Wrestling Team Paradigm
One of the core elements of conservatism as I understand it (and I always allow room for me to have things twisted) is the emphasis on the individual. While I agree with this for the most part, I think it must be balanced with a concern for the collective. While some conservative writers I've read decry "groupthink", my own personal thought is that "groupthink" is whatever those people who disagree with you believe. The thinkers in your group logically arrived at that conclusion separately. Whatever. People are social beings and we "get in where we fit in." There's nothing wrong with it. It's a natural social function. Stressing the individual to the exclusion of the collective is problematic. When I wrote about young parents a couple weeks ago, this was exactly what I had in mind. I'd be the last person to say that having a two-loving-parent household is important. (Because a regular two-parent household, that may or may not be good. Remember that story about the boy who brought his parents in so they could roll on the boy who beat him up the day before?)At the same time, there are no parents who do it all on their own. At least, I haven't met any. Same principle applies to individual people. We act and choose as individuals, but our choices and decisions have an impact on whatever groups we're in, those we choose to be a part of, and those people lump us into. For the Black conservative, in particular, I think this can be a particularly challenging question. Being big on sports metaphors, I think the best way to look at it is like being on a wrestling team. (Track could probably work too, but I didn't run track so I don't know how track meets are scored.) Wrestling (amateur styles) is an individual team sport. It's both at the same time. (And the more I think about it, the more right this paradigm seems to be. Hopefully I will take this slow and handle it right.) Dealing with it as it exists in folkstyle, which is how it's done in America at the high school and collegiate levels, there are a set number of weight classes. In each match, there is a maximum number of points that can be gotten, depending on the outcome. In that sense, wrestling is one of the most egalitarian sports out there. The best guy (or girl, nowadays) on the team has the same point potential as the worst person. A pin is six points. Whether he's a stud or a fish, the most he can get is six. I this is what the phrase "all men are created equal" really means. Stud and Fish each represent the same potential number of points. The fact that one of them usually gets the six while the other gives up the six is what allows us to designate them as Stud and Fish, respectively. Nevertheless, in terms of absolute value as it applies to the team score, they're equals. See, this example is helpful in breaking the concept of equality down. Too many people have "equality" conflated with "sameness." One more time, Stud and Fish are equal, but they're not the same. Now, within each person's match, he is whatever he is. If he stinks, he stinks, if he's great, he's great. This is, I think, the level where most conservatives like to leave it. Let the stud be a stud and let the scrub be a scrub. My thinking, though, is that while that's a perfectly legitimate way to look at it, there has to be more to it than that. Put it like this: it's possible for an undefeated wrestler to be on a winless team. Just because it can happen doesn't mean it should, though. Back when I was wrestling, one of the hot phrases on hip-hop records was "each one teach one." That was also my head coach's philosophy. Individual glory is one thing, but it's even better to be a good member of a good team. One of the quickest ways to piss him off was to see somebody who was good at one thing not-trying to help his brother, who was weak at that particular skill. That was an easy way to get 50 push-ups or some laps around the gyms for the team. Naturally, when I became an assistant coach, that became a pet peeve of mine. Now, I'll be the first one to say that it's not a question of "owe." Those who have, in whatever context, do not owe it to anybody to do anything. There is no real obligation. There is also no question that while "owe" does not work, "should" is in full effect. Does Stud have to help Fish learn how to use the half nelson properly? (Coach's threats notwithstanding) No. Should Stud help Fish with the half nelson? Absolutely. Not only does it benefit Fish, it helps Stud as well. I used to tell the kids that you haven't fully learned something until you can teach it. So with regards to that all too common question about whether the Black middle class is supposed to do something, to "give back to the community," if the "supposed to" is code for "owe" then the answer is no. If it means "should," however, then most definitely. And I know that the number of Black folks living below the poverty line is much smaller than some people would have us believe, but I also know the federal definition of poverty . It's a healthy amount for somebody living in Bangladesh, and I'm sure that people 100 years ago would have been thrilled to see that kind of dough, but living in the 21st century, $18,850 for a family of four is...umm...not a lot of money. By that definition, a family of four at 20G is not impoverished. (Intuitively I would argue that, but since I'm not an economist, I'll just suffice it to say that 5G/person/year don't exactly set my heart to racin'.) So yes indeed I do believe that we, who have means should be trying to help those who don't. That doesn't mean that I think the government is vehicle for addresing it, though. Leaving it to the government is like Stud telling me he's not gonna help Fish because he's not the coach. (That's when either Head Coach or I would remind him of the difference between what he knew and could do and what we knew and could do.) There are certain things that the government is supposed to do. Personally, I think that ensuring quality education is one of them. Some people don't, but it's all open for debate. There are certain things that the government is just not as well equipped to do. That's where the President's Faith-Based Initiatives come in, but I would argue that all the things FBIs are meant to address are things we should've been working on in an organied fashion. At the same time, there's a problem when people will castigate the middle class for not doing anything but chide any critique of people on the lower socioeconomic end of the scale as "classist." I'm bout to talk about my own experience for a minute. When I taught middle school, I was in one of the worst neighborhoods in Philadelphia. I was right in the heart of Norf. (If you've ever been up Cumberland Ave, you know...that ain't even Norf, that's Norff!) I used to go to the store on my prep period and see cats my within 6 years of me in both directions, just sittin out on the steps playin cards like it was Saturday. Now I've worked both 2nd and 3rd shifts, so I know not everybody goes to work during the day, but ehhhyeeeebody don't work at night. Like I told my cousin over the weekend, I mighta been born at night, but I wasn't born last night. These are the people whose kids were comin' into my classroom- 6th, 7th, and 8th graders- and can't do 100 multiplication problems (numbers up to 12) in 5 minutes. And I was lying to the kids about it being 5 minutes. I really gave them 10. Not that it made a difference. I was still getting papers with only 15 problems answered - and only 7 of them right. Yet if I was to break up class and talk about what happened on the IB the night before (especially Smackdown), they could tell me everything The Rock said and did. God forbid I should ask them a code for Madden. But 12 * 12 would shut the game down in a hurry. That's a problem. The index of poverty at the school level is the percentage of kids who are eligible for free lunch. If 99% of the school is eligible for free lunch, I shouldn't be seein kids wearin authentic NBA or NFL jerseys. (Throwbacks hadn't really caught on yet. Mitchell & Ness was still a specialty store back then.) That's a problem. And yeah, I know there are external factors influencing people's spending decisions and all that good stuff. I can sit down and break bread on why people who ain't got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of can buy $125 Timberlands but they kids too dumb to poor the piss out the boot if the instructions was on the heel (did I get all the cliches in there?). I can chew up conspicuous consumerism and class aspirations and all that with the best of em, but when it all comes down to it, that's a decision that was made by an individual. Fish can complain to me all day that Stud didn't help him learn such-and-such move, but the truth is, Stud is only responsible for what he does on the mat. If Fish goes out there and lays down like a...well, um...if he goes out there and doesn't wrestle well, that's on him. I can tell Stud to help Fish all I want, if Fish doesn't do anything with the help, it doesn't even matter. I haven't had the chance to read Bill Cosby's (who's an alum of the school where I taught, by the way) latest comments yet, but in my little time online, I've heard something about 'em. My feeling is, somebody has to say it. Personally, I'd like to see Black-on-television violence: every Black family should kill all but one of their televisions. But that's just me, though. Kicking this over with a friend of mine yesterday, we briefly touched on the fact that even though the "team" isn't doing so great, it's not doing as badly as we're being led to believe. The worst part is that some of the main ones telling us how bad things are for the team are the ones who are doing the best individually. Like, I love Mos Def but in his songs, he's quick to critique the American Dream as "mirages and camouflages, more than usually." That's not his life. It's one thing for somebody from Norff to give me that line. I may question the validity of zer belief, but at least zer life backs it up. Mos Def, done achieved the American Dream and then some. He got to do it and still maintain his artistic credibility and the whole nine. He should be the last person telling us how bad it is. Now, to be fair, he does stress having a positive outlook at the individual level, but I think that he places too much emphasis on the collective. If people are making bad choices, then of course they ain't gon' achieve much. Another cat who perplexes me is Randall Robinson. According to him, America is so bad that he had to move to get away from the racism. I'm like, but man- you're a public intellectual. You get paid to think and write books about how bad it is. If that's the case, it ain't that real in the field. Don't sit up there as a public intellectual and tell us how bad it is, tell us how to make moves so we can be like you. Come on, now. There's probably more I could make of the metaphor, with the elements of personal discipline and all that, but suffice it to say that it's not a question of either/or. It's not individual or collective, it's individual and collective. I think.