I think the logical consequence of that problem is to limit the scope of government to what we can actually handle as an electorate.

Well, and also I hate and fear The Other ... whoever that is this week :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 10, 2013 11:34 AM

First, no, you didn't come across as critical. My phrasing was sloppy *and* I'm fine with a little friendly disagreement. :+)

Second, I agree whole-heartedly with this:

Most people are focused on living their lives, and policy debates come in a remote second or third or fourth.

[snip] That's why I vote conservative - I think the logical consequence of that problem is to limit the scope of government to what we can actually handle as an electorate.

Amen, sister.

Posted by: Elise at September 10, 2013 02:56 PM