Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hatcher Solves Race Problem

If everything was determined by the common human condition, by social and cultural categories, and by chance, it would be useless to reflect on ways to make one’s life excellent. Fortunately there is enough room for personal initiative and choice to make a real difference. And those who believe this are the ones with the best chance to break free from the grip of fate.

That is a quote from a book called Flow, which reports some of the research done by a psychologist into what types of activities promote happiness. The basic thesis is that those activities which promote “flow”, a feeling that has you absorbed in the moment and not looking ahead or behind, are those that produce feelings of happiness. Most flow activities require some degree of challenge, so TV watching is considerably low on the flow meter. They also require some activation energy – planning and set up; unlike TV, for example, they are not just there at the click of a button. The author has done research on Nobel prize winning scientists, who interestingly enough share the view that one could say they’ve worked hard every day of their career, or alternatively one could say they hadn’t worked one day of their career. Such was the “flow” they experience in their work that it was more like play for them.

But what strikes me about the quote above is the last sentence – those who believe personal initiative and choice matter have the best chance to break from what social and cultural categories might otherwise condemn them to experience. It is consistent with the old sports cliché, if you believe you have no chance of winning you are right. Which brings me to some random thoughts on race relations.

There are certain people, specifically civil rights leaders and the faculty of African-American studies programs in the nation’s colleges and universities, whose demand stems from pushing the opposite view: that unless society or the government changes x, y, or z, all the personal initiative and choice matter little for their constituent population. Without saying that racial discrimination has been eliminated, it is nevertheless still possible to say that the barriers have been lowered enough to suggest that the efforts of someone like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton do more to impair the prospects of blacks than they do to enhance them. Because if you inflate the injustice (or even, possibly, if you don’t inflate it, but you command such media attention that in effect you do), and by doing so young blacks underestimate the power of personal initiative and choice, you contribute to their belief that what they do doesn’t matter – the system is against them. This of course contributes to the power, influence, and compensation of guys like Sharpton and Jackson.

It seems to me that this has two very pernicious effects: 1) it draws attention away from the most severe problem in the black community – father’s who abandon their responsibility to their kids; and 2) even when young blacks have made it to college, where arguably they have a wonderful opportunity to be in the clear, they are often sucked into a pseudo academic pursuit that tells them they are in fact far from being in the clear. And if they should be so influenced to the point that they choose to major in such drivel, they have probably succeeded in killing their own opportunity by choosing to invest in an education that provides them little more than a historically informed case for a grievance of discrimination in the event that they have a useful employable skill that goes unrewarded due to their race. But unfortunately by majoring in African-American studies, their race becomes rather irrelevant to the fact of their unemployability. They mistake getting sucked into four years of amassing a chip on their shoulder into an education that prepares them for the real world.

Of course there is a tradeoff – I am not in any way saying that Martin Luther King’s struggle wasn’t extremely beneficial – I am only saying that as the situation improves, there is a large incentive for some to paint the picture as always being worse than it is, and that at some point the inflation of the problem harms the people it ostensibly serves. If MLK inflated the issue, it would have been justified; when jokers like Jackson (in fairness, I do like the stand he took with Schiavo) and Sharpton pull away from their sales job of trying to convince everyone that whitey lives to get them, and they pull away in their limousine to attend some event where they stuff themselves with shrimp and an open bar surrounded by white liberals who look up to them and support them, you have to wonder about their own degree of cynicism.

My honest view is that those whites racist enough to discriminate on that basis are precisely those who will never be in a position to give their discrimination any bite; a neo-Nazi living off the grid in Idaho won’t be making hiring decisions for IBM.

In my graduate school days, I befriended an African American student in his 30s who took a class I taught. The guy was from California, and had 2 children by his girlfriend via the wonder of conjugal visits while in prison. He turned his life around, and started attending a community college in Fresno when he was released from prison. Upon the recommendation of an African-American advisor at his school, he chose to go on for a bachelor’s degree 2000 miles from his kids. Now you tell me what his childrens greatest obstacle was in life – a father who was encouraged without reservation to move 2000 miles away from them – or a guy like me ready to unconsciously be institutionally biased against him in my hiring decisions.

The attitude almost seems to be – if you got screwed by your father growing up (as he did) – you don’t owe anything to your own kids. Now what do you want to bet that there is not one person majoring in African American studies in the great universities of the land who has learned one lick about the problems of illegitimacy in the black community, but I would also bet a substantial proportion of them could write a memoir testifying to the problem at a personal level.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember taking a class in Physical Arthropology in college. It was basically a genetics class. I remember the professor making a very strong scientific case that there was no such thing as race. If only the rest of the world could for once, listen to the science, and forget the politics of the moment, we would all be better off.

4:17 AM  
Blogger pbryon said...

In epidemiology, we go through these race vs. economic status issues all the time, and I almost always side with economic status as being the cause of poor health, as opposed to some genetic racial disparity. (Things like sickle cell are obvious exceptions.)

If we could eliminate poverty, we would eliminate a lot of the disparities that we currently see falling primarily along racial lines. Of course, I don't see a realistic way to eliminate poverty.

I will agree that Afro-American Studies majors are a bit problematic--or at least they seemed to be in my day. I was never sure where they fit--were they a study of history? Of Sociology? Of Psychology? Of Anthropology? A combination? The blurring among all those lines seemed to lead to sometime specious leaps of logic. Again, that's what my experience was--and I'm a liberal!

6:05 AM  
Anonymous Jim O said...

I think a degree in Afro-American Studies is probably the single greatest example of choice affecting your situation - you chose to study a subject for 4 years that is almost useless in the market if you don't have a PhD. Therefore, you have few marketable skills, and few job prospects.
I consider Anthropology, Archeology, Art History, etc., similarly - wonderful and valuable to study for your own edification, but good luck doing anything with just a BA.
Interesting how Afro-American Studies is the one that predominantly lies to its adherents that the lack of job prospects in that field is someone else's fault. Maybe it is trying to fulfill its central premise.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would agree that a Klu Klux Klan march in Biloxi, MS does little to negatively affect the opportunity of success for the broad AA population other than for a few minor convenience store or gas station jobs locally.

The bigger picture to me is when you stem the defeatism attitude in inner city areas where poverty cycle catches you at an early age and relegates you to crime, poverty, whatever (indiscriminate of race by the way).

Self determination (to me) is the only way you change that and we know the government doesn't do that period. A government hand out is about as good as petty theft and not as enriching financially.

Dare I say the situation in the US isn't all that different than the plight of the Iraq population in Baghdad?


8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To continue the Hambone comments, the fiscal irresponsibility echoed by leadership is paramount. How many revitalization projects in Camden, NJ do we need to spend billions on before we realize that something is fundamentally flawed in that city ? Be it the municipal services (I hear that the water supply pipes are ceramic in excess of 100 years of age) supplying dirty water or the underequipped and underfunded schools, the racial issue affects all parties involved. Since we all have a grasp as to what has happened in Camden (i.e. the mayors legal problems and the police force inability to stop crime) there has to be a point of no return. Where in the ability to accept self responsibility is the variant for when it is no longer possible to help oneself due to underlying and visibly outward pressures. When the government can no longer enforce the laws (i.e. Camden and its steady and unending decent in hell) and the local citizenry are helpless to help themselves, how does one stem the tide ? It is sad that, even after assigning the state police to patrol that city, and publicly aggressive law enforcement operations are enacted that the crime rate decrease is miniscule. Being able to supply a tax base with quality services is not possible in a war zone. Be it Iraq or Camden, NJ. Asking the public to accept subpar services shouldn't be acceptable from either any branch of government regardless of race.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Clupbert said...

That's funny Hatch, I also just wrote about race on my blog (kind of echoing the first commenter's point).

Way to go talking about black illegitimacy... You're going to go to politically correct hell.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As a lover of neo-classical economics, I am sympathetic to much that you are saying here. However, out of curiosity, have you ever taken a course in Asian/African American/Chicano etc... studies or are you just repeating what you've heard from reading the National Review? You really seem to be obsessed with this set of academics.

I've never had one of these courses myself, but my wife (who is Asian) took a few. She is hard working and self motivated in all the ways you suggest are important. However, her experience of being an American in different from your experience and my experience in many ways. For instance, one her most vivid memories is as a child being pelted with trash by protestors mad about Vietnamese immigrants coming to the US. I don't think most kids raised in this suburbs have faced experiences like this.

I think these types of courses can be very valuable for some people to put their own experiences in perspective and to think critically about them. While I am sure there is a certain amount of the crap you are talking about goes on in the classroom, my instinct is that you are generalizing too broadly.

Hope all is well with you buddy.


1:56 PM  

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