Monday, August 25, 2008

Racial, etc., versus Individual Competition

Tibor R. Machan

What do blacks want? In the late 50s and early 60s the answer to this question was fairly obvious although rarely complete. How could it be? Blacks are not all alike and while on some fronts they shared similar problems and needed similar solutions, on many others they, like the rest of us, had problems related not to race but to just living in the world. Still since they were a hounded group, they had many common problems arising from the injustices to which they were relentlessly subjected.

Some of these injustices were private or social, having little to do with law and government, but many of them dealt with how the government and public policy treated them. That was the main travesty of segregation, the public policies, backed by laws and law enforcement. In some case the private sector was moving away from dealing with blacks in prejudicial, unjustly discriminatory fashion but the law posed an obstacle. Just goes to show that democracy is not always a blessing!

Those days are nearly gone and good riddance. Sure there are pockets of America and groups of Americans who will not let go of their stubborn, nearly ingrained racism; it is now becoming an embarrassment to belong to this segment of American society. Yes, it still poses some serious obstacles to the lives of many black people but these are not all that different from obstacles put before us all by irrational neighbors, relatives, colleagues and the rest. In other words, racism is no longer a focused but more of a dispersed social malignancy. And it certainly doesn’t only impact blacks--Hispanics, native Americans, Arab Americans and even whites are facing it.

Most importantly, though, racism is slowly abating, subsiding and now some of its consequences are more troublesome than it is itself. Having been left behind in school or at one’s job or in one’s neighborhood because of one’s race or ethnic or national background is no doubt a burden many Americans are experiencing, yet these are not all that different from other burdens ordinary socio-economic lives encounter--being overlooked because of one’s accent or looks.

Perhaps the promise of a Barrack Obama presidency suggests that race will subside as an American problem, especially in light of the clear fact that it is a problem nearly everywhere else, including in Africa, between members of different tribes of blacks.

What now appears to be emerging as a related problem is the misguided belief, propagated by so many intellectuals and educators in the social sciences and humanities, that human beings are naturally linked to various others apart from members of their families. The communitarian doctrine that we all belong to some community, that individuality is a myth, that individualism is something insidious, is replacing the idea that race constitutes our primary identity.

Communitarians are wedded to the notion that without others in very close proximity to one’s life, one is basically crippled. An individual cannot be even spiritually, psychologically, let alone economically or professional, self-sufficient--that’s what most social psychologists and sociologists teach at many universities. (I was at a frosh opening assembly recently where this theme was asserted as a virtual necessary truth--by professors who were featured speakers--with no need of defense!) Indeed, individualism was the only position explicitly denigrated, something from which the participating teachers believed students need to warned off.

This is too bad since nearly every major conflict in history and around the globe involves various groups members of which think they together must somehow conquer and rule others in order to be safe, so as to flourish. The best antidote to this is of course individualism whereby people regard it as their major task in life to become excellent at who they are, as individuals, to improve from day to day, to break one’s own recent record. This is not a matter of rivalry or contest or competition since each will be striving to improve on him or herself, not so much on others who are, after all, too different from oneself to make a good, valid comparison.

The American idea--still only a model and no blueprint--that we all need to be the best we can be, in our own terms, and not always compare ourselves to others, this hasn’t made a lasting enough impact. But where it has, in some sports for example, it has reaped good results. Instead of pitting groups against groups, there is more of a face to face contest the result of which do not lend themselves to any generalizations about which country, which race, which gender is the best.

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