Cancel Culture Wants to Threaten You Into Silence. Hear Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz is a veritable poster child for the values of the democratic party. At least the Democratic part of the past. A long time member of the ACLU that has fought for civil rights and free speech. He has recently been excommunicated by his group of friends for daring to stand up for the rights of unapproved people. In this podcast he describes listening and mutual learning from debates with political opponents. You may not agree with his principals, but Dershowitz is admirably a man of principal. and it has cost him. 

If you want to gain a greater understanding of the current state of cancel culture listen to this brief podcast interview from First Things.    What stands out to me is that you can be cancelled not simply for advocating unapproved ideas, but for suggesting that people should be treated respectfully.   Quite a few times I have heard the victims of cancel culture say that they are contacted by numerous people that say they agree, but that they are unwilling to speak up publicly for fear of being blacklisted.  Cancel culture thrives when the rest of us stay silent and give into fear. 

All of this seems to be an expression of the idea of “Lenin think.” He views the world as a zero sum game. You are either 100% in agreement or you are a threat. If you disagree 1% with Lenin, you are siding with the enemy and must be destroyed.  Gary Saul Morson explains “Leninthink” here. 

Learning from Monsters How NOT to Think.

I love finding out about an author or resource that leads to the discovery of other treasures. And so, I came across an old Interview with Gary Saul Morson and was really interested in what he has learned from years of studying and teaching Russian literature. You can listen to that interview here. 

I started going down the rabbit hole of some of his interviews and articles and came across this one called Leninthink. 

You don’t have to have read Lenin to be influenced by him. This article by an expert in Russian literature and history lays out some important things for us to consider in our age of polarization and political pragmatism.  You do NOT want to think and live like Lenin.

This is a longer and rigorous essay. But it is worth reading, probably twice. It is full of original source quotes and historical context. The point is to learn from history so we do not repeat it. 

Among the most interesting elements that I found most relevant for us:

Considering life a zero sum game. Every transaction is either an act of oppression or being oppressed.

That the slightest disagreement from the party line is absolute betrayal. There is no middle ground.

Rejection of any morality or limits against the power of the party/state. They are above accountability. Viewing morality as nothing more than an expression of class (we might say race/sex/gender) struggle.

Promising to maintain the civil rights of the people as long as they do not do anything we disagree with. e.g. You have freedom of speech as long as you don’t say anything we do not like.

Arriving at conclusions on issues, opinions, and incidents without the need for facts or evidence. Having a conclusion beforehand. Insisting you don’t need to understand an opposing view before you denounce it.

Radically changing facts about history or even the position of the party while refusing to acknowledge that any change has taken place.

People eagerly confessing to crimes they have not committed to support the party.

Denouncing family members and friends as an expression of party loyalty.

Justifying any means to advance the cause, even those considered immoral, and that you would condemn others for using. 

Slow Motion Suicide in San Francisco

This may be one of the most important news articles to read this week. What makes this powerful as an expose, is that it comes from an author that is politically liberal, and one that argues for the decriminalization of drugs.  There is much I do not agree with. What is valuable is to see the full flower of a demonic political ideology that is literally killing people. 

“Over the past two years, more than 1,360 people have died from drug overdoses in San Francisco. That is more than double the number who have died from Covid…

…The people in charge of homelessness and addiction want to bully people into giving up public streets and parks. They want to take your tax money and let your suffering neighbors die gentle, stoned deaths while they watch and call it justice. They think the mothers who want to get their sons out of the jaws of death are suspect. (It’s conservative to want your kid to live, don’t you know?) The city would like a little privacy please. Fentanyl use is an intimate moment between our officials and our addicts…

…The result is that the city is spending roughly $100,000 per year per homeless person, or over $1 billion annually, to maintain a large, unemployed, and very sick addict population in San Francisco’s public squares at the cost of human life and the loss of peace, walkability and livability—the very qualities that have long attracted so many to San Francisco…

Read the whole article hear

Disordered Desires

One of the most important realizations about humanity in general, and about ourselves is that many of our desires are not only bad, they are bad for us. We love to hear gossip, to avoid taking a costly stand for the truth, to see the misfortune of those we resent. Like children we consume to the point of immoderation, and our own sickness. The list of examples is as long as there are people.  The voices of our culture want us believe that the path to true happiness  is unrestrained indulgence.  Sadly, our longings are so disordered that these are the lies we want to believe.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Sterilization

This article is from Bari Weiss’ substack My thoughts on the article below.

It is an important snap shot of our current cultural moment. It is sad to me and feels a little hopeless.  This article is NOT really about children. It is about a belief system. This is what happens when you trust secularism to describe and fix your problems. It doesn’t work. The result is an existential hopelessness that leads us to throw up our hands and bury ourselves in meaningless pleasures. This conversation is not actually about children.  It is about an attempt to redefine what it means to be human.

A couple of things come to mind:

The world is really good at evangelism and discipleship. We have a generation that has completely adopted the dogma that has been given to them. And they can repeat the words and phrases handed to them like good disciples.    There is deep irony in all of this. We have a generation sincerely convinced they are victims even though we live in one of the most prosperous and egalitarian moments in history.  There is a cultural and political machine that feeds our victim complex.  And we love it. It makes us feel important.

Historically we mock and despise members of religious cults.  How can they continue to trust the leaders that make so many false predictions? That  gullibility is alive in a generation that gives unfailing trust to the prophets of the climate apocalypse. And that in spite of decades of false predictions.  It is truly impressive. The space ship has not arrived, yet has not weakened their credibility.  “Ideas have consequences, and some ideas have victims.”  Clearly, this apocalyptic vision has consequences. 

For me, I believe the situation is far worse and yet far more hopeful. Why? Because I don’t believe that humans can be the problem and the solution at the same time. Humans are certainly at the heart of the problem, but the answer is outside of our resources or wisdom. My hope is in a king that loves and redeems difficult and demanding humans, even miserable children and self-absorbed adults. He died and rose from the dead and is bringing an everlasting kingdom.

Trauma isn’t the explanation for everything

I am getting weary of hearing that “trauma” is the explanation for everything.


Periodically the world, and the church, swallows a new perspective that promises to answer all of our problems, explain why our programs aren’t working, and show the way to health and happiness. The winds of these fads blow every 5 to 10 years, sometimes two or three rolling in and out at once. It is not that these topics have no value at all. Sometimes they have some important things to teach us. But they can take on a collective inertia, that leads to a blinding group think. Once these social science fads become popular, they are often associated with weak or shoddy science, a host of buzz words, careless definitions, unwarranted implications, a new army of “experts” to show us the way, and dog pile of lab coats pushing shoddy research that resists any criticism. 

Sadly, in the church this can result in a new hermeneutic that uncritically reads these ideas back onto scripture. I was not surprised to see see an article in Christianity Today calling for “trauma-informed bible reading”. I won’t be surprised if there is a whole study bible devoted to the idea somewhere in the pipeline.


I have been recently reading the book “The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills” by Jesse Singal. The author explains in detail the ways in which many of these social science trends (e.g. the self esteem movement, the implicit association test, positive thinking, the judicial concept of super-predators, etc) have persisted throughout the last 30-40 years in spite of being scientifically discredited. It feels like the current emphasis on trauma is in danger of following suit. I don’t think I had heard about experts on “trauma” before 5 years ago. But recently I seem to hear about them every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I am sure that understanding trauma is important, but also pretty sure that it is not the silver bullet to explain all our unhappiness and insecurities.  When ideas like this become popular there is a greater need for healthy skepticism.

By the way, the author is a science writer for the New York Times. He is obviously really smart, and is politically on the left. He is really adept at pointing out the bad judgment of many of the authors tied to these bad ideas, but he seems unaware of the force of his own political and philosophical assumptions about the world. 

Neil Postman and Twitter

I started re-reading Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” and the big idea is the the medium of television actually drives and trivializes our entire cultural conversation. The medium always affects the message. He wrote that 30+ years ago. I think we need to revisit this in terms of social media, especially the short form of Twitter, and the democratizing of the video sound bite with Tiktok, etc. we are losing the ability to think deeply, to communicate, to listen long to one another.

Back in 1985, Postman wrote that the hairdresser an image consultant had replaced the speech writer for our national leaders. I wonder what he would say today? and since the average person now has the potential for an international audience, what would he say to the rest of us? It definitely seems image management is more important than truth and content.

Sad Radicals – Quillette

Dang. This is one of the most insightful essays I read this month. It offers some serious insight into the mindset of members of current radical groups such as the Anarchists (the author is a former deep member of one of these anarchist communities). Since this was written about 18 months ago I think it has a peculiar relevance to our current national conversation. I don’t agree with all the conclusions but there are some really powerful insights here. Check out these choice 3 paragraphs.
 
“There is an overdeveloped muscle in radicalism: the critical reflex. It is able to find oppression behind any mundanity. Where does this critical reflex come from? French philosopher Paul Ricœur famously coined the term “school of suspicion” to describe Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud’s drive to uncover repressed meaning in text and society. Today’s radicals have inherited this drive by way of Foucault and other Marxo- Nietzscheans.
 
“As radicals, we lived in what I call a paradigm of suspicion, one of the malignant ideas that emerge as a result of intellectual in-breeding. We inherited familial neuroses and saw insidious oppression and exploitation in all social relationships, stifling our ability to relate to others or ourselves without cynicism. Activists anxiously pore over interactions, looking for ways in which the mundane conceals domination. To see every interaction as containing hidden violence is to become a permanent victim, because if all you are is a nail, everything looks like a hammer.
 
“The paradigm of suspicion leaves the radical exhausted and misanthropic, because any action or statement can be shown with sufficient effort to hide privilege, a microaggression, or unconscious bias. Quoted in JM, the anarchist professor Richard Day proposes “infinite responsibility”: “we can never allow ourselves to think that we are ‘done,’ that we have identified all of the sites, structures, and processes of oppression ‘out there’ or ‘in here,’ inside our own individual and group identities.” Infinite responsibility means infinite guilt, a kind of Christianity without salvation: to see power in every interaction is to see sin in every interaction. All that the activist can offer to absolve herself is Sisyphean effort until burnout. Eady’s summarization is simpler: “Everything is problematic.”
 
The larger article is intellectually challenging to read and understand but offers some insights about radicals that are significant.
  • What are some of the burning questions that drive people to this kind of radicalism?
  • How do these groups function like religious fundamentalists?
  • Why are they doomed to such misery and failure? And how does that offer inroads for the hope of the gospel of Christ?

 

Source: Sad Radicals – Quillette

Coronavirus Response: Sweden Has Avoided Isolation and Economic Ruin

I believe that the Covid outbreak is serious. It’s not just the flu and I am really sad at all the folks that are dying.  We must be taking action. But the seriousness of the problem doesn’t lend support to whatever drastic action our leaders must be taking. What if we are being asked to do a bunch of stuff that is unproven? What if what we are doing actually makes little to no difference in the outcome? That is what this doctor suggests in his NY Times editorial.  What if what we are doing causes more harm in terms of health and human suffering than it prevents?  We don’t have to look to hard in the history of medicine to see examples of this.

Sweden is not doing the same thing as the US. Read the article below for more details. Are they doing the right thing? Time will tell.  So far they are not worse off than other countries.  Yet almost all the news articles that come up on a google search involve hand-wringing accusations.

I think it will be important to have some places to compare the outcomes. What if Sweden and the handful of American States that have not issued severe lock downs have similar outcomes as the places that chose the nuclear option?  We (globally and in the US) are doing things to address this situation that we have NEVER been done in human history. I think this article in National Review expresses some things well:

“This is, in fact, the first time we have quarantined healthy people rather than quarantining the sick and vulnerable. As Fredrik Erixon, the director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, wrote in The Spectator (U.K.) last week: “The theory of lockdown, after all, is pretty niche, deeply illiberal — and, until now, untested. It’s not Sweden that’s conducting a mass experiment. It’s everyone else.

”We’ve posed these simple questions to many highly trained infectious-disease doctors, epidemiologists, mathematical disease-modelers, and other smart, educated professionals. It turns out that, while you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a person of theft and throw them in jail, you don’t need any actual evidence (much less proof) to put millions of people into a highly invasive and burdensome lockdown with no end in sight and nothing to prevent the lockdown from being reimposed at the whim of public-health officials. Is this rational?” (emphasis mine)

Source: Coronavirus Response: Sweden Has Avoided Isolation and Economic Ruin | National Review

The Ignorant Math of “Saving Just One Life.”

New York governor Cuomo recently spoke and justified his actions in putting the whole state on lock down:  “All this is worth it if saves one life.”  That approach seems laudable and the logic bulletproof. Who wouldn’t want to save a life?  But in reality, this approach is sentimental and displays some ignorance about how the world actually works. Economist Thomas Sowell said, “in the real world there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.”   In the real world, taking major action in one area effects change in other areas. My concern here is not to evaluate the decisions of the governor, but rather this logic, which I believe is dangerous.  Many of his decisions are good and justified. So please don’t hear this as a criticism of the shut down orders. But across the country this kind of thinking is leading some officials to ignore (or justify) the damaging implications of policy decisions as if we are playing a game with a simple scoreboard consisting of coronavirus deaths.

This concept of tradeoffs is fairly obvious in other areas. When the police pursue a deadly criminal in a high speed chase in order to keep the public safe from a dangerous criminal they put the public at risk in other ways (10,000 injuries and 321 fatalities in 2002) Widespread use of mammograms to detect breast cancer has led to an estimated 30% over diagnosis of the cancer, and all the problems that come with that diagnosis.  The real word is not a simple financial ledger with one column measured in coronavirus deaths.  It is more like a teeter totter where moving one side up or down affects the other side. 

As an example, following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001 many Americans opted to drive instead of fly on commercial airlines. The reason was presumably fear. Airplanes can get hijacked. Driving a car would seem to be safer. But it wasn’t.  Use of air travel by Americans fell 12-20% in the year following the attacks, while automobile deaths increased around 1,595.  That number is about half the number that died in the terror attacks. Americans unknowingly embraced the real danger of automobile accidents to avoid the potential danger of terrorist attacks. The tradeoff was there, but not as obvious as those who died in the twin towers. 

In another example this author attempts to track “indirect deaths” from the Japanese earthquake in 2011. “Following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which left more than 18,000 dead or unaccounted for, roughly 3,700 people have been recognized as victims of indirect death, including 2,250 in Fukushima Prefecture, where large numbers of people were forced to move from one evacuation shelter to another due to the radioactive fallout from the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.” The choice to move out of earthquake damaged buildings into shelters took lives as well. 

These kinds of numbers are the domain of public health and epidemiology. However, panic and widespread fear can distort our perceptions of reality. Fear can make us focus on one danger so intensely that we don’t see the speeding car that is about to hit us.

The massive an unprecedented steps we are taking to save lives from the coronavirus may indeed reduce deaths in this one area (and we should pursue that), but we should not be ignorant or indifferent to the impact of our actions.  It may end up that the response to the coronavirus is the largest and most coordinated disaster in US history.  Bringing entire cultural, political, economic, and healthcare ecosystems to a halt will cost lives as well. 

In my estimation this is an important part of the equation that we are not talking about. After listening to a podcast with Dr Marty Makary a public health expert from Johns Hopkins, I was concerned that the tradeoffs were given very little consideration. To be fair, he admitted that half of Americans have less than $400 cash available. This is far less than a person needs to purchase 3 months worth of food (his recommendation) to allow one to shelter in place.  Experts are asking us to deliberately cause one very certain disaster in order to avoid another very scary potential one based on the projections of experts.   We cannot carefully make these decisions without seeing the cost on both sides.   

Here are some areas where there will be a price to pay in lives. I have posed them as questions:

What is the life/health impact of shutting down all nonemergency medical and dental care for months? I worked in EMS as a paramedic in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties from 1995 to 2006. We ran emergency calls at doctor’s offices constantly. People come in for routine care only to find out they had a serious problem. What would happen if we shut down the regular non-emergency healthcare of for the whole nation (330 million people)?   And this is exactly what has already happened in California.  The shelter in place order that was issued affected around 23 counties without a confirmed case of the virus at the time of the order. 

What is the health impact of a potential worldwide depression/recession on personal health insurance, stress, and nutrition?  

What is the health impact of millions people losing their jobs, retirement savings & homes? Especially among the lower income poor and self employed?   This can lead to huge amounts of stress and all the poor outcomes that come with it (addiction, PTSD related to disaster, suicide). 

What is the health impact of people staying away or delaying care from the ER for serious illnesses out of fear of infection? (This has been happening in our town) A person with an infected appendix or gall bladder that waits an additional 12 hours to get help can become much worse off. 

What is the impact on pregnancy stress from our response on maternal and newborn health in pregnancy?  It is known that miscarriages, premature births and neonatal deaths all go up in time of national disaster. This can be related to stress and/or women not getting routine preventive care.  This article discusses the effects after hurricane Sandy.

This 2015 article suggests 4.4% loss of male fetuses (which are more sensitive to stress) following the Taiwan earthquake. 

I want our government officials to take action. But let’s not pretend that the only thing that matters is saving lives from Coronavirus. There is much more going on here.  We need leaders that can see and acknowledge the whole situation, including the devastating impact of their own policies.