The Scatterbrained Syncretist








Continued from affirmative action.


David at The Art of Peace has replied to my response with Is patriotism a crime?

First to correct a couple of misunderstandings. When I wrote "They say that African Americans who achieve are stigmatized because people believe they only did so through affirmative action. Many people who believe this would hate them for other reasons even if there were no affirmative action." I meant that some people have argued that affirmative action hurts minorities because others will assume any minority member with a good job got it through affirmative action and did not deserve it. I agree with the latter clause. I'm not implying that all those who make this argument are racist, but I am implying that most of those who would automatically assume the person did not deserve their job are racist, and that getting rid of affirmative action would not change their mind about the minority employee, and that this argument is invalid.

OK...I hate to quibble (please pretend to believe that)...but that isn't quite right. If David is saying that a racist will twist any "evidence" to "prove" his point, I would agree. That is true of partisans of all types.

However, the suggestion that, "most of those who would automatically assume the person did not deserve their job are racist" ignores valid non-racist reasons for making that assumption. If workers are divided into two visible classes and those classes are known to be judged by different standards when they are recruited, any observer would perceive members of the respective classes as...umm...differently qualified. That would be true regardless of the trait that divided the classes. In business, family members are seen as different from employees who are hired through the usual process. In college, children of alumnae are also differently qualified from the students who were accepted by the standard admission process.

This isn't racism. It is just recognizing the output you get from a double standard. The discrimination is in the application of standards...not in the perception of the results.

To be fair, David didn't talk about whether the affirmative action hire was qualified...he talked about whether he deserved the job. In a meritocracy, the terms would be interchangeable. But proponents of affirmative action must argue that meritocracy isn't the only (or the best) way to make these judgments. A question about meritocracy in our society is embedded in the affirmative action debate.

I think that, with all its flaws, meritocracy creates a more efficient and pleasant society than any of the alternatives. This isn't a self-interested poverty of merit is a source of frequent mirth to those who know me.

David continues:

Here is the question that I feel I've already answered but he feels I haven't.

"So I repeat the questions that you avoided. What has been the model for overcoming disadvantages? And why shouldn't African Americans have the opportunity to use the same model that has been so useful to others?"

Certainly many minority immigrants have found great success here. This model has not worked equally well for all however.

I ask David to identify the model and he discusses it without ever saying what it is. I am trying to discover the means that subcultures have used to integrate into American society so we can examine how (or whether) they can be helpful to those African Americans who have been left behind.

Because the nature of the model is never explored, we remain in a fog of generalities:

I've believe I discussed some of the groups it worked best for - and the reasons that appeared to be so. The short answer however, is that this model has worked very imperfectly for some minorities.

Why? What attributes of the model or its application made it unhelpful for some minorities? Analyzing this failure would be very illuminating.

David continues:

Of course, it would be silly to assume any problem is exclusively the fault of any one of the parties involved. I'm pleased to say I've read articles by black people concerned that elements of the cultures of certain black subgroups might be part of what was holding them back.

If some elements of some African American subgroups are holding people back, we should be looking at our (as yet undefined) model of social progress and investigating its failure. Maybe the model could be tweaked or we could see how the subculture might be adapted. But because we are only dealing with vague abstractions, we can't analyze this further.

Do the rest of us have the courage to think hard about what role we play in the problem, or not? Are you saying that since the system without affirmative action has worked well for some Asian and other groups, it must be perfect and bears no further examination?

No, no, no, no, no! I am trying to examine it. That's my point. How has it worked? How has it happened differently for various groups...and why? If you won't define the dynamics of social integration...if you won't, "have the courage to think hard" about how things work and why they don't seem to be effective in this situation, how can you expect to create a solution? You are like a doctor who is discussing the treatment but hasn't made an examination and diagnosis.

Of course, I am not saying anything is perfect. In fact it is because of imperfection that we are talking about failure and adapting the model. But, I sure would like to discuss those imperfections (and how to correct them) instead of just mentioning them.

I have already commented on the problems members of certain minority groups faced not in the past but today, and why I consider it prudent to take action on an ongoing basis.

I too am aware of the problems of social disintegration. But it can hardly be prudent to take action without first making the effort to discover which actions would be most helpful.

I think it would be difficult to make any constructive changes in the program in the current emotional atmosphere, but I will think hard about which ones might help anyway. Do you have any ideas, other than saying we should ignore the fact that certain groups are not treated equally by many people when they can get away with it, and avoid giving those groups compensating advantages at all costs?

You are right about the current emotional atmosphere making constructive discussion almost impossible (e.g. Phil)...but I'm sure that you would agree with me that important things must be done despite the attendant difficulty.

You know that I am not saying we should ignore social injustice. You have not demonstrated that compensation will correct what is wrong in our society.

What are my ideas?

Cultural assimilation is an interaction between individuals and groups. The larger society must be open to expanding membership. Racism and exclusive values can foreclose opportunities to join, while tolerance and neighborliness can create them. Society can interfere with assimilation in many ways.

Our contemporary emphasis on ethnic identity, by focusing on the things that make us different can interfere with the process of acculturation. If we identify ourselves by our difference from the larger group we can be torn by the choice between adopting the successful ways of the larger group or remaining faithful to our roots. Multiculturalism isolates several minority groups from the mainstream today.

Immigrants have traditionally transformed into Americans as they progressed through the school system. In school their children learned the norms of American behavior (often taught through hygiene), customs and values. Children would come home from school and teach their parents about their new country. Today's educators don't see their job in that light. Instead of indoctrinating new citizens, they prefer to assure their charges that uncomfortable change is unnecessary...that pride in where they came from is more precious than hope for what they can become.

The media is another source of information about the values and customs of the community. Unfortunately, media products also tend to emphasize the particular over the universal and has, like the schools, become an obstacle to assimilation.

I have mentioned a few of the social factors that influence the ability of an outsider to join the mainstream. The other half of the equation is the individual himself...his beliefs, values and aspirations.

In your August post you said, "Many of the most successful groups are those where well educated people with financial backing from family or others are a substantial portion of the new immigrants, though perhaps not all." Success comes to those who value education and to those who have strong (not always financial) backing from their families.

I would add to that list a belief that one's actions shape destiny...that what you do determines the results you get. A fatalist who sees himself at the mercy of events beyond his control will have no reason to will be a waste of effort. The belief that a person is merely a product of environmental factors eliminates the possibility of choice, and without choice, there can be no responsibility...and no freedom.

These have been a few of my thoughts sketching the outlines of a model of cultural integration in America. It seems to be functioning rather poorly. I attribute much of the dysfunction to ideologies that undermine values of freedom and responsibility. If we wish minorities to join the mainstream we must correct mainstream values that lead to exclusion and isolation. If minorities wish to leave the ghetto, they must learn to exercise their freedom.