Friday, May 03, 2019

Reefer Madness in Reverse: Happy Talk About Pot

Marijuana is safer than alcohol.  No one has ever died from using marijuana.  Legalization of marijuana will allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes and will eliminate the black market.  Marijuana has clear medical benefits.  State regulation of marijuana will guarantee product uniformity and produce significant tax revenue.  Marijuana reduces opioid addiction and crime.  Mental health problems related to marijuana (like psychosis) are overstated and can be explained away without viewing pot as the primary cause.  All these claims, especially those about safety and mental health, are debunked by Alex Berenson’s book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. 

Berenson, a novelist and New York Times journalist, only began this countercultural work after his typically liberal sentiments about marijuana were challenged by his wife, a forensic psychiatrist, who matter-of-factly suggested he read relevant studies on the subject after she observed, to her husband’s surprise, that one of the violent criminals she evaluated in New York was “of course… high” and had “been smoking pot his whole life.”  Berenson’s book was the unexpected and (for marijuana advocates) unwelcome, result of that challenge.
The author’s work begins with one of many horror stories that provide flesh-and-blood corollaries to the statistical data that fill most of its pages and clearly link marijuana (and more specifically the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, THC), to schizophrenia.  In this episode, a 37-year-old mother in Cairns, Australia stabbed eight children to death. Then Raina Thaiday stabbed herself and waited outside her house, ranting.  Not surprisingly, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic. The largely ignored aspect of this case (and others like it) was the connection the judge noted between Thaiday’s use of cannabis since grade 9, and her psychosis: “All the psychiatrists thought that it is likely that it is this long-term use of cannabis that caused the mental illness schizophrenia to emerge.”  This observation was made not in 1936, the year Reefer Madness débuted, but in 2017 by an Australian judge summarizing the opinions of several psychiatrists. 

What Berenson discovered in his exploration of a multitude of studies is that the Australian case is by no means exceptional and corresponds with findings, including prized longitudinal studies, that link marijuana use to psychosis. Reportage of this information, however, is apparently verboten among most American journalists and pundits.  Instead, they prefer to tout the medical benefits of marijuana while ignoring the clearly deleterious effects of THC, a chemical that is more than ten times as prevalent in today’s cannabis as it was in the 1960s.  Case in journalistic point: There is no mention of Thaiday’s long-term marijuana use in Wikipedia’s short article on “Cairns child killings,” though it does say, misleadingly, that “no drugs were found at the crime scene.”  To be scrupulously fair, the article contains a footnote link to the judge’s finding about the defendant’s mental health, and if one reads two-thirds of the way down the long opinion, a hypercurious investigator will discover the judge’s previously mentioned conclusion about cannabis and schizophrenia.  It’s a good illustration of the way bad news about marijuana is typically buried in America’s media.

Berenson observes that the typical playbook for our country’s marijuana advocates (who, as former House Speaker John Boehner illustrates, have now gone corporate) has been to promulgate its medical benefits as a precursor to eventual legalization.  Currently more than sixty percent of Americans have followed that buzzed logic even though “neither cannabis nor THC has ever been shown to work in randomized clinical trials” which, as the author further notes, is “the only reliable way to prove a drug works.” Moreover, what may be marijuana’s most effective pain-relieving component, cannabidiol (CBD), is almost nonexistent in most cannabis today, so “whatever good [it] may do is irrelevant.”
Berenson’s book isn’t remotely close to Reefer Madness 2.0.  That moniker should go to journalistic happy-talk about weed over the last three decades. (For an additional take on the tsunami of misrepresentations, I recommend Ann Coulter’s recent column: “Media Pot Reporting: Just Don’t Call Us Uncool!”)  Berenson’s work never asserts that folks who smoke an occasional joint will likely be jumping out of windows or mutilating their spouses, though he does provide many examples of cannabis-related violence.  Instead, the book is an honest presentation of scientific evidence that shows heavy marijuana use makes developing schizophrenia (which will afflict about one percent of the population) significantly more likely.  The term “heavy” is important since one in five pot smokers, about eight million Americans in 2017, are daily users, whereas only one in fifteen alcohol drinkers consume that product every day. 

In addition, Berenson cites CDC statistics to make clear that marijuana was implicated in at least one thousand deaths between 1999 and 2016, a fact someone should convey to former libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, who put the number at zero.  Even those figures may be understated in view of the fact that in 2014 America’s “emergency rooms saw more than 1.1 million cases that included a diagnosis of marijuana abuse or dependence -- up from fewer than 400,000 in 2006.”  Other studies clearly contradict Senator Cory Booker’s assertion that violent crime fell in states that legalized pot and provide instead clear evidence of a substantial rise in murders, assaults and marijuana-related traffic fatalities.  Finally, the counterintuitive belief that marijuana availability actually reduced opioid addiction in pot-legal states is exposed as a premature, geographically-biased bit of correlation-equals-causation wishful thinking.  

In short, what medical studies and marijuana legalization have clearly shown thus far is that one can expect more pot smokers, more young pot smokers, more heavy pot smokers, more addiction, more crime, a black market filling the demand for more potent and cheaper pot, and a rise in schizophrenia alongside the occasionally grotesque violence associated with that malady.  Berenson, by the way, notes that schizophrenics are five times more likely to engage in violence (and almost twenty times more likely to commit murder) than individuals without that diagnosis, a fact regularly obscured by combining that very dangerous group in the much larger “mentally ill” population.  Berenson also mentions but does not pursue in detail more tentative but quite likely outcomes of increased cannabis use -- a lack of motivation, depression, and long-term cognitive damage.

The fact that much of the medical information contained in Berenson’s book has actually been publicized in Great Britain and digested by the British public accounts for the fact that that country has not seen the precipitous rise in marijuana use that’s occurred recently in the U.S. and Canada.  Nor have the maladies predictably associated with cannabis increased much in Great Britain.  Berenson’s own recommendation for marijuana laws in the U.S. stops at decriminalization and finds the rush to legalization a blind and ignorant leap into a future that’s sure to be the worse for it -- sometimes violently so.  

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is also available on Kindle   

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

UNPLANNED: The movie Planned Parenthood doesn't want you to see

In New York City, the One World Trade Center was lit up pink to celebrate the state's new abortion-till-birth legislation — a moral travesty that wouldn't be tolerated, much less fêted, if the movie Unplanned were given the same publicity and distribution as a typical Hollywood film.  But just as evildoers seek the night to hide their violence, so also Planned Parenthood and its fervent supporters make every effort to conceal the true nature of their enterprise — a "procedure" whose soul-wrenching character it conceals not only from "clients," but also from seasoned staff members who can work for years without witnessing the live ultrasound-guided reality the organization promotes with infomercial zeal.

The very first scene of Unplanned depicts just such an abortion witnessed by the film's true-to-life protagonist, Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher), who by that time had become the director of Planned Parenthood's clinic in Bryan, Texas.  Viewing the "evacuation" of a "fetus" from his mother's womb in real time was the final crack in the emotional dam of this prominent and passionate "right to choose" advocate.  Johnson's flashback journey from inherited pro-life sentiments to that final moment of moral crisis constitutes the bulk of this well crafted drama.  It's a narrative that the "culture of death" hopes to bury — as indicated by the numerous advertising boycotts and predictably negative reviews the film has received.  After all, what could be more disconcerting to a debased culture than a story about someone who was actually honored by Planned Parenthood and then joined "the enemy"?

For many viewers, the most poignant scene in the movie Gosnell was court testimony given by a respected doctor who reluctantly admitted that the practice typically employed at a major Philadelphia hospital when a fetus unexpectedly emerges alive from a late-term abortion was simply to give him "comfort care" until he "passed" — a practice recently described sympathetically by Virginia's pediatrician governor.  The comment in Gosnell's trial illustrates the similarity between legal late-term abortions and actions a jury unanimously deemed murderous.  By contrast, Unplanned focuses exclusively on the well obscured nature of legal abortions up to 24 weeks as well as the business model of Planned Parenthood, a "non-profit" whose substantial revenues depend on the pregnancy-ending segment of this well funded enterprise.

Though Unplanned was produced on a six-million-dollar shoestring budget, the acting and storyline are generally compelling and not, as one might fear, preachy or melodramatic.  Mentions of "God" are sparse, and the movie provides, of necessity, a plausible explanation for Abby Johnson's passionate devotion to Planned Parenthood prior to her traumatic change of heart — namely, the ruse that she was making abortions rarer by helping girls with "crisis pregnancies."  Additionally, Abby's all-female co-workers are portrayed as good-natured friends with one exception: the director of the clinic, Cheryl (Robia Scott), who later selects Abby as her successor.  Cheryl becomes the human face of Planned Parenthood's abortion-driven profitability, encouraging facility directors at one organizational meeting to up their abortion numbers as if they were fast food managers pushing burgers and fries.

On the other side of the moral equation, pro-life advocates aren't always portrayed in a positive light.  Toward the beginning of the film, one protestor clutching a Bible belligerently insults women entering the clinic on the other side of a wrought iron fence.  Later in the film, a television newscast at a restaurant announces the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller in a house of worship.  While the event understandably triggers fear and trepidation on the part of Abby and her family, there is no attempt to justify the killing or to vilify Tiller.  Naturally, most of the pro-life advocates and protesters in the film (and two in particular) are portrayed in a positive light — but with more moral justification than Hollywood regularly typecasts these same individuals as hateful zealots.

Overwhelmingly, the movie's dramatic poignancy is a function of Ashley Bratcher's superb portrayal of Abby Johnson alongside the honest depiction of events commonly associated with abortion.  A scene showing the often experienced effects of the commonly administered RU-486 abortion pill is enough to make one's stomach turn and might have explained why the movie was rated R.  The same goes for another abortion-associated trauma: a punctured uterus.  What isn't defensible is the fact that many films with vastly more blood and violence than Unplanned receive a PG-13 rating.  Consequently, it seems that the topic of abortion, not blood and trauma, was the crucial factor for the film's R rating, a label that produced this absurd circumstance:  a fifteen-year-old can get an actual abortion without a parent's consent but can't see a movie about abortion without adult supervision.  But then what else would one expect from a culture desperate to hide its depravity or even to present its moral decadence in the virtuous wrapping of "choice" and "reproductive rights" — the same deceptive garb that conceals all the above terms enclosed in "not what it seems" quotation marks? [Except for the very accurate "Culture of Death" designation]

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is also available on Kindle.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Right Side of History... by Ben Shapiro

Why are things in America so good, and why are we throwing it all away?  Those are the two questions that Ben Shapiro, the staccato-laced intellectual pugilist, seeks to answer in his new book, The Right Side of History.  That things are actually amazingly good, at least materially, in the U.S. is demonstrated via statistics of which few Americans are aware.  For example, in 1900, ten percent of all infants in the country died before their first birthday, and one out every one hundred mothers died in childbirth.  Today, both infant mortality and death in childbirth are rare.  I might add that the average lifespan for American women increased from around 46 years in 1900 to over 80 today.  Beyond longevity, material prosperity has reached almost Messianic levels.

On the downside, however, Americans are more hostile toward each other than at any time since the Civil War — primarily divided along ideological lines.  In addition, a growing percentage of the population finds itself without any significant meaning in life, an existential void that promotes rapidly increasing drug addiction and suicide rates.  Concurrent with this spiritual deficit are incessant attacks on America's traditional institutions in order to "fundamentally transform" the nation.  Thus, amid tremendous prosperity and freedom, we now see 24/7 vilification of the nation's racist, sexist,  genocidal history conjoined with attempts to squelch any speech that challenges leftist demands for "social justice."  In short, powerful media, academic, and political forces are in the process of destroying the very Constitutional principles and cultural institutions that made America great. 

So what, exactly, made America great?  Shapiro says, correctly, in my view, the union of "Jerusalem and Athens," by which he means the nation's historically mediated incorporation of the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition alongside the reason-based natural law tradition exemplified in Plato and Aristotle.  The creative tension between these two poles produced in America, and less clearly in Europe, societies that embraced both individual freedom and communal goals, both transcendent purpose and the employment of reason to achieve morally sanctioned objectives.  In America, a broad devotion to basic moral and religious principles provided a foundation for the individual "pursuit of happiness" within various religious and community groups.

The philosophical and historical journey that led to this outcome constitutes the bulk of Shapiro's book, material that may be a heavy lift for folks with little or no background in intellectual history.  That's not to say the author dwells on minor or abstruse philosophical points — only that his brisk and insightful overview of important philosophical developments during the last 2,500 years necessarily presupposes a degree of familiarity on the reader's part.  On the plus side, Shapiro's  overview is narrowly focused on the issues he needs to illuminate: the embrace of faith and reason and the negative consequences of rejecting either or both of these two poles.

After more than a century of religious wars in Europe, a creative balance was tentatively achieved that included both the Greek rational tradition and the biblical heritage of Judaism and Christianity.  This fragile coalition was soon destroyed, most grotesquely in the French Revolution, whose rejection of faith and deification of human reason led to a bloodbath whose cruelty should be a clear demonstration of the depths of depravity to which human reason is liable when freed from any transcendent restraints.  (I recommend Ann Coulter's chapters in Demonic for an impressive summary of this revolutionary barbarism.)

In America, however, the world's first philosophically constructed Constitution was made the political foundation of a religiously diverse people overwhelmingly devoted to the broad moral and spiritual ideas derived from the Bible.  These ideas included the conviction that all people are created in God's image and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.  America's Lockean embrace of reason, faith, and limited government provided the dynamism that gave rise to the most productive and religiously conscientious culture (cf. Tocqueville) the world has ever known.
Shapiro's final chapters depict the West's and America's descent into materialism, hedonism, and spiritual nihilism.  In Europe, the "death of God" proclaimed by Nietzsche and biologically sanctioned by Darwin created a vacuum that was filled by communism and fascism — ideologies that dismissed the individual and free inquiry for the sake of utopian futures.  In America Progressives also belittled the notion of individual liberty and a Constitution that limits government power, enthralled as they were with Hegelian concepts that touted collective goals.  Progressives thus gave birth to the eugenics movement promoted by Margaret Sanger, the dogma of a "living Constitution," and a government no longer constrained by constitutional boundaries.
The deterioration of faith in America and the West also gave rise to a rationalism that views humans as animals, or even bits of matter, with no moral purpose.  Attempts to create one's own personal morality within this godless universe, as with the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre,  have proven to be absurd, since morality is essentially a social concept and implies some penalty, either in this world or the next, for transgressions.  As if all these developments weren't bad enough, today's cultural Marxists are intent on bringing about a new society by overturning all existing institutions in the name of various victim groups.  Those institutions include the family, traditional religion, and any organization that can be viewed as supporting the white male capitalist establishment.  This phalanx of true believers pledges allegiance neither to reason nor to faith in God, but only to its own fantasies.  Thus, people can change their "gender" at will and others must agree that X and Y chromosomes mean nothing — or be punished for transphobic hate crimes.  Goodbye individual freedom, goodbye rationality, goodbye anything like the God of the Bible.

After offering detailed examples of America's cultural and spiritual decline, Shapiro provides scant advice for rectifying the situation.  It's certainly good to instill in one's children an appreciation of the immense historical accomplishments of our country — accomplishments rigorously avoided by leftist academics.  It is also wise to convey to them your conviction that their lives are "guided by a higher meaning" and that "we are all brothers and sisters."  But providing a familial remedy for a cultural disaster seems a counsel of despair.  In addition to pedagogical advice, some thoughts about the "academic and media" sources of disintegration would be in order, a few of which I offer in the closing chapter ("What Went Wrong") of my own book, Moral Illiteracy.

No doubt, the young Shapiro will provide more extensive suggestions in the future for countering and reversing the destructive forces leading us toward a culture that neither fears God nor reveres reason.  For now, his work illuminating the historical and philosophical origins of America's greatness and the sources of its impending doom is well worth perusing.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America, by David Horowitz

David Horowitz has always been a writer whose work I've appreciated since his compelling political biography, Radical Son, which related the author's break from his communist upbringing after Black Panther associates murdered his bookkeeper friend Betty Van Patter.  But brevity and crisp linkage of multiple intellectual threads were never characteristic of Horowitz's brilliant, often voluminous, exposés of leftist thought and practice.  By contrast, Dark Agenda is a concise, chilling book brimming with evidence that links numerous cultural depredations to one overriding theme:  The left's attack on Christian America's founding in the name of "cultural Marxism." 

"Christian America" is the novel component in Horowitz's analysis, a term that acknowledges the historical fact that America, at its founding, was 98 percent Protestant.  Protestantism, in turn, was intimately linked to the doctrine of "the priesthood of all believers" and to the more broadly Christian idea that all people are created by God.  In view of these beliefs and the fact that Protestant groups were living side by side, it followed that in America there would be no institutional or governmental mediator between the individual and God.  It also meant that each individual's rights were endowed solely by their Creator and that freedom of conscience and speech would be hallmarks of the new republic. 

"Cultural Marxism," by contrast, represents the application of its "oppressor versus oppressed" vision of society to various victim groups:  blacks, "people of color," women, native Americans, homosexuals, transsexuals, and any other group claiming victimhood.  For Marxists what stands between these oppressed groups and a world in which "social justice" and equality is fully realized are the oppressors, those who supposedly establish the laws and mores that keep them in power.  Thus, failure or success isn't the result of individual choices but the inevitable outcome of a system designed to unfairly help one group (white, Christian, males) and harm the others.  Accordingly, what matters politically is destroying the patriarchal Christian system itself with its emphasis on individual moral and economic choices and replacing it with a group-focused system that, in my own words, oppresses the oppressors.  Put quite simply, "Christian doctrines were foundational to the American Republic, which the left despises."

After reading the last two paragraphs, one might think Dark Agenda is highly philosophical and abstract.  This impression couldn't be further from the truth, as these core ideas are given clear expression and development via an array of examples, many of which are doubtless unknown to even the most politically-astute readers.  Who knew, for example, that the $621 million U.S. Capitol Visitor Center that opened in 2008 "is less a monument to the nation's founding and institutions than it is to the antireligious left's vision for America.  When it opened, all references to God and faith had been carefully, deliberately edited out of its photos and historical displays."  For example, the national motto was said to be "E Pluribus Unum" when, in fact, it is "In God We Trust."  Among other historical travesties, a large "image of the Constitution was photoshopped to remove the worlds 'in the Year of our Lord' above the signatures of the signers." Similarly, the "table on which President Lincoln placed his Bible during his second inauguration is on display — just the table, not the Bible."

These examples are picayune compared to the spiteful governmental coercion that's been employed to force The Little Sisters of the Poor, among others, to violate their consciences thanks to Obamacare abortion provisions.  The Supreme Court has been the giant secular lever employed by leftists to fundamentally transform "Christian America" into a state hostile even to a school-girl who joined hands with classmates to give thanks for her food. These politically-motivated  "lawyers," as Horowitz contemptuously labels the high court, began their anti-Christian, anti-Constitutional mission with the expulsion of prayer from public schools in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale).  That assault on the free exercise of religion now extends beyond commencement ceremonies and football fields to a bakery that was  embroiled in legal battles for years for refusing to provide a celebratory cake for a gay ceremony billed as a wedding — a "crime" made possible by Court rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and in favor of redefining marriage.  

The case of Roe v. Wade (1972), which awakened religious conservatives to the fundamental attack on Christian America, is cogently dissected in Dark Agenda, both from a constitutional perspective as well as through the eyes of Norma McCorvey, the anonymous "Jane Roe" who was intentionally deceived and reduced to a legal prop to secure the Supreme Court's "right to privacy" abortion ruling.  (As Horowitz notes, in Marxist thought it's the grand arc of history and oppressed groups that matter, not mere individuals.)  That ruling officially brought about the cultural civil war that for the anti-Christian left involves not simply a virulent hatred of President Trump but also hatred directed toward his supporters who are regularly vilified as Nazis, sexists, racists, homophobes, and "deplorables" who are rightly denied freedom of speech and conscience.  Trump's Oval Office predecessor did his best to stoke these emotions as Horowitz's litany of anti-Christian comments and actions by President Obama illustrate — from avoiding religious references during a traditional Thanksgiving ceremony to pursuit of a foreign policy that led to the annihilation of the ancient Christian community in Syria.

Among the sidebars accompanying Horowitz's central narrative are insights into the abusive and mendacious character of atheist Madelyn Murray.  For example, in 1960 Murray "set out with her two sons . . . intending to renounce her American citizenship and defect to the Soviet Union." Her repeated attempts at emigration were rebuffed by the Soviets who were probably aware of her emotional instability and violent outbursts.  Murray's revolutionary predecessor, Margaret Sanger, was also a communist sympathizer and racist.  A 1930 article in The New Yorker about Ms. Sanger noted that her monthly newspaper, Woman Rebel, "mixed its birth-control propaganda with a good deal of red-flag-waving, and perorations of the 'Workers of the World, Arise!' variety." The author also observed that she "composed an editorial declaring: 'Even if dynamite were to serve no other purpose than to call forth the spirit of revolutionary solidarity and loyalty, it would prove its great value.'"  

Horowitz ends Dark Agenda with this chilling paragraph reminiscent of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "A nation divided by such fundamental ideas — individual freedom on one side and group identity on the other — cannot long endure, any more than could a nation that was half slave and half free.  The urgency that drew the religious right into politics fifty years ago is now an urgency of the nation itself."  Even individuals well aware of the cultural Civil War that now rages in America would do well do arm themselves with the insights in this book — insights that both explain the ideological  roots of the conflict and document a host of grievous wounds that "Christian America" has already suffered.  Horowitz, an honest agnostic, is doing his best to prevent those wounds from becoming mortal.

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is available on Kindle.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019


After exiting the tax-happy Gilded State, a fair number of its loopy citizens who could no longer afford skyrocketing housing prices and crowded freeways migrated to nearby Oregon, a state that competes with California for the honor of championing the most “progressive” ideas in the nation -- e.g. assisted suicide, legalized weed, rent control, and banning those thin plastic bags that presumably constitute an existential threat to the planet.  
Recently Oregon’s legislature began touting a proposal similar to one the late California State Senator John Vasconcellos floated  in 2004.  Back then Vasconcellos proposed giving partial votes to teenagers.  Fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds would receive quarter-votes while their sixteen- and seventeen-year-old siblings would wield twice as much electoral clout.  Oregon’s legislators, by contrast, are considering a bill that would give a full 100% vote to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds while leaving younger kids disenfranchised, at least for the moment.

Any honest political observer knows why Democrats wish to drop the voting age to include individuals who can’t join the military, own firearms, or enter into legal contracts.  The reason is that emotional, easily manipulated teenagers are overwhelmingly likely to vote for Democrats -- as is undoubtedly the case with those “undocumented immigrants” that San Francisco now includes in local elections.  Rising in opposition to the Oregon bill, the Senate Republican leader observed, “This is nothing more than an attempt to expand the voter rolls to sway elections.” Omitted from his statement were the words “toward Democrats.”  

If Oregon passes this legislation, it may be only a matter of time till its sponsors propose (bit by bit) constitutional amendments that enfranchise, perhaps fractionally, all its citizens -- bills that allow both grade-schoolers and toddlers the opportunity to participate in the “democratic process” in both state and federal elections.  The conservative view that language-acquisition and continence-skills (to say nothing of I.D.) should be voting prerequisites will doubtless be portrayed as a corrupt attempt to suppress the vote by “ageist” opponents of full representation.

Furthermore, since a significant number of high school graduates are already functionally illiterate, extending voting rights to other literacy-challenged teens and pre-teens seems only logical.  Finally, providing diapered Democrats some voice in government is warranted due to the all-but-certain belief that infants have a scant twelve years to live if politicians don’t adopt AOC’s “Green New Deal.”  Surely those “most at risk” kids deserve a voice in their own rapidly-diminishing futures as was made clear by the tots who recently lectured California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

If one asks how pre- and neo-bipeds are supposed to vote, one may argue that a government of “all the people” must accommodate the developmental stages of all citizens by providing height- and age-appropriate selection mechanisms.  A ballot for two-year-olds, for example, could show a scowling face shouting “Bad boy, bad girl!” for binary Republicans and a cheerful nurturing figure labeled “Does baby X want candy?” for Democrats.  Other creative symbols could be used for minor party candidates.  Greens might be represented by Ansel Adams prints and foresty smells.  Sour grapes, on the other hand, would provide an appropriate scratch-and-sniff stand in for Starbucks spoiler Howard Schultz.  A one-tenth vote based on such odio-visual cues would doubtless provide as accurate a reflection of toddler "scentiment" as the butterfly ballot choices made by those Palm Beach seniors who couldn’t tell the difference between Pat Buchanan and Al Gore in the 2000 Bush-Gore Presidential election.

The last refuge of electoral scoundrels, of course, is the intelligence argument. Elitists will claim that children don’t know enough to vote responsibly.  Yet literacy tests were outlawed decades ago.  Surely the Ninth U. S. Circuit Court wouldn’t hesitate to also declare intelligence and maturity unconstitutional standards -- especially if its ruling aids opponents of President Trump.  

The truth is that obstructionists have always been against the expansion of voting rights -- to non-propertied males, to blacks and women, to 18-year-olds.  They always say that the new group isn’t qualified and doesn’t know enough to responsibly exercise the franchise.  To these doubting Thomases there’s an obvious retort: “What’s knowledge got to do with it?  If the adult voters of New York can elect the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, how could incontinent two-year-olds possibly do worse?”

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is also available on Kindle 

Monday, February 11, 2019


“Apocalypse Now” doesn’t spook millennials given what they can see with their own eyes and the impossibility of avoiding destruction, but a global warming/climate change cataclysm in twelve years is sufficiently distant for kids near twenty as to be both believable and politically motivating.  Thus the rationale for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s climatological foray into the end times—a venture that is three parts political hokum and one part rehashed Gore blather.

Predictions about the apocalypse have a long history.  The year 1000 A.D. had a nice millennial rationale for terminating history, so much so that an anti-Christian 19th century French historian, Jules Michelet, related a plethora of cases about benighted believers who awaited the final trumpet blast with a mixture of fear and expectation.  Michelet’s anti-clerical successors “added macabre and colorful details” to the mix, suggesting “that greedy churchmen had encouraged millennial fears deliberately so that people would give their material possessions to the church in hopes of salvation.”  These tales that were created to impugn religion as a baseless superstition now permeate the “educated” West.  Unfortunately for Michelet and his secular disciples, as later research would reveal (cf. Professor Peter Stearns) there was no widespread use in Europe of the calendar that for us designates the year 1000 A.D.  At most, there may have been a heightened sense of apocalyptic urgency in the decades before and after our Y1K.
Another apocalypse of sorts was loosed upon the West by the English economist Thomas Malthus in 1798.  His “Essay on the Principle of Population” made the mathematically bolstered prediction that population would inevitably outstrip society’s capacity to produce food, thus leading to a perpetual struggle for survival among the poor who would “be with us always.”  This vision was music to the ears of Charles Darwin and paved the way for his “survival of the fittest” theory of species development.  The twentieth century’s zero-population growth movement (ZPG) also found inspiration in the writings of the man who gave to economics its unwanted disciplinary moniker:  “the gloomy science.”  Not content to live with a scenario of endless poverty, ZPG upped the apocalyptic stakes so much that it foretold birth control by any means necessary!  These anti-begetting zealots must be tickled pink by the abortion-till-uterine-exodus law recently celebrated by New York’s Governor Cuomo.   And they doubtless view “Ethics” Professor Peter Singer’s proposal of “abortion” up to 30 days after birth (i.e. infanticide) as a positive step toward creating a pleasant utilitarian killing field.  

Never mind that Malthus’ prediction was spectacularly wrong—that world poverty has declined precipitously in the last forty years, thanks overwhelmingly to capitalist enterprise in Asia.  Nor have the dystopian predictions of ZPG doomsayers been realized in spite of moderate population growth on the planet.  But failed predictions seldom discourage secular apocalypticists.  Thus, in 1980 environmentalist Paul Ehrlich (The Population Bomb, 1968) made a wager with economist Julian Simon that in ten years the price of five non-government controlled commodities (chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten) would rise based on their increasing scarcity and growing population demand.  Simon, who anticipated a decline in prices, won the bet despite the fact that the globe’s population rose by eight-hundred million during the decade.  That wager was prudent compared to the professor’s other declamations.  In 1970 Ehrlich outdid even Malthus by predicting that population would so outstrip food supply that “at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next 10 years.”  That same year Ehrlich foretold “the Great Die-Off” in the decade of the 80s. Four billion people worldwide and sixty-five million Americans would perish.  Instead of “Mourning in America” what we actually got was “Morning in America” and the collapse of the economically, ecologically, and morally benighted Soviet Empire.  Amazingly, the 86-year-old Ehrlich is unrepentant and has not only jumped on the “climate change” bandwagon but also joined the anti-consumer, low-nutrient, low sperm count, end of civilization leftist brigades.      

As for Ehrlich’s cataclysmic soul-mate, Al Gore, the fact that ocean levels and global temperatures have increased by piddling amounts over the last twelve years, that polar bears are thriving, that the Gulf Stream is going strong, that Mt. Kilimanjaro is still snow-capped, that there’s been no significant increase in extreme weather events since the former VP’s dire predictions in 2006 (a finding that even the U.N.’s  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted in 2013 based on data extending to the mid-20th century) —none of that has discouraged the carbon-credit-guzzling, now super-wealthy Gore from peddling an apocalypse just beyond the horizon.  Nor has it fazed AOC, who has probably never heard of, much less read, MIT climatologist Richard Lindzen or other prominent “Climate Deniers.”  After all, for AOC the “facts” don’t matter.  Instead, it’s all about the “morality” of government control.  As former Colorado Senator Timothy Wirth confessed in an unguarded moment way back in 1988, “Even if the theory of global warming is wrong . . . we will be doing the right thing anyway in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.”  In short, as long as the government can compel folks to do what Wirth and Gore and AOC want them to do, who cares what scare tactics are employed to put Deplorables in their place.

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is also available on Kindle 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Johann Hari's Lost Connections: The Good, the Mixed Bag, and the Truly Pathetic

After viewing Tucker Carlson's recent interview with Johann Hari, I was ready to read his book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions.  Everything in the interview touched on what I firmly believe are commonsense principles that have been neglected and even derided by the leftist intelligentsia, a group in which, I discovered to my dismay, Hari is ensconced.  Certainly nothing warned me that his book, a New York Times bestseller, has cover endorsements by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Elton John, in which case I may not have obtained the book I purchased for two bucks on Kindle.

Part One of this work establishes the primary point made in the Carlson interview: that chemical treatments of depression, including the depression Hari suffered from and still fights, have a small impact overall.  Added to this finding is the distressing observation that Big Pharma essentially controls a largely bogus process by which its products are determined to be effective by the FDA.  Making this portrait even gloomier is the revelation that most psychiatrists, despite longstanding evidence that depression has obvious social and mental causes, have totally ignored these factors and promoted the quick and easy explanation that depression is exclusively the result of a chemical malfunction in the brain, best treated with drugs.

I wasn't surprised by these revelations, especially the information-warping connection among scientific research, government approval, and pharmacological funding – an illicit pay-to-play arrangement often noted by dissenting climatologists whose work will never be funded by government agencies intent on promoting the power-enhancing theory of "climate change."  It was surprising, however, to encounter a study that shows that the benefit of a good night's sleep is three times more effective on average than the relief secured via antidepressants.  Also of interest is the "grief exception" that psychiatrists carved out but later removed from the DSM diagnosis of depression – an exception that pointed, embarrassingly, to the fact that depression can, and often does, have causes rooted in one's life experience.

So far, so good.  Hari is showing what most conservative, traditional folks have believed all along: that the medical profession has reduced a vast number of human problems to diseases or biological imbalances to be treated with chemicals.The next section of Hari's work discusses the various "lost connections" that cause or contribute to depression and anxiety.  It is a mixed bag.  Thoughtful folks wouldn't argue with any of the primary prescriptions – that humans need to be connected to each other in significant ways, that meaningful work is important, that humans require real (not junk) values that include a picture of a better future, that nature is elevating, and that the current cultural focus on the "ego" is essentially isolating and self-destructive.

The intellectual rub comes as Hari begins to interject into his analysis his own scarcely analyzed biases.  The term "conservative," for example, is consistently placed in a negative context.  Moreover, Hari's selective reliance on evolution to bolster his case for "connection" is off-putting.  A section on baboon behavior is designed to show, needlessly, that stress accompanies being at the bottom of the primate's hierarchy.  Elsewhere, the need for human connection is touted as a function of our evolutionary past.  If, however, "evolution" is prescriptive for our needs, why not include the bestial brawls that work out the baboon hierarchy – or the savage winner-take-all struggles that were necessary for survival before the emergence of civilized society only a few thousand years ago?  Hari apparently wants to link all of the "values" that are "internal" to humans to this theoretical and, for many biologists, non-directive process, whose movement is predicated, Hari fails to note, on a species' failure to survive.  By contrast, Hari's references to actual human philosophers (or, God forbid, theologians) who long ago labeled humans social and rational creatures are so fleeting that they wouldn't constitute a whole paragraph in this lengthy oeuvre.

The irritations of Part Two become unbearable as Hari provides his tentative "solutions" to our problem of "lost connections."  A group of social misfits living in a rundown apartment near the old Berlin Wall band together politically to demand a rent freeze and in the process develop a genuine appreciation for and connection with the diverse groups in the tenement – Muslim Turks, gays, and outcasts of various tattooed and mini-skirted varieties.  A co-op bicycle shop where decisions are "democratized" provides a pattern for fulfilling work, alongside reinvigorated labor unions.  Professionally supervised administration of a psychedelic drug (psilocybin) unlocks the vastness of the universe, shrinks the ego, and can reveal paths to personal healing.  The banning of advertising that promotes junk values (like the promotion of "individualism") will help immensely.  Finally, giving everyone a basic monetary grant (almost $20K in a Canadian project) will provide a degree of security that makes life more fulfilling and decreases depression – a whole 9% over the three-year Canadian experiment in a largely conservative, farm-based community.  Then there are the benefits of gardening, nature walks, and a Junk Values Anonymous program.

At least Hari admits that giving everyone $20K would require a huge government expense, though he doesn't consider the effects of inflation or the anxiety induced by the increase in taxes this Obama-endorsed policy for the future might incur.  Furthermore, Hari ignores the fact that many folks in deeply depressed circumstances already receive as much as or more than $20K in benefits – dismissing such analysis with the words "piecemeal" and "safety net."  Most distressingly, Hari, the unmarried atheist, ignores the fact that the leftist policies he obviously endorses have functioned to destroy and disparage the most fulfilling connection most individuals enjoy, the much-derided "nuclear" family – a topic he assiduously avoids, since his own childhood was so traumatic that he began receiving anti-depressants at the age of eighteen.  The second most connective institutions in the U.S. are its religious communities.  (Revealingly, Hari often prefers the political term "collective" to "community," apparently disregarding the linguistic distinction between a non-connected collection of individuals and a commonwealth whose members share in each other's joys and pains.)  Beyond bringing people together into a community, religious institutions have been the primary conveyers of "values" (i.e., virtues) that involve caring for others and not focusing obsessively on oneself or material possessions.

certainly agree that modern advertising is a destructive force, but not simply as a means for inculcating the junk value that "getting stuff" will make one happy.  In tandem with the powerful entertainment industry, advertising overwhelmingly promotes the "junk values" of "doing your own thing" and "being a rebel" and "ignoring what others think about you" – in other words, a menu of slogans and images designed to separate children from their fuddy-duddy parents, to revile traditional wisdom, and to ridicule religious institutions as havens for hypocritical pedophiles.  Since Hari obviously thinks all wisdom is derived from recent social and psychological studies, he would be well advised to peruse Arthur Brooks's book Who Really Cares, which shows that conservatives are more likely to give blood and to donate time and money to charitable causes than their "liberal" counterparts.  He might consider why that should be the case.

You won't see Hari criticizing any of the elite political allies of upper-crust New Yorkers – Hollywood hedonists, rap musicians, or the countless depraved television and film productions that revolve around the stupidity of parents, the hypocrisy of clergy, the idiocy of tradition, indulging one's sexual impulses, reveling in blood and guts (à la the Roman Coliseum), or the political wisdom du jour that springs naturally from enlightened six-year-olds.  What you will see is an author who, after initially bristling at the notion that his depression wasn't simply a brain aneurism of sorts, but also a function of the way his life had unfolded, swiftly moved from a theory that placed all the blame on a biological or genetic fluke to a theory that transfers responsibility for his depression to a hellish (and for him, conservative) society.

I agree with Hari that our society is messed up.  I am confident, however, that his "collective" solutions will make things much worse and that he has missed the primary causes of and solutions for our current Lost Connections "hell."

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is also available on Kindle.