Thursday, February 08, 2007

Noblesse Oblige

Mike Crowley on the media's discovery that John Edwards is actually rich:
The weirdest emerging theme, as seen in the lede of this AP story, is the implication that having money and a fancy house somehow exists in tension with Edwards's concentration on poverty in America. To the contrary, I say. If only every millionaire with a mansion in the Hamptons or Malibu gave more of a damn about poverty, and less about tax cuts or the availability of a good helicopter pilot, we might make some progress towards eliminating the American underclass.

Amen. Rich people have a particularly important responsibility to fight against poverty, because they are the key beneficiaries of the capitalist system which put them at the top, and others at the bottom. White people have a particular obligation to remedy racism, because they are the key beneficiaries of the racist system which gives them undue advantage.

Or, to state it broadly: "Human beings have a moral obligation to try and remedy unjust systems of which they are the beneficiary."

As I clarified in that post, this is not saying that said beneficiaries are responsible for the unjust state of affairs. White people are, by and large, not responsible for the web of White privilege which gives them their advantage. Rich people should not be looked upon as evil because they amassed wealth. This is not a guilt/innocence issue. This is about fairness and distributional justice. If you believe it is unfair for children to grow up in grinding, hopeless poverty simply because of their parents, or that a laid off mill worker is not at fault when his factory got outsourced to China, then you're admitting that the Capitalist system creates losers who do not "deserve" to be there, and the people who are winners in the same system have to fight against that.

So, good for Edwards. The fact that he's wealthy means we should expect him to fight on behalf of the American underclass. It's sad that we appear to be surprised at the prospect instead.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Two remarks if I may. First is, many of those posts condemning Mr Edwards for hypocrisy often didn't cite the baroque ostentatious display of wealth with his manse as the problem but key on the fact that this is part of a conspicuously large impact regarding climate issues. Given that he almost certainly supports the idea that global warming has anthropocentric origins ... exactly how does this conspicuous use of resources help any activism on that front?

I don't think you believe your own axiom. You, for instance, benefit more from the "unjust" distribution of wealth between the US and Asia than you do from "White privilege". So ... what are you going to do about it? Or more to the point, what can you do about it? Why do you write (care?) more about the latter than the former? I suggest it's because the one is something which touches your life more directly. So, quite probably some distance or level or personal contact might be added as a requirement to your axiom.