Many a well-meaning liberal views issues in isolation, as if climate change, mass incarceration, inaccessible health care, deportation, and poverty wages are all independent from each other and can be understood and critiqued in themselves. As a result, we tend to feel guilty and powerless because we can only learn about and advocate for selected issues at the expense of all the other meritorious causes.
Others, especially conservatives, tend to be more reductionist, viewing all issues in broader terms like the size of government, individual responsibility, or God’s will. This approach is alluring: it elegantly explains the world rather than overwhelm with complexity, and it offers a simple solution to a constellation of problems. The resulting clarity lends itself to passionate, unconflicted advocacy rather than paralyzing ambivalence.
The synthesis of these antithetical approaches may be found in a more progressive critique. The seemingly overwhelming multiplicity of issues that liberals can only selectively care about may be understood as functions of one underlying dynamic: the self-serving power of concentrated wealth at the expense of people in common. Yet this explanation has been lost in the public discourse, relegated to the seemingly radical fringes and ivory tower academia, leaving the majority of people grasping at straws with which to stay afloat midst the cross-currents of our political world.
Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders came close to offering a solution in the rhetoric of the 99 versus the 1%. But this explanation is a near-miss, over-simplifying the issues in terms of some bad individuals, the 1 percenters, whereas the underlying problem is systemic: the beliefs, practices, and laws to which nearly all of us ascribe, in which natural resources, including human labor, may be appropriated for the profit of some at the expense of all. We need to broadcast this critique of the system for all to hear, and offer as well a positive vision of the alternative: protection of natural resources for the benefit of all, equal access to public goods, harmony with nature and each other.