What Motivates Cultural Progressives – Part 3

What Motivates Cultural Progressives – Part 3 October 6, 2012

This is the third entry of my series based on my latest book entitled What Motivates Cultural Progressives. Just a reminder that this book contains research gathered from open-ended questions in an online survey sent to members of organizations that have as part of their purpose opposition to the Christian or religious right. The basic argument I forwarded in the first two entries is that cultural progressive activists shaped a movement that meets the needs of the people in the movement, who tend to be white, male, wealthy and highly educated. The social movement led by cultural progressives, like other social movements, develops in ways to serve the individuals in the movement. In my first entry I pointed out that a key value in this movement was the desire to keep religion from mixing with politics. In my second entry I discussed the value of rationality as a theme cultural progressive activists use to legitimate their movement.

In this entry I will look at the theme of progressive politics. It is not surprising that cultural progressives are more liberal than conservative. After all we already know that they have progressive political ideology on cultural issues due to how they position themselves opposite the Christian right. But to have a progressive political ideology on cultural issues does not automatically mean that one is politically progressive on all issues. A good many individuals are culturally progressive but are conservative in economic and/or foreign policy issues. Such individuals are not commonly present among my respondents. They tended to be progressive in all dimensions of their political ideology.
It is not an accident these activists embrace a progressive philosophy in all areas of their political lives. These respondents envision an overall progressive political philosophy as being rational as evident in this quote.

In a perfect world, my neighbors would all be interesting, well-informed, atheist, and college educated. They would be concerned for the environment, interested in preserving bio-diversity, reasonably anti-war and concerned about human-rights. They would not impose their moral beliefs on others – they would be supportive of two gay friends getting married, or of a lesbian couple having a baby. They would be supportive, and never judgmental, of a woman contemplating abortion. They would want only science taught in science class. They would not force their atheism on others with symbols or monuments on public property. Such would be my perfect neighborhood(male, aged 46-44, Bachelor Degree).

Cultural progressive activists generally believe that if a person is rational then he/she is automatically going to conclude that a progressive stance on all political issues should be adopted. Acceptance of political progressive ideology is a marker for intelligence. Consequently, the opposite is true for these respondents as well. Those who accept a conservative political ideology must not be very intelligent or are being misled.

The Christian Right appears to be composed mainly of lower-middle class, blue-collar Caucasian workers with limited formal education who use their limited mental abilities to come up with illogical arguments, and then angrily enforce their positions with fear and intimidation (male, aged 56-65, Master Degree).

Texas, and other states dominated by the “Christian” Right, must wrest control of education and social welfare from these rigid, irrational hands. Texas in about 15 years will be a third-world country — uneducated and unhealthy (female, aged 66-75, some college).

Acceptance of an overall progressive political ideology is not merely an agreement among cultural progressive activists, but it is a value that they use to assess morality. Quite simply, cultural progressives perceive those who adopt political progressive ideas as good and those who accept political conservative ideas as bad.
Political ideologies in the United States are not necessarily tied to a consistent philosophical pattern. In reality they are socially constructed. For example, the Sandra Flock episode indicated that many progressives emphasize a value of a publically funded choice as it concerns supporting a woman’s right to an abortion. But these same individuals would not support publically funded choice as it concerns a woman’s right to send her kids to a religious school. Conservatives emphasize a value of life as it concerns abortion, yet they ignore that value as it concerns capital punishment. Political ideologies are really not about a consistent ideology of publically funded choices or life, but rather they develop to serve the interests of certain social groups. It stands to reason that political progressive ideology serves the social interests of individuals who tend to be cultural progressive activists. Those activists tend to enjoy majority group status in our society. How progressive political ideology serves such individuals is a major research question beyond what I am prepared to discuss with this blog. But it is a question that should be addressed by future research.
Values in social movements also are important for creating the identity of those in the movement. This was clearly a theme among many of the respondents. They perceived themselves as political progressives and were proud of that perception.

The Republican is less desirable. I am a Christian, but I am involved politically. I am not a fundamentalist and I am proudly a liberal Democrat (female, aged 56-65, Master Degree).

Ours is the only yard on our street with campaign signs for progressives come election season, but here in Texas supporting progressives (even if there is one on the ballot) is kinda futile, but we still try (male, aged 46-55, some college).

There is a discernible identity cultural progressives gain from political progressivism. It is a value system whereby, for some, the more progressive an individual is the higher level of morality that person possesses. Progressive ideology is a mechanism by which cultural progressive activists make assessments of what is good or bad in our society.
I have already shown how cultural progressive activists tie the value of political ideology to the value of rationality. Indeed all three values are related to each other in the minds of such activists. It is not an accident that those high in religiosity are less likely to accept a politically progressive ideology as it is fair to argue that progressives are less accommodating of traditional religious values than conservatives. Political progressiveness matches well with the value of keeping church and state separate. In my last entry I discussed the match between rationality and the ideals of church/state separation. These three values mingle together to create the ideology that motivates cultural progressive activists. They are values that create an identity for advocates forwarding a cultural progressive agenda and these values serve the social needs of such individuals.

Even though I have discussed the values of cultural progressive activists, there is still a need to comprehend their motivations and approaches towards social change. These values are related to the motivational and diagnostical frames they use but the values, in and of themselves, do not completely explain those frames. In the next, and final, entry to this blog series I will explore these frames in more depth.

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  • Craig

    Cultural progressive activists generally believe that if a person is rational then he/she is automatically going to conclude that a progressive stance on all political issues should be adopted.

    Suppose, however, that you were to ask the following question in your survey of cultural progressive activists: Do you believe that there are any rational people who refrain from taking a progressive stance on every political issue? Do you expect that the answer to this question would, “generally”, be “no”? If not, how can it be that cultural progressive activists generally believe what you say they generally believe?

    Also, when you employ the terms “rational” and “rationality” what do you take them to mean? Might it not be better to replace these terms with “reasonable” and “reason”? (The shrewd and immoral egoist might be rational, but this wouldn’t show that he is reasonable. Likewise, a failure to be ideally reasonable obviously doesn’t entail irrationality.)

  • Ted Seeber

    I too am amazed by this insistence on irrational rationality- because to me, athiests, gays, and lesbians are NOT rational. They reject objective standards in favor of the subjective.

  • George Yancey

    I would have used the terms reasonable if that is what my respondents used. But they discussed rationality and not reasonableness. There is a value system that they adhere to with the concept of rationality. So it is not accurate for me to discuss that they see themselves as reasonable. They see themselves as rational and their opponents as irrational. That is why so many of them frame political issues as either being rational or irrational. Did I overstate it with all political issuses. Probably a litle, but there is no way an investigator can read these surveys and not conclude that generally they see those who disagree with them on political issues as irrational.

    • Ted Seeber

      But don’t we all?

      I try my hardest to tie my beliefs to objective evidence- and not reject truly objective evidence from any source. But I’ve got to admit when I hear a homosexual say “I can’t follow Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality because I feel it is wrong for me”, I find it hard to describe that statement as being objective in the slightest.

  • George Yancey

    I think we all like to think of ourselves a rational. I realize that although I try to be rational that I am biased like everyone else. But as I read the interviews it seems to me that very few of the respondents precieved themselve as biased. They saw themselves as objective and rational. That is when I begin to realize that rationality was a core value they had. I think it was incrediable difficult for them to admit that they were not rational since their justifcation often came from the idea that they were rational and objective while those that disagreed with them were emotional and subjective. I liken it to Chrsitians not admiting that they may have doubts about God because faith is a core value. So it is one thing to strive to be rational and know that you struggle with bias but for a lot of these respondents it seem difficult for them to admit those bias because that would challenge their core identity.

    • Ted Seeber

      It is incredibly irrational to believe oneself to have no bias. It is in fact one of the most irrational acts one can do.

  • Hi

    One of my biggest questions about cultural progressives is why they make so many other whites feel as if they’re tremendously racist. (Yet cultural pro’s are the first to accuse Christian conservatives of being judgmental.) The book mentions that a significant number of cultural pro respondents thought of the Christian right as racist.

    Racism is part of all cultures. Many other people groups haven’t fully admitted that they’ve wronged others–for example, the Japanese haven’t taken much responsibility for the Nanking Massacre. So, in absolute terms we all fail, but relative to other people groups whites do fairly well.

    So why the white bashing (especially since if cultural pros really cared about race relationships they would realize that such bashing might lead to bitterness and hence a MORE racialized society)?

    Okay, here’s the dynamic I came up with:

    Cultural pros are irreligious and hence must put a very high value on rationality. Hence, they funnel their energy and time into what they value–rational pursuits (doctoral studies, etc.). Hence, they’re overrepresented at the top. (I should note that, ironically, focusing only on rationality doesn’t get one where one wants–since emotion has so much to do with where we end up with our reason.)

    Now: the more layers of government you have the more likely it is that those with credentials will float to positions of power. A referendum on gay marriage–the people say no. Give it to the Supreme Court–it will probably find in favor of it.

    So a united world government would mean a top-most layer–the layer they would dominate. BUT such a government wouldn’t work if cultures didn’t get along because of significant differences (that can’t entirely be blamed on the “dominant” culture). So, a precondition for big government is easy governance of all peoples. Which means atomistic individualism and hence no resource struggles among people groups which aren’t easily resolvable by referencing some simple algorithm (such as: those who have more have so because of racism and consequently resource distribution is appropriate).

    No culture is more productive than another. No religious culture is more peaceful than another. (I say this in contradistinction to “religion” since I leave interpretation of religion to the eye of the beholder.)

    If one race is doing better socioeconomically, it must be because that race has oppressed the other–which can be corrected by command from the top (–as opposed to allowing matters to correct themselves from the bottom–which is not a process that can be counted on to work in a timely fashion). So no complicated justice problems and, ultimately, no envy among people groups.

    Necessarily, those who want small government and independence and believe in human nature which is sinful and very imperfect (often white Christian conservatives) are racist. We stand in the way of cultural progressives’ success on a grand scale–their grand vision–themselves at the top. A utopia, as it were.

    One of my problems with sociologists: They’re often cultural pro’s, themselves (which the book in review here even points out). And so they engage in A LOT of leftist racial idiocy and then strut around with their noses in the air. To the authors of this blog: Tell me that ain’t you, will ya?

    • George Yancey

      Funny that the issue of race is what caught your attention. For the record, I do not automatically link racism to a predominately white environment. I believe that some cultural progressives are mistaken by making that conncetion. The reason why I think they are so white is that African and Hispanic-Americans tend to have higher religiosity than European-Americans. So even progressive Blacks and Hispanics do not tend to accept the seperation of church and state argument of white progressives. So the venues by which they protest conservatives tend to be different than through these types of social movements. They will work with cultural progressives a lot but in their own organizations.
      As to the motivation of cultural progressives I will do a little more on my next blog on that. But given what we know about social movements we know that these movements will meet the needs of those in it. Your explanation does that although it is not the only way to make that explanation.
      Sorry about you experiences with sociologists. Most are progressives. I will not speak for any but myself. I am a political independent. I have taught race and ethncity for a long time. I do not agree with the most radical theories surrounding racial issues but I am not a supporter of a color-blind philosophy either.

  • Hi

    By the way, I didn’t realize that the author of the book was the one writing the article, as I found the link to this article on Google and then just skimmed the article.

    Just wanted to add that I downloaded your book and read it on Kindle yesterday and the day before and really liked it. I had my idea on why cultural pros throw around accusations of racism so much prior to reading your book, but as I was reading your book I kept thinking about my idea–since both your book and my idea revolved around cultural progressives.

    I’ll admit I harbor some anger toward cultural pro’s. In college my freshman year as an 18 year old I went from feeling like a fine, upstanding member of the world to being made to feel like a racist “white guy” simply because I was pro-life and voted Republican. Cultural pro’s had a lot to do with me being made to feel this way, I believe. And I was stumped: If a black professor was saying this stuff I could attribute it at least in part to anger over past injustices, group identity, etc. (I wouldn’t necessarily agree with a black prof who tried to make me feel like a racist white guy for being a Republican, but, actually, I do have an understanding of why African Americans might be upset with whites–given the hell of slavery, etc. So there’s an understandability about that action, even if I don’t agree with his conclusions.) But, as you indicate, most of the cultural pros are white. And this left me puzzled: I couldn’t attribute their reaction to bias in favor of their own group (–they were, after all, from the majority). And, typically, we tend to look highly on people who, if anything, are a little bit more biased toward the Other than toward themselves: think of the little league coach who refrains from starting his son off as pitcher–even though he might be able to justify such an action–instead he gives the other guy’s son the first crack.

    So it’s been a longstanding question of mine to try to explain cultural pro’s behavior–at least explain it in a way that wasn’t to their liking (since their explanation would be that they behave the way they do–including their frequently accusing others of being racist–because their more moral and more rational than everyone else).

    I should also add that I’m not completely against redistribution. I do believe in a progressive income tax. Also, I do think that racism–particularly past racism–is partly responsible for differences in socioeconomic levels. But where I differ from them is that I don’t assume the worst–racism–when cultures are at different socioeconomic levels. For example, I don’t assume that Germans have oppressed the Greeks simply because Germans have a higher standard of living than the Greeks. And I don’t assume that Germans are “naturally” smarter than the Greeks. (And isn’t what’s going on overseas right now going to be a tough nut to crack–how to structure the Euro? What’s good for the Greeks isn’t good for the Germans, and vice-versa. Definitely NOT soluble via some simple algorithm.)

    But cultural pro’s are absolutely ruthless in enforcing the notion that differences MUST be because of racism.

    As I tried to indicate, ironically this very attitude stirs up a lot of racism. It has the effect of racializing society: If whites feel they’ll only be judges as non-racists IF they conform to the far-left version of who’s non-racist, then a certain percentage of whites will decide that they can’t win and that that shows that this is a tribal world, after all–so why not “tribe up” themselves.

    Lastly, I feel sorry about the last paragraph–the one in which I write, “One of my problems with sociologists: They’re often cultural pros, themselves. . . . And so they engage in A LOT of leftist racial idiocy and then strut around with their noses in the air. To that authors of this blog: Tell me that ain’t you, will ya?” As I indicated, I didn’t realize you were the author of the book and this article. I assumed the author of this article was some random sociologist reviewing the book. (And as you mention in your book, many sociologists are cultural pros themselves.)

    After reading your book, I got the feeling that you weren’t the type of sociologist to tow the cultural pro party line. Thanks for that.

  • George Yancey

    There may be a good book, or at least research article in how cultral progressives deal with raical issues. I no longer do research in the race/ethnicity area so I guess I will have to find a grad student to write it. lol.
    By the way I do not consider myself a cultural progressive nor a member of the Christian right. I think both groups have some things right and some things wrong. But there is no one I agree with 100 percent. I am too much of an independent thinker to agree with anyone all the time. As the character Monk use to say “It is a blessing and a curse.”