Part I Is progressivism a grandson of communism, or a cousin?
Part II The Nature of Evil
Part III Expanding Brotherhood
Part IV Social Pressure
Part V A Thought Experiment
Part V-A A Thought Experiment - continued
How Things Work
Progressives lean against the hard work and supernatural explanations of how things work, and toward the beliefs that luck and rules of the system are more dominant. This is a matter of degree, not an either-or proposition. Furthermore, they have different opinions about what the rules of the system are, believing that much of (other) people's success comes from exploiting weaknesses and loopholes in the system as much as from discovering how it works. They believe that a lot of people game the system, and that is how they got ahead.
Note: If some other site links back to this part only and you disagree with the above, I urge you to do the thought experiments in Part V and V-A before complaining. If you don't, the above assertion will seem wildly unsupported.
In some cases, they believe that others must have gamed the system, because they are not nice people, yet somehow got ahead - graduating without the right ideas, being thought pretty without good features, or getting rich by doing something they think useless or evil.
I conclude from this that liberals believe that the machine is supposed to work smoothly, and life work out pretty equitably. When it doesn't, it is because something has gone terribly wrong with the culture, or the economy, or the authorities. In the normal course of events, people are supposed to go to work at a job that is useful, make a little money, and do what they want with the rest of their time. Some can't, and we take care of those, but when that picture of life does not occur, they go looking for where someone has screwed up the machine through prejudice, incompetence, or greed.
If one group of people has prospered, and one has not, how can that not be wrong, they reason. Someone must be cheating, or the rules must not be quite right. Society should intervene to make things come out right.
When you look at it that way, conservatives - or any Americans - don't necessarily disagree with this, to a point. Whether this belief descends from the Enlightenment or from thousands of years in small bands, everyone has a tendency to look at life this way. The difference is that progressives believe in this much more strongly, while centrists, conservatives, and especially libertarians believe that some rules of the system are not subject to change just because we don't like them.
Thus, a belief that Nature would go on pretty well if humans weren't screwing it up is much more common on the left. The idea that natural foods or natural medicines are better for you and confer some sort of body advantage is more common among liberals. The idea that all races must have similar endowments in all fields, despite uncomfortable evidence to the contrary, is common among all Americans, but universal on the left. Progressives are very disturbed by data which shows that some people in America are much more rich than the average.
This last provides a fascinating insight into liberal versus conservative thought. When one points out that African-Americans, even in Mississippi, have a higher average income than Swedes, progressives quickly retreat to the premise that Swedes are somehow richer in some less-measurable way, because they are happier, and share things in common, feel less separated, and have more security. This is not entirely untrue - one's perception of wealth in comparison to others does turn out to be related to feelings of well-being. But conservatives roll their eyes and wonder what on earth will make these liberals happy? By objective measures, African-Americans are better off. If they moved to Sweden, they would notice a downturn in wealth. Why should we be responsible for how people feel about their standing?
Yet I will caution again libertarians and conservatives ready to jump to conclusions here. This belief that the system is supposed to work is not unknown to you. You believe that a lot more effort and cleverness are needed to create wealth than progressives seem to think - that prosperity doesn't just happen, but is the result of putting a great deal of energy into an otherwise entropic system - but in understanding liberals, you have some foundation to draw from.