"The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices." - C.S. Lewis
Yesterday morning, I was annoying my Twitter followers by exposing them to a concentrated dose of the Every Gentrifier account. It's hilarious stuff, and Asheville in particular can use a good, hard shot of it occasionally.
On a completely separate note, I just finished reading Simon Schama's superb Citizens, a history of the French Revolution. It's one of the best explanations of the post-Revolution fratricide that ended up with blood literally running in the streets. I've seen this portrayed as a tragedy of division; a singular will of the people sadly falling apart in petty factionalism.
But Schama shows that the division happened because other than some very general matters, the revolutionaries didn't agree from the start. Refomers wanted a British-style neutered monarchy, radicals a popular republic (with a dead king), liberals craved a free market, the sans-cullotes economic protections. When things got an inch past statements of "liberty, equality, fraternity" and a vague agreement to curb the king, those differences mattered a whole hell of a lot.
Both tweets and Schama's tome point to something that I often feel is worth a bit of explanation. It's easy to imagine that politics is a showdown between different worldviews, with malevolence in one corner. Certainly the "this is a movie with a climax and ending" view helps indulge the illusion that everything can be reconciled for everyone if only the bad guys would get out of the way.
From my perspective however, I've seen the most damage done by blithe, well-meaning people who simply view large swaths of their society as expendable. It's not (usually) conscious. But when they think of "community" they just happen to leave out most of the people with less money or power than themselves. When they imagine where something must be built (or stopped) or where tax dollars should go, it's their own cloistered world reflected back at them. This feat of mental fortification accomplished, it's easier to dump the inconvenient sharp edges of a given decision elsewhere, where they won't see it too often.
And this is really where the rubber meets the road. Forget rhetoric: people will say they support all kinds of things in theory, often simultaneously. Politicians are known for being two-faced partly because at some point they drop one of the goals they once said they supported
But here's the thing, their supporters do the same. It's easy for people to say they like low taxes and well-funded schools, density and perfectly-preserved "neighborhood character." Since politics requires numbers, who wouldn't tell them they share their concerns?
Sure, hybrid idea are great and sometimes possible in political situations, but the fact is not everyone is going to get what they want. So eventually, something happens to change the equation.
When someone proposes that an affordable housing complex goes in next door that blocks a local's view or offends their sense of place, which priority gets ditched? The proof of what really matters in someone's politics isn't what they support, but what they'll sacrifice. Or, more importantly, whom.
This is why much prejudice doesn't manifest blatantly. While that remains a real issue, the more devastating racist isn't the idiot at the Klan rally, it's the planner who doesn't think twice about plowing an overpass through an already-reeling black neighborhood. Unequal pay for women is more harshly enforced by managers who just simply don't think of them as leadership material than any '50s throwback.
To reverse it, anyone who wants to change the world for the better needs to have a clear view of the consequences. Every possible social arrangement has its costs. As everyone's not going to get what they want, what constituencies are you ok with paying more of the bill? Why? What division of power (and it is always about power) do you want to see?
Who gets told "deal with it" and "you'll live"? What's expendable?