Superiority Isms

How different are American Exceptionalism (think both Barack Obama and Donald Trump), Black Power, Gray Power, Feminism, Transgenderism, Nationalism, Chosen People-ism or Only True Religion-ism from White Supremacism?  They all involve group elitism without regard to individual effort.  It seems obvious, as an empirical fact, that members of different groups either enjoy disproportionate benefits or suffer disproportionate detriments because, whether voluntarily or through accidents of birth, they find themselves members of such groups, and that as a memeplex, the group as a whole usually strives to improve its posture, whether through fair means or foul.  Sometimes groups, especially in societies characterized by ethnic transitions (such as flow-of-diverse-immigrant-group societies), pass through stages were, originating at society’s nadir they eventually attain its summit, but even within such societies, some groups, usually because of racial or caste differences, remain immobile.  When the latter occurs, the reality is that everyone suffers to some extent.

It instinctively strikes me that we are either all inherently equal, albeit individually capable of improving, or we’re not, and that if any group has a “right” to consider itself “inherently” superior to any other, all “inherent” groups (equality being at least somewhat relevant) are entitled to the same right?  That they may all be wrong seems irrelevant from a progressive perspective where liberty and freedom of opinion, belief and expression are sacred and censorship is anathema.  But as in the case of the term “liberal”, the term “progressive” is losing any real meaning, having been usurped by political movements with no interest at all in the premises involved.  Of course, that is also true of the terms “conservative” and “democratic”.  The age of “relative truth” is destroying language as well as integrity.

As I indicated above, I personally believe that we are all “inherently” equal and that “inherency-supremacists” of any ilk seeking to preserve their advantage by depriving competing groups of the capacity for upward mobility are wrong, and further, that such beliefs make collectivist goals such as those purportedly espoused by universalist religions such as Christianity much more difficult.  But I also acknowledge that as individuals, and even groups, we can make decisions that improve us and permit us to excel over others. 

That is certainly how I feel about my education and my experiences as an educator, as an entrepreneur, as a constitutional scholar and as a civic activist.  Many, perhaps most people have accomplishments that justify a belief that they have improved over the attributes with which they were endowed at birth.  Sometimes those improvements are earned while at other times they were merely the luck of the draw, and sometimes the equality we should have enjoyed at birth was diluted by ethnic, racial, gender, socioeconomic and religious factors which make it unfairly difficult for us to succeed in comparison with those more fortunate.  And sometimes those entropic attributes are unfairly spread among a group.  When that occurs, society as a whole is worse off, especially if those handicaps and negative prejudices are not eliminated.  We all suffer when some of us fail, for whatever reason, to attain our highest potential (the ancient Greek’s concept of justice).

It strikes me that despite superficial similarities, there is a huge difference between the conception that a group is inherently inferior and the reality that because of education, socioeconomic factors or inherited cultural self-discipline, some groups really do enjoy justifiable superior benefits at birth, making success among their members more likely.  But does the answer to the resulting inequality and inequity require a handicapper general such as the one Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., posited in his dystopic novel Harrison Bergeron?  Given that every single member of society benefits when each individual attains his or her full potential, isn’t the answer in the direction of improving everyone’s lot rather than tearing everyone down to the lowest possible denominator (as the purportedly “woke” seem Hell bent on doing[1])?  And if we do what the “woke” demand, will elitism disappear, increase, or become individualized (we refer to the latter, when not used in a pejorative sense as “meritocracy”, or at least we used to when truth and language had meaning).

The difference between the “isms” initially referenced and a meritocracy is in the statically inherent nature of the benefits or detriments we attribute to groups.  Where the potential for upward mobility is not the rule, society stagnates, fragments more and more, and tends to degenerate into a polarized cast system.  That may be where we find ourselves today.  But how can this situation be remedied.  Is the solution a dictate under force of law from those who consider themselves morally superior, or is it a wave of enlightened self-interest based on examples percolating from below, an evolutionary, social rather than legal, norm, one that changes souls as well as minds rather than mandating conduct and thus becomes self-actuating rather than imposed?  One purports to work immediately but usually fails and the other requires patience and understanding rather than ridicule and punishment and takes a while.

The truth is that none of us can guarantee an answer although most of us recognize the problem, at least in some aspects.  Those less experienced and less patient believe that we can tear down the society we’ve inherited over many millennia and start anew with a clean slate on which we can draw our version of perfection.  That solution is of course, totalitarian and tends to the dystopic rather than the utopic but it is proposed in the name of democracy and liberty.  Many just prefer to do nothing and see what happens, a solution Albert Einstein, by analogy, once referred to as the definition of insanity.  Perhaps nature’s evolution through trial and error provides the best option, after all, notwithstanding the opinion of the purportedly woke, humans are also nature’s children.

If evolution through experimentation and trial and error is the most promising path to attaining equity and justice and the greater good, then the tension between liberty and inherent fundamental rights and collectivist goals needs to be respected.  Intolerance with respect to contrary opinions may be the worst supremacism of all and it’s a slippery slope down which we’ve been sliding for centuries. 

Something to ponder on as we stray further and further from common goals while seeking universal solutions, if not universal truths.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at and much of his writing is available through his blog at

[1] The fascination of the purportedly woke with cinema dealing with zombie and vampire revolutions may provide interesting insights.  I prefer the latter and disdain the former which may something about me as well.

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