Tuesday, September 07, 2010
With the start of the NFL season and fantasy football upon us, I had sports on my mind the other day and, at a favorite sports news aggregation site, found the Houston Chronicle's fascinating "50 Worst Ideas in Sports History." Topping the list was professional baseball's "color barrier."
Forget racial equality. Forget All Men Are Created Equal. Forget the repugnance of separate but equal and Jim Crow.I can't think of a better example to illustrate the following two poorly-understood points. First, capitalism provides plenty of evidence that racism is a self-destructive attitude. Otherwise, why would baseball's color barrier have been so baffling in retrospect? Commentators from the left tend to miss or ignore this one the most. Second, and notwithstanding the first lesson, if men accept racism as moral for any reason, they will ignore its practical downsides. (Otherwise, how did racism remain so potent a cultural force for as long as it did?) Commentators from the right tend to miss or ignore this aspect of the problem the most, although since the moral battle against racism was won long ago, this can be harder to see -- and its importance more difficult to understand.
In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s Major League Baseball teams voluntarily refused the services of guys like Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and James "Cool Papa" Bell, some of the best players to ever play baseball, just because they were black.
Think the Philadelphia Athletics could have dominated the American League with a one-two punch of Satchel Paige and Lefty Grove? So do I.
As the Dodgers discovered when they signed Jackie Robinson, followed quickly by Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, and then went with him to six World Series in 10 years and won their first ever championship, there was some talent over in the Negro Leagues.
And voluntarily passing on that talent because it had a black face was the worst idea in the history of professional sports.
To appreciate what this bit of sports history is teaching us, we have to consider what it exemplifies, in more general terms than racism: That would be how the vice of injustice can cause people to support a political system that violates individual rights, when that injustice is disguised as morality. The relevance of this lesson is apparent from any glance at a newspaper today, because capitalism is under all-out attack from the left (who see it as immoral). The right, when it does offer a defense of capitalism, usually does so only on practical grounds.
The left, arguing for collectivism, the political expression of their moral premise, altruism, dress injustice (in the form of government-sanctioned theft) as morality by attacking the idea that man is an end in himself, and replacing it with the notion that he exists only to serve others. Too many on the right agree that this is moral, but understand that it is impractical. As a result, conservatives don't even try to make the moral case that man's pursuit of happiness is good, and cannot occur without freedom secured by a government. Many of those who don't do this dismiss the importance of morality altogether, and find themselves cynically complaining about how "stupid" "people" are when yet another election empowers looters.
We all now agree that slavery is evil, and many can see that it is impractical. (How we would have all lost had Frederick Douglass, for example, never defied the law and custom to learn how to read!) That said, too many people do not realize that government looting is a form of slavery. I have stated this in the past, and I will state it again now: The battle for individual rights and capitalism is analogous to that for the abolition of slavery, particularly in its moral aspects. We cannot win this battle without what the abolitionists called "moral suasion."
Pointing to a cornucopia and saying, "Capitalism gives this to us," will do nothing to dissuade a self-righteous thief from immediately swiping it -- or help the man who put it together know that he's right to stop him from doing so.