To a South African Friend

My friend, a successful computist and editor who endured Apartheid and with whom I fought the Morris Virus at Princeton, wrote this thought on Facebook:

We have been led to believe, thanks to the likes of Malema, that it is possible to be uneducated and untalented, and still achieve success without hard work. Until our collective mindset recognises that Tiger Woods is a champion only because he is up at 5 am every day and knocks golf balls for 6 hours non-stop *every day*, we will never achieve as a nation. I hope we win, but we don’t deserve to.

People need their basic needs taken care of before “success”. And one basic need, big dude, is education. This is a human right. As long as South Africa follows the discredited “capitalist development” model, education will be short-changed and students will be blamed.

It appears to me that in fact there are millions of people who get up at 5:00 AM every day and work terribly hard, and who get NOTHING. And if you freely let employers define the net contribution of an employee, you have in effect crony capitalism, which is where your country is headed.

DON’T tell me that the system is fair when two members of my team at IBM sat down in a meeting, and one of them, in a “friendly” but meaningful way, called the other “brown man” because he was high caste and he wanted to be sure that his technical contribution would be viewed in this light.

Capitalism by itself traps people in amber or tar; it reinforces old hatreds, it reaffirms inequality, it replaces human decency with office politics. It is a set of justifications for the unjustifiable.

A Thought Experiment

Here’s a thought experiment. If you had to choose between Communism and Fascism, which would you choose? I believe that in a “Rawlsian veil of ignorance”, in which ordinary people were told carefully and truthfully what each model was in practice, they’d reluctantly choose Communism even if that meant Gulags. This is because of something strange that Kant said, that flies in the face of conventional wisdom which groans that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”: that the only thing we know to be good is a good will. The prelapsarian Lenin had one. Hitler in Vienna had none. It’s that simple.

OK, now, change the thought experiment. Add free-market, pure, devil take the hindmost up-yours capitalism. Be sure to mention that capitalism leaves old inequality alone, and advantages people with an unearned historical legacy given to them by family and various feudal and caste ridden pasts.

What would you choose?

Does capitalism average out the legacy?

Or does it in practice create a search for old shibboleths and the revival of old ways of marking oneself off as the potential winner, the old scar made into a fresh wound?

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

Capitalism was imposed upon Baghdad by the US Army and as a result, Baghdad has “nightlife”, consisting of thugs turning innocent young girls into whores, but no electricity for the poor or middle class.

Let’s take the computer business, kemosabe. There was a lot of yap about this or that platform being the Second Coming. Because of Turing’s result, society’s actual needs for computation (which were deliberately exaggerated by computer specialists on the make) could have been met by any one of a number of platforms.

Instead, an essentially crony-corrupt process occurred which has evolved into “open source” leverage, a polite form of slave labour.

I have realized that you had certain advantages, which I also have. You have done much more than have I, with what you were given by society, of which family is only a part.

But don’t tell my Chicago students that after getting a BS in computer studies that they didn’t work hard enough when they end up slinging hash at McDonald’s. They are black, or geeky, or what ev er. They above all didn’t have our advantages.

We all start with a unique genetic and social inheritance, unique by necessity. The question of whether we’ve done “enough” is not one for some employer or crony capitalist to say. It’s God’s judgement.

My students in Fiji were expected to program .Net applications but could not afford computer books.

The Machinist and the Teacher

The two central actors in creating a viable society, old horse, are the machinist and the teacher. The machinist makes the machines that make the machines, so that the society doesn’t have to import tools from Belgium. The teacher creates the student that can take the technical class.

Now, please explain to me why instead South Africa gets security guards and footie.

And while you’re at it, please explain to me why it is in capitalist development theory the first thing you do is fire “underperforming” teachers along with machinists that have invented local solutions. Without any plan for replacing them.

Look! A Loser!

Finally, old boy, we can’t all be winners. “Winners” is a term like “white” used to be in reference to “race”. To be “white”, and ride like Gandhi in the first-class carriage, there must be people (like Fanon) who no matter how many advanced degrees they get, are “black” with all the connotations, as in “look, a Negro”!

This is the essential flaw of the “self help” book that losers buy at O’Hare. Without losers in the game of golf, there would be no Tiger Woods.

Whereas there is Beethoven who was a “loser” by 1825.

You are essentially telling people that in addition to getting up at dawn, they have to overcome, not nature, but their fellow human being, to whom they must be as a wolf.

And oh yes…Tiger Woods isn’t a champion any more. He’s a cheating husband because being a “winner” means taking what you want when you want it.

Over and OUT.


One Response to “To a South African Friend”

  1. spinoza1111 Says:

    It is true that capitalism can reverse old inequalities, and it was dramatically true in the case of the Boers. But if you herd the white cattle into the *kraal* to replace the black cattle, what, precisely, have you accomplished?

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