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September 22, 2009

Quote of the Day

... nobody told me that I couldn't make it because I was poor and black, or that I ought to hate white people today because of what some other white people did to my ancestors in some other time.

Nobody sugar-coated the facts of racial discrimination. But Professor Sterling Brown of Howard University, who wrote with eloquent bitterness about racism, nevertheless said to me when I prepared to transfer to Harvard: "Don't come back here and tell me you didn't make it 'cause white folks were mean."

He burned my bridges behind me, the way they used to do with armies going into battle, so that they had no place to retreat to, and so had to fight to win.

One of the problems with trying to help underdogs, especially with government programs, is that they and everyone else start to think of them as underdogs, focusing on their problems rather than their opportunities. Thinking of themselves as underdogs can also dissipate their energies in resentments of others, rather than spending that energy making the most of their own possibilities.



- Thomas Sowell

Posted by Cassandra at September 22, 2009 08:47 AM

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Comments

Cass -

You have often written about your high regard for Thomas Sowell. Now I see that I have a new stack of reading to do!

Just finished "Dreams from my Father" by Barky (because you should know your enemy) and tried to read the one after that, Audacity whatever. Had to give it a rest. It took six weeks to read the first one because it's such a horrible slog.

I also finished, in two days, "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas. Wow. Just, wow. I understand now that Barack Obama is truly insufficiently "black", after reading about Clarence Thomas' life.

Sounds like Sowell learned lessons similar to those learned by Thomas. I'll have to get cracking if I'm going to read books by all the black authors who have taken themselves off the plantation. But it's my goal.

Working on "Liberal Fascism" now.

Posted by: MathMom at September 22, 2009 09:54 AM

they and everyone else start to think of them as underdogs, focusing on their problems rather than their opportunities. Thinking of themselves as underdogs can also dissipate their energies in resentments of others, rather than spending that energy making the most of their own possibilities.

Reminds me of President GWB's wonderful line about "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Posted by: FbL at September 22, 2009 11:10 AM

Also reminds me of what I used to tell my inner-city students: Yes, you have the deck stacked against you. So what. Are you going to let those people who see nothing but the challenges you face determine your future, or are you going to stick a finger in their eye and tell them to get lost?

Posted by: FbL at September 22, 2009 11:11 AM

Military folk, enlighten me. I remember bridges being burned, but never to force an army to fight. Fighting to defend the destruction of a bridge (Horatio & companions) is just not the same thing.


We're all temporarily able.

Posted by: htom at September 22, 2009 11:29 AM

I don't know about the military history aspect, but I think it's not a bad tactic. It's not as though fighting to make something of yourself is ever going to be a fruitless battle.

There are things not worth going to the mat over. I don't think investing in your own success, though, is one of them.

MathMom:

I liked Thomas' book very much. Like Sowell, he doesn't pretend racism doesn't exist but he long ago made up his mind that if you're handicapped in a fight that just means you need to try harder. Whining about things you have zero control over never helps.

The ironic thing is that people who adopt this strategy usually end up winning the respect of even those who didn't think they would ever amount to anything. In the end the only thing that counts is succeeding.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 22, 2009 11:42 AM

htom -

I'm not a "military folk", but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express and watch "Hunt for Red October". Memorable quote from Captain Ramius:

When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated.

I do not hint that I know for certain that this is historically accurate (and I don't have time to Google it right now), but I can attest to the fact that this line was spoken by "Captain Ramius" (played by Sean Connery), so in that sense, it is true. :)

Posted by: MathMom at September 22, 2009 12:01 PM

Cortez is close enough. There's some dispute as to whether the ships were burned, scuttled, or just run up on the beach at a very high tide, and some of them were just sent off on an errand, but they were all useless for a mutiny, which is what he was facing. Thanks for the memory jog.


It is one way to get people to think in terms other than "we can just go back". Change is hard.

Posted by: htom at September 22, 2009 12:49 PM

I think he beached them, but the fact that he had a master shipbuilder might argue for burning them.

Posted by: Cricket at September 22, 2009 01:57 PM

I remember bridges being burned, but never to force an army to fight.

From Sun-Tzu:

23. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.

24. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard.

If you have burned your bridges, you have placed yourself on "desperate ground" -- and when on "desperate ground," you *fight*.

Bear in mind that Sun-Tzu didn't know squat about helicopters and combat assaults...

Posted by: BillT at September 22, 2009 02:00 PM

:facepalm: Sorry for the derail, Cassandra, I apologize.

Posted by: htom at September 23, 2009 10:02 AM

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