My American Identity
to: table of contents
How we can put our own identities on a better foundation
Building a stronger personal identity
not yet free
Freedom - a positive thing for me - may be negative for someone else. Others want to fill my life with their business; I want space for myself. So when government busybodies write laws or create programs that go beyond a reasonable need, I resent the intrusion. When commercial advertisers push their message mercilessly upon my consciousness, I try to tune it out. When education and religion sell the need for their service through fear or shame, I argue with them. So many well-organized groups are after me - a piece of meat as far as they’re concerned. But it is, after all, a free society so we have the right to resist these various pressures.
Political conservatives harp on the point that high taxes mean a loss of economic freedom. I would agree up to a point. Taxes do take part of my wealth. But what about my time? If I lose this, I lose my life, more valuable to me than money. Free time is the space in which I find my identity because it is the time when I am free to make my own choices. Once a land of increasing leisure, America is now a place addicted to long working hours. We ridicule the French for making a sensible choice. We say they are weak and we are great.
We are nothing but deluded, smiling slaves. We boldly condemn 19th Century enslavement of blacks but dare not think of loosening our own chains. We wear three-cornered hats to salute the American revolutionists for their freedom-loving ways, but, if a similar situation came to us, we would not know what to do. We’re so eager to get ahead in this world, we’ll do almost anything to please. And the bosses know it. They have us figured out.
I am amused by the way that Bernard Madoff (architect of the $50 billion Ponzi scheme) got clients. He would have an underling approach a prospect and say: “The Madoff fund, you know, is closed. But I know Bernie. I can get you in.” It was a privilege to have Bernie Madoff take your money, in other words. And so if someone dangles a supposed advantage in front of our eyes, we’ll snap at it like a fish. In 2007, 29,000 people applied for 1,700 slots in the freshman class at Harvard. I can almost hear the pitch: You are nothing. Harvard can make you somebody. For $40,000 a year for four years, it can give you an identity.
I think America peaked in the late 1960s when we sent men to the moon. That was a tremendous achievement and a testimony to the strength of our institutions. But the pundits grumbled that we ought not spend money on outer space when so much needed to be done at home. Space exploration was a luxury; wars and expanded social programs, a necessity in their view. So we threw money at poverty and the military-industrial complex while our most lustrous enterprise ran its course. Now those dreams are a distant memory. We have little to replace them in this period of sad decline.
I should sell naming rights to my body
I am an American. I drink Budweiser beer and drive a Chevrolet truck. I root for the home-town team in the National Football League, whether seated at the stadium or lying on my couch. I occasionally like to drink a cup of Cappuccino at Starbucks. Or I may drink wine, depending on my mood.
You see, people know me by the products I buy or where I shop. They can tell who I am by my clothes and whether I have a winning manner. My mind is stuffed with recent recollections of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, General Hospital, Oprah, Larry King, and Judge Judy. I have a good job somewhere to support this habit; or maybe I don’t. I’m not so different than anyone else. I may be living off borrowed money for all you know. Ronald Reagan summed it up best in the title of his 1981 autobiography: “Where’s the Rest of Me?”
After the banks and investment firms received trillions of dollars in federal bailout money, the Wall Street hot-shots are receiving bigger bonuses and commissions than ever for selling their complex products. They’re peddling more risk-avoidance mechanisms yet the economy is less safe. Goldman Sachs stock is still selling for above $100 dollars a share. Members of Congress will be receiving their usual campaign contributions. Cross your fingers that the economy won’t remain flat for the next several years.
No, it won’t. The pharmaceutical companies are raking in big profits. They’re sowing people’s bodies with expensive pills as farmers once planted corn in the fields. They’re double-teaming the doctors with sales reps who ply them with free samples and targeted advice. They’re encouraging patients to get into the act by asking doctors to prescribe medications featured in television ads. Who among us old codgers wouldn’t want to sit in a tub on a lawn next to another tub in which a presumably naked lady is bathing as we together wait for the sun to set in the distant skies?
It’s OK. We’re all slightly confused. Look, I have no illusion that I can clean up this mess, or that anyone can, not even Barack Obama. I’m beyond racism. When the Titanic is sinking, discussions about the race of the captain are pointless. But since we still have a little time before the boat goes down, let’s stick with that subject for a time.
the white man and Obama
American politics is confused at this point. We need to give President Obama support to do what he can to help the country in his own way. He will be the one having to make decisions. Our business, at least until the next election, should be focused on what we ourselves can control. Unless you are a Republican who for narrow partisan reasons wants the President to fail, you should want him to succeed as the nation’s leader. We’re Americans first.
Let’s consider the situation, however, from the standpoint of white self-interest. What might white people demand if there were a “National Association for the Advancement of White People”? I do not think we would want to demand for ourselves what black people have demanded - that white people get an increased share of those hired. We would not demand that more white people fill the top positions in society. That would be silly. Whites already have a large share of the jobs. Most corporate executives are already white.
The problem, instead, is how the white leadership treats other white people. There is no racial solidarity for us in this society. It would therefore avail the white race little to get another white person into a position of power if he turns his back on us. And that is what has happened. Leave race out of it: What we really need is for America’s ruling class to heed the interests of the American people.
With respect to President Obama, white people should, of course, be critical if he runs a racial spoils system. I don’t think that is his plan. Obama is a man who has given much thought to racial identity. He’s half white, after all. He personally embodies a racial mix and would want, I think, to respect both his mother’s and father’s ancestry.
Obama came to national prominence with his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention proclaiming that “there is no black America and there is no white America - there is a United States of America.” If I had said this, I might have been accused of racism. But Obama said it and the country responded positively to his appeal. He has done the political heavy lifting for us whites. The old identity politics was such a drag.
Let black people rejoice that there is a black President. It’s natural that they should feel that way the first time a black man is elected to that office. Whites, for their part, can hold Obama to his “one nation” pledge. That out of the way, we can then turn our attention to what matters far more, which is the disparaging view of the white race.
we need to exercise our free speech
We must acknowledge that in a nation with a majority of whites in the population, this disparagement could not have have happened without substantial white support. But, again, recognize that it may not be white people who disparage themselves so much as the largely white leadership. White people are betrayed by their leaders. Indeed, this betrayal may be a mechanism of control.
America’s current group of leaders, undistinguished by its ability, maintains its control by dividing people into quarreling factions. Suppression of speech is one of the tools used to promote the division. The solution is freedom of speech. We need an open and honest discussion of race. We need a discussion where white people can express themselves freely on this subject and not be demonized by the media, academics, religious leaders, and other authority figures who have monopolized the discussion.
As reasonable as this request might seem, it would, in fact, be controversial. There are those who do not want white people to have dignity. They do not suffer anyone lightly who dares speak his mind on this subject. Almost certainly, they will try to punish the speaker of forbidden truths. They will try to silence and intimidate him. The indispensable element in this struggle is, therefore, personal courage - that and ability to persevere. It would also help if others, too, joined in that effort. More than one person needs to show courage. By that, I mean mainly a white person.
There is something in this for black people, too. Where honest political discussion is closed and only one side of the issue is allowed to be expressed, the other side may react in devious ways. For instance, law-enforcement officials, habitually accused of racism and being for political reasons unable to react, may express themselves in code words rather than “straight talk”. They may employ bureaucratic maneuvers to try to get even. So it would be better if everyone were honest, spoke freely, and openly aired their sometimes differing points of view. The muzzling of whites began this dishonest relationship.
climb out of the box
I am willing to speak openly on behalf of my race; but really this book is about a broader subject. I have identified myself as a white man because that is how my community sees me. Again, I originally thought of myself as an American. In the past fifty years following the triumph of the black Civil Rights movement, I have been pushed off my comfortable position of seeing America in nonracial terms. Now, instead of King George III, I am the one on the wrong side of history.
White people can “take back” their country from the hordes of ill-meaning people and groups who will fight to prevent them from doing that. The goal is not to establish a white-supremacist order but to restore the dignity that we once had. We must give some thought to white identity and create a good model for ourselves. The power to accomplish that restoration lies within ourselves.
The first thing I would do to restore white identity is to shed the victim consciousness. The black man did not put us in a box of racial shame; we (meaning the largely white leadership) put ourselves there. Yes, we have been dealt some tough blows recently, but other people have also been dealt such blows. That’s life.
Our problems arise mainly from institutions that we support. If education deprives us of essential life experiences and undermines our self-image, an obvious step to take is to get rid of it. If religion leads our sheep-like flock over a cliff, then get rid of it, too. These are white people’s institutions, recommended to us by our parents and grandparents for many generations. Now we are carried along by a herd instinct. It’s time to take a fresh look at such things. Find a better identity elsewhere.
truth taken lightly
The Christian religion has a mechanism built into it that dismisses doubt of its message. It’s considered a virtue to believe even if there is no evidence to support its claim. Who knows if Jesus really rose from the dead? It happened so long ago. Who knows what happens to us personally after death? That realm of experience is impervious to feedback. Even if certain saintly persons know or say they know what happens in a heavenly or hellish realm beyond death, most people do not. They are afraid of being on the wrong side of a decision with eternal consequences.
It may be that Christianity is making a promise that Jesus himself did not make. Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God would soon arrive. There was a clear set of expectations. Yet, nearly two thousand years later, no such Kingdom has arrived. One can explain this through numerical symbols and interpretation of contemporary signs, or, better still, continue to have faith. Another possibility is to decide that Jesus was mistaken in his views. In that case, Christianity would also be mistaken. However, I doubt that Christians today are capable of deciding that Jesus was mistaken, even if it were true.
But who am I to say what is true in spiritual matters? All I can say is that truth means little to many people today. Truth has no organized constituency. There is just a faint voice within each person that imparts its point of view. Against that claim is posed the voice of powerful institutions threatening dire consequences if its message is not heeded. An inner conflict is created in each person between the separate appeals of power and truth.
And now we have political religions requiring belief. Belief in the Holocaust is required. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids that government should officially recognize any religion; but because Holocaust belief is technically not a religion, its belief system can be promoted by the state through educational and other means. In a number of European countries, it’s actually illegal to deny the Holocaust. For instance, the government of Czechoslovakia arrested David Duke because he wrote a book taking such a position. Duke was facing a possible three-year prison sentence.
Another questionable practice is hate-crimes legislation. A “hate crime” is an ordinary crime accompanied by an expression of hate directed at a protected class. Clearly politically powerful groups are attempting here to use the power of government to inhibit the free speech of others, mainly white people. Double standards have long troubled race relations. Such blatant dishonesty and violation of basic human rights sows mistrust in our community. Politics has infested the rule of law.
Fortunately, the legal principles of free speech and free thought are too well established in the United States to be completely overturned. The authors of the hate-crimes bill found it necessary to include this sentence: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit the exercise of constitutionally-protected free speech.” In Canada and some other countries, that might not have been needed. The Canadian government has a Human Rights Commission that polices political thought. Canada has a law making it discriminatory to communicate by phone or Internet any material "that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt." Discrimination is punishable under the law.
If politically powerful groups are able to monitor and punish expressions of thought, freedom cannot last. Free speech and free thought are synonymous with freedom itself. I put the principle of free speech at the core of my positive American identity. If the government violates that principle, government forfeits any right to command my obedience but becomes like a group of gangsters that has seized power. Going to jail to defend the right to say what I think would be my only recourse. We win our freedom of speech when people refuse to surrender it in difficult circumstances. Those difficult circumstances are now.
can multiculturalism be redeemed?
Let me suggest another element of the American identity: world citizenship. I know those are fighting words for many Americans. Some have developed an insular mentality that sees the rest of the world as America’s enemy. It is not. Our nation has many friends. The United Nations is headquartered in our country. We are a nation of many nationalities whose people have ties with all parts of the world. Like it or not, the fact is that increasing global contact and communication is the big event happening in our time, and we Americans are in the middle of it. Let’s make the most of that opportunity.
I think I know why some might find this concept unappealing. It is the same reason that the words “diversity” and “multiculturalism” are unappealing. Too often, “diversity” is used to describe the process of replacing white people with other kinds of people. That’s what it has meant in the political aftermath of the Civil Rights movement. “Multiculturalism” likewise means trashing the western tradition. It means celebrating the time when American culture will be much different than it is today. Americans will not have a home of their own because their home will be filled with other people and look like everyone else’s home. Our distinct identity as Americans will be lost.
I would submit that, even if ill-meaning persons have interpreted it this way, the fact that many nationalities live in America could be a positive thing so long as everyone’s identity is respected. That includes people who have lived here for a long time. We would not then be celebrating someone’s (our own) replacement by another people in the name of “justice”. We would be letting different experiences actually enrich us. The “strength in diversity” would be more than political propaganda.
The key to it all, I think, is compartmentalizing the different cultures. We would be having many different communities that, hopefully, respect each other. Each person would then be identified in several different ways: as an individual, as a member of a (racial/ethnic) group, and as a member of our larger pluralistic community. Each group would also have a history to enhance its self-image. Individually, we would each be many things.
the diversity sham
The current scheme of race relations is a sham. Diversity is not the strength of our community but its weakness. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam, who wrote the best-selling book, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”, also did a study of 30,000 Americans in communities across the United States from the standpoint of correlating racial and ethnic diversity with the degree of public trust. What he found, contrary to the politically dominant view, was that, the more homogeneous a community was in its demographic composition, the more its residents trusted other people, both of their own and other races. Conversely, the more racially or ethnically diverse the community was, the more its residents mistrusted other people.
And so the predominantly white residents of North Dakota had a higher opinion both of other white people and black people than the residents of racially mixed Los Angeles. According to Putnam’s study, residents of the more diverse communities “tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to expect the worst of their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less, to register to vote less” and instead sit home watching television. Why is that? Is it because interracial communities are inherently mistrustful, or is it the particular way that race relations have been developed in the United States?
My own opinion is that race relations would be much better if the arbiters of opinion in this area got out of the way and let people work things out for themselves. It usually does not help to make race an overt factor in a given situation. This current race consciousness is used politically rather than in any constructive way. The pillars of bad race relations in America are therefore the racially charged news media, the race educators, the religious activists - and let’s not forget the lawyers who need problems to bring a discrimination case. Ordinary people of good will, with no ax to grind, could solve the problem if the self-interested parties did not intrude.
Eventually the idea may sink in that with respect to racial identity, what most seems right may actually be wrong. We need to change the paradigm of this discussion. There is no “justice” in creating a new injustice. Campaigns to end hate in certain people may actually create more hate. Instead of changing other people, a campaign within one’s own heart to respect others regardless of their situation or history would accomplish much of what we want. We need to respect each other’s separate identities. No group has a special claim based on history or anything else.
At this point, we can’t go back and undo the Civil Rights movement; nor is that desirable. Whites have been made to wear the racial horse-hair shirt for decades now, yet even that has its positive aspect. There was such thing as a culture of white supremacy in America. Even if this feeling remains in some people’s hearts, it’s gone from the culture at large. That is a good thing for the majority of white people because they have no inner burden to bear. It’s not that race consciousness itself is bad. The problem is when this leads to hateful feelings that get out of control.
a community of my own
I think that blacks and immigrants already have a sense of their separate identity while belonging to the larger American community. It’s time that native white people did, too. So we need to put our mind to creating such an identity. The identity is based on two principles: First, know yourself, as Socrates said. Second, know other people of a similar nature or set of interests as oneself. Know who belongs to your own community.
Speaking for myself, it seems that I am not so much a white person as someone with a particular background. The idea of “white pride” as a counterpart to some other peoples’ pride does not appeal to me so much. Instead, what inspires me or gives me pride is what people in my community have done. I therefore identify myself, at least partially, with the place where I was born and raised: the city of Detroit. That place, now devastated, has an amazing history associated with famous people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, William S. Knudsen, Walter P. Chrysler, Henry Ford II, George Romney, Walter Reuther, Jimmy Hoffa, Joe Lewis, Aretha Franklin, and even Soupy Sales. I would like to hear more stories about them. That would fill my heart with delight as much as anything.
So the first step in building an identity-based community is to compile its history. This history can be contained in books, newspaper articles, videotapes, DVDs, and other media. It can be taught in schools or in special community-based gatherings. In Christian churches, people are exposed to the culture of ancient Judaea. Why not be exposed to our own culture in a similar setting? There should be a time and a place where my own culture is communicated. Besides weekly or monthly events, there might be particular days of the year when we are asked to remember something. For instance, I would like to see a national holiday on the day in 1896 - June 4th - when Henry Ford first drove an automobile on the streets of Detroit.
If I were to undertake an identity project, I would begin by identifying my own “American heroes”. They would not be the giants of American history like Washington or Lincoln so much as lesser-known figures who have inspired me or had a special place in my life. (See my own list of American heroes.) I would try to decide what makes me sympathize with them. Then I would tell stories about these people from biographical materials at hand. I would create public events at which to tell these stories. Out of all that would come a community of persons roughly sharing my identity and values. Other people with other kinds of heroes might do the same. While we may not all have the same set of “heroes”, our selections would tell us something about ourself.
the population threat
It’s impossible to ponder humanity’s future without considering the economic question. Population growth and continued growth in the volume of per-capita economic activity cannot be sustained. With increased population pressures, we’re cutting down valuable forests that replenish oxygen in the air. We’re ruining the habitats of numerous plant and animal species. We’re depleting water not only in rivers and lakes but in underground aquifers. Peak oil may soon be upon us. Global warming may be happening before our eyes. All these trends amount to a looming catastrophe which can either be faced now or ignored at our children’s and grandchildren’s peril.
A story which sent shock waves through the culture was that of Nadya Suleman, commonly known as “Octomom”, who with the help of publicly-funded fertility treatments delivered eight babies in a single pregnancy. These eight children joined six others that Suleman already had. She had no husband and no job. Disability payments for several of the children were supporting Suleman and her current family. She planned to take out student loans to pay for the new babies, hoping that people would also contribute money on a website.
We have a laissez-faire attitude about human reproduction that needs to be addressed if humanity can continue to prosper. To date, only the Chinese have faced this problem squarely and for that they have been reviled. Yes, there is an inkling in our own society that national and world population growth might be a problem. A few small steps have been taken to deal with that problem. But another aspect has been studiously ignored. That is the “quality” of human fertility.
Under the current system, lower-class mothers who did not prepare for their pregnancies breed freely at taxpayer expense while young middle-class women and men are urged to postpone child bearing to complete their educations and and, for some, idealistically, not have any children in order to address the population problem. If the myth of college attracting the more intelligent individuals has any validity, we are systematically replacing the more intelligent, personally self-disciplined types of people with less intelligent, less disciplined types.
Of course, any recommendation of eugenics evokes horror. Our religion has given us a set of values that elevates immediate kindness and expedience above the long-term needs of humanity. Maybe that’s because the world was not meant to last much longer. Either extinction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy or we need to rethink our values - and do it fairly soon.
I would agree that a positive program of eugenics is dangerous and probably beyond the competence of government at this time. But surely something can be done about negative eugenics. For starters, our government might stop throwing able-bodied young men and women into the line of enemy gun fire in its various wars. Maybe we could also put nuclear weapons under international control. Maybe the educational process could be shortened to allow more young men and women of sound body and mind to have children.
the economic challenge
Besides population growth, industrial development threatens the earth’s resources. That type of growth also runs into a material limit. The capitalist system requires continual growth in the volume of activity to support interest payments. A collapse may take place in our debt-ridden economy. The solution, I think, is the replacement of unfettered capitalism with something else.
The process has already started. There has been a financial collapse and government has stepped in with a major taxpayer-supported aid package for the banks. The next shoe will fall when we expect the taxpayers to sustain this burden. They’re losing jobs and many of those jobs are not coming back. Without jobs, there will be no income and no income taxes paid. Foreclosed homes may find no buyers if the well-paid wage earners disappear. All things financial depend on a stable base of employment and income. Government itself needs a reliable tax base.
I believe in free enterprise as the engine of economic progress but also in government regulation to keep the system stable over the long term. The price mechanism governs the allocation and use of material resources. Where we are worried about a long-term limit in supply, government needs to intervene in the price system to make finite resources artificially expensive in the short term in order to discourage their use and encourage the development of substitutes. For instance, a tax on gasoline would make costs more favorable to hybrid and electric cars. At some point the new technologies would become affordable.
a limit on work time
In a similar way, I believe, government can intervene in the employment market to correct the chronic imbalance in the supply and demand for labor as capital investment steadily reduces the amount of work required from human beings. It can impose regulations that will encourage employers to reduce hours of work. In the United States, the regulatory mechanism for this exists in the Fair Labor Standards Act.
As labor productivity has increased, employment has been pushed out of the more productive industries such as agriculture, mining, and manufacturing and into less productive industries such as health care, education, services, and government. Much of this “produce” people really do not want. They do want, and are willing to pay for, what is produced in agriculture and manufacturing. If work time is reduced, labor would flow back into the more productive sectors of industry and the unwanted production would not be produced. This no-growth approach would be easier on the environment.
Shortening work time in one country alone may not be enough because multinational employers would shift production elsewhere. We need to reduce hours in all industrialized countries. Fortunately, other countries are more open to this idea than the United States. In theory at least, it might be possible to have an international agreement that would orchestrate hours reductions in all countries, using trade policy as a means of enforcement. The purpose would be to reduce the global supply of labor, bolster employment, and maintain consumer demand. Human comfort need not suffer. (Read more about this subject at ShorterWorkWeek.com.)
History shows that institutions seldom grow indefinitely. As quasi-living organisms, they reach a peak of size and strength and then decline. The usual pattern is that they reach a point of stagnation where the institution is maintained by coercion before being replaced by something else. This happened with the medieval church, for instance. The religious culture of the West was replaced by capitalism. Western capitalism is likewise unlikely to grow indefinitely. It will not die but instead will enter a new phase when once dynamic industries mature and the economy stabilizes. Then something else will come along - perhaps a culture of leisure.
The economy keeps growing in financial but not real terms to meet its ever-increasing load of interest-bearing debt. Wealth flows increasingly to the banks. It may be necessary for government to intervene if people can continue to support themselves financially through work. If current trends continue, even the U.S. government will be unable to service its debt.
Therefore, what may emerge is greater control of the economy by government or what some would call “socialism”. To the extent that there is a convergence of government and financial power, however, it is not “socialism” (government control of business) but government bought by moneyed interests. It is government betraying the interests of the people. One would suspect that something strange is happening here when the government of China has become the largest creditor of the United States and the picture of a committed communist, Mao Zedong, is engraved on one of the world’s strongest currencies.
But the main reason that government needs to become more involved in the economy is environmental. Someone has to see that the use of the earth’s resources can be sustained. When ideology conflicts with hard physical facts, it must give way.
how an economy of leisure might look
The present system is predicated upon job scarcity. In an economy of leisure, the intense pressure to go to college and get a good job may subside. The power of the career gatekeepers may be reduced. If the good jobs are distributed more widely, careers may be structured differently - more like military service. Maybe there would be term limits on the top jobs in industry.
For instance, a CEO might serve up to five years and then give someone else a chance to run the company. To assume such a position may seem like fulfilling one’s duty if life offers more satisfying experiences. Ideally, many more people would have a chance to do challenging things at various times in their life instead of being locked in a lifelong competition to rise to the top.
I think that social competitiveness would remain in any type of society. People want a high rank or position in their community. That would not change in an economy of leisure. What might change is the basis of social ranking. Under capitalism, the one with the most money rises to the top of society. That’s why people want to become CEO of a large company. It’s partly because of the money and power, but mainly because of status.
In an economy of leisure, status could be based on other things. For instance, there might be competitions in music and the arts. The winner of a prestigious contest would, of course, gain prestige. As humanity becomes more concerned with questions of identity, the measures of personal success may change.
education redefining its mission
Education might also change in this new type of society. Presently, educators tout the value of a college education in the steeple-chase for better jobs. However, if people were doing work for shorter periods of time, this argument would make less sense. Business would have to find more efficient ways to prepare people for doing its high-level work. Maybe society would decide that it’s a waste of resources to require a high-priced education on the front end of a career. Mature people might be able to appreciate its experience better. Colleges might then have to rethink their mission.
I would like to see college campuses become places where the pursuit of truth truly takes place. They might become places for developing the common culture. As you go to London’s Hyde Park to argue with people, you might go to a college campus to find intellectual stimulation. You might go there as well to compete for cultural distinctions. College would be a place that recognizes people for certain kinds of non-economic achievements.
An economy of leisure would provide more time for people to do what interests them. Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip, has observed that “the one thing people find more interesting than anything is themselves.” In other words, people are interested in their own identity. They might be willing to work at finding and improving it. A college campus might be the place for such pursuits.
I think, however, that the proper time to seek self-knowledge (of one’s identity) might be after the person has had a certain life experience. If young people go to college for that purpose, it would force them to become prematurely self-conscious. They would try to find meaning in their lives before they have really had a chance to experience it. In other words, people need to put down some tracks before they can intelligently guess where the tracks will lead.
a final word about race
This book has been focused on the identity of white people. Their situation has become a source of national sickness. Because so much of that is tied to politics, I thought I could address the problem through the electoral process. In 2009, I ran for mayor of Minneapolis under the auspices of a newly created political party, New Dignity Party, which advocated dignity for whites as well as for other people.
Although race did not enter into any of the debates, I put racially explicit arguments on the party’s website, NewDignityParty.org. A black friend and I also debated race in a half-hour program on the Minneapolis public-access television channel. There seemed to be no reaction whatever to my race initiative. In the election held on November 3, 2009, I finished ninth among eleven candidates, with 230 votes, or .5% of the total. In contrast, I had received 22,300 votes, or 7% of the total, in a third-party bid to be elected to Congress from the same area in 2008. Then the subject of race did not come up even though I was running against African American opponents.
I have to believe that the voters responded negatively to my arguments about race in the mayoral election. Maybe they thought I was a kinder, gentler version of the Ku Klux Klan. Maybe opening this topic up for discussion was painful to many people. What is clear is that minds will not be changed by the superficial discussions taking place in election campaigns. An open, honest discussion of race from a white person’s point of view will not take place. Any real attempt to have such a conversation will be greeted by silence.
There needs to be a more intense discussion before minds will change. I now think that education offers a better opportunity. While I abhor college courses that teach victimhood of various peoples or makes disparaging comparisons with others, the study of identity does not have to be that way. Such study can strengthen one’s own identity without suggesting that others be weakened.
Indeed, I think it possible that both white people’s and black people’s identity (and other people’s as well) can be studied in the same institution in much the same way. I am not talking about “whiteness” studies, of course - the study of “white privilege” - which is a hate-driven agenda but of a sympathetic review of what whites have done over the years. In that context, criticisms can arise but it would not be the kind of relentless antagonism found in many colleges today. Whites would simply reflect on who they are. In such institutions, students might also learn many other useful things.
idea of a university for the fifth epoch of civilization
Presently, higher education is a high-priced behemoth designed to squeeze wealth out of young people, their parents, alumni, and the government. At the University of Minnesota, for instance, there is a long list of professors who earn $250,000 or more annually and may not even teach courses. The requirement of more years in school drives up the cost of career preparation; and this, income requirements in the various professions. Although the educators would have us believe that we are “investing” in knowledge at their institutions to make our nation more competitive, the world economy is, in fact, driven by cost. America needs to reduce its cost structure to compete more effectively; and that would include the cost of higher education.
Actually, knowledge is cheap; it can be given away for free. But we do need to educate children and prepare them for careers. There is a need for college not only to impart knowledge but to certify that learning has occurred. However, Americans are becoming disillusioned with conventional colleges that charge too much for tuition and fail to deliver on their career promises. Lower-priced computer courses have become common.
Let me, therefore, take this opportunity to announce my intention to establish a new institution of distance learning based on some of the concepts you have read here. I call it Quintepoch University, meaning that it is a university for the fifth epoch of civilization. The “fifth epoch” is an epoch of world history featuring a computer-based civilization. The concept is laid out in my book, Five Epochs of Civilization. You can link to a related web site at worldhistorysite.com, which is quite extensive.
The core of the curriculum at this new college, as I imagine it, would be identity. It would be an identity which you, the student, freely chooses. Within a general framework of courses, you would be led to decide who you are, not only with respect to fields of interest or career preparation but also to communities with which you might wish to affiliate. They could be a race, gender, nationality, or religion. They could be other characteristics that you discover in yourself. But the courses would be well-developed, informing you and pointing you in certain directions. Value would be delivered for what you pay.
Since this university would admit all applicants, it would not be an institution that confers prestige. The tuition would be relatively cheap. You could do the coursework whenever it was convenient. Students who were taking the courses would not be subsidizing research work done at the same institution. We would be dealing here with a standard menu of courses rather than ones created by individual professors. There would be no pretense of providing personal access to great scholars. Plato would be one of our distinguished scholars and his insights are available in printed books, videotaped lectures, web sites, and other inexpensive media. The copyright on his words has expired.
Another feature of Quintepoch University, as I imagine it, is that this institution of learning would assume a continuing interest in its students’ careers after graduation. We could not guarantee job placement, of course, but could certainly do more in this area than other colleges have done for their graduates. Prospective students would not need to be taking out student loans to pay for our service. Once graduated, they would not be receiving appeals for donations. Ours would be a commercial product whose price covers the cost. And the cost would be low because the bulk of teaching would be delivered through technology. I, at least, would not be in it for the money.
This would be equivalent to a one- or two-year college but the courses would cover much ground. Most of them have not yet been devised. But I will share my thoughts on what I think ought to be taught.
Generally, every student would “major” in identity studies. How would this work? To learn about themselves as creatures arising from the flow of life, they would first be asked to prepare a family tree. They would asked to interview parents, other relatives, and friends to learn about their forbearers and gather stories that would make the names come to life. Then each student would be asked to write his or her own autobiography, well thought out but not too long. A course would also be taught on concepts of identity. How do I recognize my own identity? How do I develop it in positive ways. Then there would be a course on subsets of humanity that might be meaningful to a person: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc. The student picks the one (or two) which most applies. Such courses would be taught sympathetically with respect to the subgroup.
In addition to identity courses, students need to become competent with respect to their culture and to fields of knowledge that are important in our society. I am assuming that the basics have been taught in high school. Beyond that, however, each student might take a course in history. Big History, the history of civilized societies (taught according to the Five Epochs scheme), or American history would be the choices. A course would also be taught in the best-known works of literature, music, and art. Another would review the basic concepts of math and science. Still another course would review the principles of government, law, and the free market. There might also be a course in cultural competence that consists of answering questions on multiple-choice tests. Students would take a series of tests in history, geography,and the humanities, review the right and wrong answers, and receive follow-up information on questions answered wrong. By such means, these students would get an idea of where their knowledge is weak or strong.
Finally, students might take courses to teach practical knowledge. They would learn how to do certain things. If they did not know how to type, they could take such a course. A course would also be taught in good manners, personal grooming, and health. Students might take a course in how to use computers, navigate web sites, or find information in the public library. A special course would concern techniques or approaches that have been used historically to establish the truth. Inductive and deductive reasoning, the scientific method, textual criticism, DNA analysis, etc. would be some of those techniques. Students would practice using some of them in work books or laboratories.
Also, there would be a course to teach the rudiments of a manual occupation such as plumbing or carpentry. Who knows how many college graduates have had to fall back on this type of work? Finally, this university would have a course tailored to what employers want to find in job applicants. It would be based on interviews with employers to make sure that graduates are prepared to fill the jobs that actually exist. This course would also teach job-seeking techniques and review the after-graduation services that the university provides to its former students.
This would be the basic program at Quintepoch University. Each student who graduates would receive a degree. In addition, some students could go on to take extra courses and receive an “advanced” degree. Depending on their area of interest, they might pick a “major” subject - or is it a “minor”? - and take four or five courses specifically in that field. Such courses would resemble those taught in a conventional college.
Quintepoch University would have its own employment agency in several large cities or it might affiliate with existing agencies if that is not possible. There would be a fee for this service as such agencies charge. It might also operate its own “temp worker” agency to place people in jobs on a short or tentative basis. Obviously, it would take time to create such businesses. However, graduates of Quintepoch University would have a certain advantage over other job applicants in having taken a standard set of courses. Its job-placement representatives would acquaint employers with its schedule of courses so they would have a good idea of what had been studied and learned. They would know more precisely what stood behind the degree. Selling the approach taken by the university to employers would make it easier then to sell them on hiring graduates for certain jobs.
Additionally, the alumni of Quintepoch University would create their own network both to refer other graduates to prospective employers and to coordinate continuing scholarly activities. There would be a virtual or real “campus” where Quintepoch University graduates could associate with other graduates, engage in debates or cultural competitions, and distinguish themselves in this way. Communities of self-realized common identity also tend to acquire political clout. They give graduates a place in the larger community both as graduates of the university and as representatives identity types developed there. They may develop their own communications media. In my view, it is after graduation, not before, where hierarchies of distinction are properly formed.
the demand for a positive identity never fails
It is said that the problem with capitalism has been the difficulty of finding new markets and products rather than the ability to produce them. Consumption of food is relatively inelastic. So as incomes rise, the demand for food and other such products does not keep pace. Production is then pushed out into areas less useful to humanity. There is no limit, for instance, to the number of pills that medical doctors can prescribe to make people well, then sick, and then well again. At some point, a judgment call should be made to end this kind of useless, dollar-denominated “growth”.
Economists have speculated that, in the event that capitalism meets all people’s material needs, life might become boring because it is too easy. That assessment of ease has proved too optimistic in a society filled with predators from the professional class. But the point still stands that, when we no longer struggle for food, economic life may lose some of its purpose. We may run out of products for which there is an authentic demand. Furthermore, if economic life becomes too easy, fewer people will have positive identities since real self-esteem requires having overcome adversity.
I would submit, however, that improving one’s own identity is a product whose demand never fails. Even if life becomes easy, the search for a true identity remains difficult. One can therefore be proud of oneself no matter what one’s circumstances in life may be.
Identity presents a constantly moving target. Even in the depth of shame, there is always a positive role or a path that leads back to happiness and self-esteem. The problem is to find it. With respect to identity, you are your own best expert.
See: Help for the Disconnected
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