What Do We Mean By Victory?

This weekend marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and of Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s most famous speech.


Since fifty and one hundred and similar numbers get people excited, the media are buzzing about with article after article on the commemorations. I’m left wondering what constitutes victory in civil rights. One young man interviewed about his plans to attend this weekend’s remembrance said that he’s inspired to continue the struggle. Indeed. The struggle for what and against what?

Yes, I know, the latest thing is the debate over voter ID laws. Generally speaking, I see no need for these laws, since vote fraud is a rare occurrence, but the requirement to have ID is a common aspect of our lives today. All of us have the burden of getting the right documents to open a bank account, fly on an airplane, buy a gun, drive a car, check out a library book, and so forth. That burden is heavier on the poor and elderly, but those are not racial groups.

Another subject of protest is Stand Your Ground laws. But even there, the laws only say that if I have the right to be in a particular place, I’m not obliged to attempt to run away before defending myself against a lethal threat.

I do understand that some see these two types of laws as disproportionately affecting minorities. I don’t doubt that voter ID laws are in part aimed at electing more Republicans than Democrats. But coloring these laws as racist is precisely the kind of reflexive response that one can expect from Al Sharpton and others like him.

But let’s imagine that everything is indeed about race. Let’s imagine that we have made no progress over the last fifty years. That takes a strain to do, but try. Very well, what would victory in the struggle be?

What I see here is something like our present War on Terror. In both cases, we are offered perpetual conflict aimed at fighting ill-defined enemies with the hopes of reaching vague goals. In both, we are discouraged from feeling that the job is done. We must fight on because only in a state of constant fighting can we be made to fall in line with the official version of events. The same is seen in Orwell’s 1984.

By contrast, as an eleutherian, I want to see clearly defined goals that are worth seeking and can be achieved. In the case of civil rights, victory is when the government treats every person the same under the law, when business services are available to everyone who can afford them, and so forth. We are just about there, but for the mopping up operations.

Yes, you read that correctly. Do we still have problems? Yes. But those problems are economic and are being masked by continued fighting about race. In the book, Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society, John A Andrew shows at length how the War on Poverty (yet another vague war, alas) was derailed by turning into a program perceived as benefiting only minorities. That continues now. The social problems that we face today are ones of poverty, not racism, and shouting about race only serves to divide the poor from the poor, keeping the powerful on top. Poverty is easily defined. Helping people out of poverty is hard, but the process is clearly defined: education, assistance to small businesses, etc. It is a fact of life that money buys a person a whole lot of respect.

We can stay stuck in the past, or we can move forward. We can act like an alcoholic who looks for solace at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, or we can take steps to make our society better. Clinging to resentment and demanding that everyone pet your resentments doesn’t solve anything. Whether we’ve won or lost, let’s count the struggle as over and get on with the process of building what comes afterward.


12 thoughts on “What Do We Mean By Victory?

  1. orlin sellers

    The problem is the government. They create it, instigate it and perpetuate it. The solution is to get rid of the government and allow discrimination to flourish organically.
    Did you eat at McDonald’s today? If so, you discriminated against Hardee’s, Arby’s, Burger King and all the rest. It is an individual’s natural right to choose his associations.

  2. Retired Mustang

    There are, broadly speaking, two mutually incompatible approaches to equality. One is equality of opportunity. It carries within it the idea that everyone should be given an equal chance. Typically, we look at this in terms of socio-economics. Thus, a person who espouses equality of opportunity might say that everyone should be allowed to achieve whatever social, academic, business or financial (or other) success he can, as long as he doesn’t violate another’s rights along the way.

    The second approach is one of equality of results. In its purest form it is based on the belief that there must be an equal distribution of all socio-economic factors and statuses. No one has, or is allowed to achieve, more than anyone else.

    The first approach has a spotted history. It has never worked perfectly. There are people who, in their efforts to achieve more, have the unfortunate and undesirable tendency to take advantage of others. It becomes the role of government under such a system to merely ensure that the rights of all are protected. Not to favor one group or person over another, but to ensure each individual has an equal chance to achieve whatever his skills and talents permit. The second approach has never worked at all. It has failed every time and devastated every nation it touched, while still managing to elevate some over others. Those who become so elevated typically don’t find themselves in those positions because of having used their skills and abilities to achieve so much. Rather, even more than under the first approach, they benefit from “toeing the party line.”

    1. Greg Camp

      Mustang, I agree. My approach is a kind and gentle version of the first. Aid to small businesses, regulation of corporations, a national healthcare and education system all go to creating equality of opportunity. Some variety of a safety net helps people get back on board when they fall. But the goal must always be equal opportunity, not equal result.

      1. Retired Mustang

        Greg, I tend to favor your approach. Given that I’m a small business owner, I’m predisposed toward small businesses. Regulations on corporations? I’m not sure. It all depends on what that means. Certainly, I’m in favor of abandoning corporatism in favor of a free market. National healthcare doesn’t leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. Talking with other licensed healthcare professionals from various countries that have nationalized (I’m assuming that’s what you meant) healthcare leaves me doubtful about it. I know of none that aren’t slower and a bigger drain on the economies of their respective countries than what we already have. That doesn’t mean it can’t work. I’m just unaware of one that has lived up to its promise. An educational system that truly educates is vital to a free nation. Such a system should do three vital things. First, it should contribute to enculturation, This includes both knowledge and real appreciation of a country’s history and values. Second, it should teach people to think clearly and logically. Finally, it should provide training in some of the basic skills a person needs to function productively in society.

      2. Greg Camp Post author

        My idea of national healthcare is opening up Medicare to anyone who wants in, with fees to be based on the person’s income. That way, the system as a whole preserves choice, but those people who have little choice now would be offered at least one workable option.

  3. orlin sellers

    It appears both of you are afraid of a true free market and trust and encourage the government to dispense equality.

    1. Greg Camp

      I’m not afraid of a free market, though I see a role for government in maintaining it, and I see a job for government in creating equality of opportunity.

      1. orlin sellers

        Of course you see a role for government, That’s the problem.

      1. orlin sellers

        RM, I respectfully disagree that it is ‘nonsense’. When you wrote, “it becomes the role of government…”, you invite in government which means you approve of force against another. Government is force. In today’s world, that force is ALWAYS used for corporatism, never for the small business owner.

      2. Retired Mustang

        My apologies for taking so long to reply. Life is busy. I declared your statement “nonsense.” I stand by my assessment. As a small business owner, a free market economy is vital. In every situation of which I am aware, liberty has increased as the market has become freer. Liberty is of benefit to people. People matter far more than models or constructs. That alone is sufficient reason to favor a free market.

        There is a tendency, among some, to view the market as some sort of holy thing. I disagree. The market’s greatest value comes when it serves the needs of people. Just as there are those who would decrease individual freedom by restricting the market to promote what they see as equality for one group or another, there are those who would use a free market to take unfair advantage of others in the pursuit of profit. Both are unacceptable. I would certainly prefer that those who need healthcare but are unable to afford it, have that need addressed by family, community and faith groups. Sadly, in this age of absurd post-modern thought, that is done infrequently at best. That seems to leave us with four alternatives. We can 1) continue as we have done, leaving many without adequate healthcare, 2) eliminate government involvement altogether and let those who can’t afford healthcare get by as best they can 3) go to the currently pushed for changes in healthcare or 4) tie any government assistance to a person’s ability to pay and demonstrated ability and willingness to work.

        I may have misunderstood your comments to Greg, so let me apologize in advance if I have. It seems to me that you see no role for government at all. What do you propose as a solution?

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