Why label?

The whole idea of labels is one that grows tiresome I think.

Around Washington, DC, where I grew up, there was a very large population of African Americans. (In fact, there are areas where the African American population is the majority. I taught in a school where less than one-third of my sixth grade class was Caucasian). But that label has always bugged me, too. First of all, very few of those African Americans have ever been to Africa, so is that really accurate? What about a Caucasian born in Africa who moves to the U.S.; does she then become African American? Or a Caucasian born in the U.S. who moves to Africa; does he become an American African? What about an African American who moves to Africa? Is he then an African American African?

As a Caucasian I suppose I am a European American but that seems tedious. If I wanted to be more specific I would have to label myself a Scots-English-German American. My point though is why label at all? I was born in America, as were my parents, and their parents, and their parents, and back quite a way (I have genealogies from both sides tracing back quite a ways, and the arrival in America of my ancestors goes way back) so why not just say I am American? I think that there is really just one race…human. Wouldn’t it simplify things greatly if we just eliminated labels all together?

This discussion reminds me also of a mini-controvery that came up in a professional network I am a part of this past year. Our school has a number of international students, and the issue came up from another school that also does over the use of the term “native language” to refer to the language that the international students learned first. This individual, and apparently others he claimed to be speaking for, found the use of the term “native” to be offensive since it implied that the language was somehow inferior or less civilized. He suggested the use of the term “first language.”

It seems that (1) people get too worked up over some terms and perhaps too easily offended, and (2) we all sometimes get too concerned with labels in general. So I ask again, why label at all?

Labels also create the problem of trying to ensure that each label is adequately represented in any given group, which leads to policies such as affirmative action (AA). I guess I would fall into the camp of the opponents of AA policies because I feel that admission to a school or hiring/promotion within a company should be based on merit. While I can appreciate the richness that diversity can bring to any school or organization, and I can agree that diversity is often desirable, I do not think it helps anyone to create diversity by lowering expectations or requirements. In other words, if in order to have diversity, a school or organization has to accept individuals that would not otherwise qualify for acceptance, the organziation will suffer. It may well become more diverse, but it will also become less rigorous.

I think AA policies are self defeating. In the instance of schools, they result in the admission of students who would not otherwise qualify, but then if those students who came in under AA policies do not succeed that does not look good either, so then the standards for success at the school must also be lowered in order to ensure that those who probably should not be there anyway are not all flunking out. As these standards are lowered, the overall quality of the students at the school will enevitably decline, and more than likely the level of the faculty members and the rigor of the teaching will, too.

I believe that admission to schools should be based on merit only. In fact, I would advocate that race not even be indicated on application forms or be a consideration for admission (or gender either, for that matter, unless it is an all-female or all-male school).

At the end of the day, when it comes to race, I see no good that comes from the labels.

The Antitode to an Abuse of Freedom

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias posted this statement on his Facebook page on July 4: “Freedom can be destroyed, not just by its retraction, but also by its abuse.” That is a profound reminder for everyone who claims to be a lover of freedom. And if I may be so bold as to add to this statement, I would suggest that freedom is most likely to be abused when those who possess freedom fail to understand freedom–what it is and what it is not, where it comes from, how it is preserved and so on.

In the United States of America one way to gain a more complete understanding of freedom and what it means in the U.S. is to understand what the Founders were thinking and doing when they formed the framework of this nation following the accomplishment of independence from England. As a student of American history, I would suggest that one of the best ways to understand what the Founders intended when they wrote the Constitution is to read the eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay that have come to be known as The Federalist Papers. These essays were originally published in newspapers between October 1787 and August 1788 in order to present the case for the ratification of the Constitution. The complete collection of essays was bound into two volumes in late 1788 and have been available in single or dual volumes ever since. For those who prefer to read on their computers or e-readers, the text of all eighty-five essays is also available (for free) on the Library of Congress web site as well as a number of other web sites. For more than two centuries they have been the authoritative source understanding the thinking and intentions of the Founders.

Historian Richard B. Morris said that The Federalist Papers form “an incomparable exposition of the Constitution, a classic in political science unsurpassed in both breadth and depth by the product of any later American writer.” Thomas Jefferson called them the best commentary ever written about the principles of government. The Federalist Papers website quotes James Madison as writing that “a people who mean to be their own governors must be armed with the power that knowledge gives.” Alexis de Tocqueville visited the young American nation and wrote in his book Democracy in America that Americans of that time were “far more knowledgeable about government and the issues of the day than their counterparts in Europe.”

Why bring all this up? Because, according to a recent article by Mindy Belz entitled “Against the Mental Grain,” The Federalist Papers are now being ignored by the most respectable institutions of higher learning in America, including its law schools. Belz quotes Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, as pointing out that Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley no longer require their students to read any of the Federalist essays, and these are the schools that “produce many of the nation’s leading members of the bar and bench.” Berkowtiz goes further and explains that not just the law schools, but the political science departments at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford do not even require undergraduate or graduate students to study The Federalist. Berkowitz writes, “The progressive ideology that dominates our universities teaches that The Federalist, like all books written before the day before yesterday, is antiquated and irrelevant,” and that by letting students acquire an education without studying such important writings as The Federalist Papers, “our universities also deprive the nation of a citizenry well-acquainted with our Constitution’s enduring principles.”

The Federalist Papers Project, whose web site I linked above, has this states purpose: “The mission of The Federalist Papers Project is to get people the history, government and economics lessons they never got in school and to motivate them to push back at the erosion of our liberties and restore constitutionally limited small government.” And to bring this discussion full circle, please note that “the erosion of our liberties” is but another way of saying, in the words of Zacharias, “an abuse of freedom.” Founding documents are important, whether the Ivy League schools think so or not. Let us, as Madison urged, arm ourselves with knowledge that we might defend against the abuse of our freedoms by those who have ignored the limits on government intended by our Founders.

What a Fool

The Bible has plenty to say about fools. Do a quick search and you will discover that there are dozens of verses mentioning fools in the Scripture, and the majority of them are in Proverbs. The “book of wisdom” provides an abundance of insight into what makes one wise and, on the contrary, what makes one a fool. Proverbs 18:2, for example, says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (ESV). This was perfectly demonstrated mid-May in front of the Qingdao Auto Show in China…

Chinese media reported that an unidentified Chinese man hired three men wielding sledge hammers to destroy his Maserati Quattroporte outside the show. Why? Because he was unhappy with the Furi Group, the company that handled the $390 repair job on his $423,000 car, claiming that they used secondhand parts.

Oh, okay…well at least he had a reason. A foolish reason! This man was perturbed with a company that did a minor repair job costing a miniscule fraction of the cost of the car, so in order to vent his frustration he decides to destroy the car? What good, pray tell, did that do? None…other than that he got to “express his opinion” in a very public, very noisy, very expensive way. But he clearly takes no pleasure in understanding, and that makes him a fool.

Proverbs 29:11 reads, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” This unidentified rich man certainly gave full vent to his spirit! He was irked. He was ticked. He was spitting nails! He has so mad he just had to do something to express his fury. “Ah!” he said, perhaps; “I will bash the car with sledgehammers! That will show those imbeciles at the Furi Group!” A wise man would have found a much healthier (and much less expensive) way to vent his frustration and even to correct the problem, but not the fool.

Proverbs 13:16 says, “In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.” Paying men to destroy a nearly-half million dollar car with sledgehammers is definitely folly. Hiring men with sledgehammers to smash the business with which the man was irritated would have been foolish too, but it would at least have made some semblance of sense. If there is such a thing as being foolishly foolish ( a fool squared, maybe?) this man is it. Rather than vent his anger at the ones with whom he was upset he paid men to destroy his own car. There is no knowledge in this action, no prudence whatsoever. But he certainly flaunted his folly!

The reality, of course, is that it doesn’t take hiring three dudes with sledgehammers to publicly smash a car to qualify as a fool. In fact, if you want to be humbled do that search I mentioned above…find the passages in the Bible that mention the characteristics of fools and read through them. If you are honest with yourself you will find, as I do, that far more often than we care to admit we act like fools, too. Fortunately, many of the passages in Scripture that describe the fool also describe how to not be a fool. Bottom line, Proverbs 1:7 explains it like this: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Would that we fear the Lord, seek instruction and act in wisdom!