Saturday, October 20, 2007

Victims of Victors?

I recently wrote about Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint's new book Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.

I am now in the midst of a workshop on promoting diversity on campus. I am entirely in favor of promoting all kinds of diversity on campus, especially diversity of thought. I am here as a presenter about one such program. Just because I am in the middle of such a conference, it has gotten me thinking about how we might think about being a minority (of whatever kind).

Sometimes it is taken for granted that the aim of diversity consciousness raising is to show the history of minorities as victims. The minorities are meant to come out of the event thinking of themselves as victims; the majorities are meant to think of themselves as oppressors.

I think Cosby and Poussaint are right. It is better to seek to be a victor than to think of yourself as a victim. Being a victim is weak. Sometimes this can't be avoided, especially during the worst of the oppression. But thinking of yourself as a victim keeps you weak. It is partially a self-inflicted wound that furthers the work of the oppressor. Being a victim runs counter, I think, to the best of American self-identity, too. We are a can-do people. If you are down, it is better for you (me, each of us) to find a workaround. This builds up the nation, too.

Victimhood is a reality. But it is not a good objective.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Knocked Up" is Finally a Good Redemption Movie

... but man, it takes its time getting there.

Ben is one of the most hopeless boneheaded slackers I have run across in movies (and never, thank the Lord, in real life). Why lovely, competent Alison gives him a second look, much less a tumble, is hard to fathom. I guess this is the disbelief we are meant to suspend. Fair enough.

So Ben and Alison find themselves pregnant. They both try to do the right thing, very clumsily. It does take him an amazingly long time to get to Step One - move out of the Dim Slackers Pothouse and get a real job. Still, he gets there. And it is plausible, I suppose, that she does not tell him what to do, because she does not want to be as controlling a wife as her sister is.

Nonetheless, adulthood is not so scary that it really needs to be resisted so forcefully.

I will not go further in the plot to avoid spoilers. It will not surprise anyone who has seen the trailer that the film's tone is sweet, pro-baby, and ultimately pro-marriage.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cosby is Right Again

Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint have come out with Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. I have not read the book yet. I did, though, see Cosby and Poussaint's presentation on "Meet the Press." Cosby says that the terrible condition of African-Americans today is due to black family failures at least as much as it is due to systemic racism. In fact, I think the logic of his position means that black family weaknesses have more to do with African-American troubles than racism does.

Cosby has been criticized for not putting most of the blame on structural racism. Cosby's reply is that in the past -- the 1950s for example -- institutional racism was much worse, yet black families were stronger and the self-inflicted wounds of the black community were not as bad as they are now.

Cosby's argument on this point seems to me unassailable.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Top-Down Class Leveling

The rich live much better than the poor. The middle class live much better than the poor. But the rich do not live much better than the upper middle class. A $50,000 car is much better than a $5,000 car, probably ten times better. But a $500,000 car is not ten times better than a $50,000 car. Positional goods, as Fred Hirsch called them in The Social Limits to Growth, are valued by the rich because they are rare by nature. You can always make a new Rolls-Royce, but you can't make new mountainsides for houses with gorgeous views. But with millions of millionaires in the world now, many positional goods are bid up way past their added value.

The rich are much richer than they used to be. But they are not living that much better. We are leveling the classes at the top.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

White Van Methodists

Megblum, the wonderful #1 Gruntled child, is home for fall break. She had an insight on the way home from the airport: people who drive white minivans are presumed Methodists until proven otherwise.

This was a lightning-bolt insight, based on no specific empirical foundation. When asked to explain this, she offered the idea that a white minivan reflects a sense of the gentle order of the world.

This seems to me to have deep sense in it. We would very much welcome comments.