Homogeneity and Conservative Apologetics

Matt BruenigThere is a common conservative argument that I continue to hear in polite society. It is used in many areas, but it seems especially to be prevalent when discussing education. If you note that Finland has an excellent educational system without focusing on “job skills” and testing, you will often hear the refrain, “But Finland is such a homogeneous country!” I’m frankly shocked that people say this. They would never say, “Of course that works in Finland — they’re all white. We have all these black and brown students!” Yet that is what I hear whenever people make these arguments about homogeneity.

Matt Bruenig noted another aspect of this, An Actually Meaningful Homogeneity Argument. He pointed out that this is used as a common excuse for why some countries manage to grow and innovate just as fast (Or faster!) than the US even while having “higher tax levels, lower poverty, and lower inequality.” The causality here is mystifying on an economic level. Bruenig writes at too high a level to discuss this, but it’s clearly just racism: “Of course that works in Finland — they’re all white. We have all these black and brown people who are just lazy!” That is undeniably the argument, right?

But Bruenig pointed out that there is one case where having a homogeneous population would help in relieving poverty. It is where direct assistance is given. So rather than cash aid or even food stamps, think: food banks. An argument against this is that not everyone wants or needs the same food. So it is better just to give them money to buy the food that they want and need. But if the society is homogeneous, it is much easier to give out food because, for example, all white people like Swish cheese!

It’s important to note that Bruenig’s idea here is not real. It is a purely hypothetical situation. No group of people is that homogeneous. People always have different tastes and different needs. But it is no doubt a lot easier to fulfill the needs of the 5.5 million relatively homogeneous Fins than it is to fulfill the needs of 320 million quite diverse Americans. But Bruenig is giving the conservative argument the absolute maximize chance he can. And of course, it falls apart.

Here’s the problem: it is liberals who want to make aid to the poor as free as possible. Conservatives are the ones who are concerned that the poor are not going to spend their assistance on exactly what the conservatives think is right for the poor. Remember how angry conservatives were recently that a surfer kid was buying lobster with his EBT card? At one time the complaint was that poor people shouldn’t be buying drugs. Then it was that they shouldn’t be buying junk food. Now it is that they shouldn’t be buying perfectly healthy food that conservatives is too good for the poor. I don’t think anything has changed: it was always about spite, but it is crystal clear now.

But what all this means is that conservatives want to make policy that acts in direct opposition to the one argument they are most likely to use against having welfare. But it really does come back to the fact that conservatives are disingenuous. They don’t actually think that we have to screw over (or at least forget) the poor so that our economy works properly. They just hate the poor. And there is a big — even overwhelming — racist aspect to this. Still, I don’t think their opinions would change if we really did have a homogeneous (white) country. It’s only that they would have a much harder time convincing the rest of the country.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Homogeneity and Conservative Apologetics

  1. I may have said this before, but I believe homegenity is a real thing. It is much easier for right-wing politicians to divide voters on racial lines in any society where “us” and “them” is perceived, much harder when voters believe those proposed benefit cuts are hurting people like themselves. Look at how immigration in Europe is being used as a wedge to kill social programs. Or our history.

    Societies should certainly not be homogenous (yuck.) But humans tend to make pattern-recognition judgments, and those can easily be manipulated to encourage racism. (Pattern judgments are inimical to the species, racism is not. Baseball players coming to America from the Caribbean are routinely shocked by the value we place on skin color; it’s not a big deal where they grew up.)

    So while we admire the social programs of, say, Scandinavia, we should be aware that a hurdle in making those social programs possible here is combating racism, so we think of every American as our neighbor (or, more selfishly, realize that making a decent life possible for everyone benefits us all in ways empowering the powerful does not.)

    Of course, we are class snobs as well as racists, so it’s hard to say what could/should come first — would we be more likely to see minorities as equal if they had better opportunities/success, or do we need to change our racism before we can change society to stop denying minorities that opportunity/success?

    • I just wonder if humans won’t always find a way to subdivide themselves into the deserving and the not. But clearly, the more homogeneity, the less there seems to be of that. After the whole Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders thing, I’m giving a lot of thought to just how these things work together. They aren’t the same thing. Just the same, unless you get rid of the classes, you will never get rid of the racism. But you could also say that unless you get rid of racism, you will never get rid of classism. And I’m afraid that they are both correct. There’s a bit of catch-22 where each is necessary for the success of the other. But in this case, I think it is possible to move them both forward — slowly.

      • Here’s a fun example I read recently. In England, until WW1 or so, there was no greater social faux pas than carrying an umbrella. Why? Because rich people had servants carry umbrellas for them. So if you carried an umbrella, you were demeaning yourself. Of course, being sopping wet meant you were unworthy, too — but better sopping wet than being thought of as a servant!

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