In his book “Winning the Race, Beyond the Crisis in Black America,” McWhorter explains how memes have colored our views on race relations. “We are told that the alienated worldview of so many blacks is a response to a lack of hope, recognition and sense of empowerment,” he writes. “But this view neglects history.” As McWhorter notes, blacks in America have always faced problems -- problems usually much larger than the ones they face today. “Certainly racism is not worse now,” he writes, “than in, say, 1884.”
The problem, McWhorter writes, is that “therapeutic alienation often does harm.” For decades, sociologists have been so busy coming up with theories to explain why blacks are falling behind that they’ve ignored the real problem: A welfare culture (launched in the 1960s) that encouraged -- even rewarded -- failure and punished success. He writes that we can never completely stamp out racism. The best solution is to create new memes that can thrive in spite of residual racism.
It’s critical to be aware of memes, because these days we’re all falling under the sway of a powerful one -- a meme that insists gasoline prices are too high because oil companies are gauging us. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi nicely encapsulated this. “We have two oilmen in the White House. $3-a-gallon gasoline is no mistake. It’s a logical follow-up,” she told reporters.
But oil prices aren’t set by the White House. They’re governed by the laws of supply and demand. Worldwide demand for oil is surging, especially in developing nations such as India and China. In fact, most of “big oil’s” profits come from overseas; three-quarters of ExxonMobil’s $8.4 billion first-quarter profit was earned abroad.
Lawmakers won’t tell you this, but taxes are a big reason gasoline is so expensive. The Energy Department says that in 2004, 23 percent of the price of a gallon of gas was taxes, while 18 percent was for refining costs and company profits.
And oh, by the way, Exxon’s “excessive” earnings were 7 percent higher in the first quarter -- exactly the same percentage growth as the 7 percent announced by media company E.W. Scripps Co. And former Los Angeles Times Editor John Carroll recently noted that the average newspaper profit margin remains 19.5 percent.
Is it time for an “excess profits tax” on media owners? Even Jeff Whitty might find that funny.