Five categories of social adversary

When trying to explain a social problem, we might argue any of the following:

  1. Those people are bad, e.g. blame the capitalists for global warming, the poor for their predicament, or the Jews for “a whole range of things…from the world war to short skirts to jazz music.”

  2. That policy is harmful, e.g. a minimum wage might “price working poor people out of the job market.”

  3. Those people are too radical, e.g. too quick to adopt relatively untested ideas as enduring truths.

  4. Those people are too conservative, e.g. too resistant to positive changes.

Lately I find myself reaching for a fifth explanation that blends (3) and (4):

  1. those people are stuck in the local maximum of a failed social experiment, e.g. stroads, single-family zoning, and concentrated animal feeding operations.

This argument feels liberal because it militates towards social upheaval, but in each case, the social problem is approximately as old as my parents (or grandparents) and emerged because we’ve forgotten older wisdom about how to get around, live and work together, and treat animals under our care. But social states create their own momentum and can easily persist even if most people wish for change. In other words, ‘inadequate equilibria’ endure.

This explanation blends aspects of both Conflict and Mistake theory. There’s a conflict insofar as many people seem committed to something that I (and others) think can be improved on; there’s a mistake insofar as I (and others) think that once we get there, most people will come around.

The most troubling critique of this theory is that it offers asymmetric insight into the myopia of others.