Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Really Sane People
We are in a bad situation, but we have the resources to fix it. Not without some pain, true, but we can do what we need to do. If we started trying to chip away at our problems instead of reaching for pie-in-the-sky solutions, we'd make progress very quickly.
But to do that we need perspective and information. One thing reading bloggers has done for me is to remind me that there is a huge reservoir of competence, moderation and sanity in the people of the US. The problem, as I see it, is that the political strata of our society is not responsive to that core population. There are many good politicians, but they are not winning the day. The press doesn't like to print what they have to say, for one thing. If I only read the mainstream press, watched television and went to the movies, I would think our society is on the verge of collapse. But it isn't. One way or another, the end to this political facade is coming soon.
The Anchoress has taken a stunning look at some possible cultural reasons for this odd situation. This is a must-read piece which defies every stereotype you'll ever read in the press and in academia. Teaser:
For more and more people in this country politics and religion have become enormously commingled. And I’m not only talking about Evangelical Christians on the right. The secular humanists have their own “religion” as do those who worship at the altar of “political correctness” which clearly has its own list of commandments and sins.Howard Dean seems to be talking about the evil opposition (Republicans, not terrorists who want to kill everyone, Muslim or otherwise, who doesn't agree with them) all the time. This has spread.
I think a great deal of the blame for this phenomena can also be traced to two bodies: the Christian Coalition of the 1980s and the Clintonistas of the 1990’s. The Christian Coalition, in looking to put prayer back in schools and teach creationism - among other things - began to put politics and morality together, but in a limited way, but I know that many on the left found even those limits to be threatening and troubling, because I was on the left, and I was finding it threatening and troubling.
The Clintons however stepped it up a notch; they were the first and only politicos I ever heard of, in all my years of watching politics, who talked about their opposition not as men and women with differing views but as “evil” people with “morally evil” views. If you did not agree with them, you were suspect; you were evil.
It is destructive. It is doing terrible things to our country, all of this, because it is obscuring reason and creating a very, very narrow sliver of space in which politicians may operate - which serves the electorate not at all. And it’s creating these scientific reports that appear - on the surface - to mean and measure something. In fact, the report misses the point. It’s not about politics. It’s about what you believe - and these days that means if it’s about politics, it’s about faith.
Our political dialogue is lacking because it's unreasoned and absolutist. Faiths that work the same way don't last either - they end up in Jonestown type situations. When the precepts of faith are related to tactics and strategies for daily living in positive ways, great religions develop. It's not listening to "God is love" that makes a religion great - it's the body of teaching that puts across the idea that mirroring that love and patience shown to us by God in our own lives to other people will work in practice and can be done.
It's the disconnect between rhetoric and political action that is causing this disfunctional political dialogue. That disconnect will not end until the electorate insists that it does.
Why hasn't the electorate insisted that it end already? Well, there's been a lot of double-talk going on. People are busy trying to deal with their own lives and have thought that politicians are probably working in good faith to do the best they can. That's part of the problem. Another part of the problem might be that the elites are quietly and persistently pushing the doctrine of expertism, and teaching people not to trust their own minds and hearts. "Let us drive," we are told by experts with solemn faces, even while the experts are driving us right off a cliff. This is because politicized experts are driven by politics more than their expertise. There are experts out there, but they are terribly inconvenient people who don't fit into campaign rhetoric and support a particular agenda, so they do not get a public hearing.
Dr. Melissa Clouthier's excellent post "Call Me Crazy" does a beautiful job explaining how this works in terms of the psychiatrist culture:
Am I like totally mental? If my clients are any indication, yes. Psychopathology is positively in vogue. Normal is O-U-T!The doc goes on to discuss how her clients are generally people dealing with real problems causing overwhelming stresses. They are, in short, normal people in difficult circumstances who are reacting to those circumstances pretty normally. But they must have a diagnosis and a syndrome, which has the effect of restating their normalcy into an abnormal problem. And why must they have a diagnosis of abnormality? Well, Shrinkwrapped explains that in a post about how patients have become clients. He points out:
Everyone, it seems, is crazy these days.
"How often do you see psychotics?" I aked a Psychiatrist friend of mine.
"None really," he said.
"In all your twenty five years in the profession you haven't seen a psychotic?" I pressed.
"Not since working outside the mental institution," he said.
Hmmmmm..... Me neither.
The end result is more people taking drugs, more social workers pushed into agencies that devote themselves to the pursuit of entitlements (any time you see a clinic which proclaims "health care is a right, not a privilege", beware of the entitlement mentality), and more pressure to expand the pool of people, called clients and consumers, who increasingly look outside of themselves for opportunities to change how they feel.Which is hardly the point of psychotherapy, is it? If you define shock and grief at the loss of a child as abnormal, you are depriving the "client" of control over his or her life. Of course, you can't get insurance reimbursements for normal people, so the entire industry is driven into the recasting of people who need help as people who are abnormal. If a person is merely experiencing shock and grief because their spouse was killed in a car accident, the insurance answer is to hand them Prozac and send them out the door. They have to have developed an abnormal condition to merit a little human help.
But this is part of a larger way of seeing life. If you look at our political rhetoric, it appears that even natural disasters now have to be someone's fault. All problems are seen as an evil plot by someone for some nefarious purpose, instead of the natural incidents of life. In the process we recast the slings and arrows of fortune into overwhelming monsters that are about to overtake us.
We don't have hurricanes or floods any more that strike those who have built in vulnerable areas; we have the first indications that global warming is about to kill us all. We don't have earthquakes; we have the results of plots by oil exploration companies to destroy the world or Gaia is getting angry and throwing off pestilent humanity. We don't have criminals who disrespect other people's rights; we have victims of a cold and uncaring society. We don't have children who are not studying hard in our schools; we have poor teachers who are not motivating them. We don't have crooked or confused politicians; we have politicians who are part of a vast plot against the people. Misfortune and bad behavior become only symptoms of an entire conspiracy against us.
The commonality in all of these formulations is that every problem is an unfair disaster attributed to someone's willful wrongdoing, and every small problem can't be attacked by itself. Instead it must be solved by solving a huge problem which probably does not exist at all. What we can do to modify our circumstances is ignored; instead our attention is redirected to factors that we cannot individually affect. In the process, we are changed into stunned victims of inexorable and uncontrollable forces rather than functional individuals dealing with real problems as best we can. We need rescue, and so we must vote for Politician X of Party Y to set the entire forces of government to fight for us, because we cannot fight for ourselves. Look at the vastness of the enemy!
And somehow, no matter how often we vote for Politician X of Party Y, the problems never get addressed. But we are assured that it's not our fault, at least. We are encouraged on to more passion in the struggle against the forces of darkness conspiring against us. Electing just a few more politicians from Party Y, we are told, will shift the balance of power to the forces of good. And stem cells! Never forget stem cells. They will save us; they will keep us young, beautiful and preserved in amber forever. No need to plan for your funeral or buy life insurance - you need federal money for stem cell research.
We cannot improve our circumstances until we can admit a few basic propositions about being human:
- Real problems can be solved; fake problems cannot.
- You cannot learn without studying, and no one can make you study.
- You cannot earn without working, and no one can make you work.
- Successful people and successful cultures seek out the elements of their circumstances that can be changed for the better rather than constructing world views in which nothing is modifiable by their own direct action.
- Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result is insane.
- Building on flood plains means that you have to expect floods.
- Electing politicians who insist upon recasting problems that can be broken down and solved individually as one huge amorphous problem that requires a radical, absolutist solution will achieve nothing. If we keep doing this, we will be left with nothing, and it will be our own dumb fault.
- SC&A is absolutely accurate in his harrowing descriptions of the radical Islamic agenda, but its apocalyptic vision is no different in nature than the visions the absolutists in our own society are selling. We are not going to counter this by developing the same culture but giving it a different name.
Revolution is the answer to it all. After the revolution, we will no longer have to deal with floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and disease.
Just to speed up the process, Pedro - could you possibly explain how revolution is going to eliminate floods, hurricanes earthquakes and disease?
Is it stem cells? I note that stem cells are an ongoing fixation at Common Dreams.
You have written something provoking here. There are points that I agree with, and those I would counter- with both yours and Anchoress blog on this topic.
The psycho tie-in is this morning the news reported on "the army of grief counselors" who have descended on the school to psychotherapize all the students.
Makes you wonder how humans survived all those millenia of 90% infant mortality rates, every disease being fatal, and less-than-Third-World conditions without "an army of psychotherapists"...
Remember: Embryonic stem cells mean Free Ice Cream for Everybody!
A bit more seriously, has anyone here read Orson Scott Card's Writing Science-Fiction and Fantasy (Writers Digest Books, nonfiction)?
In it, he uses his fantasy novel Hart's Hope as a case study of developing a fantasy universe; of interest to the stem-cell debate is the magic system of the novel.
In Hart's Hope Magic is empowered by life-force; the more life-force you can tap (from yourself or from another), the more powerful your magical casting will be. The absolute maximum of life-force you can tap is to ritually kill an infant, as they have the most unlived life potential ahead of them; this is how the novel's main Bad Guy (an evil queen, actually) sets herself up as the local Sauron.
It seems Embryonic Stem-Cell Activists (TM) have either read Hart's Hope and didn't realize it was fiction, or they've come to the same Magickal conclusions. Perfect Health and Immortality ("young, beautiful and preserved in amber forever") is obviously a very heavy-duty magickal working, and under Hart's Hope magic would require even more unlived life-force potential than even an infant could provide.
And who (or what) has more unlived life-force potential than an infant but a fetus?
(And they say used to say I was living in a fantasy world...)
More significantly, adult stem cells seem to be a lot SAFER, according to the research I've read. The incidence of wild reactions with the use of embryonic stem cells is frightening. That's one type of trial I would never, ever be a part of. Before I even got to consider ethical issues the safety issues would stop me.
If I could only remember where I read this abstract.... It was extremely preliminary, but it turns out that your own stem cells do circulate and perhaps do serve something of the same function in a far safer way. There are some pretty interesting correlative studies showing that traumas (requiring would repair) may boost the stem cells and perhaps induce accelerated healing in the nervous system.
So, for example, in France some doctors have reported success treating certain types of heart disease by surgically punching tiny holes in heart muscle.
I think certain types of meditation and prayer do the same thing. Also exercise and a cheerful attitude!
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