Friday, January 10, 2014

Liberalism, Marxism, and the Environment

Dostoevsky, in a section of "A Writer's Diary Volume 1", a collection of articles he wrote for a magazine that have been collected, translated, and published by Northwestern University Press, draws a picture of the source of a particular conception of environment influencing behavior that sheds light on liberalism and the difference between liberalism and Marxism on this.

Liberal sympathy for people being influenced by their environment tends to have a high emotional content to it, while Marxist and socialist sympathy tends, ideally at least, to be more clinical. History and economics shape people according to their place in society.

Dostoevsky looks at the phenomenon of jurors from the peasantry in newly enfranchised Russia freeing many people who are accused of crimes. He carries on a dialogue with himself about it, suggesting first that these folks are being influenced by the notion of the environment determining people, but then floating the idea that in reality, what people are acting on is their Christian faith, and the sympathy based on environment is really a variation on that.

There's some truth in this, and you can see it in the many cloying an irrational responses by people who are liberal, even progressive, but not socialist. It's not really an examination of how the environment shapes people that they're sympathizing with, or looking at, it's the notion that everyone is a sinner and so everyone deserves to be forgiven and redeemed. Therefore, you need to look at everyone who comes down the line with compassion, no matter how responsible they themselves are for the situation they find themselves in.

Folks who tend to argue from emotion, and call it sympathy based on environmental influences, often balk at notions that the economic structure of society determines how exactly things are set up. It's too concrete, and it could in fact indict them. If you're looking at things, maybe scientifically isn't the right word, but at least sociologically, as opposed to acting on emotion alone, environmental influence is taken as collection of diverse facts and influences, that can be concretely identified, concretely talked about, concretely argued about.

To me, it's much more preferable to have a tough but honest evaluation of things that takes all of the different factors into account than to just reflexively say that the environment in some sort of vague way, that always lines up with Christian sympathy and appeals to emotion, determines things. 

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