This is not an analysis of the Progressive movement in the U.S. Nor is it an attempt to understand the philosophical assumptions of progressives. Previously, I have written about the philosophical assumptions of both progressives and conservatives, and I started with examining the tenets of conservatism and then examined the tenets of progressivism.
As before, I want to be clear that I am not a conservative or a progressive. My own political philosophy comes from a completely different set of philosophical assumptions than either those of the conservative or progressive. I am sympathetic to some of the claims of both groups, and strongly disagree with other claims of both groups.
One of the things that is so distinctive about my own political philosophy is its analytical approach, which is why I am interested in cataloging the analytical approaches of other political philosophies. And because I started with conservatism last time, in the interest of fairness I will start with progressivism this time. In essence, I would like to understand how Progressives, specifically those who are my contemporaries, analyze political issues.
Attempting to be exhaustive would be exhausting, so instead I would like to focus on 3 analytical approaches which are very common and lay them out in brief.
1. The Power Analysis
This approach seeks to identify the correct political course by understanding who has power. This analysis is often motivated by a desire to identify what they see as power imbalances and correct them. For example, the progressive might look at the data and observe that there are far more men in positions of political power than women, that there are more white folks in those positions than members of any other groups, that there are more Christians than atheists, that there are more heterosexual folks than homosexual folks, or that there are more folks born into wealth than folks born into poverty in those positions.
Others not engaged in the more superficial type of power analysis might notice that certain personality types on the Meyers-Briggs are much more common among those in positions of political power. Or that there are more folks from certain professions (law and business) than any other professions. Or that people with certain kinds of family situations are much more prevalent in positions of political power.
The strength of the power analysis is that political positions are often gained by using power dynamics, and using the power analysis can reveal some of those dynamics which might otherwise go unnoticed. The weakness of the power analysis is that, like all analytical approaches, cannot capture everything of importance because it does not attempt to do so. Thus those who rely on it heavily or exclusively are prone to miss a great deal of other factors in their analysis. The unique contemporary problem with this analytical approach is that those using it are usually exclusively focused on the forms of power which are easily identifiable with observable traits, making it much less useful than it could be.
2. The Privilege Analysis
This approach seeks to identify who benefits socially and economically from having those traits identified by using the aforementioned power analysis. As before, those who use this approach are often motivated to uncover imbalances in how social and economic benefits are conferred so as to correct those imbalances. For example, the progressive might look at social benefits which are given to those who have the traits which have been identified in the power analysis (e.g. white Christian heterosexual men raised in wealthy families), and point out that it is unfair that they enjoy greater social and economic benefits than other groups.
Others might observe that greater social and economic benefits are also conferred upon those who are able-bodied, whose appearance is pleasant to others, who do not suffer from mental illness, who have high extraversion and/or emotional intelligence, who have strong technical skills, et cetera.
The strength of the privilege analysis is that it can help us understand both the many gifts we have been given in life and the ways in which we can give to others who have not been given those gifts. One weakness of the privilege analysis is that those who use it often tend to cast oppression in terms of a privilege for the oppressors. For example, the fact that black folks are convicted of crimes more often and sentenced to longer sentences on average than other groups when controlling for the facts of the case is not a sign that other groups are privileged so much as a sign that our legal system is causing real harm to our brothers and sisters of color. Being treated fairly is not a privilege; being treated unfairly is not merely an absence of privilege, but rather an instance of injustice.
3. The Phobia Analysis
This approach seeks to to explain various behaviors of those who disagree with the progressive political program by suggesting that the disagreement is rooted in emotions like fear and/or hate. For example, those who disagree with treating people with gender identity disorder by surgically altering their body are viewed as laboring under transphobia and probably homophobia as well. As with the privilege analysis, the phobias being proposed as an explanation are generally associated with one of the observable traits identified with power and privilege.
Others might observe that while there are those who have a visceral negative reaction to the idea of homosexuality or gender identity disorder, there are also doctors who simply disagree in a reasoned way with the notion of using surgical procedures to treat psychiatric issues, and there are folks in favor of traditional marriage who treat those who are attracted to members of the same sex very well and are far from hateful or fearful.
The strength of the phobia analysis is that it effectively casts those who disagree in an extremely negative light and makes it very easy to dismiss their conclusions as following from bad premises. The weakness of the phobia analysis is that it fails to consider the possibility that there might be good arguments made by some of those who disagree. It tends to impoverish political discourse where it does not shut it down completely.
On the whole, the progressive analytical approaches are useful in a limited way and subject to many difficulties. In another post, I will attempt to examine conservative analytical approaches in the same way.