Brave and forthright intellectual Bari Weiss published in her Substack account this past week an essay written by Rob Henderson, a doctoral candidate at Cambridge University. Henderson's poignant story starts with a drug-addicted mother and carries him like flotsam through the California foster care system and multiple families to eventual adoption, the divorce of his adoptive parents, the miraculous intervention of a high school teacher, a stint in the military and then his matriculation at Yale on the G.I. Bill.
It is, to say the least, a statistically unlikely positive outcome for someone with his background.
In other writings, Henderson has coined the term "luxury beliefs." Weiss explains in her introduction to his essay that these are "fashionable" views that "confer immediate status on those espousing them" but that "can only be afforded by people whose status shields them from the harm those views can cause."
She mentions as an example the view that "monogamy is an outdated, oppressive institution." Henderson's entire life is witness to the misery that particular belief has created.
What struck me about Henderson's essay is the extent to which the pattern of his life reveals the template of progressivism generally: the promotion of ideas for a new social order grounded in a malign concept of "compassion," followed by damage to the very population those policies were promised to aid and the creation of more government policies that cause more personal suffering.
Progressivism always demands to be judged by its intentions, never its results. When progressive policies cause harm, advocates will not admit failure; it must be the system that's defective. Give them control over the system, and the failure and finger-pointing continue. Eventually, it's always the people themselves who are the problem. Regardless of what its adherents call themselves (democratic socialists, progressives, Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Khmer Rouge, Shining Path), this is the left's playbook. Their failure is your fault. You're doing something wrong. There is always something else progressives need to excise from your life so that their plan to rework society into the utopia they've imagined will come to fruition.
This pattern plays out in just about everything progressivism injects itself into: human sexuality, marriage and family, gender, government and economics.
In matters of sexuality, they promised that acceptance of "free love" would foster better health by eliminating antiquated social mores. When that attitude shift actually increased promiscuity, the problem wasn't the explosion of sexually transmitted diseases (including in populations like youth under age 25, where there previously had been almost none); the problem was the social stigma against STDs. What we needed was more encouragement of sexual license -- and better antibiotics.
Similarly, birth control pills were supposed to liberate women from the burdens of unplanned pregnancies. But the expectation of reproduction-free sex created an attitude of hostility toward the children who stubbornly continued to be conceived. Thus did contraception become a gateway drug for abortion.
No-fault divorce, they insisted, would free women from abusive marriages. Instead, it enabled men to walk away from their families, forced mothers into the workforce and permitted unhappy women to rip children away from their fathers. In place of intact, financially healthy families, we now have single mothers, "deadbeat dads" and brokenhearted weekend fathers, court-ordered child support, welfare and legions of children cast adrift.
It turns out that children need fathers and strong male role models. Without them, boys fail to mature properly and turn to gangs, violence and other self-destructive behavior. Girls, too, need the attention of loving fathers. Without it, they often seek misplaced affection in inappropriate sexual relationships. Their sorrow also morphs into self-blame, depression, eating disorders and self-harm such as "cutting."
Rather than admit its errors, the progressive movement digs in its heels. The problem is not the breakdown of familial relationships and the detachment of sexuality from love and family. The problem, we're now told, is gender and societal expectations therefor. We must define masculinity (at least in males) as "toxic." Boys should be more "feminine" and girls more "masculine."
That hysteria has perhaps reached its apogee in the pronouncements that thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- of children are in fact "transgender," and many of these need pharmacological sterilization and surgical mutilation of their bodies to attain their true identities.
More disturbing than the rapidity with which these societal changes are demanded is the fact that no discussion of progressive "solutions" is permitted -- not by citizens or parents or even biological and social scientists. Dare to ask whether children need fathers and you are swiftly condemned as a sexist. If you say they need fathers and mothers, you are "homophobic." Question the phenomenon known as "rapid onset gender dysphoria" and you're transphobic.
It's not really about "science" or what's best for children and families; it's about making the adults who have come up with these theories feel good about themselves.
Just as progressives demand that you abandon your values and views in matters of human relationships, so too do they insist that you relinquish your liberty and your property to achieve their visions of economic "equity."
Despite the failures of top-down economic planning everywhere it has been tried, the socialist geniuses in our universities and government are certain they're going to get it right this time. The same impenetrable ideologues whose policies restrict oil and gas production, collapse industries, exacerbate supply chain blockages, drive up prices, erode purchasing power, disincentivize employment, cripple small business, create inflation and send debt skyrocketing nevertheless insist we must let them continue to "fundamentally transform" the U.S. economy.
Their schemes will work, if only we'll give up everything we've worked for, everything we value.
Progressivism offers sympathy as policy but ends up creating widespread suffering. Conservatism promotes responsibility, discipline and self-restraint. These may not be as emotionally appealing as misguided compassion but they have the advantage of actually producing individual flourishing and societal success.