Posted by: bkivey | 19 May 2010

Same Problem, Two Approaches

The 16 May edition of the local fish wrap of record carried two guest columns in the Opinion section portraying the college experience of two people of color written by Gerald Deloney and Carmen Cabellero Rubio . Community disparities are one of the hobby horses the local paper likes to trot out on a regular basis, implying that people of pallor are insufficiently compassionate and don’t feel properly guilty. I have no doubt that in another time and place the editorial staffs of major newspapers would have been active members in the local theocracy. What I found interesting was the difference in attitude and engagement between the two writers.

Ms. Rubio spends the first part of her piece talking about the perceived lack of attention from institutional authorities. She seems to think that her mere existence should merit notice:

In high school I went to school every day, performed decently in my classes and followed the rules, yet I never felt like an exceptional student.

Well, duh. Fulfilling your responsibilities does not, in itself, merit notice. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Ms. Rubio goes on to say that “Initially, no one at my school had ever introduced me to the notion of a higher education.” and relates that not until her junior year did a teacher suggest that she enroll in college-prep courses. I find it well-nigh impossible to believe that Ms. Rubio attended high school for two years and never heard of higher education. Surely at some point she heard classmates discussing the option. Wasn’t she the least bit curious about the local and state colleges?

Ms. Rubio does say that no one in her family had gone to college, and it is understandably difficult for those without experience in an endeavor to endorse it, but Ms. Rubio doesn’t appear to be the type of person to push beyond her comfort zone, and it’s a pretty narrow zone. She talks about joining the Latino student club and joining a Latino youth theater, receiving assistance from the multicultural center at Oregon university, and joining a Latino student organization in college. While her participation is commendable, her selection criteria seem to center on racial identity. Ms. Rubio furthers this perception when she suggests

“…that our institutions need to adapt to meet the needs of the students they now serve, not the other way around.

“And we already know that people respond more to government workers who look like them and speak their languages.”

Institutions are not business. Their purpose is not to cater to the ‘consumer’, but rather to maintain and sometimes enforce societal standards. Attempting to cater to personal desires is a losing game as human desires are infinite and resources finite. To say that a society should cater to the individual is a rather immature way of viewing the world, but a view that all too many well-intentioned people promulgate in the name of ‘compassion’.

Her second statement is very likely true given the reality of human nature and physiology.  Humans do prefer to associate with people that look like them. It’s a biological survival mechanism, and not unique to humans: My tribe good, different tribe bad. Given that the human brain has evolved by stacking new structures on top of older ones, it is an instinct that is literally buried deep inside us. But one of the great struggles in human society in general and American society in particular has been to suppress that instinct in order to enable civil interaction among different peoples. To cater to that instinct is not enlightened at all, but a repudiation of millennia of effort.

As Mr. Deloney relates his struggles to obtain a college education, the difference between his attitude and that of Ms. Rubio’s is remarkable, an attitude that is a result of those around him. Mr. Deloney is old enough to have experienced segregation first-hand, but the adults and peers of his community held him and each other to high standards, an exemplification of the Third Rule of Management. As he tells his story, Mr. Deloney demonstrates time and again that although others may have done so, he didn’t think of his race as his defining identity, but rather his achievements and abilities:

 Attending the “white” school was interesting because I was around a larger group of students who were really smart, and because of my self-image, it made me try that much harder to compete. I have never accepted the idea that I could not compete or that someone was smarter than me.

I would like to see that passage  framed and given to every person who thinks that people of color should be held to different standards than people of pallor. Mr. Deloney did not ask society to conform to his wishes, but through his  initiative and support of his community was able to rise above his circumstances. Social justice is not about inflicting misery on others in order to alleviate the perceived pain of arbitrarily selected identity groups, but rather about creating a society in which the opportunity for self-improvement exists. Whether or not one takes advantage of those opportunities is up to the individual.

A Civics Lesson

In a Letter to the Editor (second from top) in the 16 May edition of the local paper reader Tim Martin lists a number of national issues with which he takes issue. His letter is in response to a guest column by local resident Dave Lister in which Mr. Lister takes the “Blame Bush” crowd to task for using an increasingly trite excuse for the nation’s challenges. In his letter Mr. Martin says:

I am one Democrat who will stop blaming him — as soon as Lister can demonstrate that President Bush did not take us into Iraq and add a trillion dollars to our debt, did not cut taxes for the wealthy and increase our debt by a trillion dollars, did not eliminate government controls on financial institutions, and that all of these things did not contribute greatly to our financial meltdown. Yes, demonstrate that, and I can happily stop blaming President Bush.

Well, Mr. Martin, consider the demonstration given.

Consider Article I, Section I of the U.S. Constitution:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Section VII:

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Section VIII:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States

There is a saying in D.C.: “The President proposes, the Congress disposes.” The President might desire that everyone wear purple hats on Sundays, but if Congress doesn’t approve it, it’s not gonna happen. During my search of the newspaper’s website I saw that Mr. Martin has written a number of Letters to the Editor. Better he should spend some time doing the research.



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