Blithe Assumptions

Check out Chris Hayes’ thoughts on The Trap.

What ends up happening, I think, and this is based in part on Daniel’s book and in part on my own observations, is that these erstwhile campus radicals and progressives who end up in corporate America remain self-identified liberals and Democrats, but their worldview shifts to the right. They begin to imbibe some of the blithe assumptions of neo-liberalism and market superiority that form the basis of corporate/elite consensus. This, then ends up having an effect on where the center of the Democratic party is when it comes to issues of political economy.

If these same people were working in the schools or at non-profits, their politics would remain, I think, more robustly progressive, even radical in some instances. But instead they end up being shaped by the beliefs of those around whom they work, and when it comes time to donate to candidates they support those who share their economic views.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, are progressives and radicals free of blithe assumptions? This conversation over The Trap is happening in a safe space, among readers who generally range from lukewarm progressives to committed radicals. So it’s assumed that any lessons from working life are departures from the Truth.

But it occurs to me that the most diehard reactionaries I know are veterans of … schools and non-profits. The reasons are perhaps obvious. There are schools and non-profits that work, to be sure, but my sense is that those that do work are often institutions plagued by the blithe assumptions Chris so strongly resists. Without exaggerating, I think it’s safe to say that veterans of the private sector have made nontrivial contributions to the nonprofit world in recent years, hence the boom in “social entrepreneurship.” Now, much of this is shallow and faddish, yet it’s also clear that much of it has done real good.

The insight behind Chris’s thoughts is a very powerful one, and it closely resembles that of the early Christians, the Mormons, the Scientologists, and conservative groups like the Leadership Institute: it is crucially important that believers closely associate with other believers, and that these relationships outweigh those with nonbelievers in importance. This is an excellent, excellent model for encouraging group loyalty.

But is it a good model for a flourishing intellectual life, or for fostering innovation? Are ideoologiically correct institutions, like Heritage of the Office of Special Plans, the most responsive to inconvenient evidence?