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In the article titled "Horatio Alger", Harlon Dalton argues that more often not, myths with rags-to-riches plot lines convey false and deceptive messages that are socially destructive. The myths' falsehood, he charges, arise from their basic assumptions, namely: that each person is judged on merit; that everyone has equal opportunities to realize their full potential and; that individual merit determines one's success in life.
However, Dalton counters that these assumptions are hollow and misplaced. He points out that the existence of external forces such as race and social position obscures the importance of merit. Consequently, individuals with merit are locked out of opportunities because of their skin color and social status; the experience of American blacks being a classic example. Similarly, Alger's riches-to-rags mythology assumes that all people start out equal on a level- playground, and effectively ignores the role of race and social institutions in influencing social mobility through the selective allocation of resources. This is a reality that affects even Whites in the lower-class brackets and marginalized neighborhoods. Finally, the notion that merit will determine the haves and have-nots in society is misguided, in the sense that there are no clear and definite criteria for determining the most desirable merit attributes. On the contrary, Dalton notes, the merit-criteria used in the selection of individuals to job positions is arbitrary in nature, depending on who is doing the selection.
Nevertheless, Dalton seems to dismiss the positive value of Alger's myths by downplaying their motivational role in difficulty life situations. Despite their flaws, the illusions created by myths play a significant role in motivating life-struggling individuals; but Dalton is eager to treat it as a side-effect consequence that pales in comparison to what he terms as social destruction consequences of the Alger myths. While recognizing their positive value by quoting social psychologist Shelly Taylor that success stories help individuals to gain optimism about the future by relating their harsh realities with the myths' rags-to-riches fairy tales, he continues to emphasize that such myths only serve to maintain the status quo in racial relations in the American society.
He asserts that they ignore race as a major factor in creating social and economic inequalities. The history of black people in America; beginning in the days of slavery and segregation, the Jim Crow laws and White backlash in the 1960s, demonstrates that race, and not merit, continue to undermine black achievement. In this regard, by unmasking the deception that merit alone counts, Dalton directs the race problem in America at the feet of Whites, whose racial advantage he argues guarantees them success at the expense of blacks. As such, Dalton believes it is time the White people asked themselves the ultimate question: whether their social and economic achievements is the product of a racially discriminative society.