Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My Solution to the Race Problem

So here we are, fifty years after the Civil Rights Era, and African-Americans are mad as hell and they are not going to take it any more.

How is this possible? Kindly liberals have spent the last half century battling the racists and thinking about nothing except America’s race problem and its legacy of slavery and racism, How is it possible, after all the wonderful programs to empower people, to fight ordinary racism, institutional racism, hidden racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and every other kind of pejorative that liberals bestow upon the “other” with remarkable facility?

Is the answer that we must redouble our efforts, that racism is like a weed, that has still not died off after 50 years of the application of liberal weedkiller, and that now we need to increase the strength of the weedkiller?

Or is it possible that the problem is not the racist weed, but the very approach the liberals have used, the idea that the application of political force can change minds and lives. Could it be possible that apart from the most egregious situations of exploitations, oppressions, and marginalizations, political power and government force are not the answer, that apart from the removal of the most egregious obstacles to ordinary human flourishing, political power and government programs cannot raise people up from slavery to freedom?

Now I have just about finished a book that is a translation of a number of lectures on Hegel given in the 1930s by Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Some time ago I read that this books was once the bible of mid-20th-century lefties like Sartre and the rest of the Frenchie lefties like Lacan and Althusser. So I knew I had to read it. I don’t know what Hegel really wrote -- maybe I’ll read the Phenomenology straight from the horse's mouth and get a different angle on it and report on it. But I do think that I understand what Kojève has to say about Hegel, in particular about Hegel’s famous Master and Slave narrative.

In the original German, Master is “Herr” which is a word with multiple meanings, including lord. So when we talk about “Mastery” we are talking about the German “Herrschaft” which means lordship and very likely more. The German for Slave is “Knecht.” Again, this must have multiple meanings and connotations for a German. My own relation to the word is in Wagner’s Die Walküre, where Wotan dispatches Hunding, brutish husband of our darling Sieglinde, with a word: “Knecht.” You can tell from Wotan's tone that Knecht is not a good place to be.

Now Hegel’s Master and Slave narrative begins with two warriors confronting each other in the Fight to the Death, because that is the only way to compel Recognition from the other. Slavery begins with one of the fighters deciding not to fight to the death and accept Slavery instead of death.

Horrors, you may say, and you may be right. But all is not lost for the Slave. For now the Slave must work, and in his Work he learns how to transform the world, while the Master just reposes on his masterful power and learns nothing. And in transforming the world the Slave slowly attains to Freedom.

Now, the original Fight to the Death is a struggle not just for Mastery but for Recognition, and the Slave loses the initial struggle for Recognition when he loses the Fight to the Death. But as he works for the Master and learns how to transform the world he starts to earn Recognition from other Slaves and eventually from the Master. It is his Work that achieves this Freedom and Recognition.

Now look what has happened with African Americans. It is not a pretty story.

Let us go back to the Civil War. The African American slaves got their freedom, but not really through their Work or even their Fight to the Death, although Frederick Douglass gave a pretty good impression of it when he was sent to a slavebreaker and fought him to a standstill. The slaves got freedom handed to them on a plate by the North; they were, in my concept, merely the little darlings, the political favorites of the ruling class, or perhaps merely an excuse to beat up on the South. After the war the Republicans sent a bunch of carpetbaggers and scalawags down to the South to keep things honest, and the freedmen were grateful and voted for the Republicans, but didn't get to really experience Freedom. And ten years after the Civil War the Republicans abandoned the freedmen to the tender mercies of the South and Jim Crow. In the century that followed African Americans struggled and worked in near Slavery, and then rallied the non-violent politics of Reverend Martin Luther King.

The Civil Rights Acts were a stunning victory for African Americans, but was it a Recognition for a century of Work or merely a political victory that depended on a political alliance between white liberals and African Americans?

After the Civil Rights era, liberals told African Americans that the need for Work was over. All they had to do was plight their troth with the Democratic Party and all their worries would be over, as liberals would fight in their corner for peace and justice. Bad move. Because the struggle of the previous century, since African Americans were freed from Slavery, went up in smoke. You don’t get Recognition and respect from having a powerful patron, or Master. You get it because of your Work, your track record in transforming nature and understanding the world. At least that's what Hegel, interpreted by Kojève, thought.

So today we have African Americans in a fine rage, ready like the warriors of old to achieve Recognition through a Fight to the Death with the police, and Iḿ not surprised. All the promises and the hopes of 50 years seem to have added up to bupkis. Even the election of America's First Black President hasn't changed things. In the new black activism there is, alas, no thought of Work, of achieving Freedom by Work and understanding and transforming the world. And indeed out in the world we normals sneer at African Americans for their dependent status as virtual Slaves on the liberal plantation. What can there be of respect or Recognition for people that have relapsed back into Slavery after all the struggles following on their enslavement in the tribal wars of West Africa, their deportation beyond the seas to the Americas, their centuries of slave labor? At this point, what difference does it make? Oops. At this point, what was the point of all the struggle and the heartache if it ends as dependency as the convenient little darlings of the liberals providing the votes for them to acquire political power and boss everyone else around?

And how long will African Americans stay the little darlings of the liberals? Until liberals don't need African American votes any more, or liberals fall from power to the Trumpification of America? Or the money runs out and Social Security and Medicare get first dibs on the reduced revenues?

The solution to the rage and the anger of black people is obvious. All the politics of the last 50 years has done nothing for African Americans, except keep them cunningly separated from the rest of America. So African Americans must start over. They must escape from the liberal plantation and devote themselves to Work and accept that the last 50 years were wasted in dependence as little darlings of the liberals, and that Day One is right now, as the First Black President leaves office having conclusively proved that empowerment through politics and quotas and diversity and political dealmaking is no Freedom at all, but a renewed descent into Slavery.

And the time is running out. Already the South and East Asian immigrants of the last half century are thriving so well that they are demolishing the Jews when it comes to getting into non-diversity universities like Caltech. And meanwhile elite universities have to enforce an Asian quota to keep the Asians down. It is not African Americans that you see doing the dirty construction jobs around Seattle, but Hispanics. I don’t know how the Black Lives Matter movement is going down with Hispanics and Asians, but I suspect that they are coming alive to the fact that the evil policemen whose lives are ruined by supposedly wiping out African Americans are frequently Hispanics and Asians. It complicates liberal race politics when policemen are no longer the stereotypical Southern racists with cattle prods. He who lives by the race card will die by the race card.

But I don't believe that the anger of Black Lives Matter is the whole story of non-white America. That's because when I go to Florida to accompany Lady Marjorie on her trips to care for her mother I interact with the hardworking aides. These aides, non-whites all, are mostly Bible-believing Christians. The black security guard down at the front desk is reading a religious tract on his smartphone. These people are doing Work, and they are all on the road to the middle class, if we give them half a chance. If only we can stop the community organizers from angrying them up and turning them into political cannon fodder.

Of course, Hegel's Master and Slave narrative basically validates the bourgeois narrative, that the way to the future is by serving other people not dominating other people. But the Educated Youth of 1848 rejected the bourgeois narrative of service and Work and returned to the age-old narrative of the Fight to the Death and domination.

All I can say is that the Fight to the Death narrative has failed every time that the Educated Youth of 1848 has tried it. Usually, it has failed for the very people they were trying to help.

No comments:

Post a Comment