Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Who Won the Culture Wars?

A few weeks ago I participated in a panel sponsored by the Cherokee County Republican Assembly.  The question was: Did the Conservatives lose the culture war?  According to businessman Alex Gimenez, they did.  Given that liberals have captured the media and schools, he identified these folks as setting our cultural agenda.
Matthew Perdie, a documentary moviemaker, disagreed.  He argued that Donald Trump’s electoral victory demonstrates that political correctness is on the wane.  As for Catherine Bernard, a lawyer, she was more equivocal.  She suggested that conservatives should be more tolerant of minorities.
In my opinion, however, nobody won the culture wars.  Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike were losers.  Each faction promoted a program that is now in tatters.  All made promises that were not kept.  The result is a stalemate in which each side still expects to claim victory.
The reason that none will is because they are out of date.  All three endorse ideas created hundreds or thousands of years ago.  None was specifically designed to address the problems we currently experience.
Thus many conservatives urge us to embrace religious verities.  They tell us that if we recommit to laws handed down by a merciful God, we will regain his favor.  We must therefore love one another.  We are to treat each other essentially as siblings so as to safeguard our collective welfare.
This strategy will not work because too many Americans are secular.  They refuse to embrace the old-time religion.  Nor can three hundred and thirty million people truly love one another.  Although they may behave decently toward strangers, they are not, and never will be, kin.
As for the libertarians, they advise us to become entrepreneurs.  If we are free to pursue our private interests in an unfettered marketplace, we will all be better off.  The problem with this approach is twofold.  First, we are not equally talented or aggressive.  Second, this leaves love entirely out of the equation.
Although the liberals have been dominant for about a century, they too aspire to the untenable.  They tell us to turn to the government for salvation.  If we allow its experts to make decisions we are incapable of making for ourselves, we will prosper as never before.
The liberals call this social justice and explain that a fully democratic regime will create complete equality.  Once it controls the means of production, it will ensure that everyone receives a fair share.  With greed having been suppressed by a myriad of regulations and affirmative action empowering the least formidable among us, the playing field will finally be level.
Except that we have now had some experience with residing under a bureaucratic yoke.  Government experts turn out to be at least as corrupt as the industrial moguls who preceded them.  Their version of political correctness pits minority groups against one another such that it is the politicians who enrich themselves.
No one is happy with the current situation because no one has obtained the alleged benefits.  As it happens, we have developed into a mass techno-commercial society.  This ushered in undreamt of wealth and a myriad of choices.  But it also introduced unprecedented insecurities.
With so much power at our disposal, we are today capable of big mistakes.  The traditional ideologies guarded against these.  Religion gave us divinely inspired answers.  The marketplace stimulated a multitude of technical and political innovations.  As for the progressives, they offered relief from frightening choices by making these for us.
The alternative to these failed worldviews is for us to take care of ourselves.  If we become emotionally mature grown-ups who understand the problems before us, we can individually determine what is best for us personally and collectively.  As self-motivated experts, we ought to learn from the traditional philosophies so as to take charge of our destinies.
The problem with this option, however, is that it thrusts the responsibility upon us.  Aside from the hard work it takes to master contemporary complexities, if things go wrong, we will be to blame.  This prospect has already stimulated a flight from freedom and reanimated cultural solutions that have hitherto demonstrated major limitations.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Love Is Not Enough

Decades ago, when describing his approach to dealing with autistic youngsters, the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote that, “love is not enough.”  Without providing these children understanding and discipline, they would never overcome their disabilities.
A few weeks ago I said something similar at a panel sponsored by the Cherokee County Republican Assembly.  I argued that love alone would never enable us to triumph over the social challenges we face.  Indeed, I claimed that we can never love millions of other Americans.
This may sound harsh—but I meant every word.  The term “love” is thrown around with abandon.  People use it when they want to sound kind or generous.  Nevertheless, anyone who has been in love knows this is a unique emotion reserved for a very few.
The experience of falling in love is totally different from being nice to a panhandler.  Giving a homeless person a spare dollar is not accompanied by paroxysms of joy.  Nor does it entail the intense commitment that sustains long term relationships.
I love my wife and willingly make sacrifices for her.  Most parents are similarly prepared to endure hardships to protect their children.  Nonetheless, while I like many of my KSU students, my devotion to them is far less robust.  I will not even lend them money.
Anyone who has been in love knows this takes a lot of energy.  They are aware of how it fills the mind.  They have dealt with their inability to focus on other matters and felt that special thrill which comes from being around the object of their affection.
As it happens, love is generally reserved for those with whom we are related.  It is earmarked for family members—including our spouses.  Evolutionary psychologists tell us it results from selfish genes that aim to reproduce themselves in the next generation.  Love thus generates an altruism that defends our biological legacy.
How different it is with strangers.  When I go to the supermarket checkout counter, I often joke with the clerk.  She frequently does the same with me.  But I don’t love her and she does not love me.  We are polite; we are even friendly.  Yet there is no passion in our transaction.
In our modern mass society, we deal with most others in terms of their social roles.  We know their jobs and they know ours and this shapes the way we treat each other.  At the supermarket I am a customer and the woman across the counter is a cashier.  As a result, she rings up my purchases and I pay for them.
In a world filled with interdependent strangers, how else could we get along?  Because it is impossible to know so many others personally, we make do with identifying their social niches.  Actually we often judge them by the symbols of their positions.  What a person wears, or where he is standing, alerts us as to how we are to approach him.
This may seem callous, but it is a practical solution to living in a mass society.  Back in the days of hunter-gatherers, strangers killed one another.  Because they could not be sure of an outsider’s intentions, they were wary.  We are less so because we judge other’s objectives by the jobs we impute to them.
In other words, when we talk about loving everybody, this is no more than an analogy.  We are being asked to pretend others are members of our family and act accordingly.  In fact, we are to conduct ourselves as if we belonged to a “loving” family.  Everyone knows authentic kin can be disagreeable.
So where does this leave us when dealing with strangers?  We need to be nice if we are to survive unexpected encounters.  We need to be responsible if we are to be economically inter-reliant.  One way or another, we have to trust unknown others.  Consequently, if we cannot rely upon love; we must commit to shared ground rules.  Morality has to substitute for genuine affection.
Morality may be cold.  It may be impersonal.  But if we are to respect others, we must honor the boundaries it sets.  This may not be love, but it furnishes some of the same safeguards.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why Are Liberals So Angry?

The election is over, but liberals keep sniping at Trump.  It does not seem to matter what he does.  As long as he is the one doing it, it is regarded as evidence of depravity.  We see this inclination in the media, on college campuses, and from the mouth of our current president.  But why is this so?
Almost no one is happy to lose; nevertheless most adjust gracefully.  They do not spend weeks trying to demonstrate that the winner is illegitimate.  They do not give the nation the finger by stabbing an ally (Israel) in the back.  Although they might cry in their beer, they do not try to box in the victor.
So what is going on?  Why are liberals so distressed?  It is not enough to say that they were surprised by their loss.  They were, but they have been surprised before.  Neither is it sufficient to point out that they do not trust Trump.  They did not trust Reagan or Nixon either.
So, I repeat, what is going on?  My conclusion is that liberals are terrified.  We see their anger, but I suspect that it is being employed to cover up their massive fears.  Yet what is it they fear?  It cannot be that they worry about never winning again.  They have been down in the past and come back.
What is different this time?  First, liberals know that the Obama administration did not succeed.  It did not furnish the anticipated hope and change.  The economy has been sluggish for eight years.  Foreign policy is a mess.  What is more, the nation is more divided and rancorous than in generations.
Yes, I know that Obama brags about having created millions of jobs.  I also know that his partisans insist ObamaCare is a roaring success.  Many liberals even have the temerity to claim that the Iran deal ensured that the mullahs will never get a nuclear weapon.
Nonetheless, in their heart of hearts, liberals know these assertions are false.  And that is their problem.  They are not afraid that Trump will destroy the country.  They are afraid that he will succeed.  The last thing they want is for him to make America great again.
If he does, you see, it will put the lie to their boasts.  It will demonstrate that they have brought us neither prosperity, nor safety, nor social justice.  They will be exposed as Charlatans who can talk a good game, but are unable to produce.
You might imagine that what troubles them is the prospect of enduring the pain of public humiliation.  No one enjoys being revealed as wrong or inept.  This was why the New York Times hated Rudy Giuliani so much when he proved that New York City could be governed; that its crime rate could be reduced.
As distressing as this sort of revelation might be, even more distressing would be the realization that the liberal agenda is fatally flawed.  Liberals believe their own propaganda.  They are convinced that they are smarter and more compassionate than others.  They are equally certain their opponents are dumb and mean-spirited.
But what happens when events put a lie to these conceits?  If liberal egos are punctured, can they still consider themselves special?  The liberal ideology enables its adherents to make sense of an otherwise confusing world; hence if this worldview is discredited, they will be emotionally and intellectually adrift.
This is their chief fear.  Their belief system provides them with a sense of control.  As long as they are convinced they possess the formula for personal and/or social success, they need not dread unexpected developments.  If they, and only they, know where history is going, they can continue to feel in charge.
Without this, however, their inner cowardice would come to the fore.  When deprived of their fantasies, they would be forced to confront their personal inadequacies.  Mind you, we all have weaknesses.  We all fool ourselves about some things in order to keep our demons at bay.
The point is that, at this moment, it is the liberals who are in danger of being stripped of their ideological defenses.  Many of them are in panic mode, lest their feet of clay be uncovered.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Respect for the Working Man and Woman

When I was young, my father would ridicule me for sitting in a corner and reading a book.  He wanting me to get up and do something.  So far as he was concerned, only physical work counted.  Mental activities were merely an excuse for being lazy.
Nowadays, I realize that I was never the indolent slug that he feared I might become.  My wife and I, although we are both academics, are hard workers.  We not only teach, we write books, we give talks.  We even edit a professional journal.  This takes so much time that is consumes most of our weekends.
But I am not complaining.  We do this because we love it.  When we accomplish something, it provides us a sense of satisfaction.  We know that not everybody is capable of doing what we do; hence we take pride in our achievements.
Nor do I wish to assert that the kind of work we do is superior to physical labors.  Many of the people who work with their hands provide the goods and services without which life would be hollow.  In fact, I mean to praise hard work—of virtually any kind.
The Trump election has finally put the spotlight on blue-collar workers.  Their contributions to our joint welfare are, at long last, receiving their due.  These folks deserve to be respected.  What they do is often not easy and can take considerable skill.
Life is not an endless day at the beach.  Many of the things that need to be done require effort.  When I am writing one of my columns and the words do not come, I have to stick with it until they do.  By the same token, an automobile mechanic who cannot locate the source of a clanging sound must persevere until he does.
But herein lies one of the advantages of hard work.  It is not just a matter of producing a valuable product.  There is also the benefit of doing so despite the difficulties.  At the end of the day, there is the realization that whatever we have achieved would not have been possible unless we persisted, notwithstanding the temptations to quit.
Too many young people today assume that if they encounter resistance, the sensible thing is to do something else.  As a college professor, I see this when students refuse to read difficult books.  They would rather go on line to crib notes than spend hours trying to decipher abstruse materials.
We see the same sort of thing when we witness people lining up to get on the public dole.  Whether this is for food stamps, or disability subsidies, or a welfare check, these programs create dependency rather than self-sufficiency.  These folks become takers rather than producers.
The idea that the government can save us from having to take care of ourselves is one of the most pernicious consequences of our shared affluence.  Being rich, and/or idle, are not the advantages they may seem.  They can be a trap.  They can deprive people of the self-respect that comes from hard work.
And self-respect matters.  Listening to music all day is not only boring—it is pointless.  In the end, it leads to nothing but more of the same.  This is also the case for those addicted to social media.  Irrespective of how many friends we have on line, these are not the equivalent of real friends.
Genuine work, on the other hand, provides dignity.  It also furnishes worthwhile goals.  People who do things that make the world a better place know they are useful.  They have the contentment that comes from realizing their life makes a difference.
So here are three cheers for hard work.  It is not a burden to be shunned.  Or a sign that one has been shanghaied into doing what others will not.  Hard work is a good in and of itself.  Yes, we require time off.  Yes, some things should be done for the fun of it.  But without hard work, what are we, either as individuals or a nation?  Why would we deserve anyone’s admiration?
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University