I, along with many, watched Dave Chappelle’s comedy specials “Equanimity & The Bird Revolution” the first moment I could on New Year’s Eve. Chappelle had already lightly tarred his reputation as a good lefty in the last Netflix specials for making transphobic jokes and praising Bill Cosby for his comedic legacy. He did not fail to disappoint in this series, as he criticized American liberalism with American liberalism—stating that the progress of the BGLTQ movement can be in some ways attributable to white privilege, that #metoo focused too dangerously on accusation to avoid backlash, and that Presdient Donald Trump may be good for America as a catalyst of political engagement. He then encouraged comedians to “speak recklessly,” which seemed like two interesting words to place in the book of great Democratic quotes if such a book exists.
In those two hours, Chappelle seemed to symbolize the figure that liberal Americans neither wanted nor needed but certainly lacked—a careless loyalist, who convinced few besides himself of his loyalty to progressivism. His sin: He seemed to understand too well liberalism’s contradictions.Unsurprisingly, liberals on college campuses, especially elite ones like Harvard, live in liberal bubbles. We are held to the same triggers. Our complicated codes of pleasantries work so that in a polarized political landscape, we can miraculously communicate with facades of diversity without encountering an opinion that truly upsets us. This common experience describes an inevitable liberal utopia occurring when its constituents are too immature to be bitter, too comfortable to be ungenerous, and too invested in their perceived greatness to be jealous.
Technology never had a bad rap. Technology was Marx’s revolutionary weapon of choice, Keynes’s liberation from labor, and Solow’s panacea to national growth. As a Generation Z-er, I understood technology as dogma—to be against technology was to be against the world as we left it, knew it, and foresaw it. Technology equated itself to innovation, which in a simple narrative arc implied progress. Progress meant longer lives, more access to information, and greater freedoms of association. We watched documentaries on the Human Genome Project while scoffing at apocalyptic representations of its Gattaca-style implications; we embraced big data as new armor to confront the black box of our world. We fake-read Terms of Agreements, privacy settings, delineations of risk, because progress also meant rapidity. Social media sites flew in and out of style. Phones became large, then small, then large again. Scientists even claimed that technology reshaped our brains, which reshaped technology in a continuous feedback loop. As students, we bought into this vision of technological fortitude excessively—counselors, parents, and peers told us to major in technology-related fields precisely because we had no clue where technology would be by the time we graduated.
In one sentence, clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson is a rising “media darling” who hates identity politics. According to New York Times columnist David Brooks, economist Tyler Cowen believes Peterson is “the most influential public intellectual in the modern world right now.” Peterson originally gained traction by publicly speaking against a Canadian law requiring the usage of preferred gender pronouns. He claims that current campus climates function on group identification, and that student insistence on intersectionality yields a logical conclusion of individualism, which contradicts the initial group assumption. Peterson also states that identity politics’ primary factors of distinction, race and gender, are arbitrary. The chapters of his book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”—with seemingly apolitical titles such as “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world”—alludes to a popular criticism that social proselytization arises too often from the unequipped and naïve.
To philosophize about redistributive justice is a college student’s rite of passage into academic delirium. This practice is corroborated by literature that veers toward verbosity (John Rawls’s “A Theory of Justice”), proselytization (Mark Greif’s “Gut Level Legislation, or, Redistribution”), and anecdotes (Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations”) created by philosophers, journalists, and essayists alike. Though devoid of most practical assessment, the question encompasses an important subject: What reward should we receive for the act of living? For this question, we must think globally.
This argument for redistributive justice is difficult because our economic language places itself around collective growth, not morality. Growth is a meaningful goal, serving as the drawing factor of capitalism. Challenges to growth are deemed inefficiencies. This framework, of course, does not allow political identities to rest on level ground. Liberals stand in an awkward position of arguing precisely the way our world in its current position reeks of inefficiency. In liberal-generated economics, hiring discrimination limits the free sorting that the labor market’s autonomy necessitates; immigration bans actively create bureaucratic stress and interrupt flow of labor in the economy. As America’s economic and social foundations rest on capitalism and democracy respectively, both working ideally to maximize freedom, the two ideologies are inextricably connected in an American mind. Insistence on redistribution—by any means and of any object—is antithetical to the capitalist position that our own choices are sustainable. Its implication of regulation reject the democratic lemma that our individualism is socially beneficial.