Lived Experience and a New Future

Reading about the culture war, or even just reading general social media, I've heard the term "lived experience" more than a few times. Something has always seemed... off about it and I think I've only just realized what.

"Lived experience" is a concept used almost exclusively by progressives, but by all rights it ought to be a conservative concept.

The idea goes basically

There are some things you can't understand unless you've experienced them first hand. No amount of study or data or theory can equal having lived something for yourself.

Today this is most commonly invoked for things like being victimized by discrimination or being a part of a minority culture. But if we abstract back to the definition it aligns really quite well with social conservatism.

For one thing it is very clearly on the Chesterton's fence side of things. Scott and others had a few recent blogs about this "is technocracy good?" question. And this lived experience concept seems to be saying no, or at least be the kind of idea someone saying no would invoke. An academic at a university or a government "expert" isn't usually going to have the lived experience of the things they're weighing in on. For example building energy policy based on the models of climatologists vs the personal experiences of unemployed coal miners.

And it's very anti-progressive as an idea. Everyone wants a better future, but what marks progressivism is seeking a fundamentally new future. One problem with a new future is no one will have had any lived experiences with it! If you think lived experiences have so much value over abstract theory, then I would think this makes a future that isn't based on them quite risky. Surely a safer option would be gradually build on the good things we have now, or even return to the things which were better in the past. After all we have people's lived experiences to draw on there.

The arguments for the grand designs of progressivism rely on theory and data. For example progressives want single payer healthcare because it is theorized to improve metrics like poverty, debt, life expectancy, etc based on what other nations have done. Trotting out anecdotal experiences of individuals who's lives have gotten worse under socialized healthcare as a counter argument is the kind of thing you'd expect at the RNC!

And yet that seems to be exactly how I see it used by progressives in culture wars. Take for example policing: How do we know there is systemic discrimination against black people by police? Because that's the lived experience of black people. Oh sure you may not see it in the big data gathered by those out of touch "experts", but just have a five minute conversation with a black person and you'll get the real story! It's just a bizarre reversal of roles. It seems like the culture war would fit the general progressive-conservative pattern better if it were progressives pointing to big data to see discrimination and conservatives using anecdotal stories of cops to counter it.