Shards from the smashup

Several items that touch on the current effort to turn the whole world into a unitary rationalized industrial scheme:

  • John Taylor Gatto says schools are psychopathic. He’s a former award-winning teacher who’s spent the last 15 years denouncing the schools from a more-or-less libertarian perspective. The basic function of the public schools, he says, is to take children out of any natural, family and community setting and turn them into manufactured products useful as cogs in a machine.
  • Catholic nursing homes to be forced to permit assisted suicide. Proposed California legislation would forbid them to discipline staff members for on-site facilitation of patients’ suicides. As some jurisdictions have demonstrated with respect to gay adoptions, and others with regard to medical benefit plans, it’s becoming illegal for a Catholic institution to be Catholic. You can have all the private views you want as long as you never act on them in a way that affects anyone. If someone you deal with wants you to do something you think unconscionable, get with the program or you’re history.
  • APA report denounces sexualization of girls. The American Psychological Association looked at the content and effects of television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the Internet, and concluded that they promote “sexualization [that] has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.” All of which makes sense. Girls are socially cued in and define themselves relationally. To liberate sex and treat it as a purely private matter, as liberalism requires, is to make it freely transferable. A freely transferable good with millions of producers desired by millions of would-be consumers (young guys, for example) is going to be viewed as a commodity. Since girls physically embody that good they are going to be seen as commodities themselves. That means they will see themselves as such. Long live freedom!

The items might seem ill-assorted, but a broader view brings out features that might be missed. One point is that liberalism makes it impossible to respond intelligently to the problems it creates, because it subjects everything to the same narrow analysis. The nursing homes are in trouble, for example, because liberalism understands freedom as a purely individual thing. If there’s a conflict between the patient’s freedom to kill himself at a particular nursing home and the nursing home’s freedom to pursue its mission of not killing people the patient’s freedom wins. The nursing home’s freedom, which is the freedom of those associated to come together to provide particular goods, simply doesn’t matter.

Gatto runs into a somewhat similar difficulty. He insists on family and community but he’s a late-20th-century American and therefore a liberal in his theoretical outlook. For that reason his solutions emphasize “independent study,” “private uniqueness,” and “plac[ing] the child alone in an unguided setting,” even though he knows and even mentions what children today do in independent unguided private settings: watch hours and hours of TV. His liberal preconceptions about what solutions are legitimate thus prevent him from dealing with the issues actually presented.

Related problems pile up in the APA report and give the whole discussion an air of unreality. The APA are medical professionals, so they’ve got to be neutral and scientific. They’re respectable, so they have to be liberal. That’s a problem because the situation they’re dealing with is a consequence of liberalism. As a result, the point they make first and foremost is not anything substantive but a complaint about discrimination: there are more male than female figures in popular entertainment, and male figures aren’t as likely as female ones to be presented as objects of sexual interest.

Why are they telling us this? So far as I can tell that’s always been true of all entertainment. It was true of the Iliad, and it was true of the fairy tales peasant grandmothers used to tell. The size of Cinderella’s foot mattered a great deal, but who ever cared whether Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk fame was handsome?

Later the APA gets somewhat more substantive, but never particularly analytical. All they say is that images of girls in pop culture are becoming ever more sexualized, and it’s starting at ever younger ages. I could have told them that. The question is what it all means and what to do about it, and they don’t have anything to say on the point. What’s the point of all that learning and professional machinery if it doesn’t help people come up with something illuminating?

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