Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Git R' Done

Larry the Cable Guy was on to something when he created his infamous catchphrase.

Git R Done.

His grammatically incorrect proclamation resonates with Americans because most of us view ourselves as pragmatic, goal-oriented people. We see our nation as a country of accomplishment. Americans collectively get things done, and we're proud of it.

Maybe a little too proud.

We're still talking about the six agents of corruption. Today's topic is pragmatism.

One thing I've noticed while writing about these corrupting agents is that some of them have been pretty common in my life at different points. In fact, there was a time when I prided myself on being pragmatic. I thought that meant that I took situations how they came, and made my decisions based on the facts at hand. While I had standards, I thought that sometimes standards had to be set aside to get things done.

It's only been in recent years that I've re-examined my belief system.

I would be lying if I claimed that a pragmatic streak doesn't still exist in my life. My wife would claim I'm a little too goal-oriented. I've been known to criticize friends and family for chasing dreams instead of focusing on concrete realities. I've also shown some unfortunate contempt for emotions and feelings, while concentrating on getting things done.

But, lately life has shown me that while the destination is important, it's the journey that offers the true rewards. Plus, as the Bible says "what does it profit a man to gain the world, but lose his soul?" Finding the correct balance is the true challenge.

I see this tug-of-war in the black community all the time. Often, we feel forced to choose between nebulous standards and traditions, or concrete results and goals. It's not a new debate. It hearkens back to the time when W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington feuded over what was the best way for black folks to improve their lot in America. It continued when Martin and Malcolm exchanged rhetorical barbs over what to do about white racism. There has always been a hidden battle between black folks about exactly what we as a people should be willing to do to advance.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this debate, and I actually believe it can be a healthy and fruitful discussion. Every human being has the right to decide what they are willing to sacrifice to get results. Unfortunately, the world appears to be trending towards a mindset where "right and wrong" are judged mainly through the prism of results.

I see it in folks who justify police beatings by pointing out that criminals need to be brought under control. Some people justify discrimination by pointing to their past experiences with folks of a certain race, gender or religious affiliation.

It all boils down to a society where anything goes, as long as things keep going.

The problems with this mentality are obvious. When you live your life by the maxim that the "ends justify the means" you are basically begging for atrocities to be committed in your name. I do not trust human beings to make the correct decisions about what is necessary to accomplish complicated goals. I do not trust human beings to truly protect and care about the rights and well-being of others. I do not trust human beings to have the correct big-picture view.

No goal is so important that to accomplish it, all principles should be sacrificed. Everyone should have an ultimate right and wrong that they are willing to cling even if that means certain types of success will have to be abandoned. Pure pragmatism leads to a dark place.

Taking it back to black folks, we as a community still are struggling to decide what constitutes success. We still have not decided what goals are worth accomplishing.

For years we've chased after wealth and prosperity, but were those really the right goals? Were all of our little and large compromises worth it? As we kept our eyes on the prize, did we become lost anyway?

I'm not sure, but it sure feels that way.



guttaperk said...

One important issue here is that the kind of "pragmatism" you describe is counterfeit. Immorality exerts influence on consequence, and dismissing moral concerns is counter-pragmatic.

Police thuggery is not only ethically wrong; it destroys the rule of law and amplifies corruption. Torture is not only ethically wrong; it provides fuel for insurgency, and encourages use of torture techniques on citizen civilians when the torturers are re-absorbed into the civilian (police, etc) workforce.

Pragmatism is not problematic, but self-serving, lazy dismissal of ethical and long-term issues is not true pragmatism.

ch555x said...

When I first saw the term "Git 'R Done" without any audible reference, I thought it was "Guitar Done"...LOL!

MODI said...

"Finding the correct balance is the true challenge."

Besides some ethical issues like police brutality and torture where there can be no middle ground IMHO, most issues are about finding that "correct balance".

At least politically speaking, there are equal dangers of "ends-justifies-the-means pragmatism" just as well as "rigid idealism". I used to be far more rigid, but the guy that changed me was actually ralph nader. Because he remained in an election that he knew he couldn't win, George bush became president. Sure, critics could point to 57 other factors, but the bottom line is that had he dropped out, Bush would have lost, and there very well have never been an Iraqi war or a massive tax cut for the rich. These two decisions alone probably account for 90% of the subsequent problems of today. Nader practiced "rigid idealism", and IMO has Iraqi blood on his hands because he wasn't willfully failed to strike that "correct balance".

As you suggested, this can be applied to 1000 other situations, but that is the one that influenced me. In the end the "correct balance" is often whatever leads to the greatest forward progress without sacrificing basic human rights.

Big Man said...

MODI and Guttaperk

thanks for bringing home my point with some good examples.

Deacon Blue said...

I haven't commented much on the past few posts, partly because I'm distracted and busy, but mostly b/c I know you're tying a lot of it to black communities and the black church and...well, I'm not in either right now.

But most of what you've written in this latest series really does resonate with me.

lincolnperry said...

You would think after Susan Smith, that these white women learned their lessons!

Are brothas really that stupid that they would put you in the back of a caddy with a mobile!

Big Man said...

I think you commented on the wrong piece Lincolnperry, but the sentiment is appreciated.

Raving Black Lunatic