By Chet Yarbrough
The Lies That Bind (Rethinking Identity)
By: Kwame Anthony Appiah
Narrated by: Kwame Anthony Appiah
Kwame Anthony Appiah (Author, philosopher of history, politics and social sciences.)
Kwame Appiah implies western democracy is the best form of government.
The democracy of which Appiah writes is one in which rule-of-law, freedom within the limits of rule-of-law, and equal opportunity are evident.
However, contrary to Langston Hughes’ poem, the sea is not calm. Democracies’ sea is stormy because its principles are inconsistently practiced.
Appiah’s chapters on religion may be a slog for some but they offer understanding of the inconsistency of religious belief. Religious contradictions are legion. Sermonizers pick and choose paths they like rather than any truth biblical writings may impart.
“The Lies That Bind” examines the role of religion, culture, and government in society.
Agnosticism, and atheism grows with revelations of science, stultified freedom of thought, and (though not mentioned by Appiah) ecumenical abuse.
Appiah’s life story reinforces the importance of culture. Both his parents were highly accomplished people. His mother was a British artist, historian, and writer. His father, from Ghana, was a lawyer, diplomat, and politician. Both parents come from accomplished families. Their son chooses to marry a man when same sex marriage only slowly becomes culturally accepted.
Appiah’s history addresses the ascendence of the Mongol empire to illustrate the breadth of Mongol conquest while noting its style of government control. His point is that control is exercised with a level of tolerance for independence, cultural understanding, and religious belief among Khan’s descendants.
Genghis Khan (1162-1227 Leader of the Mongol Empire)
In summary, Appiah argues democratic societies need to rethink identity in terms of human equality. Whether a man or woman is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, server in a restaurant, or laborer in construction, all are equally human. Appiah notes Trump’s political success in America relates to his intuitive understanding of what many political aspirants ignored—the importance of American labor, whether highly educated, unschooled, rich, or poor.
A leader of an enterprise can be right, even damn right, but fail without the help of labor. Disrespecting labor ensures failure. This is a lesson Henry Ford understood when he raised the wages of his work force. This is a lesson Elon Musk will undoubtedly find in his acquisition of Twitter.
Appiah’s lifebuoy is meritocracy, a government holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. The idea of meritocracy came about in the 1960s. However, there are academicians, like Daniel Markovits who believe the concept of meritocracy increases inequality and causes decline in the middle class. Markovits argues middle-class families lose equal educational opportunity because of high cost. Without equal opportunity for education, too many Americans are left without Appiah’s lifebuoy.
Appiah does not directly address issues of equality of opportunity in a democratic-meritocratic society. Though Appiah may be a minority in white western culture, one doubts his educational opportunity was ever a question of cost.
On balance, Appiah offers insight to how democracy can be improved. The key is equality of opportunity which implies democracy needs to focus on safety-net’ issues which entail more help for lower- and middle-class income earners. The safety-net is one which provides equal access to education, health care, and employment, i.e., without regard to sex, race, religion, or ethnic qualification. In democracy, that means election of leaders who are willing to ensure equality of opportunity for all.