Tuesday, September 19, 2017

War with North Korea?


I am not a general.  I am not an expert on tactics or logistics.  Nor do I receive intelligence reports about the comparative assets of the United States and North Korea.  What then qualifies me to make projections about a potential conflict on the Korean peninsula?  The answer is very little.
So why am I about to engage in this exercise?  It is because a great many less qualified commentators are doing so.  Furthermore, because most of them have a pacifist bent, they are eager to point out how destructive such a clash would be.  With hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of potential casualties, they imply it would not be worth it.
Although these observers typically say that all options should be on the table, many express a willingness to accept a nuclear-armed North.  I am not.  Not only would this rogues state represent an existential threat to us, but its ability to sell its technology is terrifying.
What if Hamas got these weapons?  What about Boko Haram?  We have a nuclear nonproliferation treaty, but what does this mean if there is no way to enforce it.  The prospect of a worldwide arms race is unthinkable.  Something must be done!
As it happens, the opponents of a military intervention usually make a huge mistake.  They point out that over twenty million residents of Seoul are within artillery range of the DMZ and that the North has thousands of these weapons.  Ponder, they ask, the extent of the devastation?
What they leave out of the equation is that Seoul can be evacuated—just as Miami was prior to Hurricane Irma.  Why would people allow themselves to be sitting ducks?  Wouldn’t moving south reduce their risk?
So here is my suggestion.  The United States should send Kim Jung-On an ultimatum.  Destroy your atomic weapons, the means of producing them, and your ICBMs or we will use stand-off armaments to do this for you.  Furthermore, you must allow inspectors to verify that you have done so.
Americans do not need to deploy ground troops.  Nor do a majority of inspectors need to be American.  The Chinese can be permitted to do the job.  They must also be made to understand that we have no desire to remove the North as a buffer against the West.
If the Chinese refuse to accept this and begin moving troops over the border, we can speed up our timetable.  But what if the South refuses to evacuate.  This is possible, but it is difficult to imagine a politician surviving a refusal to protect his people.
If this sounds bellicose, it is not much more than what was done during the Cuban missile crisis.  Back then president Kennedy found the prospect of nuclear armed missiles on our doorstep intolerable.  He thus regarded it as his duty to protect our welfare.
Today the reach of the North Koreans is greater and so it is their ability to hit us that should be the trigger.  Lest we forget, Kennedy was willing to risk nuclear war to deter the Russians.  He dispatched warships to blockade Cuba and to confront the Soviets.
Would On back down the way Khrushchev did?  Would the Chinese be satisfied with preserving their hegemony over the North?  It is impossible to say.  This makes the danger of precipitating a confrontation substantial.  Our calculations could go wrong.
But consider the alternative.  If we are never willing to use our military assets, it is as if we did not have them.  If all we are prepared to do is rattle them—and our enemies know this—we might be challenged at any moment.  Each time we backed down, our adversaries would be emboldened to push a bit harder.
The protection of democracy is not free.  Our ancestors knew this and therefore they took chances from which we benefit.  Did they shed their blood so that we can retreat into appeasement and cowardice?
It is now our turn to step up to the plate.  But we should not be reckless.  We ought never be heedless of the consequences of our actions.  But neither should we be pusillanimous.  If strategic patience means never defending ourselves, it will not be long before there is nothing left to defend.
Melvyn L, Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

The Great Middle Class Revolultion


When I first moved to Georgia, one of my colleagues at Kennesaw State University explained how her ancestors acquired land in Cherokee county.   They won it in the lottery associated with the Trail of Tears.  This story brought home to me how recently Georgia had been on the frontier.
It was, in fact, not that long ago that our ancestors were pioneers.  Whether they braved the hazards of the trek west or confronted the dangers of taking a sailing ship across the Atlantic, they voluntarily accepted the risks of dealing with the unknown.
Today we are infinitely more prosperous than our forebears.  We do not dread Indian attacks or need to obtain work in sweatshops.  We might occasionally have to put up with a natural disaster, but we know that relief will be coming.  There will surely be enough to eat and drink—and it won’t be long before the electricity is restored.
Nonetheless, we too are pioneers.  We have also entered unfamiliar territory.  The world is changing around us—and changing radically.  We are participants in a great middle class revolution.  This is new!  No other peoples have ever had to deal with the challenges we are experiencing.
Because we are in the midst of it, we seldom realize that ours is the first predominately middle class nation in all of history.  Never before have so many individuals been in the middle class.  Never before have these middling level folks exercised so much power.
The question is what to do with this good fortune.  We are no longer farmers.  Most of us are not even factory workers.  Instead of laboring with our hands, we are more likely to work with our heads.  Many more of us have thus become professionalized or semi-professionalized.  We have been transformed into self-motivated experts in complex activities.
Ours is a mass techno-commercial society.  We are surrounded by millions of diverse strangers upon whom we depend for survival.  They feed us; they clothe us; they build our homes.  Were their services erratic, we would be in serious jeopardy.
What is more, because the tasks they perform are often technological, they must master complicated skills.  They must also acquire the social aptitudes to cooperate with people very different from themselves.  This requires that they be educated far beyond what was demanded of their ancestors.
Today we must cope with the uncertainties of selecting and preparing for an occupation.  We will not simply do what our parents did.  We must instead choose from a panoply of possibilities that we do not fully comprehend.  What is available and what will we be good at?
Today marriage and family have also become optional.  If we decide to take a spouse, who will it be?  And if we make such a commitment, can we be sure it will not end in divorce?  Isolated as we are in separate nuclear households, it is up to us to make our intimate relationships work.
Today we must likewise decide whether we will have children.  But if we have them, how will we raise them?  Which techniques must we employ to prepare them for a successful middle class adulthood?  The old practice of demanding that the young be seen and not heard is no longer appropriate.
And how about politics?  Once city hall seemed so far away that fighting it was inconceivable.  Today we are so affluent and well-educated that more of us participate in self-governance.  But how are we to do this?  The split between conservatives and liberals is evidence that we fiercely disagree.
Our grandparents might have been wonderful people, but they are not adequate role models for what we need.  Like it or not, we must figure out new ways to do many things.  While we can learn from the past, we must also innovate.  This ensures we will make mistakes that require flexibility to rectify.
Despite the sense of entitlement that many young people feel, nothing about our future is preordained.  Unless we make suitable choices, our good luck could run out.  Unless we are responsible, and intelligent, and hard-working, the progress we nowadays expect could come to a screeching halt.
Melvyn L, Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Social Individualism: Texas Style


When Texas was first being settled by Anglos, they had a problem.  There was plenty of free land available on the frontier, but the Comanches were contesting it.  What is more, this tribe had a fearsome reputation.  Its warriors were rightly regarded as the scourge of the southern plains.
Families that ventured out to lonely homesteads were essentially on their own.  Raiding parties could attack them at any time to steal their horses and collect their scalps.  It took extreme courage—and tenacity—to take such a chance.  Nonetheless, the original Texans prided themselves on their rugged individualism.
One of the things that social scientists have learned is that cultural adaptations tend to persist.  The same willingness to take risks, without complaining about setbacks, that characterized their state’s pioneers was still visible in the reaction of Texans to the devastation wrought by hurricane Harvey.
Instead of crying about how cruel nature had been, they immediately got out and started helping their neighbors.  Rather than sit on their hands and wait to be rescued, they did the rescuing.  Many of these folks placed their lives in jeopardy, despite the destruction done to their own homes.
It has become customary for millions of Americans to scream out for government assistance whenever they encounter a difficulty.  Uncle Sam is supposed to provide the money and the expertise to extract them from whatever situation makes them unhappy.
While it is true that the Trump administration has effectively organized federal support, FEMA and the National Guard found enthusiastic partners already on the ground.  Ordinary citizens had taken the initiative to climb into their boats and trucks to brave the elements.  Mere floods were not going to stop them.
The rest of the nation looked upon this bravado with awe.  It clearly took courage to defy the unknown.  It also took pluck to begin the process of rebuilding before the waters receded.  There was no complaining.  There was just good old-fashioned hard work and cooperative effort.
Texan individualism demonstrated something else.  People who take personal responsibility are better able to utilize assistance from others.  They can join forces with, let us say the police, because they are standing on their own two feet.
Responsible individuals think for themselves.  This makes it easier to figure out how best to collaborate with officials.  Responsible individuals can also make adjustments.  They are able to modify their responses because they are not terrified by the unexpected.
Most importantly, people who are individualists have a strong sense of self.  They are comfortable with who they are and consequently are comfortable with people who differ from themselves.  Individualism does not equal selfishness.  Indeed, it frequently signifies the reverse.
I have recently been arguing that our post-industrial society requires a new ideal.  The squishy calls for social justice coming from the left are insufficient.  So are the demands for liberty emanating from the right.  These are all well and good, yet they are not enough.
What we need now is social individualism.  We need more people who are willing to be themselves and to save themselves, while at the same time collaborating with their neighbors.  In other words, more of us must both be for ourselves and for others.
The Texans has shown us how this can be achieved.  There is no contradiction between being personally strong and concerned with the welfare of our fellow citizens.  People can make independent choices that benefit themselves, while pulling up their sleeves to help the guy next door.
Social individualism is the opposite of collective dependence.  Instead of abdicating what we can do for ourselves, it takes satisfaction in personal achievement.  Instead of clamoring for a bigger piece of the federal pie, it seeks to bake it’s own pie.
Social individualism is aware of the limitations placed upon us by inhabiting a mass society, but it is also aware of the opportunities made available when strong people team up with other strong people.  They do not whine.  They do not point fingers as supposedly oppressive enemies.  They just get down to business!
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Liberals Are Biting Their Lower Lips


Bill Clinton made it famous.  Whenever he wanted to demonstrate to the public that he felt our pain, he would bite his trembling lower lip.  He would next look directly at us through the television lense and emote like a champion.  Here was a person who cared.  Here was a president who could be trusted.
Journalists at the time reported on how seamlessly Clinton could go from political chatter to on-stage empathy.  They said it was like turning on a light switch.  All of a sudden, his eyes went teary and his voice began to quiver.  The question then and now is was this real? 
To judge from his subsequent behavior, one of Clinton’s overriding motives was to get rich.  He has also apparently maintained an interest in power and pulchritudinous women.  How much he genuinely cares for the interests of the little guy is therefore up in the air.
I wonder about these things because many decades ago my na├»ve idealism was challenged by harsh realities.  One of my first jobs was working in Harlem for the New York City Department of Welfare.  I was a caseworker responsible for seeing to it that eligible clients got their checks.
My goals at the time were many—and probably inconsistent—but one was to help poor people in need.  I was appalled by poverty and wanted to do the best I could to alleviate it.
But then came a moment of disillusionment.  My fellow caseworkers began talking about going on strike.  The union reps were everywhere, stirring up enthusiasm for a walkout.  Their objective was unmistakable.  They intended to get us more money.
Our salaries were modest; hence I could not object.  Nonetheless, their tactics left me cold.  Rather than sound mercenary, the strike leaders argued that they were just trying to help our clients.  If caseworkers got additional funds, they would obviously provide better services.
This was nonsense!  What was said for the benefit of voters was merely public relations.  The real goal was to look sympathetic.  If we could convince folks that we cared about the discomfort of people in poverty, they might care about us as well.
This was hypocrisy—pure and simple.  Perhaps some of the more ardent unionists believed it, but the rest of us knew better.  What most caseworkers cared about was getting a larger paycheck.
Now we hear from liberals that President Trump was not sufficiently empathetic in his initial response to hurricane Harvey.  He should have reached out more directly to those who had been devastated.  In other words, he should have been more like Clinton.
Liberals seem to have developed eternally quivering lower lips.  They are forever biting these to demonstrate how compassionate they are.  It does not matter to them whether Obamacare was successful.  They are indifferent about declining school achievement scores or rising crime rates.
What liberals care about is appearing to be benevolent.  It matters little to them whether Trump actually helps flood victims.  If he doesn’t say the right words with the proper tone of voice, then anything he achieves is irrelevant.  If his wife doesn’t wear the right shoes, nothing else counts.
Were liberals actually empathetic, they would be concerned about the beatings dealt out by Antifa.  They would decry the methods of these hooligans and sympathize with the victims.  Instead they too engage in public relations.  Their chief concern is that they not be identified with these thugs.
To be blunt, liberals are also hypocrites.  They are gold plated hypocrites!  However much they gnash their teeth and accuse others of not being kindhearted, they care more about appearances than results.  In my book, this makes them less moral than they are forever claiming.
Genuine concern for others is not about emotional outbursts.  It isn’t about giving hugs or crying at a moments notice.  Genuine concern is confirmed by what people do.  If they hang in there and provide actual relief, they are establishing their bona fides.
Hypocrisy has, unfortunately, become the currency of the realm.  Nowadays it is scarcely noticed—especially by those immersed in it.  My hope is that lip biting goes out of style.  Let it be replaced by doing good, as opposed to posturing as good.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University