The War on Achievement


RICHIE-PARKER-NO-ARMS-NASCAR-ENGINEERA friend recently sent me a link to an inspiring video about an upbeat young black man who was born without arms. It showed him going to work — unlike the record number of people living on government payments for “disabilities” that are far less serious, if not fictitious.

How is this young man getting to work? He gets into his car and drives there — using controls set up so that he can operate the car with his feet.

What kind of work does he do, and how does he do it? He is involved in the design of racing cars. He sits at his computer, looking at the screen, with the keyboard on the floor, where he uses his toes as others use their fingers.

His story recalls the story of Helen Keller, who went to an elite college and on to a career, despite having been born both deaf and blind. Her story was celebrated in books, in television documentaries and in an inspiring movie, “The Miracle Worker.”

But our culture has changed so much over the years that the young man with no arms is unlikely to get comparable publicity. Helen Keller’s achievement was seen as an inspiration for others, but this young man’s achievement is more like a threat to the prevailing ideology of our times.

The vision on which the all-encompassing and all-controlling welfare state was built is a vision of widespread helplessness, requiring ever more expanding big government. Our “compassionate” statists would probably have wanted to take this young man without arms, early on, and put him in some government institution.

But to celebrate him in the mainstream media today would undermine a whole ideological vision of the world — and of the vast government bureaucracies built on that vision. It might even cause people to think twice about giving money to able-bodied men who are standing on street corners, begging.

The last thing the political left needs, or can even afford, are self-reliant individuals. If such people became the norm, that would destroy not only the agenda and the careers of those on the left, but even their flattering image of themselves as saviors of the less fortunate.

Victimhood is where it’s at. If there are not enough real victims, then fictitious victims must be created — as with the claim that there is “a war on women.” Why anyone would have an incentive or a motivation to create a war on women in the first place is just one of the questions that should be asked of those who promote this political slogan, obviously designed for the gullible.

The real war — which is being waged in our schools, in the media and among the intelligentsia — is the war on achievement. When President Obama told business owners, “You didn’t build that!” this was just one passing skirmish in the war on achievement.

The very word “achievement” has been replaced by the word “privilege” in many writings of our times. Individuals or groups that have achieved more than others are called “privileged” individuals or groups, who are to be resented rather than emulated.

The length to which this kind of thinking — or lack of thinking — can be carried was shown in a report on various ethnic groups in Toronto. It said that people of Japanese ancestry in that city were the most “privileged” group there, because they had the highest average income.

What made this claim of “privilege” grotesque was a history of anti-Japanese discrimination in Canada, climaxed by people of Japanese ancestry being interned during World War II longer than Japanese Americans.

If the concept of achievement threatens the prevailing ideology, the reality of achievement despite having obstacles to overcome is a deadly threat. That is why the achievements of Asians in general — and of people like the young black man with no arms — make those on the left uneasy. And why the achievements of people who created their own businesses have to be undermined by the President of the United States.

What would happen if Americans in general, or blacks in particular, started celebrating people like this armless young man, instead of trying to make heroes out of hoodlums? Many of us would find that promising and inspiring. But it would be a political disaster for the left — which is why it is not likely to happen.

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  • Jason

    That man seriously deserves recognition. Black, white or yellow, if you can be a productive member of society with no arms, then you are worthy of some form of recognition. That’s real disadvantage, not some imagined glass ceiling.

    This article represents a real problem in Western society. To work hard and succeed is almost taboo now. To work hard in low paying jobs is not even conceivable. No one glorifies work anymore. Perhaps FPM could do a weekly article on someone similar to this? We have to start instilling that work ethic into our society again. That’s what made us great, not sitting on our arses and complaining about phantom discrimination. If that guy can make it, anybody can.

  • Chezwick

    Man!!! I periodically complain about the absence of inspirational offerings here at FPM. Today, Thomas Sowell truly INSPIRES. One only wishes he would have left us with the young man’s name or a link. Well, shouldn’t be too hard to find in a search.

    Please FPM….more articles like this one!

  • m4253y

    Thomas, with all due respect, would you mind referencing the author, details of the article regarding Toronto? Was this an article from the 1940′s?

  • Consider

    With all due respect for the young man who despite his severe handicap is willing to be a contributing member of society, this example cannot be the showcase of self reliance. His achievement(s) nevertheless depend on outside help. Someone had to provide the special car (and pay for it) as well as probably a lot of other things that make his life bearable.
    The real question is: shall we arrange that this help comes automaticaly through the “system”, or depend on charity which may or may not come.

    • Sheik Yerbouti

      I agree, this is a situation that can’t be compared to useless welfare leaches. It’s one case where I can agree to SOME elements of our safety net programs.

    • Skeptic7

      It’s more likely to come through charity as study after study has shown private charity to be more efficient AND more effective than public confiscation and redistribution.

      • Consider

        Therefore beggary and adjuration should be the norm in healt care.
        A strong boost to self respect, self esteem etc.
        BTW, the studies probably come from the Cato Institure or the Heritage foundation…

    • Stacy

      As I recall, he and his father (a mechanic) bought and modified that car together. No one provided it for him.

      • Consider

        He could not have a father that can afford to buy and adapt a car for ‘legs only’ driving. There’s a lot of sick and/or handicaped people who have no affluent fathers.

        • ziggy zoggy

          You sound like you resent a father helping his son.

          • Consider

            No, I resent the false theory of ‘self reliance’, that tries to dismiss the comon sense theory of solidarity which was invented (or at least put to practice) 150 years ago by Bismarck.

          • nomoretraitors

            They tried the “collectivist” approach in the old Soviet Union and it failed

          • Consider

            Social security was invented in 19th century in capitalist Germany, not in the Soviet Union. In Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and elesewhere it works fine.
            BTW, on logic prevailing here, the very idea of insurance should be abolished altogether; when you damage your car show self reliance and pay the full bill for repairs or by a new one if it is a total loss, or when a tornado ravages your house show your pioneering spirit and rebuild it all at your own expence. Dont pay the parasites in insurance companies.

          • ziggy zoggy

            A father working with his son has nothing to do with “solidarity.” That’s a father’s duty. You communists would be appointing a committee to ensure that their car wasn’t superior to anybody else’s. Anybody outside the politburo elite, of course.

    • ziggy zoggy

      Why is it a big deal that Parker has a specially modified car? I didn’t build my car. Did you build yours?

      • Consider

        Someone other had to build that car, and/or cover the costs. Therefore the theory of self reliance breaks down. There is no self reliance but interdependence. Or solidarity.
        Which the ‘right’ wants to replace with social darwinism, promoting it as ‘self reliance’.

        • ziggy zoggy

          Who says somebody else had to bear the cost of modifying his car? Somebody here claims he did it with his father. That is a typical family act, not communism.

          You didn’t build that. Government didn’t build it.

    • nomoretraitors

      Yes, it is an example of self-reliance because he didn’t sit around saying “I’m a victim. Woe is me. I deserve a hand-out.” No he didn’t build the car he’s driving (though he might very well have paid for it himself) but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s gotten to where he is because of personal ambition and drive.
      Using the same logic, we could also say the Super Bowl or World Series winners didn’t really earn their trophies since they didn’t build the stadiums they played in

  • DaCoachK

    If there are no victims, then there is no Democratic Party. There is no welfare state, no affirmative action,no gimmes of any kind. People would have to actually work to earn their keep. And we can’t have that, can we?

  • Stacy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIAP04cc6qc

    His name is Richie Parker, and he’s way smarter than us. :)

  • ziggy zoggy

    Why is it a big deal that Parker has a specially modified car? I didn’t build my car. Did you build yours?

  • ziggy zoggy

    You sound like you resent a father helping his son.

  • Consider

    No, I resent the false theory of ‘self reliance’, that tries to dismiss the comon sense theory of solidarity which was invented (or at least put to practice) 150 years ago by Bismarck.

  • Consider

    Someone other had to build that car, and/or cover the costs. Therefore the theory of self reliance breaks down. There is no self reliance but interdependence. Or solidarity.
    Which the ‘right’ wants to replace with social darwinism, promoting it as ‘self reliance’.

  • nomoretraitors

    Yes, it is an example of self-reliance because he didn’t sit around saying “I’m a victim. Woe is me. I deserve a hand-out.” No he didn’t build the car he’s driving (though he might very well have paid for it himself) but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s gotten to where he is because of personal ambition and drive.
    Using the same logic, we could also say the Super Bowl or World Series winners didn’t really earn their trophies since they didn’t build the stadiums they played in

  • nomoretraitors

    They tried the “collectivist” approach in the old Soviet Union and it failed

  • nomoretraitors

    “You didn’t build that!”
    Coming from a man who never had a real job up until now, and is failing miserably at it

  • nomoretraitors

    “You didn’t build that!”
    Coming from a man who never had a real job up until now, and is failing miserably at it

  • ziggy zoggy

    Who says somebody else had to bear the cost of modifying his car? Somebody here claims he did it with his father. That is a typical family act, not communism.

    You didn’t build that. Government didn’t build it.

  • ziggy zoggy

    A father working with his son has nothing to do with “solidarity.” That’s a father’s duty. You communists would be appointing a committee to ensure that their car wasn’t superior to anybody else’s. Anybody outside the politburo elite, of course.

  • Consider

    Social security was invented in 19th century in capitalist Germany, not in the Soviet Union. In Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and elesewhere it works fine.
    BTW, on logic prevailing here, the very idea of insurance should be abolished altogether; when you damage your car show self reliance and pay the full bill for repairs or by a new one if it is a total loss, or when a tornado ravages your house show your pioneering spirit and rebuild it all at your own expence. Dont pay the parasites in insurance companies.