Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Burning: Liberal Style

Nowadays, given what liberalism has become, I frequently reminisce about what it was when I was in high school in the 1950’s.  The disparities are so glaring that it almost seems to be an entirely different belief system.
Back then, the ravages of World War II were fresh in the minds of my teachers.  The Holocaust had touched the lives of many of those I knew and hence they were eager that we never repeat it.  This meant that it was crucial we never emulate the Nazis.
One of the practices we students were specifically warned against was book burning.  Hitler’s bullyboys had seized materials contrary to their beliefs and tossed them into roaring infernos.  This was to make it plain that ideas hostile to National Socialism would not be tolerated.  Beliefs associated with Judaism were explicitly forbidden.
This ritual horrified my instructors.  They considered themselves intellectuals and cautioned that suppressing marginal thoughts was the express path to tyranny.  If we were ever to learn the truth, we had to tolerate philosophies contrary to our own.  This was the only way to compare opinions and figure out which were correct.
Fast forward to today.  I am sure that contemporary liberals would also condemn book burning.  They too would tell us that this is an anti-intellectual travesty that would set us squarely on the road to medieval superstition.  Only reactionary troglodytes condoned any such thing.
And yet liberals are in the forefront of exactly this sort of behavior.  Not long ago the political scientist Charles Murray was scheduled to give a talk at Middlebury College.  He was going to discuss his recent book Coming Apart, which explains why middle and lower class Americans are dividing into antagonistic camps.
In fact, Murray never got to give his address.  He was shouted down.  For over an hour, a room full of young people booed and hissed.  They called him vile names and were impervious to appeals to hear him out.  They even jostled him physically when he attempted to leave.
These mostly students would, I am sure, have described themselves as “protestors.”  They would also claim to be upholding their constitutional rights.  The first amendment would subsequently be cited in support of this contention.
But let me quote from that amendment.  “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  Is this what happened at Middlebury?
I submit that it was not peaceful protest.  Nor were the perpetrators asking for a redress of grievances from the government.  What occurred was that a mob abridged the freedom of speech of a scholar they loathed.  Because they mistakenly believed him to be a racist, they refused to let him speak.
This was intimidation, not a defense of freedom.  It was not intended to protect of a marketplace of ideas, but to engage in a fascist power play.  Yes, I know that “fascist” has become an overused epithet.  Those on the left are now remarkably fond of characterizing conservatives in this way.
Nonetheless, look at what took place.  This was an updated version of book burning.  It was an exercise in using violence to shut down free speech.  We should all be terrified, not only of what occurred, but that it was justified in the name of moral principles.
Left wing activists claim to be compassionate.  They tell us they are seeking to protect the downtrodden.  But then again, Hitler told us he was protecting the much maligned German people from oppression.  Was his, however, the best way to go about it?
Murray is pessimistic about what this trend portends.  He has a right to be frightened.  I am sure that those who hate him for the supposedly racist things he once wrote in the Bell Curve never read the book.  It was over twenty chapters long, but they so fixated on one small piece of a single chapter that they rejected the whole out of hand.
Is this what intellectualism has become?  Is this type of intolerance what we transmit to the young in what is euphemistically called “higher education?”  If it is the new normal, our civilization is in grave jeopardy.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Is Addiction a Disease?

According to the news, drug addiction is at an all time high.  Many more young people are now overdosing on narcotics than previously.  Most Americans agree that something needs to be done, but there is no consensus as to what.
Last week I wrote that it was ridiculous to call addition a “disease like any other.”  I said that if it were, the authorities would not need to keep repeating this mantra.  My goal was not to explain addiction, but to use this as an analogy for the nonsense spouted by some in the mainstream media.
Yet when I read this to my wife, she objected.  A medical sociologist by trade, she defended the practice of calling addictions a disease.  She described the ravages caused by drugs and argued that medical treatment was often the appropriate response.
I, however, was not persuaded.  Although I knew about the death toll created by heroin and cocaine, I persisted in my opinion.  Mine was not, I believed, an uniformed attitude.  Having worked for years as a methadone counselor, it was grounded in painful experience.
Consider alcoholism.  There is no doubt that this condition can be fatal.  An over-use of alcohol destroys the liver and rots out the brain.  This is physiological damage of the worst sort that can indeed benefit from medical treatment.  But does this demonstrate that we are dealing with a disease?
I submit not.  Let me start with a pair of analogies.  If a person swallows a bottle of poison, is she sick?  Going to a hospital to get her stomach pumped out is a good idea, but was she ill.  Isn’t it more accurate to describe her as having injured herself and then required assistance in mending this wound?
Wouldn’t the same be true if a man had driven a nail through his foot with a hammer?  Suppose this was an accident.  Would that convert the damage he had done into an illness?  No doubt antiseptics would reduce the possibility of a subsequent infection, but should this later development be equated with his original mishap?
The point is that non-medical factors can create the need for medical interventions.  Not only diseases, but other causes generate physiological damage that responds to physiological treatment.
So what?  Why make a big deal about this distinction?  The answer has to do with causation and control.  In sociology we talk about the “sick role.”  When a person gets sick, let us say with the flu, he is advised to see a doctor so that he can be cured.  The disease is something that happens to him and the doctor is the person responsible for a cure.
Let us now return to alcoholism.  It is not something we “catch.”  There is no virus that has invaded our system.  People become alcoholics when they indulge in alcohol to excess.  This is something they do, not something that just happens to them.  Initially, they have a degree of control that folks who come down with the flu do not.
But again I ask, so what?  The “what” is that alcoholics are responsible for their condition in a way that those who suffer from the flu are not.  They could have prevented the eventual damage by reducing their consumption.  This was in their hands, not the lap of the Gods.
Medicalizing addiction places the responsibility in the hands of the doctors.  It absolves the sufferers of culpability and therefore lessens the demands that they refrain from dangerous conduct.  We are asked not to judge them for their irresponsibility, when that is exactly what we should do.
Drug addiction of virtually every sort would be easy to prevent if people simply stopped using drugs.  So why don’t we make this demand?  Regarding addiction as a disease is not only wrong—it is misplaced compassion.  Kindness of this variety has been complicit in many deaths.  We call it “enabling.”
Some would argue that addiction is too attractive to be prevented.  I say this is an excuse.  Some cultures, for instance the Jewish and Italian, have low rates of alcoholism.  Social pressures, combined with personal courage, can, in fact, reduce what is being described as an epidemic.  But first, we need to stop mislabeling the problem.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Left-Wing Insurrection

When I teach my Kennesaw State University students why America is a democracy, I begin by explaining our political culture.  This account starts with our tradition of allowing the winners of elections to take over from the losers.  Rather than cancel the results of unfavorable balloting, those formerly in office step aside.
This happened when John Adams went home to Massachusetts so that Thomas Jefferson could assume the presidency.  He did so even though an antagonistic campaign had so alienated the two that they were no longer on speaking terms.  A peaceful transfer also occurred when John Quinsy Adams made way for Andrew Jackson.  These two hated each other, but the out-going president did not seek to undo the in-coming.
How different things were in Iraq.  The Bush administration thought it could engage in nation building, but found it was plowing infertile soil.  The Sunnis and the Shia so detested each other that they refused to cooperate in developing democratic institutions.  This was never part of their heritage.
Sadly democracy seems to be eroding here as well.  Barack Obama made a show of presiding over a peaceful transition of power, but that turned out to be a public relations gambit.  Behind the scenes his people were laying traps for Trump.  They arranged it so that the new president would have to cope with a string of legal and intelligence landmines.
The Congressional Democrats participated in this insurrection as well.  They have slow walked Trump’s cabinet nominees so that he has difficulty organizing his programs.  They have also made accusation after unsubstantiated accusation.  The idea was to create a debilitating scandal before anything got done.
The assault on Attorney General Sessions is a case in point.  He has been accused of conspiring with the Russians and lying about this to a Senate Committee.  Yet all he apparently did was to meet the Russian ambassador once at a public event and speak to him another time in his own office.
Wow!  Evidently it is now considered scandalous for a sitting Senator to conduct senatorial business.  Initially Democrats insisted they had never done any such thing, but subsequent revelations demonstrated otherwise.  Manifestly there are crimes of which only Republicans can be guilty.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of this Ruritania style debacle is that Democrats are said to be playing to their base.  They are stoking up their partisans to later assist in bringing down a conservative government.  In the meantime, the radicals among them keep the pot boiling by protesting everything in sight.
Polls show that whereas Republican and moderate voters approve of most of Trump’s actions Democrats reflexively do not.  Indeed, they applaud the disruptive and disingenuous tactics of their party leaders.  What makes this chilling is that it reveals a disinclination to support democracy itself.
The mask has today fallen and even ordinary liberals have exposed their totalitarian tendencies.  Republicans behaved in no such way when Obama won a second term.  They too were deeply disappointed, yet they did not try to bring down the Temple.
What I therefore recommend is a counter-attack.  If Democrats are keen to appoint a special prosecutor to undermine conservatives, why not appoint one to investigate liberals.  I suggest that they start with Hillary Clinton and proceed to Obama.
This ought not, however, be done immediately.  It would distract from repealing and replacing ObamaCare or enacting tax cuts.  For the present, Trump and his people can go into a rope-a-dope mode.  They can absorb the blows until their adversaries tire themselves out.
One of the things I learned in growing up is that bullies must be resisted.  They like easy targets.  When you fight back, they seek less dangerous victims.  The goal is thus to give them a bloody nose so they think twice about turning the United States into a banana republic.
Liberalism has lost its way.  It has had so many failures that its advocate’s are in a state of shock.  They do not seem to realize how perilous their current methods are.  The rest of us, however, must not be intimidated into submission.  Resisting their attacks is the least we can do.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

A Media Led Coup

Every now and then I see a television commercial for a rehabilitation program that begins by informing us addiction is “a disease like any other.”  This is a manta that has been repeated for decades.  Nonetheless, it keeps being recycled.
Why?  Because it does not work.  And it doesn’t because it is untrue.  Were addiction a disease like any other, they would not have to say so.  No one does this for the measles.  Everyone knows this is a genuine disease without it having to be drummed into our ears.
Although an addiction to heroin or alcohol can cause physiological damage, drug dependency begins with a voluntary action.  A person does not catch these habits the way he catches a cold.  The problem may be real, but the causes are different.
Now we have The New York Times assuring us that if we want the truth about what is going on in our country, we should read their pages.  Were this still true, its editors would not have to say so.  The Times became the newspaper of record not because of its boasts, but because of its excellent reporting.
Those days are gone.  The Times has now become a partisan rag.  Its biases are so profound and ubiquitous that any but the most enthusiastic liberals can see these without trying.  The Times hates Trump and all he stands for.  Indeed, its leadership has detested conservatives for generations.
What is different today is that the paper seeks to lead a coup.  It is in the forefront of libeling our new president and his minions.  There is no balance on its pages.  Editorializing against Trump occurs in almost every story about him and his administration.
Fifty years ago journalists helped drive Richard Nixon from office.  Those remain storied days in the newsroom.  Recounting that historic victory gives even novice reporters hope that they too can exercise authentic political power.  Since most are liberals, they believe this would elevate them to heroic status.
The editors of the Washington Post harbor similar aspirations.  They have recently changed their masthead so that it includes the phrase “democracy dies in darkness.”  Apparently they believe that their own reporting provides the sunshine needed to disinfect a corrupt government.
This might be possible were these folks not themselves corrupt.  If they were the neutral watchdogs they claim, they could help keep the politicians honest.  Unfortunately, when they distort what one side does, while ignoring the machinations of the other, they are complicit in supporting demagoguery.
Shining a light in only one direction does not dispel darkness.  I am reminded of the joke about the man who searched for his lost pocket change under a street lamp, not because he dropped it there, but because the light was brighter.  The point is, we often see only what we are looking for.
Nor have the major television networks refrained from tendentious reporting.  They too have joined in the effort to dislodge a despised chief executive.  With nearly ninety percent of their coverage of the Trump administration negative, they are scarcely balanced in their approach.
When I was in junior high school, we were given civics lessons.  The goal was to teach us how to participate in a democratic society.  Presumably if we knew what was going on, we would make better decisions about public policy.
The same goes for a free press.  If it is honest and fair, it can promote rational and even-handed politics.  But if it is not, it does the opposite.  Propaganda is propaganda whether the government or private companies control it.  Incomplete and distorted stories always encourage shoddy thinking and dangerous dogmas.
Once journalists sought to be professionals.  They wanted to be respected for their integrity and diligence.  No more!  Now they want to be crusaders who rescue ordinary Americans from their ignorance and greed.
This ambition might make a positive contribution if these folks were honest and balanced.  Yet too many are not.  In their self-satisfied preconceptions, they smugly hide the truth while promulgating lies.  If they believe that this will reform our society, they are badly mistaken.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University