Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Feather Bed Factory

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Institutionalized Dishonesty.  I claimed that liberalism has incorporated reflexive untruthfulness into our national fabric.  Whether in the government, the media, or ordinary life, more people are engaging in what are regarded as justifiable lies.  These have become business as usual.
Now I am about to assert that irresponsibility has also become institutionalized.  It too has been integrated into the social structures upon which we depend.  No longer do most people feel accountable for their destinies.  Now they believe they have a right to be protected.
Where did they get this idea?  Why are millions of us certain that we are entitled to cradle to grave success and security?  The source of this conviction should be obvious.  It is an article of liberal faith.  Progressives, whether in the media, academe or government, constantly proclaim it as a birthright.
But from whence did they derive this notion?  How did they get it into their heads that the state must supply everyone with a good job, as well as shelter them from any hazard an uncertain universe might throw their way?
Although left-wingers sometimes maintain that they are in favor of personal responsibility, their actions shout otherwise.  After all, they want to jack up the minimum wage, provide all and sundry with free medical care and higher education, and institute reams of regulations so that no one ever injures anyone else.
This has been called the nannie state, but it might also be labeled the feather-bed factory.  The theory is that we all should be able to lean back and be served whatever we desire merely because we exist.  We ought not have to work hard—or make decisions we could get wrong.  Faceless others are to do the heavy lifting.
So I repeat: How did this peculiar worldview arise?  Why did so many of us come to believe that we do not have to support ourselves by the sweat of our brows and that a set of rules emanating from Washington D.C. must ensure that we never come to any harm?
The culprit, I am afraid to say, is Marxism coupled with rampant bureaucratization.  Karl Marx taught his disciples that virtually all of the world’s evil could be laid at the feet of a few selfish capitalists.  If these malevolent oppressors could be overthrown, the exploitation they sponsored would disappear.
But freedom from maltreatment was not enough.  People still wanted to live comfortably.  The Industrial Revolution had provided a cornucopia of goods and services.  No one wanted to see these vanish.  They were to be redistributed.
This was deemed feasible because industrial production was regarded as automatic.  It was a matter of setting the machines in motion so that the affluence they generated would appear of its own accord.  All the government had to do was make sure everyone received their fair share.
The state bureaucracy was itself conceived of as an automatic machine.  Once the correct rules and procedures were put in place, these, and not fallible human agents, would guarantee prosperity and social justice.  No one would be responsible because personal responsibility was now to be unnecessary.
And so here we have it.  The government can supposedly make us rich merely by forcing employers to pay us more.  It can also render us better educated by making universal education gratis.  Our health can likewise be enormously improved by its underwriting the costs of medical care.  We have to do nothing—except enjoy the bounty.
We won’t even have to worry about being moral.  This too will be the state’s responsibility—which it will discharge with everlasting compassion.  Because the philosopher kings overseeing the bureaucratic machinery are to be unswervingly nice, their kindness will theoretically rub off on the rest of us.  We won’t need to control our selfish impulses because they will evaporate.
In this brave new liberal world, we need not dread mistakes, because we won’t make any.  Nor will we have to develop complex skills, because these are to be built into our mechanical servants.  Rather than act responsibly, we can concentrate our ever narrower attention spans on Facebook and computer games.  Won’t that be fun!
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

The Trump Derangement Syndrome

Thanksgiving is family time and so I recently had an opportunity to take my siblings’ political temperatures.  This disclosed that a new version of an old malady is abroad in the land.  It might be called the Trump Derangement Syndrome in emulation of the once pandemic Bush Derangement Syndrome.
Let me explain.  George W. Bush set liberal teeth on edge.  They could scarcely contemplate his visage without being seized by an uncontrollable impulse to do him harm.  Not only did they want to throw him out of office, but a significant number of them fantasized about his assassination.
Now this mania has been transferred to Trump.  Granted that he is more provocative.  Granted also that his programs may be more far-reaching.  Nevertheless, the most important thing about them is that they could be conservative—and that is entirely unacceptable.
First off, my sister Carol, who voted for Trump, has become a pariah in her New Jersey neighborhood.  Her erstwhile friends won’t talk to her if she so much as hints at anything positive about the Donald.  So far as they are concerned, the fact that he has recently been on good behavior does not exonerate him of his innate malice.
Then there is my brother Joel, who voted for Hillary.  He and his wife have stopped watching the news ever since that dreadful moment in which an unexpected horror beset our nation.  The pain of that unforeseen body blow was too great to endure.
As it happens, Joel’s neighbors went for Trump.  They were therefore eager to share their surprise and delight at his victory.  The sumptuous feast that my brother hosted was their opportunity to say out loud what, in his house, they had hitherto been required to keep to themselves. 
Where did this liberal super-sensitivity come from?  Why all the public crying, gnashing of teeth, protest marching, and vilifying of Trump’s nominees for public office?  Hadn’t the Democrats lost elections before?
My guess is that liberals were not prepared to have their failures rubbed in their faces.  As long as their president was in the White House, they could pretend that their ideological agenda was intact.  When Hillary lost, however, they were forced to redouble their efforts to hide from reality.
Remember what Barack Obama promised.  He was going to bring our nation together.  Our racial, gender, and social class divides were to be healed.  At home, ObamaCare was certain to improve our health, while lowing costs.  In addition, his stimulus package would initiate a period of robust economic growth.
Meanwhile abroad, controlling American militant arrogance was sure to end international wars and to elevate our nation’s prestige.  Indeed, Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of his inevitable achievements.
Yet this did not transpire.  The oceans did not recede.  Kumbaya did not become our national anthem.  Even the Democrats know that.  But they have to blame someone.  Since they are such magnificent people, the fault cannot rest with them.  It must lie with someone of Trump’s malicious disposition.
As I have been saying, liberalism is a failed enterprise.  Many Americans are just beginning to realize this.  Karl Marx proclaimed that the proletarian revolution would commence after workers pierced their false consciousness.  Once they realized that their bosses were exploiting them, they would rise up in righteous indignation.
In fact, ordinary working people are catching on to something entirely different.  They have finally recognized that liberals are not their friends.  One of the things they like best about Trump is that he violates the canons of political correctness.  Another is that he promised to get their jobs back.
The Liberals do not understand this—and it is driving them crazy.  Because their political reality never coincided with physical or moral reality, they cannot make sense of the universe.  The result is that they are lashing out.  They are trying to break free from an ideological straight jacket of their own design.
Unfortunately, few on the left are aware of this.  They still regard themselves as intellectual paragons.  But isn’t this kind of omission diagnostic of some forms of mental illness?  Couldn’t it be a manifestation of political paranoia?
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Man from Pin Point Georgia

About a month ago, the Georgia Sociological Association held its annual meeting in Savannah.  Prior to this conference, there was much discussion about what we should do for entertainment.  The Board, therefore, took the advice of one of its members and scheduled an evening at the Pin Point Heritage museum.
Most of us had no idea of what this would entail.  We did not even know where the place was.  Merely getting there turned out to be an adventure.  It was located in such an our-of-the-way spot that our GPS guidance made several errors along the route.
Then after we arrived, we were not sure that we were at the right locale.  The place did not look like museum.  There was no imposing building with Greek columns out front.  All we could see was a series of modest structures.  So far as we could tell, they were private residences.
Nonetheless, the staff of the museum was extremely gracious.  First off, we were served a low country boil.  Our plates were stacked high with crabs, shrimp, sausages, potatoes, and corn.  The setting might have been simple, but the meal was sumptuous.
Afterward we attended a demonstration of how crabbing nets were woven and then were ushered into a small factory building to watch a film about the history of Pin Point.  This was an eye-opener.
Pin Point is a tiny town on the edge of a marsh.  Its population never exceeded three hundred and had now been reduced to about half of that.  Located among the Sea Islands, its inhabitants supported themselves on the bounty available in the surrounding waters.
The men had been fisherman and the women had processed the crabs and oysters their husbands brought home.  Theirs was a tough life, but one in which they had the satisfaction of personal achievement and independence.
Oh, did I mention that these folks were Gullah/Geechee and proud of it.  They delighted in their African origins and unique dialect.  They were also pleased to belong to the supportive community that they had created.
These folks had once been free Negroes.  Then after the Civil War they pooled their assets to purchase the waterfront land they now occupied.  Back then few whites appreciated the virtues of a swamp and so the property was cheap.
The result was a distinctive sense of self-sufficiency.  These were people who relied upon themselves.  The fed themselves, they governed themselves, they prayed for and among themselves.  So comfortable were they with whom they were that everyone had a nickname; one that usually teased them about their personal peculiarities.
But then came the big surprise.  Pin Point had a favorite son.  We were shown pictures of his parents.  There they were standing in front of tables full of crabs and oysters.  These were clearly hard working people who were unashamed of engaging in manual labor.
Who was their distinguished, and much loved, son?  He was none other than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  I had known Thomas came from Georgia.  I was also aware that he had grown up in a small town.  But that his origins were with the Geechee came as a complete shock.
Nonetheless, this discovery made sense of Thomas’ politics.  He has been accused of not being authentically black because he is a forceful conservative.  Rather than support a proliferation of government programs, he has championed personal freedom.
Although this might not be the outlook of all American blacks, it is obviously faithful to Thomas’ own roots.  He rose from obscurity to national eminence, not because his parents were wealthy or well-educated.  He had done so because they encouraged him to be his own person.
Some people believe that those with African origins are incapable of taking care of themselves, much less of assuming positions of national leadership.  Clarence Thomas’s story proves otherwise.  Instead of being regarded as a racial turncoat, he ought to be celebrated as a model of what pride and ability make possible. 
African-Americans are perfectly capable of self-reliance.  Were some liberal apologists more aware of Thomas’ origins, they might better understand this.  So might those racists who underestimate what blacks can achieve.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Sam Olen: Welcome to KSU

Sam Olens has been President of Kennesaw State University for almost a month now and I am just getting around to welcoming him aboard.  My only excuse is that this has been a very busy political month and my attention has been elsewhere.
In any event, I am not one of those at the school who has misgivings about his taking over the reins of power.  So far as I am concerned, he is a very good man who is assuming a very demanding position.  I therefore wish him well and hope that he can continue the trajectory of his predecessor.
When rumor had it that Olens would be appointed to run KSU, gossip about what this meant ran rampant through the faculty.  Most of my colleagues knew only that he was Georgia’s Attorney General.  They had no idea of the sort of person he was.  As a result, many came to me to ask my opinion.
As it happened, I had had contact with Olens.  Not only had I met him, but on several occasions had long conversations with him.  My take away from these was that he was a smart and decent human being who was concerned with doing the best he could for the community.
Let me explain a bit further.  First, I found Olens to be a good listener.  He did not seem to have an agenda that he was waiting to foist on me.  Instead, he paid attention to what I said and responded appropriately.
Second, he impressed me as a pragmatist.  He evidently wanted to do the right thing, but, at least as importantly, he wanted to do what worked.  This meant that he considered a variety of options and contemplated their implications.  The objective was not merely to address a problem, but to solve it.
Third, this was a man who was obviously respectful of others.  There was no bragging, no bullying, no holier than thou posturing.  From what I knew about his earlier tenure on Cobb County’s Board of Commissioners, I understood why he had not alienated his associates.  No doubt, he showed them the same consideration he did me.
From my perspective, there was consequently no reason that such a person could not work well as an academic administrator.  Some KSU professors, as is widely known, did not come to this conclusion.  They were especially upset with the way Olens had been selected.  As they saw it, this was a violation of shared governance.
Although I am not exactly sure about the nature of the behind the scenes maneuvering that produced Olens’ appointment, the scuttlebutt is that Governor Deal orchestrated it.  He is said to have wanted one of his own men to succeed him in office.
Whatever the truth, Olens is more than qualified to lead a major university.  Some KSU faculty members worry that because he is not an academic, he will not be sensitive to academic needs.  This strikes me as an unnecessary concern.  Any college president has to be alert to the requirements of subordinates from differing backgrounds.
The fact that Olens is a lawyer should not matter.  In my department, three of our professors are actually lawyers.  As for Dan Papp, our previous President, he was a political scientist.  Did this prevent him from appreciating the needs of the chemistry department or the school of music?
The job of a college president is largely political.  He (or she) must balance the demands of many competing constituencies.  Given the limited resources and the huge differences in priorities, there will always be conflicts that must be tamped down.  This ability, thus, counts for more than the character of his advanced degree.
Some of my KSU peers are still unhappy with what occurred.  Despite Olens efforts to be conciliatory, they are distressed by the politics that led to his selection.  For some, the fact that he is a Republican is also not irrelevant.  They are convinced that conservatives, in general, are too inconsiderate to run a university.
But most of our students are just fine with what occurred.  As for me, I say Sam Olens needs to be given a chance.  Indeed, I am rooting for him to succeed.  If he does, I believe this will redound to the benefit of even those who continue to harbor doubts about him.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University