Privilege, Oppression Not Responsible for All Social Problems

I think low Native American enrollment at North Dakota State could potentially be the result of an unrecognized conflict between that population’s traditional way of life and the modern world. I think some important lessons can be learned from this conflict.

This situation is complicated by the fact that liberal morality makes it difficult to describe this conflict.

The defining characteristic of liberal morality is that all social problems are the result of oppression forced upon a group of people by more privileged members of society.

Disproportionately low college enrollment for Native Americans is commonly used by liberals as proof that Native Americans are oppressed.

I think there is another way of looking at this situation.

Growing up next to a reservation left me with the impression that Native Americans are split on whether to abandon patrimonialism in favor of modern society. This could be responsible for a host issues, one of which is low college enrollment.

The definition of patrimonialism varies based on who you talk to, but personally I prefer the definition provided by American political scientist Francis Fukuyama.

Fukuyama describes patrimonialism as a system of government based on kin selection and reciprocal altruism.

Kin selection is the natural human tendency to favor family members over everybody else. The closer the genetic relation, the stronger the favoritism.

Reciprocal altruism means people become friends or enemies based on how much mutual benefit or harm they bring to one another.

Fukuyama considers patrimonialism to be the default form of human government.

Patrimonialism is effective for societies that are small enough for everybody to know everybody else, but it does not work in modern societies. Our population is too large for everybody to form personal relationships. Our solution to this problem is to either resign ourselves to anarchy, or to create a government that is in charge of regulating our behavior.

The problem with governments is that it goes against human nature to submit to their impersonal authority. As such, it requires a large amount of social conditioning to make people cooperate with the government. People socialized in such a manner are considered “civilized” by those who participate within the system.

Native Americans had some form of government prior to contact with Europeans, but I suspect their culture was more patrimonial than ours is today.

Their low college enrollment may not be due to oppression, but rather because they are resisting modern society in favor of patrimonialism.

A modern university is an impersonal environment ruled by a complex system of intertwining bureaucracies; all of which are unable to accommodate patrimonial people.

If one looks at the situation from this perspective while taking the position that neither patrimonialism nor modern society are superior to one another, it becomes apparent that there is a conflict with no easy solution.

I acknowledge that this is a grossly oversimplified way of looking at the situation, and I admit I do not know how to reconcile this conflict. However, this is still a useful discussion. I think there are numerous unrecognized conflicts of a similar nature occurring in our society involving people other than Native Americans.

Unfortunately, these conflicts will not reveal themselves if we resign ourselves to a worldview that blames all social problems on privilege and oppression.

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