Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Liberte, Egalitie…

with 9 comments

In a way, it’s odd to be talking about this when the post I’m mapping out to start the second phase of “places where a resurgence of the liberal arts education seems to have led to a society-wide rise in moral standards” is largely bound up with just this conflict between liberty and security, and therefore almost necessarily between individualism and unity.

And I am, you know, what I am.  I am not the kind of perso who “fits” very well pretty much anywhere–to the point where I sometimes think I subconsciously react against any and all attempts to allow me to fit by getting very prickly.  I’m not a Republican or a Democrat.  I’m not a liberal or a conservative.  I’m even an introvert or an extrovert depending on where I am and what I’m doing.

And I have been, over the course of my life, on the receiving end of several attempts to fix me.  I suppose it was a piece of good luck that I landed in school only at the very beginning of the craze for “diagnosing” children with all kinds of “disorders” if they didn’t conform to what everybody else thought they should be doing in school.

Even at the very beginning, though, there was a fair amount of clucking about my being “unbalanced” (all she ever wants to do is read and write–she needs to do some sports and get out and have fun) and a lot of consternation about the fact that I would not only challenge teachers, but refuse to back down.

And I admit to being a little astonished that my own generation, which was so militantly opposed to conformity in principle for much of its youth, now seems to revel in a system whose entire purpose it to impose conformity by any means necessary.

Because, you know, that’s what this is.

All of it–from seat belt laws to freshman orientation “diversity training’ to the labeling of any diversion from a narrowly defined “normality” a “disorder” to be medicated–is a systemic attempt to impose universal conformity by force.

We talk a lot about diversity, but it’s really the last thing we want.  We are required to think alike in all things deemed important–and even where we’re encouraged to find our “individual voices,” we’re only encouraged as long as those voices produce the generally accpeted platitudes.

Any real diversity–a black guy who is opposed to affirmative action, a woman who thinks sexual harrassment law is unjust to men,  a Latina who wants to stop illegal immigration–and the system begins to give evidence of being about to pop an aneurism.

We’re not even subtle about it. 

It’s what gets me about the nature of the climate change debate.

Forget, for a moment, about the specifics of the science, and look at the argument as it tends to be presented.

What is that argument?  “A consensus of scientists…”

This is the ad populam fallacy.  It amounts to saying “it’s true because everybody says so!”

And no, the status of scientists as “experts” does not change the nature of that argument.  Stampeding experts have been wrong before.  They’ve been wrong often. 

The mere fact that the majority of scientists accepts conclusion X does not in and of itself make conclusion X true.

We do everything by consensus these days, and it’s really frightening.  And we have far less tolerance for real diversity than we had in the Fifties.  We are determined not only that we will all think alike–smoking it bad, helmets increase safety when riding a motorcycle, the only possible reason for the differences in test scores among racial groups is that the test itself is racist, killing off old people when they fall deeply into illness or dementia is a kindness, sexual orientations include only those kinds of sex we approve of–but that we have the right and duty to legislate in any case where it appears we don’t.

Or, better yet, we’re so sure that our way is the only way that we think we have a right and duty to impose our will even in the absence of law, under the guise of “protecting children,” for instance, or on the assumption that anybody who disagrees with us must be either stupid or mentally ill.

It’s this ultimate belief that there is Only One Right Way and that any dissent from that way is Mental Illness or Stupidity that makes it possible for the OWS people to claim that they “are the 99%” 

Are they, really?  Is it really the case that 99% of the people in the country agree with them?

There are certainly some points of agreement–the Tea Party is just as determined to “do something” about rogue bankers and banks too big to fail–but my guess is that on a lot of the issues they have only a small minority of their fellow citizens on their side.

On those issues, though, they’re perceived to be on the “right” (meaning conformist) side–and therefore the press is about how legitimate they are, not about how they’re too stupid to know their own interests or are being manipulated behind the scenes by sinister forces.

The Mental Illness ploy is particularly vicious, because it circumvents the usual American resistance to the imposition of conformity–a Mentally Ill person is not really making the choices he’s making; he has no control of those choices.  And since he has no control, he cannot be said to be choosing.  Therefore, we can interfere with and prevent him from making this bogus “choice.”

It’s a free country for those of us who are Mentally Well, but the Mentally Ill are in the grip of compulsions outside their control, and they cannot even be said to be capable of freedom until they’ve received “treatment.”

And we’ll know when they’re fully functioning adults again–because then they’ll make the same choices and think the same things that we do.

In pursuit of total conformity, we have turned out schools and even our doctors’ offices into mentally therapeutic watch zones.   “Mandatory reporter” laws mean it is dangerous to the point of lunacy not to turn in the kid and/or his parents if there is anything at all that looks odd about him.  After all, to report and be wrong only harms the child (or the old person) and his family.  Not to report will get your license taken away.

And watch that get a lot worse in the wake of the Penn State thing, where an honorable and accomplished man (Paterno, now) who did absolutely everything right, ended up getting fired in disgrace anyway.

(And yes, Paterno did everything right.  He was told a story by a colleague about abuse and he reported that story to the Penn State administration, who were the people charged with bringing in the police.   The person who actually witnessed the absue has not been fired.  As far as I can tell, Paterno simply had the bad luck to be the most famous person in the vicinity of the problem.)

I’ve made myself thoroughly depressed, I think.

So I’ll go off and actually get some work done.

Written by janeh

November 14th, 2011 at 9:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses to 'Liberte, Egalitie…'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Liberte, Egalitie…'.

  1. It’s hard to argue about any of this. I think something must be hardwired in our psyches, something that drives us to want to be part of the group and for everyone else to be part of the group as well. Some of us have less of this instinct than others – like Jane, I never quite seemed to fit the expectations of some adults in my life, especially in school – and it certainly fits very badly with a society which values individuality so highly as ours does. That’s probably why there’s such a disconnect in the thinking of people who strongly promote free choice in all kinds of things – sex, child-rearing methods, euthanasia – EXCEPT of course when it conflicts some other belief. I suppose all humans are inconsistant and incoherant to some degree, but that extreme was what kept me very much on the fringe of various groups and movements when I was a teenager. I’d get so far, ask ‘But if X is true, wouldn’t it meant that…..’ and get nothing but ‘Of course not! It’s obvious! It’s one reason why I so strongly dislike groups assuming to speak for me, like people claiming only certain ideas or policies are ‘pro-woman’ or that ‘99%’ (which presumably includes me) believe this or that.

    As for Paterno – it hadn’t quite registered with me that Paterno had passed on a report, which of course means he didn’t have first-hand knowledge. And his job wasn’t investigation. That matters, when determining culpability.

    A local pharmacist will probably go to prison for drug dealing. A friend (a lawyer, who should know better!) said that the local professional association should have taken action earlier, when she complained to them. It turns out that she was unwilling to actually sign a complaint against her friend, and apparently expected them to take action on the basis of a single bit of gossip from someone who wasn’t willing to put her name to something. I’d hate to be investigated on such flimsy grounds!


    14 Nov 11 at 10:31 am

  2. Jane? With you on the drive to conformity with dissent as mental illness, backed up by snitches and block wardens. Utterly baffled by why you seem to feel this is odd for our generation.

    It’s actually exactly what I would have expected out of the Weather Underground, the SDS, the Berkely Free Speech Movement, the ROTC bans and the two most prominent Sixties symbols–“Peace” signs and photos of Castro’s top executionaer so we all knew exactly what sort of peace was intended. Resistance to the Movement was mental illness even then–something to be cured. The F Scale is a little early, but the Movement took it very much to heart. Before they became stock and real estate salesmen–or politicians–the loudest mouths of the Baby Boom were continually telling us how much more “advanced” Russia, China and Cuba were, and those model states had already decreed that dissent was mental illness.

    Nothing here that Ayn Rand didn’t warn against–or Bill Buckley, come to that. The hippies have won, and the state they have created was at least as predictable from its origins as the Gulag was from the Bolsheviks. Now we’re dealing with the consequences. The good news is that this Rube Goldberg totalitarianism can’t last much more than a generation. The bad news is that it will see me out.

    But “astonishing?” Nah.


    14 Nov 11 at 7:15 pm

  3. michaelwfisher@cox.net

    16 Nov 11 at 7:04 pm

  4. Not coincidentally, the period during which the poor made gains relative to the rich coincides with the interlude between the removal of children from the labor market and the mass movement of women into the labor market.


    16 Nov 11 at 7:21 pm

  5. I’d have to question ‘to sustain household spending’. I’d say women moved into the workforce to increase spending and improve their standard of living, not to merely sustain the status quo. The same reasons explain a LOT of increasing debt load. And of course, there were other reasons to move into the workforce – self-fulfillment, concern that a husband might not be able to suport the family alone – earlier, because of death or disability, but of course, later marriage breakdown meant it was ever more important for a woman to be employed or employable.

    I don’t know enough about the figures to really comment on the graphs themselves, I only know that it’s really tricky to get good solid comparisons across time. But I can do word use and comments on claims about cause and effect!

    abgrund, I’m not sure what you’re saying. Do you have some dates about the period(s) you’re talking about? Are you claiming cause and effect – and if so, what about the prosperity following the plague epidemics in the Middle Ages? In that case prosperity wasn’t due to changes in the roles of women or children.


    16 Nov 11 at 8:17 pm

  6. Correlation causation is always tricky when you can’t do experiments.


    Removal of children from the workforce coincided with other laws strengthing the position of workers, such as unions and a 40 hour work week and Worker’s Compensation programs.

    The entry of women into the work force presents a more challenging problem. Did the relative gains stagnate because women entered the work force, or were women entering the workforce because their husbands incomes had already stagnated, so the only way to increase family income was for them to enter the workforce — at, one thinks obviously, entry level jobs?


    16 Nov 11 at 9:13 pm

  7. I’m inclined to think the former, although I don’t have figures on woman employment. When economic shocks occurred in the post-war era, recovery was prompt and complete. The recession of the early Seventies was the first since the social changes of the Sixties, and the economy has never fully recovered. Of course there was a surge of Baby Boomers entering the job market at around this time, and as you say we can’t do experiments.

    The central fact, though, remains: it now takes two working parents to support a family, whereas one sufficed only a couple of generations ago.


    16 Nov 11 at 9:40 pm

  8. I’m not sure when children were “removed from the workforce” here in Oz. They never were entirely. Few if any kids do paper runs these days, but I’m sure farm families still utilise as much of their kids’ sparetime and capacity for work as they ever did, subject to laws about schooling. Perhaps they don’t do as much dangerous work as we did as kids, but that probably has more to do with advancing technology than anything else.

    I’m also not sure about the statement that “it now takes two working parents to support a family, whereas one sufficed only a couple of generations ago”. It takes a certain minimum family income to do that, but not necessarily the combined incomes of wo working parents. Many women work outside the home as much or more for their own satisfaction as a need for the extra money. Once a certain standard of living is reached, the availability of more money buys luxuries more than necessities.

    The subjective perception of “needs” versus “wants” varies dramatically from one generation to the next.


    16 Nov 11 at 11:38 pm

  9. Need vs want varies even within a generation – even within a family! My parent’s generation, especially in my province, which was hit hard, grew up during and just after the Depression in what would now be considered poverty. My mother says they never felt poor because they had everything they needed – but when she’s reminiscing about the beautiful clothing her mother made, I know that not only was she one of the first people and the first woman from her hometown to go to university, she scrimped and saved out of her allowance while at university to buy the first store-bought dress she had ever owned. She and my father brought us up in much the same style (minus the homemade clothing, my mother hated sewing! And things weren’t so economically tight that she couldn’t afford to buy clothing.). We got lots of toys, but not necessarily the newest or most expensive. We had at most two winter outer garments – one for Sundays and parties, one for everyday. Some people from the same generation – even the same family! – thought they had been terribly deprived as children and were determined that their children should lack for nothing – their kids had all the most expensive toys, vast quantities of expensive clothing, the latest electronics, the most expensive food – regardless of whether it could be paid for with cash or needed the use of an already overburdened credit card. Different families’ ideas of ‘necessities’ varied a lot!

    I remember when a friend and her husband moved to a new position with an employer that paid for such things in a way no one I worked for ever did! I was rather amused to find out that one of the things the employer considered essential and would therefore pay for was cable TV connection fees. That must have been 30 years ago. I finally broke down a month or so ago and got my first cable TV (and, incidentally, high-speed internet) package. I’m enjoying it a lot, but I still consider it a luxury and not an essential! An expensive luxury, too, although I have a basic package. I guess early training dies hard!


    17 Nov 11 at 8:11 am

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 253 access attempts in the last 7 days.