Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Government as Power of Attorney Over Human Morality

Yesterday, numerous publications including the Huffington Post detailed the announcement made by the Supreme Court that they would hear a challenge to the University of Texas' affirmative action program. Texas' program is similar in nature to the University of Michigan Law School program affirmed by the high court in 2003. What has changed is the political make-up of the Supreme Court, which could effect the future efficacy of the law. What hasn't changed are perceptions and stereotypes surrounding the law and exactly who benefits from its existence.

First of all, Affirmative Action does not just benefit African-Americans and Latinos. Affirmative Action was instituted to correct blatantly discriminatory actions by companies and institutions of higher learning.While the concept of Affirmative Action was introduced during the Civil Rights movement, the philosophy is meant to and has served to create opportunities for other groups that were discriminated against based on their race/ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. All too often, when we think of Affirmative Action, we think of race. When we think of race, we are thinking of "blackness" or, more specifically, "non-whiteness".

Secondly, Affirmative Action is viewed as reverse discrimination. Many opponents of Affirmative Action view the accommodation as a form of reverse racism because it places a premium on being "non-white", which some feel unfairly disqualifies credentialed white applicants. Race has always been used as a factor in admissions and hiring decisions. Being white and male was seen as a desirable trait while being a black or brown male or a woman was seen as an undesirable trait ( I use the past tense cautiously). Now that the shoe is on the other foot and there is more competition in workplaces and schools, there's a problem all of a sudden?

Furthermore, some people view Affirmative Action as a representative of African-American and Latino intellectual ability and work ethic as compared to the majority (white) population. A friend and fraternity brother suggested that blacks and Latinos should be offended by Affirmative Action because it says that we're not smart enough or hardworking enough to compete with our white colleagues. This doesn't necessarily speak to African-Americans and Latinos views of their own intellectual capacity or work ethic but rather the perceptions (stereotypes even) that many in majority culture have of these groups as well as the indoctrination that many immigrants have regarding African-Americans and Latinos before they even reach our shores. There is certainly a faction of these groups that internalize such stereotypes and who act them out in a sort of confirmation drama for majority culture but I wouldn't characterize this behavior as the pathology of an entire group of people.

On a similar note, we also need to address the stereotypes that immigrants come to our country with regarding its citizenry. The experiences of African-Americans and Latinos (especially blacks) is very different from the  "American Dream" narrative that the U.S. supplies the rest of the world with. There are very real obstacles to success in America as dictated by our less than stellar history of race relations.  More education is required in our schools and on the exams that we give to potential new citizens to educate them on slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Women's Suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, and historical immigration policy to lay bare the ailments that Affirmative Action attempts to remedy.

Lastly, we must have a candid discussion regarding what the proper role of government (if any) is in legislating morality. The Objectivist philosophy that I subscribe to and the Libertarian political values, which act as the actionable product of my premises, informs me that the only rights that matter are individual rights. We have a culture that has systematically and blatantly infringed on the fundamental individual liberty as outlined in the Declaration of Independence - the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Affirmative Action is a flawed philosophy but one that is necessary due to the inability of the citizenry to govern their own morality. It is an issue of competitiveness in the world economy and you can't be competitive in any industry with a portion of the populace on the sidelines for no rational reason. To say that Affirmative Action is no longer necessary would be to say that we now live in a pure meritocracy where ability trumps other factors.

So, what can we do to make the necessity for Affirmative Action extinct? If we want the government to get out of our lives, we need to start living by the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had a dream that " my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Secondly, if we're going to disallow race/ethnicity as a factor in admissions, then we should also disallow preferences for athletes, musicians, people with disabilities, legacy and any other considerations  that do not stem from a purely academic brand of meritocracy. Lastly, disenfranchised groups must get back to taking matters into their own hands. When African-Americans were systematically disenfranchised, we formed our own universities, hospitals, schools, law offices and the other accouterments of a thriving community. We need to take back the responsibility for the education of our children and care of our elderly while also realizing that all Americans, regardless of color, are in this together. When we get back to being self-sufficient in our own communities, other citizens will look upon us as equals and not as moochers.

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