shaunterrywriter

These are my writings. Ideally, these are the most honest expressions of myself that I could give.

Salvation in Stars

Stars

Every stick and stone that makes you
was forged in a celestial fire.

And you are stars to me.

This world is a small one -
an infant toddling,
trying to find her feet beneath her -
and she is ever-growing.

Without stars pushing the last frontier,
the world could be only that which has been.

You, as stars,
expand everything.

Without you,
the world would lack a little luster;
the world would stop growing,
and contract instead.

But with you,
the ever-shifting edge of everything
expands and amazes.
With you,
cockamamie dreams
and half-eyed fantasies
and last-ditch ambitions
stretch eager limbs
to hearts and hands of delicate dreamers.

You, like stars, make wonder.

Old Dog, New Risks: An Analysis of Thom Tillis’s Appeal to Meritocracy in His 2014 Senate Campaign

Opinions on meritocracy mostly fall into two camps. In advocating for a certain brand of meritocracy, Thom Tillis seems unabashed in his appeal to a narrow constituency. It appears that Tillis is taking a calculated risk.

Tillis’s ad, titled “Paper Route,” takes place in a conservative, white (every person in the ad is white), upper-middle class setting. The ad makes appeals to hard work, conservatism, meritocracy, the American dream, equal opportunity, distrust of politicians, and real-American-ness. Central to the ad is the idea that white conservative people should have freedom to work hard, achieve success, and live in pristine, white, conservative neighborhoods. The ad seems to imply that Tillis would continue to advocate for lower taxes and less regulation.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s (DSCC’s) ad, titled “Black and White,” appears credible, logical, and fact-based. Photos of Tillis cut to video of diverse groups of schoolchildren, all superimposed onto images of newspapers. The choices for the ad’s visual components presumably help the ad seem credible and objective. The ad’s final moments show video of businesspeople walking to what appears to be a private jet, and finally, a photo of Tillis.

To compare the two ads, they seem to focus on Tillis’s priorities and his views on the role of government. Apparent in Tillis’s ad is that he wants to get government out of the way of people creating their successes. The DSCC’s ad casts some of his positions in a negative light. The ad portrays Tillis’s policies as problematic for vulnerable public-schoolchildren, and especially generous to people who are already wealthy.

This all speaks to Tillis’s potential appeal to a specific constituency: white conservatives, who desire low taxes and minimal regulations. In Tillis’s ad, there seems to be a high premium placed on hard work. The ad seems to say that people should be rewarded for hard work, while ignoring those who do not work hard enough to become wealthy. Tillis seems to assert that working class people can achieve what they wish to, if they are exceptional enough, and that these exceptional people should be rewarded. On the contrary, the DSCC’s ad seems to conclude that outsized rewards for the wealthy come at the expense of our vulnerable children and at the expense of our future. The DSCC’s ad, in essence, leads us to believe that Tillis is mortgaging our future for the sake of today’s already-wealthy. People who believe in equal opportunity or in equal outcomes may have a problem with these ideas.

America’s views on meritocracy hold that education can cure all social ills.  In most developed nations, policy decisions imply that education cannot, by itself, create full equality. It may seem obvious that the education system alone could not solve all social injustices. Still, it remains that some Americans’ expectations of the education system – to right all social wrongs – may be higher than expectations anywhere else. So one might assume that Americans’ focus on providing a robust education to all Americans should be second to none. But America’s treatment of education is not consistent with the idea that education should be its equal-opportunity-driving salvation. In many ways, North Carolina serves as a model of this sociological disconnect, insofar as North Carolina’s government has been taken over by some among the Power Elite who cynically see education as the fertile land on which the seeds of future wealth and power concentration may be sown.

The Koch brothers’ infamy has grown in recent years, but Art Pope’s name is one that is likely less-recognizable to most people. Art Pope seems like a good analog for current North Carolina politics to what the Koch brothers are to national politics (Moyers, 2014). After diverting millions of dollars to Pat McCrory’s gubernatorial campaign, Pope was named North Carolina budget director, where he earned a salary of $1. Pope operates a network of political fundraising organizations, thinktanks, and charities, almost exclusively right-leaning (Moyers, 2014). His John William Pope Center for Higher Education serves to criticize higher education, but mostly public schools, and mostly for being too liberal (popecenter.org, 2014). The Pope Center has consistently been critical of liberal arts courses and liberal arts degrees (popecenter.org, 2014). Pat McCrory seems to have fallen in line with Pope’s rhetoric, as he recently stated in a radio interview that “educational elite” have taken over colleges, providing worthless courses that offer “no chances of getting people jobs.” (Kingcade 2014) He went on: “So I’m going to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs to get our kids jobs as opposed to moving back in with their parents after they graduate with debt.” (Kingcade, 2014) McCrory ended by saying that he would propose legislation to change the education funding formula “not based on how many butts in seats but how many of those butts can get jobs.” (Kingcade, 2014) A lot has been made of an education agenda passed by Pat McCrory and Thom Tillis that has shrunken budgets, but these sorts of policies are not new and not unique to North Carolina.

In 1975, the Trilateral Commission produced a report titled “A Crisis of Democracy,” that asserted, in response to Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests, that excessive democracy threatened social order (Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuki, 1975). In the estimation of the report, greater dissemination of higher education led to civil unrest and distrust in the authority of the American government (Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuki, 1975). Since this time, rhetoric like that of Art Pope and Pat McCrory has prevailed all over the country, and education budgets have shrunken, or at least failed to keep up with costs.

Whether or not education has the power to create equal outcomes for people, the people who make decisions regarding our education system are choosing to pull resources from education. Outcomes for different cohorts are not blind to ascriptions, as some meritocrats may propose. Black males are unemployed at greater rates than they were in the 1960s (Wagmiller and Schultz Lee, 2014). They have more difficulty finding and keeping work than any other cohort, and the data show that these problems are products of their blackness and maleness, and that they are not due to other contributory factors (Wagmiller and Schultz Lee, 2014). No other cohort faces nearly the same sorts of difficulties (Wagmiller and Schultz Lee, 2014); we are moving forward not backward, in regard to creating equality for our black men, and the talents that surely lie among them are largely going to waste, despite meritocratic ethos. Black males are not the only ones getting the short end of the stick, though. In compensation, hiring, housing, credit, and consumer markets, Americans are being discriminated against for being female and/or being people of color (Castilla, 2008; Fryer and Levitt, 2004).

But this all runs counter to the arguments that meritocracy provides equal opportunity and unleashes the as-yet undiscovered talents that lie in a dormant proletariat. In a robust analysis of American meritocracy, Chris Hayes’s book Twilight of the Elites informs us that meritocracy has worn out its usefulnesses, and now serves to do little more than rationalize the systemic problems that our system creates (Hayes, 2012). There is a disconnect between our Power Elite and our poor that leads to justification of bad conditions for the poor, wealth and power concentrations for the rich, and decisions that none in our society but the most wealthy would ever advocate (Hayes 2012). Recent studies indeed show that the wealthy do a bad job of empathizing with the poor (Piff et al. 2012). Similarly, the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to advocate for meritocracy (Kunovich and Slomczynski, 2007). And this may have something to do with how people end up where they are.

The average amount of inherited wealth received by those among the top 1% in our society is $2.7 million, while the average for those who make $25,000 or less is only $6,100 (Wolff and Gittleman, 2010). 62% of Forbes’ richest 400 Americans either inherited their wealth or were born to wealthy families, and received all the benefits of a well-connected network, a high-priced education, etc. (Chittum 2012). The rich in America are not an ever-cycling, ultra-competitive rotation of the most talented people from all walks of life; they are more like a foam above the rest of us, sucking up all the benefits of cheap labor and tax breaks, while the poor and middle class are forced to work hard if they want to live lives that have any value. In fact, the inequality is killing us.

Constituent aspects of status, like occupation, education, income, height, etc. all lead to greater achievement, greater rewards, greater happiness, better health, and longer lives (Marmot 2005). On the flip side of that, being sick leads to poorer achievement, lesser rewards, depression, worse health, and shorter lives (Marmot 2005).

Thom Tillis represents a class of people who have managed to create our Founding Fathers’ worst fear: that an ambivalent, greedy, power-hungry bourgeoisie would eschew all concerns for any virtuous poor or middle class, and instead elect to take what they can. The decisions made by our leaders affect everyone, and these designs are the same designs of countless elite who came before our elite. They aim to align society and its institutions so that they might ever gain greater material rewards. They tell us that if we work hard enough, then we can live like they do, and maybe they believe that. It is not true, though, and the election of people like Thom Tillis means the furtherance of policies that ensure greater concentrations of power and wealth, at the expense of the hard work of those beneath them, and at the expense of future outcomes for those who are to come after them. Thom Tillis, like a stubborn old dog, knows well what he intends to do, but risks to our society (and to all who are not assured the success that Tillis ensures to a few) grow greater than the risks of generations before us. New, challenging problems lie on the horizon and at the fore. Can we afford that?

References

Castilla, E. (2008). Gender, Race, And Meritocracy In Organizational Careers. American Journal of Sociology, 113(6), 1479-1526.

Chittum, R. (2012, September 28). Billionaires made from scratch? Hardly. Columbia Journalism Review.

Crozier, M., & Huntington, S. (1975). The crisis of democracy: Report on the governability of democracies to the Trilateral Commission. New York: New York University Press.

Fryer, R., & Levitt, S. (2008). Understanding The Black-White Test Score Gap In The First Two Years Of School. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 86(2), 447-464.

Hayes, C. (2012). Twilight of the elites: America after meritocracy. New York: Crown.

Kingkade, T. (2013, February 3). Pat McCrory Lashes Out Against ‘Educational Elite’ And Liberal Arts College Courses. Retrieved November 4, 2014.

Kunovich, S., & Slomczynski, K. (2007). Systems of Distribution and a Sense of  Equity: A Multilevel Analysis of Meritocratic Attitudes in Post-industrial Societies. European Sociological Review, 23(5), 649-663.

Marmot, M. (2005). The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity. Holt Paperbacks.

Moyers, Bill. (Jan. 3, 2012). State of Conflict: North Carolina [Moyers & Company]. PBS.

Piff, P., Stancato, D., Cote, S., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Keltner, D. (2012). Higher  Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(11), 4086-4091.

Popecenter.org. (2014). Retrieved November 4, 2014.

Wagmiller, Jr., R., & Schultz Lee, K. (2014). Are Contemporary Patterns of Black   Male Joblessness Unique? Cohort Replacement, Intracohort Change, and the Diverging Structures of Black and White Men’s Employment. Social            Problems, 61(2), 305-327.

Wolff, E., & Gittleman, M. (2011). Inheritances and the Distribution of Wealth: Or  Whatever Happened to the Great Inheritance Boom?”. Bureau of Labor and Statistics Working Papers.

The Turtle and the Lemur

Turtle tracks

A giant sea turtle sat on the beach,
watching the waves smash into the rocks,
and watching them slide back and forth over the shore.
She delighted at the sight,
as fish and crabs and plants came and went.

She wanted to run into the water
to be with the other sea creatures,
bus she couldn’t remember what the water felt like.
She turned and looked toward the trees,
and she saw the happy monkeys swinging,
the squirrels dancing,
and the birds gliding from branch-to-branch.

Then, a beautiful, wise lemur sat next to her,
and asked her what was wrong.
She replied that the water looked so enchanting,
but that she couldn’t remember how to swim.

“The water is filled with perils,
and you can never know which direction
the water will choose to go.
Look at the crab: he eats the plants from the water,
and spends the rest of his time trying to escape the dangerous water.
In the water, the safest animals are those with fins,
but you have four legs, just like me,
haven’t you?”

The giant sea turtle was sad. She knew that he was right,
but she still felt a great affinity for the sea.
“But why do I long for the sea?” she asked.

The beautiful, wise lemur’s eyes lowered and tightened.
“Often, we want that which is unsafe;
many a ruin has come from wanting
that which brings great danger.
Look at the monkeys playing.
Do they seem endangered?”

“No,” replied the giant sea turtle.

“And do the squirrels not seem overjoyed?”
asked the beautiful, wise lemur.

“They do,” the giant sea turtle solemnly replied.

“Even the birds, who glide over the air,
can trust that they will safely land
on firm branches or solid grounds.”

The giant sea turtle’s neck drooped low enough
that she could smell the wet sand.
The beautiful, wise lemur felt the giant sea turtle’s pain,
and it saddened him.
“Wouldn’t you prefer to be safe?
After all, the joy that we experience in this world
depends on our survival,
doesn’t it?”

The giant sea turtle looked out at the water,
and a fish, shining in the sun,
swam up to her.
It smiled, and the giant sea turtle felt
that the fish was very happy,
and the giant sea turtle wanted to be so happy.

Fight Free from Sirens

Guitar Lady

Polaris in her eyes,
a mouth full of sin,
encumberingly marble-esque architecture.

She was baptized in chicken grease and guitar strings,
and she can’t tell what time it is.
She’ll talk about church,
and she’ll talk about heaven,
but ask her what the future holds, and she’ll spit at you for sinning.

She teaches how to sit,
and she’s read a thousand books,
but she can’t tell you how to read her thoughts.

She’s a small, scared dog,
cowering beneath a coffee table,
but ask her how she feels,
and she’ll bare her teeth and growl.

Her big-eyed, tear-filled smile will suck you in,
and her dance will keep you around,
but ask enough questions,
don’t keep her distracted,
and those teeth will push you off.

Before I Leave You

Sad Apartment Cat

I need someone to tell me how I feel.
I’m just another desperate person
waiting for my dreams to end,
laying in the dark,
on my icy apartment’s linoleum floor,
testing the limits of hypothermia.

I’m dangerously quiet now.
Acid bubbles beneath the thin sheet of
skin that envelopes my brittle bones.
I no longer notice any of millions of passing thoughts.
My joints are gyrating,
and I can’t close my eyes.

I left the kitchen knife on the nightstand;
it still has my blood and your fingerprints on it.
I’d finish the job,
but I’m too tired to pick it up.

You smile so beautifully when you watch me bleed.

A Land of False Promises – Deconstructing the Mythology of Meritocracy and Equal Opportunity

You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” – Howard Zinn

The ideal of disseminating greater freedom proved paramount in the formation of America. It is a credit to the founding fathers that they were able to achieve this goal to the great degree that they were. Despite (or, perhaps, it could be argued, because of) this accomplishment, the American constitution now holds the distinction of being the world’s oldest (National Constitution Center 2014). Yestercentury’s radical dreams have found their ways into Americans’ hearts, minds, and bones. As such, the government of the world’s preeminent superpower is, perhaps, operating like an 18th century relic.

Hegel, in 1821, noted, “As for the individual, everyone is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes” (P. 18). Yet, American leaders clutch to the residue of Enlightenment philosophy, including Lockean property rights (1689). Meritocratic ideals come from long before the Enlightenment, but they seem to remain foundational to American culture.

Britain’s feudal system made social mobility an unrealistic expectation. It was not until Chinese meritocracy was imported by the British East India Company that some Enlightenment thinkers were inspired to advocate for abolishing or weakening the monarchy (Elman 2013). Meritocracy provided a well-reasoned argument for greater opportunities: if the pool of people to choose from is widened, then better candidates may be found. This reasoning may or may not have borne out, but it very likely provided more freedom and opportunities to China’s poor.

Just as China’s meritocratic civil services examination influenced Britain, Britain’s Enlightenment thinking was imported, and expanded upon, by Americans (Elman 2013). Meritocracy founded much of the literature of America’s formation. The founders had grown tired of rule by a king in a distant land, with no voice of their own, and no freedom to rule themselves. Plainly, the monarchy and aristocracy interfered with Americans’ abilities to do what, for them, made the most sense. This rebellion to British feudalism led to a dramatic change in America’s form of government. America’s new government created more opportunities for many underprivileged Americans.

Today, the rhetoric of “The American Dream” and “equal opportunities for all” helps to form the roots of American culture. The idea behind this rhetoric seems to be that any person with enough gumption and persistence can be as wealthy and free as she wants. In the minds of many, anyone willing to take what is offered can have absolute freedom, but evidence suggests that this assertion is contrary to reality.

If meritocracy were working as it is designed to – providing broad opportunity – there would be movement between social classes. Instead, we see social entrenchment.

It is no well-kept secret that the wealthy are getting wealthier, while incomes for the poor and middle class stagnate. Reich, featured in Kornbluth, has made income inequality central to his work (2013). He often shows that income inequality was as high just before the Great Depression as it was leading up to the Great Recession (Kornbluth 2013). Piketty argues that this wealth concentration is a hallmark of capitalism, despite meritocratic arguments seemingly buttressed by a period of relative equality in the mid-20th century (2014).

From the end of the Second World War until the mid-1970s, America moved toward unprecedented equality (Piketty 2014). Piketty describes anomalous features that created this period of equality: two world wars, the Great Depression, and a recession fueled by debt – particularly, debt of the elites (2014). To regain forward momentum, redistribution of wealth was necessary. Social programs, work projects, and a progressive income tax created a more-level playing field. Never-before-seen expansion of government coincided with recapitalization of the proletariat, and spurred demand for products and services.

During that period, it was reasonable to think that an American, starting from humble beginnings, could work her (by “her,” I mean “his”) way into the middle class. In the 1960s, income equality peaked. Relative to earnings for the wealthiest, minimum wage equated to $21.16, after adjusting for inflation (Babones 2014).

America was becoming freer, with greater social mobility than ever before. This period has proven to be instrumental in the dissemination and perpetuation of the myth of American meritocracy. This time may appear to be a prime example of the value in meritocracy. However, the rights of underprivileged groups remained (and continue to remain) far behind those of privileged white men.

Research into meritocracy shows that outcomes remain unequal between population subgroups. It seems clear, to even the most casual observer, that race and poverty in America are intertwined. While minorities see unjust outcomes, so do underprivileged Whites, and this is an important point. But it does nothing to diminish the apparent fact that minorities face unique forms of discrimination. Blacks and Latinos experience poverty at a higher rate than Whites do. Racial inequalities, that are completely separate of socio-economic discriminations, ensure that poor Blacks and poor Latinos face more injustices than do Whites, poor or otherwise (“Poverty in the United States: Frequently Asked Questions” 2011). A field study showed that Black men and Hispanic men have a harder time finding work than do White men (Pager, Bonikowski, and Western 2009). Members of each cohort demonstrated job qualifications equal to those of the other cohorts (Pager, Bonikowski, and Western 2009). To make matters worse, the Black participants and Latino participants had clean records, while the White participants were convicted felons (Pager, Bonikowski, and Western 2009). Finally, prospective employers channeled minority candidates into lower-status, lower-paying jobs, while they channeled White candidates into higher-paying, higher-status jobs (Pager, Bonikowski, and Western 2009). Over the past fifty years, the impact of this sort of discrimination seems to have worsened; Black males have a harder time finding work than Black males did in the 1960s – the end of the Civil Rights Movement (Wagmiller and Lee 2014). To look at compensation, equally-performing workers see unequal rewards, based, largely, on racial discrimination and gender discrimination (Castilla 2008). In addition to workplace discrimination, minorities face discrimination in housing, credit, and consumer markets (Pager and Shepherd 2008).

One might assume that The Civil Rights Movement should have led to solutions to these and other problems. It was a time where more equality was created, greater social progress was made, and opportunities were more abundant than ever before. But it would not last for long, as the source of much of this equality would soon be undermined.

Education, some opine, has the power to provide fully equal opportunities. But in America, higher education has been, gradually, de-funded. The progress that was being made toward equality and social justice has been undercut as education has been de-emphasized.

In 1944, Roosevelt’s passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, otherwise known as the G. I. Bill, coupled with Cold War pressures for research to provide unprecedented access to higher education. From 1958 to 1965, the University of California (UC) added eight campuses to its existing two – an increase of 400% (Bady and Konczal 2012). Since 1965, one new campus has been incorporated into the UC system (Bady and Konczal 2012).

In America, the 1960s were a time of considerable unrest. A better-educated populace grew listless of a system that favored well-to-do white men. But the power-holders of that time would not remain quiet or complacent.

With the election of Ronald Reagan to the California governorship, in 1966, the UC system was in for dramatic changes. Reagan used large police forces in response to nonviolent protests (Bady and Konczal 2012). While it had been free of tuition and fees to California residents, 1969 saw fees introduced. The UC system has never recovered; today, the cost is prohibitive to many students (Bady and Konczal 2012). In a twist of irony, protests on UC campuses have, recently, been a frequent occurrence, despite the persistence of large Reaganian police forces (Bady and Konczal 2012).

On a national scale, policy has not looked much different from California’s. In 1975, the Trilateral Commission produced a report that claimed that America’s education had led to dangerous power in the hands of the people, and dangerous distrust in government’s authority (Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuki 1975). The impact of this report may be debatable, but the fact is that this report preceded widespread, albeit gradual, de-funding for higher education. While progress for higher education seems to have been reversed, it may be that primary education has never seen the progress that it has always needed.

Many seem to paint education as a sacred cow, and for good reason, it seems. To note the rhetoric surrounding this great equalizer – the area where the best and brightest hone their skills to play vital roles in America’s future – one might assume that America must be getting the most out of its citizenry. On the surface, it may appear that no one should dare engage in any policy that does not ensure America’s best possible education system. It may seem sacrilegious to provide anything but a level playing field to poor American geniuses, all the underprivileged stars of tomorrow, born into the wrong homes.

The research demonstrates that high schoolers’ races and genders, and the racial makeups of their high schools influence the tracks that high schoolers are placed on (Southworth and Mickelson 2007). This means that what kinds of courses these teenagers take, the quality of their teachers, and the kids that attend classes with them are determined, at least in part, by these kids’ races, their genders, and the racial makeups of their schools (Southworth and Mickelson 2007). In 1978, a study concluded that educational differences cause income disparities between races (Wright). Wright argued that these educational differences are products of nothing more than socio-economic status, while conceding that the mean income for black workers was 75% of white workers’ mean income (1978). His argument seems to be that race affects neither education outcomes nor income returns on education. (Wright 1978). The fact that Blacks make 75% of what their White counterparts make, he seems to be saying, is evidence that racism in America is not as bad as some people claim. New research seems to disprove the idea that racial injustices are only products of socio-economic unfairnesses. Fryer and Levitt show that equivalently-performing kindergartners fall behind white classmates within two years, despite accounting for socio-economic factors (2004). Apparently, even Black and White kindergartners are not free from systemic discrimination.

The role of education is a cornerstone of the idea of meritocracy. In a perfect meritocracy, ascriptions would be invisible, when looking at faceless, nameless data, but this is not the case. The idea that social stratification is merely a product of educational attainment does not seem to hold water (Krauze and Slomczynski 1985).

Despite “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rhetoric that speaks to millionaires and billionaires rising up the social ladder from the poorest conditions, the playing field appears riddled with unconquerable mountains and bottomless trenches. In fact, the education provided to someone is an excellent indicator for where, socio-economically speaking, a person is to end up. This means that so-called “self-made wealthy” are extreme exceptions to a very safe rule. To whatever degree poor people are able to take advantage of what the system has to offer, these people are exceptional.

In fact, meritocracy does not seem to exist on a broad scale in America, no matter the definition. While it seems that only 10% of the rich claim “inheritance” as the source of their wealth, the mean of wealth transfers (inherited wealth) among the top 1% is $2.7 million, while the mean for those making under $25,000 is only $6,100 (Frank 2008; and Wolff and Gittleman 2011). The mean for each group between these extremes follows a steep, perhaps even exponential, gradient. The evidence seems clear: the data claim that at least 62% of the 400 richest Americans, according to Forbes, either inherited their wealth or inherited huge advantages in creating it (Chittum 2012).

The wealthy seem to be the staunchest advocates for meritocracy, with people being less enthusiastic toward it as one looks further down the socio-economic ladder (Kunovich and Slomczynski 2007). If meritocracy is illusory, then it seems that the American elite have the most to gain by perpetuating this myth.

In fairness, some institutions are more meritocratic than others. But in spite of all its plaudits and advocacy, meritocracy seems rife with flaws. It is hard to get around the fact that meritocracy does not seem to pervade American society quite in the way that some might argue that it does. In the most meritocratic cases, the system does not seem, as some might suggest, blind to the designations of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, etc. that, traditionally, have made leaders.

People are all born into differing situations, with differing advantages and disadvantages, and those situations are further altered by circumstances that are encountered throughout people’s lives. It seems that, by the time a person sees reward or punishment, external mechanisms have, long since, sorted her into her destined socio-economic status. Marmot makes an empirical argument that constituent aspects of socio-economic status go a long way in determining health and mortality (Marmot 2005). These aspects seem to relate with each other such that low socio-economic status causes ill health, and ill health causes low socio-economic status. The constituent aspects that Marmot speaks of are products of the American system – a system that only can operate by the broad consent allowed by widespread belief in meritocracy (2005). If this is the case, then inequities that come from what Americans call “Meritocracy” are a source for shortening human lives; death by “Meritocracy,” as it were. If meritocratic thinking creates, instead of equality, vastly unequal outcomes, then, perhaps, it is only an arbitrary rationalization for oppression.

It is sometimes argued that “some inequality is good,” with some people asking, “Well, how much equality is appropriate?” These, on their faces, may seem like legitimate contentions. However, it does not appear that, if a situation cannot be made perfect, there is no point in trying. If people see oppression around them, then rationalizing oppression only makes them complicit in the forced labor of underprivileged people. This complicity is necessary for the perpetuation of meritocratic thinking, and the system that it allows. Regardless of how imperfect any solution may be, it seems unreasonable to think that this system should be perpetuated.

At best, meritocracy seems to produce the veil under which oppression operates; it is the hopeful illusion, thrust upon the masses, that allows hegemony to sap production from underprivileged workers for gains by the power elite. And there does not appear to be any momentum toward correcting these inequities.

Many people agree that education plays a foundational role in creating equity. But American leaders continue to argue for de-funding both primary and higher education. This agenda is often hidden under the auspices of budgetary concerns, greater focus on job-producing majors of study, injecting the leadership of America’s best and brightest corporate heroes, etc.; even the cloak of aims to create equity has been a culprit for inequitable policies and rollbacks of funds. These sorts of policies do not seem useful.

Hegel stated that philosophies are artifacts of the times that produce them (1821). I doubt that he envisioned a world where Americans would, four hundred-and-counting years later, argue for Enlightenment ideas. The expansion of rights to the lower castes was overdue. It was a time where much of the intelligentsia and the power elite worried over the plight of the virtuous poor. Americans now live in a post-Randian society where the poor are the enemy – they are the thieves, the liars, the drug addicts, the whores, the assailants, and the diseased. Poverty is criminal, and the punishment is pervasive.

It stands to benefit those in power that the pervasion of the notion of meritocracy should persist. Were the poor to decide that the rich do not deserve outsized power and reward, the rich may be in for a good deal of trouble; at least, likely sacrifices. Further, the idea of meritocracy provides some delusional hope to those outside the elite. The argument that meritocracy is no more than a tidy, idealistic rationalization, for exploitation of the unsuspecting masses, seems compelling, and right. Still, meritocracy forms a base for much of what seems to be American culture. John Steinbeck reportedly said that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

Maybe he is right, and if so, what a clever trick.

Bibliography:

Babones, Salvatore. 2014. “The Minimum Wage Is Stuck at $7.25; It Should Be $21.16 – or Higher” Institute for Policy Studies. Website accessed June 22, 2014. http://inequality.org/minimum-wage.

Bady, Aaron and Mike Konczal. “From Master Plan to No Plan: The Slow Death of Public Higher Education” Dissent: A Quarterly of Politics and Culture. Website accessed June 22, 2014. http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/from-master-plan-to-no-plan-the-slow-death-of-public-higher-education.

Castilla, Emilio. 2008. “Gender, Race, and Meritocracy in Organizational Careers.” American Journal of Sociology Vol. 113 (No. 6), Ps. 1479-1526. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/588738. Accessed June 22, 2014.

Chittum, Ryan. 2012. “Billionaires made from scratch? Hardly.” Columbia Journalism Review. http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/made_from_scratch.php. Website accessed June 22, 2014.

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Leviathan

Leviathan

Pharisees live sparely, the wishing between the seams.
Carefully, you bury your living beneath your dreams.

Apathy you feed the crowd, and educate; with ease, predict.
Guilty – conceived and bound – a destiny to convict.

Rules you write: gifts to you, for lemmings beneath the sun.
You provide, with open palms and a prickly grin, behind a gun.

Save me.
Save me.
Save me, Leviathan.

Magnolias in a Hurricane

Magnolias in a Hurricane

He sat across from me, the skin on his face bunched and tense, seeming to stretch and contract, in several directions, and all at once. I could feel the breadth of the lump in his throat, and I waited for the tears in his shimmering eyes to reach a critical mass. The wind blew a swollen, acidic air, and I could smell magnolias, from a few hundred yards away. His breaths carried the weight of an elephant’s feet, but his heart didn’t beat so much as oscillate.

He hooked his eyes into mine, enslaving me to sympathetic anguish. Where, moments earlier, the world had seemed tidy and joyous, my stomach had lost its balance. With his help, I was suddenly reeling from the unforgiving recognition of unwitting cruelties, isolations, and insignificances.

He spoke deliberately, trying, in vain, to hide himself among all these people. His voice maintained slow, legato slides from one pitch to the next, above undergirdings of broken, sporadic vibrato. I felt trapped – naked in his assault – him striking at my feelings of guilt and duty.

And I wouldn’t escape without committing to bloodying my hands.
Because, for all my progress and self-defense, I could never be very different from him.

A Heist

Fly

He straddles a hair on my leg,
as he eagerly strokes
his mischievous hands with one another.
He licks his lips,
in anticipation, and then,
he extends the eerie black straw from his face
to suck in calcified remnants of sweat
from my morning workout.

He shuffles and prods,
softly tickling my skin,
as he inhales the oils and salts,
and laps in his fill.

A few moments later,
satisfied,
he makes his getaway.

What a Silly Thing You Did

Emotional Self-deceit

What a silly thing she said.

Her face shrunk,
and each of its constituents met in the middle.
It made me think of warriors’ trophies,
as described by anthropologists and history teachers.

And the sounds that came from her mouth
sounded like the shrill sounds
you hear in YouTube videos
when you enter “jungle animals.”

And her skin turned the color of egg shells,
marked by tiny bubbles;
and she convulsed, cracked, like James Brown. “Unh!”

“Hate” sounds nothing like “love,” my dear.
But it’s funny that hate, sometimes, sounds like love.

The crowd rumbled,
producing the gentle roar of an ocean,
ebbing and flowing;
an ocean of despair and solemn warning.

What a silly thing they say.

My toes crunched together,
and I slowly slid across the floor.
My arms waved, wildly,
in the pattern of a frantic blind person’s cane,
as it probes for unwelcome surprises.

I could hear your shrill sounds, again,
and they felt like 1970s Jazz,
slowly, softly smothering me.
I followed your voice,
down one hall, through another,
to a dark, loud room.

And that’s when you killed me -
you said, “I’m sorry, and I love you,”
and you walked away,
making that terrible noise again.

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