What is the majority and who represents it?

There is an interesting dynamic involving race.

The racist stereotype is that blacks are lazy and irresponsible. Therefore, white burden falls upon the superior race in their privileged position of greater wealth and power. This is a modern paternalism similar to the slaveholder’s noblesse oblige, the greater the power the greater the responsibility. It’s the job of the wise, benevolent father to take care his children, even against their will.

Yet actual behavior belies such claims. For the exact same crimes, blacks are arrested more, convicted more often, punished more harshly, and imprisoned longer. Heck, even for crimes whites commit more, blacks still get it worse. It seems that blacks are treated as if they are more responsible for their actions than whites, as if whites lack a full sense of responsibility and must be treated with kids gloves.

Isn’t that strange?

There is something hidden behind the overt attitudes. It’s not that people of each race are being treated as equally responsible, some failing that standard and others demonstrating their greater moral character and capacity. If whites were genuinely superior in their sense of responsibility, they wouldn’t be treated less harshly for breaking the law. If anything, they would be treated as clear moral agents deserving to be held more accountable—as we treat an adult more accountable than a child, a highly intelligent individual more accountable than the mentally retarded.

There is an interesting example that gets at this mindset. This is from Dangerous Frames by Nicholas J. G. Winter (Kindle Locations 451-463):

“Wittenbrink and colleagues conducted an intriguing experiment that demonstrates this sort of reasoning in the context of an extremely subtle framing that drew an implicit analogy across very different domains (Wittenbrink, Tenbrink, Gist, and Hilton 1997). After priming racial stereotypes for some participants, they showed them a series of animated videos involving the interaction of a single fish with a larger group of fish. These videos involved conflict between the fish and the group, but were ambiguous as to the individual fish’s and the group’s motivations (to the extent, of course, that animated fish can be said to have motives). They found that participants’ racial beliefs affected how they interpreted the videos. Those who believe blacks are lazy tended to hold the individual fish responsible for the interactions; those who believe blacks are discriminated against held the group responsible. What was crucial was that structural congruence between schema and situation mattered: racial stereotypes did not influence interpretation of a different video that did not involve conflict among the fish.

“This study makes clear the extent to which a schema can influence evaluation of a situation that bears little or no surface resemblance to the contents of the schema. In their example, the race relations schema contains cognitions about white and black Americans and the nature of and causes for their interactions. This schema affected interpretation of a cartoon about some fish. Two elements were necessary: accessibility and fit. First, the effect held only among participants who were primed for race – that is, who had the race schema activated and therefore made more accessible than it otherwise would have been. Second, the schema only influenced interpretation of a video that shared a structure with the schema. The race schema includes elements representing minority and majority groups and conflict between those groups. It also has a causal attribution for that conflict and corresponding evaluations of the majority and minority groups. When participants saw a video with that same structure (minority and majority groups of fish and conflict), they applied the schema and transferred the attributions and evaluations from the race schema. When they saw a video with a different structure (no conflict), they did not apply the schema.”

The racial frame elicits a psychological schema that appears to have at least two basic elements. It definitely involves conflict, but it’s not just group conflict, as one might assume. The other important part is that it is perception of majority versus minority and conflict thereof.

What catches my attention is that only the perceived minority is treated as an individual. The racially-primed individual fish is seen as in conflict with and hence a threat to the group of fish. As such, whites are the majority, those who get to define society. And in defining society, the white majority represents society. Whites are society. They are of the dominant group and, to that extent, they aren’t held accountable as individuals. That group of fish consists of individuals, but in the racially-primed mind they aren’t perceived as individuals.

The same pattern is seen with class. That is to be expected, specifically in a society such as ours where race and class have much overlap.

The wealthy may only be a minority, but they are the dominant minority. Also, they gain symbolic dominance in part by the fact that most of the wealthy are white and so members of the white majority. Wealthy whites get to represent all whites, just as they represent the entire white majority social order. As such, wealthy whites are the least likely to ever be held accountable as individuals. A wealthy white can never simply be an individual in a wealthy white society.

Unsurprisingly, wealthy whites are the least likely to be charged, arrested, and convicted of crimes. This is true often when it is well known that they are guilty. They hire expensive lawyers, they can stall court procedures, they get plea bargains, judges and juries give them the benefit of the doubt, etc.

Class is important not just for the wealthiest. Our entire society is a hierarchy of socioeconomic classes. This hierarchy is important for maintaining the social order. It creates distance, disconnection, and division.

It’s one of the ways that races are kept divided. Even poor whites don’t on average experience the same severity of poverty and economic segregation. It’s not even just race, but also skin tone. Lighter-skinned blacks are more likely to be wealthier. The middle class is full of light-skinned blacks. And as one goes down the economic ladder, the average skin tone gets darker and darker.

I’ve always known that socioeconomic class issues are important. But I’ve become increasingly aware of how central they are.

Even when you’re informed about such issues, they still effect you and often unconsciously. It is what creates conflicts between middle class and working class whites, between middle class and working class minorities.

These class issues don’t just take form as different life experiences but also different political ideologies and interests, problems and concerns. Obviously, most middle class people simply don’t get the problems of those less well off than them. There are also some less commonly understood factors, such as how the middle-to-upper classes tend to fall at ideological extremes and so are disconnected from the more politically moderate lower classes.

Despite the lower classes consisting of the majority of the population, the light-skinned middle-to-upper classes perceive themselves and portray themselves in the MSM as the social norm of the light-skinned majority social order. Oddly, when the moderate lower classes demand basic reforms to the system, they are seen as radical and threatening or simply irritating.

It’s as if the middle-to-upper classes, including liberals, don’t know what to do with the working class when they speak out. The middle class liberals in particular feel like they should listen to the lower classes and yet they also realize that these people, if they get too demanding, are a threat to the system they are part of. They can’t just overtly dismiss the poor, not even the poor minorities, as would many on the political right.

This creates cognitive dissonance that can’t be easily resolved. This puts the liberal class in an irritable mood. It puts the entire upper end of the economic spectrum on the defense against the challenges to the status quo. Their majority status and hence moral authority is being questioned. And if they aren’t the majority nor hold popular support of the majority, by what right do they rule in a supposed democracy?

The blatant force of political power and blatant privilege of wealth becomes harder to hide behind standard rhetoric. As a minority majority arises, racialized class conflict no longer is as effective as it once was. Now who are the individuals to be blamed?

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

We blame society, but we are society.

That is such a simple truth and for that reason it is easy to ignore or not fully grasp. It slips past us, as if it were just a nice saying. Yet it is the literal and most basic truth of our entire existence. We are social creatures, at the very core of our being.

Living in a dysfunctional society, this gives us plenty of opportunities to think about what this means. I realize most people would rather not think about it because then they’d feel a sense of moral responsibility to do something about it. That is all the more reason for the rest of us, unable to ignore it, to force this issue into public attention. Again and again and again.

People say we have no choice but to choose what society offers us. This is regularly seen during the campaign season. Just hold your nose, eat the plate of shit given you, and try to keep it down.

It’s the saddest thing in the world to see the abused voter returning to the two-party system that abuses them, as if they deserve the abuse. You try to argue with them, but the victim predictably defends the abuser: he’s not so bad, he really loves me, I couldn’t live without him, etc. Even though the victim is physically free to leave, they can’t imagine a life that is different or rather can’t imagine that they deserve anything else.

All of society is about relationships. These relationships don’t exist outside of us. We are our relationships in a fundamental sense. It is what defines us. As such, we should choose our relationships carefully and when necessary choose new relationships.

We don’t live in an overtly violent and oppressive militarized police state. If we speak our minds or act independently, we aren’t likely to be arbitrarily imprisoned or executed. Despite our society being a banana republic, we still do have basic freedoms, even with the elections being rigged. Besides, democracy isn’t an election. Nor is it the government. No, to find democracy look in a mirror or, better yet, look into the face of your neighbor. We are democracy.

If we don’t like the choices within our democracy, we need to act differently. No one is going to give us democracy. No one can give us permission to be free and to act freely. Voting for the right candidate is not the issue, much less the solution.

We will have a functioning democracy if and only when we act as functioning democratic citizens. We’ve allowed ourselves to be fooled. Yet all that it would take for us to see clearly is to remove the blindfold and open our eyes. And all that it would take for us to act freely is to loosen the shackles, once we realized they were never locked.

Some on the political left would like to entirely blame the rich for our failed democracy. Others on the political right would blame the poor. But both sides are wrong. The rich are too small in number to stop what the public demanded, if the public ever were to demand actual democracy. And the poor vote at too low of a rate, for various reasons.

We have a welfare state because that maintains the social order, not because anyone wants a welfare state. It’s just the other side of the corporatocracy. The welfare state just keeps the masses comfortable enough that they will neither vote for reform nor start a revolution. As I’ve said many times before, it is the bread part of the bread and circus.

No one, rich or poor, is necessarily happy with our society. Yet we lack the collective ability to envision anything better. We’re trapped by our own demoralized apathy and crippled imagination. We are dominated by fear, but we forget that we are what we fear. The dysfunction we see is the expression of our own behavior, the results of our own choices. It is fear that holds our society together.

So, the only way to reclaim our society and our democracy is by claiming that fear. That is the source of the power we’ve given away.

Views of the Self

A Rant: The Brief Discussion of the Birth of An Error
by Skepoet2

Collectivism vs. Individualism is the primary and fundamental misreading of human self-formation out of the Enlightenment and picking sides in that dumb-ass binary has been the primary driver of bad politics left and right for the last 250 years.

The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera
by Edward Muir
Kindle Locations 80-95

One of the most disturbing sources of late-Renaissance anxiety was the collapse of the traditional hierarchic notion of the human self. Ancient and medieval thought depicted reason as governing the lower faculties of the will, the passions, sions, and the body. Renaissance thought did not so much promote “individualism” as it cut away the intellectual props that presented humanity as the embodiment of a single divine vine idea, thereby forcing a desperate search for identity in many. John Martin has argued that during the Renaissance, individuals formed their sense of selfhood through a difficult negotiation between inner promptings and outer social roles. Individuals during the Renaissance looked both inward for emotional sustenance and outward for social assurance, and the friction between the inner and outer selves could sharpen anxieties 2 The fragmentation of the self seems to have been especially acute in Venice, where the collapse of aristocratic marriage structures led to the formation of what Virginia Cox has called the single self, most clearly manifest in the works of several women writers who argued for the moral and intellectual equality of women with men.’ As a consequence quence of the fragmented understanding of the self, such thinkers as Montaigne became obsessed with what was then the new concept of human psychology, a term in fact coined in this period.4 A crucial problem in the new psychology was to define the relation between the body and the soul, in particular ticular to determine whether the soul died with the body or was immortal. With its tradition of Averroist readings of Aristotle, some members of the philosophy faculty at the University of Padua recurrently questioned the Christian tian doctrine of the immortality of the soul as unsound philosophically. Other hierarchies of the human self came into question. Once reason was dethroned, the passions were given a higher value, so that the heart could be understood as a greater force than the mind in determining human conduct. duct. When the body itself slipped out of its long-despised position, the sexual drives of the lower body were liberated and thinkers were allowed to consider sex, independent of its role in reproduction, a worthy manifestation of nature. The Paduan philosopher Cesare Cremonini’s personal motto, “Intus ut libet, foris ut moris est,” does not quite translate to “If it feels good, do it;” but it comes very close. The collapse of the hierarchies of human psychology even altered the understanding derstanding of the human senses. The sense of sight lost its primacy as the superior faculty, the source of “enlightenment”; the Venetian theorists of opera gave that place in the hierarchy to the sense of hearing, the faculty that most directly channeled sensory impressions to the heart and passions.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman

That does not say much unless one connects it to the more important idea that form will determine the nature of content. For those readers who may believe that this idea is too “McLuhanesque” for their taste, I offer Karl Marx from The German Ideology. “Is the Iliad possible,” he asks rhetorically, “when the printing press and even printing machines exist? Is it not inevitable that with the emergence of the press, the singing and the telling and the muse cease; that is, the conditions necessary for epic poetry disappear?”

Meta-Theory
by bcooney

When I read Jaynes’s book for the first time last year I was struck by the opportunities his theory affords for marrying materialism to psychology, linguistics, and philosophy. The idea that mentality is dependent on social relations, that power structures in society are related to the structure of mentality and language, and the idea that we can only understand mentality historically and socially are all ideas that appeal to me as a historical materialist.

Consciousness: Breakdown Or Breakthrough?
by ignosympathnoramus

The “Alpha version” of consciousness involved memory having authority over the man, instead of the man having authority over his memory. Bicameral man could remember some powerful admonishment from his father, but he could not recall it at will. He experienced this recollection as an external event; namely a visitation from either his father or a god. It was a sort of third-person-perspective group-think where communication was not intentional or conscious but, just like our “blush response,” unconscious and betraying of our deepest being. You can see this in the older versions of the Iliad, where, for instance, we do not learn about Achilles’ suicidal impulse by his internal feelings, thoughts, or his speaking, but instead, by the empathic understanding of his friend. Do you have to “think” in order to empathize, or does it just come on its own, in a rush of feeling? Well, that used to be consciousness. Think about it, whether you watch your friend blush or you blush yourself, the experience is remarkably similar, and seems to be nearly third-person in orientation. What you are recognizing in your friend’s blush the Greeks would have recognized as possession by a god, but it is important to notice that you have no more control over it than the Greeks did. They all used the same name for the same god (emotion) and this led to a relatively stable way of viewing human volition, that is, until it came into contact with other cultures with other “gods.” When this happens, you either have war, or you have conversion. That is, unless you can develop an operating system better than Alpha. We have done so, but at the cost of making us all homeless or orphaned. How ironic that in the modern world the biggest problem is that there are entirely too many individuals in the world, and yet their biggest problem is somehow having too few people to give each individual the support and family-type-structure that humans need to feel secure and thrive. We simply don’t have a shared themis that would allow each of us to view the other as “another self,” to use Aristotle’s phrase, or if we do, we realize that “another self” means “another broken and lost orphan like me.” It is in the nature of self-consciousness to not trust yourself, to remain skeptical, to resist immediate impulse. You cannot order your Will if you simply trust it and cave to every inclination. However, this paranoia is hardly conducive to social trust or to loving another as if he were “another self,” for that would only amount to him being another system of forces that we have to interpret, organize or buffer ourselves from. How much easier it is to empathize and care about your fellow citizens when they are not individuals, but vehicles for the very same muses, daimons, and gods that animate you! The matter is rather a bit worse that this, though. Each child discovers and secures his “inner self” by the discovery of his ability to lie, which further undermines social trust!

Marx’s theory of human nature
by Wikipedia

Marx’s theory of human nature has an important place in his critique of capitalism, his conception of communism, and his ‘materialist conception of history’. Karl Marx, however, does not refer to “human nature” as such, but to Gattungswesen, which is generally translated as ‘species-being’ or ‘species-essence’. What Marx meant by this is that humans are capable of making or shaping their own nature to some extent. According to a note from the young Marx in the Manuscripts of 1844, the term is derived from Ludwig Feuerbach’s philosophy, in which it refers both to the nature of each human and of humanity as a whole.[1] However, in the sixth Thesis on Feuerbach (1845), Marx criticizes the traditional conception of “human nature” as “species” which incarnates itself in each individual, on behalf of a conception of human nature as formed by the totality of “social relations”. Thus, the whole of human nature is not understood, as in classical idealist philosophy, as permanent and universal: the species-being is always determined in a specific social and historical formation, with some aspects being biological.

The strange case of my personal marxism (archive 2012)
by Skepoet2

It is the production capacity within a community that allows a community to exist, but communities are more than their productive capacities and subjectivities are different from subjects. Therefore, it is best to think of the schema we have given societies in terms of integrated wholes, and societies are produced by their histories both ecological and cultural. The separation of ecological and the cultural are what Ken Wilber would call “right-hand” and “left-hand” distinctions: or, the empirical experience of what is outside of us but limits us–the subject here being collective–is and what is within us that limits us.

THE KOSMOS TRILOGY VOL. II: EXCERPT A
AN INTEGRAL AGE AT THE LEADING EDGE
by Ken Wilber

One of the easiest ways to get a sense of the important ideas that Marx was advancing is to look at more recent research (such as Lenski’s) on the relation of techno-economic modes of production (foraging, horticultural, herding, maritime, agrarian, industrial, informational) to cultural practices such as slavery, bride price, warfare, patrifocality, matrifocality, gender of prevailing deities, and so on. With frightening uniformity, similar techno-economic modes have similar probabilities of those cultural practices (showing just how strongly the particular probability waves are tetra-meshed).

For example, over 90% of societies that have female-only deities are horticultural societies. 97% of herding societies, on the other hand, are strongly patriarchal. 37% of foraging tribes have bride price, but 86% of advanced horticultural do. 58% of known foraging tribes engaged in frequent or intermittent warfare, but an astonishing 100% of simple horticultural did so.

The existence of slavery is perhaps most telling. Around 10% of foraging tribes have slavery, but 83% of advanced horticultural do. The only societal type to completely outlaw slavery was patriarchal industrial societies, 0% of which sanction slavery.

Who’s correct about human nature, the left or the right?
by Ed Rooksby

So what, if anything, is human nature? Marx provides a much richer account. He is often said to have argued that there is no such thing as human nature. This is not true. Though he did think that human behaviour was deeply informed by social environment, this is not to say that human nature does not exist. In fact it is our capacity to adapt and transform in terms of social practices and behaviours that makes us distinctive as a species and in which our specifically human nature is to be located.

For Marx, we are essentially creative and producing beings. It is not just that we produce for our means of survival, it is also that we engage in creative and productive activity over and above what is strictly necessary for survival and find fulfilment in this activity. This activity is inherently social – most of what we produce is produced collectively in some sense or another. In opposition to the individualist basis of liberal thought, then, we are fundamentally social creatures.

Indeed, for Marx, human consciousness and thus our very notion of individual identity is collectively generated. We become consciously aware of ourselves as a discrete entity only through language – and language is inherently inter-subjective; it is a social practice. What we think – including what we think about ourselves – is governed by what we do and what we do is always done socially and collectively. It is for this reason that Marx refers to our “species-being” – what we are can only be understood properly in social terms because what we are is a property and function of the human species as a whole.

Marx, then, has a fairly expansive view of human nature – it is in our nature to be creatively adaptable and for our understanding of what is normal in terms of behaviour to be shaped by the social relations around us. This is not to say that any social system is as preferable as any other. We are best able to flourish in conditions that allow us to express our sociability and creativity.

Marx’s Critique of Religion
by Cris Campbell

Alienated consciousness makes sense only in contrast to un-alienated consciousness. Marx’s conception of the latter, though somewhat vague, derives from his understanding of primitive communism. It is here that Marx’s debt to anthropology is most clear. In foraging or “primitive” societies, people are whole – they are un-alienated because resources are freely available and work directly transforms those resources into useable goods. This directness and immediateness – with no interventions or distortions between the resource, work, and result – makes for creative, fulfilled, and unified people. Society is, as a consequence, tightly bound. There are no class divisions which pit one person or group against another. Because social relations are always reflected back into people’s lives, unified societies make for unified individuals. People are not alienated they have direct, productive, and creative relationships with resources, work, things, and others. This communalism is, for Marx, most conducive to human happiness and well-being.

This unity is shattered when people begin claiming ownership of resources. Private property introduces division into formerly unified societies and classes develop. When this occurs people are no longer free to appropriate and produce as they please. Creativity and fulfillment is crushed when labor is separated from life and becomes an isolated commodity. Humans who labor for something other than their needs, or for someone else, become alienated from resources, work, things, and others. When these divided social relations are reflected back into peoples’ lives, the result is discord and disharmony. People, in other words, feel alienated. As economies develop and become more complex, life becomes progressively more specialized and splintered. The alienation becomes so intense that something is required to sooth it; otherwise, life becomes unbearable.

It is at this point (which anthropologists recognize as the Neolithic transition) that religion arises. But religion is not, Marx asserts, merely a soothing palliative – it also masks the economically and socially stratified conditions that cause alienation:

“Precisely as a consequence of man’s loss of spontaneous self-activity, religion arises as a compensatory mechanism for explaining what alienated man cannot explain and for promising him elsewhere what he cannot achieve here. Thus because man does not create himself through his productive labor, he supposes that he is created by a power beyond. Because man lacks power, he attributes power to something beyond himself. Like all forms of man’s self-alienation, religion displaces reality with illusion. The reason is that man, the alienated being, requires an ideology that will simultaneously conceal his situation from him and confer upon it significance. Religion is man’s oblique and doomed effort at humanization, a search for divine meaning in the face of human meaninglessness.”

Related posts from my blog:

Facing Shared Trauma and Seeking Hope

Society: Precarious or Persistent?

Plowing the Furrows of the Mind

Démos, The People

Making Gods, Making Individuals

On Being Strange

To Put the Rat Back in the Rat Park

Rationalizing the Rat Race, Imagining the Rat Park

Gathering and Organizing Info

Gathering and Organizing Info

Posted on Dec 2nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I created a chart at work to display some work-related info.  It was rather boring information, but I enjoyed the process.  One of my favorite activities is gathering and organizing info.  Its often what I do with my time on the web. 

I love it even more when I find the product of someone else’s effort.  There are many people online who spend years or even a lifetime gathering and organizing info about a single subject.  If it weren’t for such people, the web would be a chaos of data. 

Most people don’t have the time to do a thorough search and so our society is dependent on people who will do this and offer it to others… often for free, sometimes losing money in the process.  Its amazing what people are willing to do even without the hope of financial gain.  The internet would collapse if it weren’t for all the “volunteers” that help to keep it running.  Most of the activity on the internet has very little direct economic value, but indirectly it promotes all of the online traffic which others capitalize on.

I see myself as one of those volunteers.  Some of my blogs represent immense amounts of time perusing hundreds of websites. In my recent research about virtual worlds and networking sites, I looked at thousands of websites over several months.  I’ve gathered enough info to write a very large book if I felt inspired to do so.

And all this activity by all these people is largely collaborative… intentionally or not.  The whole structure of the internet seems to promote a collective framework.  Authorship becomes less clear.  Information takes on a viral status. 

In my recent blog about virtual worlds, I gathered and organized info that had already been gathered and organized by others.  Who knows how many stages of information filtration had happened even before that.  And, of course, there will be an endless chain of links that will follow from my blog.  I did a websearch.  My blog has already been linked in some blogs, several times on Twitter and FriendFeed, linked on a forum for virtual gaming, and for some strange reason it was listed on a porn webcam site.  Oh, dear me!  lol

Access_public Access: Public 2 Comments Print Post this!views (122)  

about 5 hours later

Centria said

I smiled when reading this, Ben, imagining the joy you get researching and gathering information.  So glad this brings you happiness….and assists others as well.  You certainly have a gift for it.  Blessings, Kathy

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 5 hours later

Marmalade said

The funny thing is that I’m not naturally an organized person.  My apartment is a mess.  The only area of my life where I enjoy organization is with info, and even there its not equally applied.

From a typology perspective, my Ne goes off in every direction.  Its from my Ne that I get my love of research and gathering.  My natural way of keeping my environment is best described as creative chaos. 

I learned Te organizational abilities from my dad, and Te is the aspirational function of my INFP type.  My dad is a Te type.  He’d use Te organizing for practical purposes, but I tend to use it for only purposes that have no obvious practical value.

Individual and Collective Good

This post is a response to a recent post of mine.

Status Anxiety

Basically, I’m very cynical.  I don’t believe American society is genuinely a meritocracy.  Yes, sometimes people manage to escape their circumstances, but these are few and far between (and it should be noted that statistics show a person is more likely to escape their lowly circumstances if they’re a white male from an industrialized nation).  Anyways, the exception proves the rule.  I am cynical, but from my perspective I’m just being realistic for I’m basing my opinion on the known facts. 

On the other hand, I don’t believe US politics are even genuinely democratic.  I agree with the analysis of the evidence that shows the voting process has been manipulated in the past.  Plus, I just don’t think a two-party system is enough free choice to create a democracy, especially considering both major parties have many ties to big business. 

I go by the advice of someone who was in a Nazi concentration camp.  To paraphrase, “If they give me two choices, I always pick the third.”  The context of that statement is that the Nazis would offer two lines in order to create a false sense that choice mattered.  People would be too distracted by the illusion of choice that they wouldn’t riot.

Cynicism and realism aside, that isn’t the reason I’m writing this.  I was listening to Iowa Public Radio (public radio being a fitting format for the subject of this post) last night at work as I usually do and there were two interviews.

The first interview was about a guy, with the help of a former drug dealer, who started an organization to offer work to troubled youth.  He had an interesting way of going about it.  They make and sell their own ice-cream and so it’s run like a normal business.  The reason for this is because he thinks charity was the wrong way of trying to help people and he wants the youth to work hard to earn what they get.  He wanted the youth and the community to be both invested in and inspired by this organization.  So, the youth employees have a share in the business and they are selling shares of the business to people in the community.

What intrigued me is that on the surface it seems to fit the meritocracy paradigm, but there is an important difference.  He doesn’t just want to help individuals.  He wants to help the entire community.  It’s ineffective trying to help an individual if there isn’t a community there to support the individual.  That is the failing of the enlightened selfishness of the mainstream conception of meritocracy.  In the real world, no one earns anything all on their own.  An individual only ever succeeds to the degree that he is a part of a successful social support system (whether friends, family, school, or community).  This is why most wealthy people were raised by wealthy parents in wealthy communities and went to wealthy schools with wealthy peers.  This is why most poor people were raised by poor parents in poor communities and went to poor schools with poor peers.

The ideal of meritocracy misses out on the larger social reality.  This is why US democracy tries to uphold the ideal of meritocratic individualism through socialist programs.  In theory, public schools are supposed to help level the playing field.  They do to an extent, but only very marginally.  The public schools in the wealthy communities attract the best teachers.  Besides, most wealthy kids go to expensive private schools and have private tutors.  There is no level playing field.  A smart, hardworking kid going to a crappy public school in a poverty-stricken, crime-ridden community will be lucky to make it out alive in order to one day become a minimum wage worker who barely makes ends meet.  When the world a kid grows up in is filled with suffering and desperation, it’s hard for that kid to see outside of that situation and actually believe he has many options open to him.

Even so, social progress does happen.  It’s just that progress of the lower socio-economic classes is minute in comparison to the ever-growing wealth and power of the elite.  Also, some argue that the middle class is disappearing and the gap is widening between the rich and poor.  This widening gap, however, is less obvious to those of the older generations who grew up and started careers during a time when the gap was narrowing.  What many don’t realize is the gap narrowed because of the implementation of many progressive ideals.  There is of course Social Security which is one of the most successful programs of the liberal agenda, and it’s always odd that conservatives will attack public healthcare while defending Social Security.  And there are the accomplishments of workers unions: minimum wage, 5 day work week, 8 hr working day, overtime, worker safety, employer-provided health insurance, child labor laws, and on and on; but the workers unions have been losing power for the last half century.

My grandfather on my mom’s side was a factory worker.  If I remember correctly, he didn’t support unions.  He believed in hard work and earning one’s own way, but he didn’t realize that his lifestyle was as nice as it was because of the unions.  The unions benefit even those who are members and even those who oppose unions… heck, the unions even benefit employees of companies that aren’t unionized by way of free market competition.  My grandfather had a decent house in a decent neighborhood.  He raised three kids who all got good public educations and two of his kids went to college.  He bought a new car on a regular basis which was his pride and joy, and the whole family went on yearly vacations.  He retired with plenty of savings and good benefits which has supported my grandmother since he died.  He did work hard, but none of that would’ve been possible without the workers union and other liberal agendas.

My mom was one of the kids who went to college.  A generation before, a woman wouldn’t have had all the opportunities she had.  It was the liberal agenda of woman who had to fight for those rights over a long period of time and at cost of great personal suffering.  First off, she went to a public school which was of course funded publicly (i.e., socialism).  Secondly, she went to a state school that was funded publicly (i.e., socialism).  She has worked her entire life for public schools (i.e., a socialist institution).  And yet she is a conservative.  If conservative policies had been implemented throughout US history, we wouldn’t have such things publicly funded schools, unions, and the civil rights movement.  (BTW my use of conservative and liberal aren’t equated with Republican and Democrat.)  If social conservatives had their way for the last couple of centuries, my mom would be a traditional stay-at-home mother with no personal rights (no right to vote, no right to have a bank account in her name, etc.).

So, why is it so often the same people who are for meritocracy all the while being suspicious of the liberal agenda?  Why do so many working class people attack Obama and the Democrats as socialists all the while it’s the working class that has benefitted the most from socialist democracy?

Let me now discuss the second interview.  Diane Rehm was talking with Roger G. Kennedy about the New Deal. 

Most people know that there were many public works from that time such as the parks that people still enjoy, but the public works included all aspects of society.  There were also many public buildings built by public works projects, and Kennedy was specifically talking about the art created for communities (both large and small) across the country.  Kennedy mentioned a quote: “The work of art is to help to coax the soul of the nation back to life.” 

Artists during the New Deal saw themselves as part of the larger community of the nation rather than as just individuals looking for their own gain.  There was the belief that what individuals did mattered on the collective level and so people were willing to commit themselves to collective goals.  There was this desire to create a collective sense of identity, but this desire included both national identity and local community identity.  The public art that was created during the New Deal was funded by the government, but it was the local community that decided what to create that represented them.  This art is still around today and is still informing people about their sense of collective identity.

Compare that to our society now.  The popular ideal of selfish meritocracy is supported by a belief that government is either a failing institution or entirely outside the realm of the individual.  Instead of a collective sense of identity and collective sense of responsibility, we have class and culture wars being incited by fear-mongering pundits.  Our whole society is built on public works from public roads to military-funded projects such as the early internet.  However, much of the public works projects from the New Deal are now gone or in serious decay.

There is potential for our society to shift back again.  I believe that our society’s ideals often don’t correlate with reality, but there are hints that people are slowly beginning to demand that politicians do more than pay lip-service to these ideals.  According to Strauss and Howe, the Millennial generation are much more socially oriented and are more committed to the collective good.  So, maybe we’ll see new public works in the next few decades that will reinvigorate US culture. 

Furthermore, I think that ideals are good even when we fail them.  There is the idea in psychology about role-playing.  People need to pretend to be something before actually becoming that thing.  As such, Americans are like little children playing at democracy, and maybe one day we will grow up and form an actual democratic society.