Paying up

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Sun, 26 May 1996 16:30:03 -0400

Kristian Pedersen writes:

"Perhaps we should look through the archives then and find those
that did benefit from slave-holding, etc., and then make them pay :).
(This is of course meant sarcastically)."

And John Pastore writes:

"I think its a great idea, and that's not sarcastic. Its time they
stopped squelching on the bill to make anybody else pay up."

I wouldn't pursue this, except that last night I watched Jonathon Kozol talk
about his recent book Amazing Grace. His point, and my point, is that all of us
who do not live lives like those lived by the mostly Black and Hispanic people
he describes owe that good fortune, at least in part, to the accident of history
that made Western Europe and its surrogates in the New World the exploiters, and
Africans, American Indians, and others the exploited. It is not a question of
whether any particular person's ancestors were slave-owners; it is a question of
one caste benefitting, both synchronically and diachronically, from the
exploitation of other castes.

I think that if we want to call ourselves a "society" we owe it to the people
Kozol presents to us so eloquently, as well as to all the other people in
analogous circumstances, to stop blaming them for their victimhood and share the
wealth with them. In the US, 20% of households own 80% of the wealth; a little
redistribution could make everybody comfortable, even if the elites kept some of
their toys just to prove they're still the elites. For example: children
everywhere should have the same amount of money spent on them for education
(that this is not true is scandalous, in my opinion); adults everywhere should
be able to make a living wage from one full-time job; families everywhere whould
be able to live in decent housing; everybody should have access to the medical
care they need, without regard to how much money they have.

Anthropology is important here, because it shows that it is possible; that there
are/have been societies constructed in ways that avoid the enormous disparity in
wealth, access to resources, and so on that our country exhibits. It is within
the human cultural bioprogram; it can be done. But, as I said before, it won't,
because the fury with which the elites lash out at such ideas is almost

Of course, the program I've hinted at above would be way preferable to
affirmative action. Affirmative action, while helping some, feeds the animosity
between castes. But discarding it, and claiming that now everybody is "free" to
fail or succeed on their own merits, is moral bankruptcy (again, in my

Ronald Kephart
Department of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL 32224