Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ideology versus Principles


Liberals are ideologues.  They have a simplified view of what the world is and should be.  As they see it, if we were all nice to each other and treated each other as complete equals, the government, which they will control, would provide everything we need in order to be happy.
As “progressives,” they consider it inevitable that a compassionate bureaucracy will one day furnish everyone with free health care, free higher education, and comfortable living conditions, without anyone having to work for these.  Much as Henry VIII of England once looted the monasteries to finance his lavish lifestyle, they will take from the rich to give to the poor.
The problem is that in order to realize this fairytale, they have had to jettison their moral principles.  Liberals have few ethical standards because they assume their limitless kindness makes canons of decency unnecessary.  Thanks to their unparalleled intelligence and good intentions, they will always do what’s best.
Liberals tell us that we must be non-judgmental and are as good as their word.  They have, in fact, abandoned all pretenses of reasonable judgment.  When it comes to distinguishing right from wrong, they can no longer tell the difference.
Liberals do not believe in honesty, or personal responsibility, or elementary fairness, or family commitments, or individual liberty.  Although they sometimes pay verbal deference to these values, their actions reveal an underlying conviction that these are outmoded.
Thus the left-wing idealists, who dominate the mainstream press, consider it their duty to distort what conservatives believe.  They would rather cut off a right arm than give Donald Trump credit for anything.  To this end, they omit information that might cast him in a favorable light and egregiously misread the import of his policies.
By the same token, political agitators campaign against public safety.  They do not believe it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens or theirs to respect the free speech of those with whom they disagree.  Others may have such duties, but they have only rights.
As for fairness, they routinely condemn double standards when these are applied to them, but eagerly use them against their foes.  Hence Trump is vilified for his alleged exploitation of women, whereas we were asked to “move on” with respect to Bill Clinton’s sexual misdeeds,
Meanwhile, liberal feminists disparage the family.  Men are portrayed as serial rapists; while women are assured that they do not need to marry and will not benefit from the assistance of a husband.  Children, of course, are depicted as dead weight that prevent women from realizing their potential.
Finally, liberty is dismissed as a rationalization for exploitation.  Liberals believe that a multitude of statutes must prohibit people from making dire mistakes.  Only government experts are capable of determining how many carbonated drinks people should be allowed or whether a mud puddle on a family farm endangers planetary climate.
What liberals fail to understand is that when they undermine basic moral principles, they also undermine their ability to deliver the benefits they promise.  No large-scale society can function without broadly held, and consistently enforced, interpersonal rules.
We humans are a contentious species.  We want what we want when we want it.  We are also a dangerous species.  We—all of us—are capable of injuring others.  Given the availability of the proper weapons, no one is invariably safe from anyone else.
These hazards are magnified in massive communities where millions of strangers need to cooperate if they are to prosper.  People, who depend upon each other, but do not know one another, must be constrained by internalized principles.  Love is not enough to render them selfless when they are not bound by personal attachments.
Ideological fairytales are no substitute for a conscience or shared commitments.  Visions of what would happen if we were a different sort of creature, cannot constrain people if they do not possess internal limitations.
We currently see what happens when principles are absent.  People engage in riots, vulgarly insult their foes, and misrepresent facts.  Moreover, they do so with a clear conscience.  Like contemporary liberals, they are self-congratulatory, even as they slander others.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

On Handling Our Mistakes


My father did not believe in making mistakes.  He expected me to get things right the first time out.  This, of course, was a self-defeating policy.  It inhibited me from trying new endeavors lest I make a mess of them.
What my Dad failed to understand is that the real problem is not making mistakes, but failing to correct them.  Yes, we should do our best, but when matters turn out wrong, we must be prepared to fix what is broken.
In any event, I grew up terrified of faux pas.  I was certain that my blunders would be exposed and my personal inadequacies revealed for the whole world to see.  What was more, I would probably be punished for screwing up.
As a consequence, I hate making mistakes.  I hate them with a passion.  But there is something I hate even more.  It is holding on to a mistake, irrespective of reality.  If I am wrong, I want to admit it to myself.  I do not want to continue defending an error once I realize it is an error.
My reasoning is that if I am not honest about my missteps, I cannot rectify them.  I will be trapped in my duplicity and forced to repeat blunders ad nauseum.  While I seldom flaunt my errors, neither do I want to hide from them.
Years of experience have likewise taught me that few humans enjoy being wrong.  They too conceal their missteps rather than besmirch their reputations.  Some, like me, work privately to undo mistakes.  Others, however, spend years denying plain facts to themselves and all and sundry.
Many people seem to believe that if they conceal uncomfortable truths, they can convert failures into victories.  If only they are able to get others to agree that a fiasco was a triumph, it will be a triumph.
This may sound like an odd way to be successful, but it is extraordinarily prevalent.  We meet this strategy in our personal lives, but it has become even more customary in the political realm.
Liberalism has surely produced its share of lapses.  ObamaCare obviously did not work as advertised.  It did not cover everybody or generate the promised savings.  Nor did it improve the quality of healthcare, despite proclamations to the contrary.
As for Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience,” it has been an out-and-out disaster.  North Korea is on the verge of obtaining nuclear tripped rockets, with Iran not far beyond.  Meanwhile Syria descended into chaos, Europe was overwhelmed with hordes of potential terrorists, and Venezuela is near revolution.
Nonetheless millions of dedicated liberals prefer to gloat about the alleged missteps of the Trump administration.  Rather than acknowledge that their own policies did not achieve what was expected, they divert attention to what they consider worse mistakes.
Perhaps the apotheosis of this approach is Hillary Clinton.  She is still going around the country explaining that her loss in the presidential election was not her fault.  Jim Comey did it!  Or maybe it was the Russians.  The voters were misled, whereas she did everything humanly possible to win.
Conservatives, however, ought not be smug.  Liberals may be self-deluded, but so often are they.  Many of them, for instance, are convinced that if we have a religious revival, goodness will become the norm.  Still others place their bets on an unrestrained marketplace.  Somehow the past failures of these policies do not give them pause.
Meanwhile the public looks on with scorn and bemusement.  And yet how often do ordinary folks buy into the mistakes of the politicians?  Worse yet, how often do they collude in covering over the consequences of programs that cause harm?
The fact is that we can no more solve social problems when we obscure their reality, than we can our private dilemmas.  Issues like racism, poverty, and drug abuse will not yield to false interpretations, no matter how widely these narratives are shared.
Fooling ourselves about the nature of our problems, or about the efficacy of particular solutions, may furnish momentary hope, but in the long run offer only additional frustrations.   Mistakes, whatever their origin and scope, are not corrected by telling ourselves a tidal wave of soothing lies.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The War on Poverty Revisited


The War on Poverty was launched over a half-century ago and what have we to show for it?  Trillions of dollars have been spent, but the gap between the rich and poor seems to be growing.  The question is therefore what went wrong?  Why didn’t so many well-intentioned programs work?
When I teach about social class at Kennesaw State University, I explain that the conventional strategies for elevating the lower classes were misconceived.  To put this in a nutshell, neither showering the poor with money, nor seeking to educate them, nor empowering them have done the job.
Thus, liberals believe in a Robin Hood strategy.  They want to take from the wealthy to give to the destitute.  If welfare benefits are increased, medical allowances made more generous, food stamps stipends enlarged and the minimum wage hiked, the underprivileged will presumably catch up.
The flaws in this approach are multiple.  For one thing, simply giving people stuff makes they dependent.  They stop doing for themselves and hence fail to engage in self-improvement.  For another, they seldom spend extra funds wisely.  They are, for instance, more likely to buy junk food than vegetables.
It is also assumed that educating the poor for more remunerative employment will vault them into the middle class.  This tactic, however, neglects the fact that many poor people hate school.  They consider it a waste of time and consequently do not take advantage of opportunities to learn.
To wit, the poor do not read.  They watch television.  Nor are they glued to PBS.  Their goal is escapism, not erudition.  As far as they are concerned, education is phony.  It deals in useless information, such as history.  So why bother?
With respect to empowerment, this has always been little more than a slogan.  Despite the propaganda, there has never been a coherent strategy for teaching the poor how to become socially stronger.  Accordingly, encouraging them to demand more benefits from the government merely increases their dependency.
Real power entails winning in competition with others.  In our society, this means being able to do complicated jobs better than one’s rivals.  Affirmative action counts for nothing if a person is unable to hold his or her own when pitted against folks who also want to win.
So what can be done?  First, people require an opportunity to develop their strengths.  Yes, education must be available, but more importantly so must jobs.  A growing economy provides venues in which talents can be honed and victories achieved.
Second, poor families must be reinforced.  This is where children develop the personal confidence to compete for success.  It is where they learn self-control and discover how to make independent decisions.  Without this, they would be at a disadvantage when dealing with middle class children.
But strong families are contingent upon strong relationships between two consenting adults.  If husbands and wives cannot collaborate effectively, and reliably, they cannot provide their young with what they need.
Nonetheless, nowadays, poor families are exceedingly fragile.  Divorce has become epidemic, while unwed parenthood is rife.  Instead of stability, we find chaos.  Instead of a secure foundation for children, we encounter stress, neglect, and unpredictability.
Part of the problem is that poverty produces anxieties that undermine personal relationships.  Another difficulty is that misguided compassion has provided the financial resources for people to have children without cooperating with a spouse.
Indeed, marriage itself is less valued.  Our unprecedented prosperity has enabled more of us to pursue our desires independently.  We do not have to marry, or stay married.  Although this attitude started with the middle class, it has filtered down to the lower class.
In addition, we do not teach the young how to stay married.  Society is awash with romanticized claptrap about soul mates and feminine liberation, as opposed to durable heterosexual collaboration.  As a result, people—especially the poor—do not know how to cultivate committed relationships.
But how do we instill this?  This question, unfortunately, must await another column.  In the meantime, it must be understood that poverty cannot be reduced unless we begin by fortifying the family.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Northside Hospital--Cherokee


Some people still think that the South is backward.  They assume that we are technologically unsophisticated and intellectually crude.  If only these folks could see the new Northside Hospital in Canton, this might change their minds.
My wife Linda, and I, along with thousands of other North Georgians, took advantage of the opportunity to tour the hospital before its official opening.  This was both a delight and an eye-opener.  Aside from the fun, we gained precious insights on the medical advances that will soon be available.
Linda is a medical sociologist.  Earlier in her career, she was a practicing nurse, but she now teaches sociology at Kennesaw State University.  For several years, her primary research interest has been medical error.  She has been trying to understand what sometimes goes wrong and what can be done to prevent it.
It was therefore through her professional eye that we evaluated what we saw.  Happily, this was very reassuring.  From the beginning, our guides emphasized the goal of efficiency.  Patients were to be given what they needed as expeditiously as possible.
Effective communications was key to achieving this.  The goal was to make information on who was doing what to whom readily available to both staff and patients.  To this end, channels for accurately transmitting data were built into the design of the rooms themselves.
We were also pleased to see how conveniently the most modern forms of medical equipment were arranged.  The idea was to make it easier for people to use these without those involved getting in each other’s way.  This too would prevent accidents by misadventure.
Next we appreciated the stress on patient comfort.  The d├ęcor of the hospital, including its many pieces of artwork, was intended to put people, who might otherwise be alarmed, at ease.  Beauty has a way of making us feel good, despite the pressures we may be under.
The convenience of the relatives and friends of patients was also deemed paramount.  Hospitals were once places where isolation was the norm.  Although the gravely ill might share a ward with strangers, a sense of being alone could heighten an already disturbing experience.
Contemporary medicine has clearly learned the importance of social support.  We humans are reassured when our attachments to other humans are respected.  The new Northside Hospital was plainly designed with this in mind.
This compassionate orientation was also on display in the women’s wing.  Instead of babies being taken from their mothers and exhibited in what might feel like a meat market, efforts were made to keep the two together in the same room.  No doubt, this will facilitate emotional bonding.
Once upon a time, in the not very distant past, Cherokee county was rural and remote.  The roots of most residents ran deep and their attachments to the community were strong.  This, of necessity, changed as the population grew.  The newcomers, in particular, might well feel insular.
Having a first-rate medical facility virtually around the corner goes a long way to alleviating the potential for isolation.  Knowing that there is appropriate assistance quickly available is reassuring.  It may not be the same as family, but dependable care is itself a kind of balm.
During our tour, my wife and I overheard many others marveling at the state of the art amenities to which we were introduced.  Time and again, they commented on how they hoped they would not have to use these anytime soon, but were glad they were nearby.
Linda and I felt the same.  Weeks have passed since our visit, but we still comment to each other on how pleasurable it was.  This was southern hospitality at its best.
So now the hospital is up and running.  For us this represents an agreeable combination of the old and the new.  The cordiality of the historic South has been merged with the technical knowhow of the present to create an auspicious enhancement.  Tradition has been honored, but so has the need for quality medical interventions.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University