The still-pow­er­ful ‘ex­ploita­tion’ be­lief sys­tem

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

One of the painfully re­veal­ing episodes in Barack Obama’s book “Dreams From My Fa­ther” de­scribes his early ex­pe­ri­ence lis­ten­ing to a ser­mon by the Rev­erend Jeremiah Wright. Among the things said in that ser­mon was that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need.” Obama was lit­er­ally moved to tears by that ser­mon.

This ser­mon may have been like a rev­e­la­tion to Barack Obama but its ex­pla­na­tion of eco­nomic and other dif­fer­ences was among the old­est, and most fac­tu­ally dis­cred­ited, ex­pla­na­tions of such dif­fer­ence among all sorts of peo­ples in all sorts of places. Yet it is an ex­pla­na­tion that has long been po­lit­i­cally se­duc­tive, in coun­tries around the world.

What could be more emo­tion­ally sat­is­fy­ing than see­ing oth­ers who have done bet­ter in the world as the vil­lains re­spon­si­ble for your not hav­ing done as well? It is the ideal po­lit­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion, from the stand­point of mass ap­peal, whether or not it makes any sense other­wise.

That has been the po­lit­i­cally pre­ferred ex­pla­na­tion for eco­nomic dif­fer­ences be­tween the Malay ma­jor­ity and the more pros­per­ous Chinese mi­nor­ity in Malaysia, or be­tween the Gen­tile ma­jor­ity and the Jewish mi­nor­ity in var­i­ous coun­tries in Europe be­tween the two World Wars.

At var­i­ous other times and places, it has been the pre­ferred ex­pla­na­tion for the eco­nomic dif­fer­ences be­tween the Sin­halese and the Tamil mi­nor­ity in Sri Lanka, the Africans and the Le­banese in Sierra Leone, the Czechs and the Ger­mans in Bo­hemia and nu­mer­ous other groups in coun­tries around the world.

The idea that the rich have got­ten rich by mak­ing the poor poor has been an ide­o­log­i­cal theme that has played well in Third World coun­tries, to ex­plain why they lag so far be­hind the West.

None of this was orig­i­nal with Jeremiah Wright. All he added was his own col­or­ful gut­ter style of ex­press­ing it, which so cap­ti­vated the man who is now Pres­i­dent of the United States.

There is ob­vi­ously some­thing there with very deep emo­tional ap­peal. More­over, be­cause noth­ing is eas­ier to find than sins among hu­man be­ings, there will never be a lack of evil deeds to make that ex­pla­na­tion seem plau­si­ble.

Be­cause the West­ern cul­ture has been as­cen­dant in the world in re­cent cen­turies, the im­age of rich white peo­ple and poor non-white peo­ple has made a deep im­pres­sion, whether in the­o­ries of racial su­pe­ri­or­ity, which were big among “pro­gres­sives” in the early 20th cen­tury, or in the­o­ries of ex­ploita­tion among “pro­gres­sives” later on.

In a wider view of his­tory, how­ever, it be­comes clear that, for cen­turies be­fore the Euro­pean as­cen­dancy, Europe lagged far be­hind China in many achieve­ments. Since nei­ther of them changed much ge­net­i­cally be­tween those times and the later rise of Europe, it is hard to rec­on­cile this role re­ver­sal with racial the­o­ries.

More im­por­tant, the Chinese were not to blame for Europe’s prob­lems, which would not be solved un­til the Euro­peans

Too many Obama ap­pointees ex­hibit a sim­i­lar alien­ation, in­clud­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder, un­der whom the Dept. of Jus­tice could more ac­cu­rately be de­scribed as the Dept. of Pay­back.

them­selves fi­nally got their own act to­gether, in­stead of blam­ing oth­ers. If they had lis­tened to peo­ple like Jeremiah Wright, Europe might still be in the Dark Ages.

It is hard to rec­on­cile “ex­ploita­tion” the­o­ries with the facts. While there have been con­quered peo­ples made poorer by their con­querors, es­pe­cially by Span­ish con­querors in the West­ern Hemi­sphere, in gen­eral most poor coun­tries were poor for rea­sons that ex­isted be­fore the con­querors ar­rived. Some Third World coun­tries are poorer to­day than they were when they were ruled by West­ern coun­tries, gen­er­a­tions ago.

False the­o­ries are not just an in­tel­lec­tual prob­lem to be dis­cussed around a seminar ta­ble in some ivy-cov­ered build­ing. When mil­lions of peo­ple be­lieve those the­o­ries, in­clud­ing peo­ple in high places, with the fate of na­tions in their hands, that is a se­ri­ous and po­ten­tially dis­as­trous fact of life.

De­spite a care­fully chore­ographed im­age of af­fa­bil­ity and cool, Barack Obama’s de­ci­sions and ap­point­ments as Pres­i­dent be­tray an alien­ation from the val­ues and the peo­ple of this coun­try that are too dis­turb­ing to be an­swered by show­ing his birth cer­tifi­cate.

Too many of his ap­pointees ex­hibit a sim­i­lar alien­ation, in­clud­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder, un­der whom the Dept. of Jus­tice could more ac­cu­rately be de­scribed as the Dept. of Pay­back.

Thomas Sow­ell is a se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity.

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