What is Diversity?

Diversity_Peter_Wood

Have you ever heard someone praise diversity?  What do they mean?  What exactly is diversity?  Every time that someone glories in diversity I gain a greater appreciation for Inigo Montoya’s response to Vizzini at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity in the movie The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Fortunately, Peter Wood has written the definitive work on the topic of diversity.  In his book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept, Wood traces the origins and outlines the history of the concept of diversity.  He leaves little doubt regarding the specious and dangerous nature of the concept of diversity.  A few excerpts from Wood’s book will suffice to illustrate his point:

  •  “The new perspective of diversity is not just about emphasizing groups at the expense of the whole; it is also about treating groups as having saved up a right to special privileges in proportion to how much their purported ancestors were victimized in the past.  This quid-pro-quo view has become a quasi principle that aims to encompass American life.” (p. 10)
  • Diversity might well be understood as an attempt to reverse the founders’ efforts to check the growth and power of factions in American society.  Diversity, in effect, enshrines certain kinds of factionalism as a universal good, just like liberty and equality.  Well, no, not just like liberty and equality – better.  Diversity raised to the level of counterconstitutional principle promises to free people from the pseudo-liberty of individualism and to restore to them the primacy of their group identities; and diversity raised to the summit of ‘critical thinking’ insists that traditional notions of equality are a sham.  Real equality, according to diversicrats, consists of parity among groups, and to achieve it, social goods must be measured out in ethnic quotas, purveyed by group preferences, or otherwise filtered according to the will of social factions.” (p. 14)
  • “In the chapters that follow, I aim to show that in one area of American life after another, the principle of diversity represents an attempt to alter the root cultural assumptions on which American society is based.” (p. 16)
  • “Whatever its virtues, diversity is a challenge to higher virtues and greater goods.  We jeopardize liberty and equality by our friendship with this new principle.  It is an unruly guest in our house, and the time may have come to call a cab and send it home.” (p. 16)
  • “Sometimes these advocates of diversity are spoken of as ‘the multicultural left’ or simply ‘multicultrualists,’ but these terms cover only part of the story.  Diversilogues trade in the ideology of diversity; diversidacts teach it; diversicrats regulate it.  Each of these words has its place in the story, but for the sake of having one term for the whole tribe, I will write of ‘diversiphiles’ when I mean to speak generally of those who elevate the ideal of diversity above the ideal of national unity.  Diversiphiles are a dominant voice in many precincts of American culture.” (p. 17)
  • “I write as an opponent of the diversity movement as a whole, but one whose opposition is rooted in disappointment.  The concept of diversity draws on some profoundly important human realities that, call them what we will, ought to be central to any enlightened and humane view of humanity.  But diversity in this sense is mangled, compromised and ultimately destroyed by diversity in the sense that has prevailed in the diversity movement.” (p. 17)
  • “America’s real diversity sometimes seems on the verge of disappearance, while a phony, impostor diversity – made up of spurious claims to separate cultural identities, fashion statements and fantasy vacations – has taken its place.” (p. 17)
  • “Diversity is far more than a political movement or a demand for social privileges; it is also the sort of cultural principle that shapes personal tastes.” (p. 18)
  • “Our college campuses are perhaps the best examples of these simulacra, designed to look as real as possible.” (p. 20)
  • “The truth is, much of the diversity of which we speak in America exists nowhere but in our minds.  We have been encouraged to imagine people to be much more different from ourselves and from each other than they actually are.  We take real but small differences and magnify them into chasms.  We conjure other differences out of thin air.” (p. 20)
  • The actual diversity in American society is real but superficial.  It is the sort of diversity that exists mainly because people say and believe it exists, not because it arises from profound and fundamental differences.  Diversity in this sense is largely (but not entirely) and illusion.” (p. 23)
  • “The basic political program of Diversity II advocates (the diversiphiles) is to create a society in which the real diversity of society at large is proportionally represented in schools, colleges, the workplace, governments, the arts, and all other positively valued social contexts.  Thus diversity II, the ideal, depends – at least in principle – on diversity I, the facts.” (p. 24)
  • “Those who advocate diversity as an ideal often go to great lengths to invent and impose counterfeit varieties, partly because they have lost sight of the important differences between real and artificial diversity.” (p. 28)
  • A real diversity on campus could come from rigorously eliminating any form of linguistic, ethnic, national, sexual or religious favoritism – indeed, any favoritism based on social identity.  For very practical reasons, that extreme is impossible, and for ethical reasons, it is undesirable.  On the practical side, who, for example, would teach in a university with no common language?” (p. 32)
  • The concocted diversity of contemporary campus life has precisely that element of charmed artificiality, a deadness and inertia beneath whatever lively rhetorical appearance we evoke.  It has very little to do with the actual cultural diversity of the world.” (p. 34)
  • “The fullest expression of artificial diversity, however, is the contemporary American college campus with its (sometimes illegal but real) admissions quotas, its multicultural affairs offices, its division of students into ethnic clubs, and its curriculum aimed at convincing students that these strange impositions are simultaneously justified as corrections of past wrongs and as preparation for living and working in American society.” (p. 39)
  • “The false assurances of artificial diversity are the shadows on the wall in our version of Plato’s allegorical cave: images that we mistake for substance.” (p. 40)
  • “To be in favor of this kind of diversity is to lay claim to a kind of righteousness tinged with modesty.  It connotes a willingness to accommodate others who are not like one’s self.  To favor diversity is thought to place one on the side of kindness, generosity and openness to the world.  And to be against it is evidence of small-mindedness.” (p. 40-41)
  • “One of the greatest moral gains of the Civil Rights Movement was the widespread recognition in American society that stereotyping is pernicious.  The diversity movement, however, doubles back on that lesson.  It offers a justification of sorts for reviving and maintaining racial stereotypes that should be recognized as morally repellent.” (p. 43)
  • “Artificial diversity presents itself as benign, but is far from it.” (p. 46)
  • “Christian fellowship is grounded in the profound idea that we are equal in the eyes of God.  In that light, cultural diversity makes no difference.  To search for fellowship by means of cultural diversity is to puff with pride those differences that Christianity, in principle, set out to abolish.” (p. 47)
  • “And in so many other ways, the older idea of diversity seems truer to human experience and richer in texture than our current one.” (p. 71)
  • “But in the current epoch of all-diversity-is-good-diversity, we are faced with a new prime directive: do not judge.  The new spirit of diversity finds its ethical mandate in a form of supposed open-mindedness that is inimical to the impulse to judge other cultures.  According to this view, to judge is to be ethnocentric and to be unworried about being ethnocentric is to license bigotry.” (p. 73)
  • “In any case, the contemporary attempt to proscribe judging is doomed to failure, for we will judge anyway, even if we feel ashamed of it or blocked from expressing our judgments.  Judging cultural differences is simply how humans naturally encounter the world.  We should aim not to forestall judging but to make it explicit and therefore within easy reach of further consideration and correction.” (p. 75)
  • “Many contemporary Americans, ignorant of the actual past, credit themselves with a level of sensitivity to cultural differences that eluded our supposedly unreflective predecessors.  It is a sad delusion.  The truth is our predecessors have left us an amazingly rich record of their curiosity about and reflection on cultural differences.  Perhaps we ignore this record because those earlier generations used other words, the term ‘cultural difference’ being a fairly recent vintage.” (p. 76)
  • “Looking back today and assessing the American past by means of our brittle new creed of diversity, we tend to see mostly the racism, seldom the open-mindedness.” (p. 81)
  • “Today we chatter endlessly about cultural diversity; we admire and extol cultural differences; and we admire our own admiration of those differences as evidence of our ethical enlightenment and aesthetic sophistication.  But we are, at least by comparison with our cultural forbears, vastly ignorant of what we are talking about.  Once upon a time, Americans encountered the world’s diversity with awe, anger, prejudice, disgust, erotic excitement, pity, delight – and curiosity.  Then we recast ourselves as champions of tolerant diversity, became fearful of inconvenient facts, and lost interest.” (p. 81)
  • “We are, for better and for worse, the inheritors of this tradition.  Through Darwin and his many successors, we have learned to see natural diversity as a tremendously positive aspect of our world.  When contemporary Americans talk about diversity, of course, very few of us are thinking about Darwin or Wallace; but we are thinking by means of their ideas about who and what we are.  If we see ourselves as having some responsibility to respect diversity, it is because we have learned from them and their scientific successors that diversity is a deeply creative principle in nature.” (p. 86)
  • “The bit of magic in the word diversity is this association with a powerful scientific idea.  Diversity in nature turns out to be crucial to the health of individuals, the well-being and adaptability of species, and the course of evolutionary change.  The contemporary appropriation of the word ‘diversity’ refers to matters logically and substantively quite different from what the old biologists had in mind, but even so, it borrows some of their heft and prestige.” (p. 86)
  • “All of the differences that are sometimes wrapped into diversity are asserted to be the subject of society’s intolerance and invidious treatment.  So to be in favor of diversity is to take a stand in opposition to what one supposes are forces of intolerance, usually conceived as a hierarchy of privilege that historically favored and still favors heterosexual, nonhandicapped, white males.” (p. 88)
  • “Diversiphiles turn to metaphor not just to popularize their ideas but to cover over a contradiction that would be hard to hide in plain speech: the contradiction between the diversiphiles’ insistence that the differences among cultural traditions are vast and irreconcilable, and their simultaneous assertion that diversity is a path to overcoming division and achieving national (or pan-national) unity.” (p. 96)
  • “To get all the way to a satisfactory image of diversity, we would have to construct some metaphor in which each component possesses its own autonomy and insists on its own importance, and the whole would be overseen by a power who simultaneously credits and ignores each part’s claim to precedence.  The town dump seems to me to be the ideal form of a conglomerate unity where completely unrelated things of disparate origin end up side by side, kept in their place by the apotheosis of the modern multicultural teacher, the guy who drives the bulldozer.” (p. 97)
  • Diversity in religion is a nullification of the claims of every particular religion to having exclusive access to some divine or ultimate truth.  Diversity preaches that each religion (probably) has a piece of the truth; or in any event, its followers are striving up the same mountain as everyone else, even if they pursue the ascent by a different path.” (p. 149)
  • “Neo-Paganism is above all a religion of the Self, in which the individual practitioner is offered an imaginary omnipotence and exemption from other people’s judgments.  The nonjudgmentalism that characterizes the Church of Diversity becomes radicalized in Neo-Paganism.  In many ways, it is the perfect consumer ‘religion.’  It beckons to those who are dissatisfied with the demands of their faith to turn away and invent a new faith tailored exactly to their spiritual wishes.  Neo-Paganism is thus a free market religiosity for a free market society, and one in which the Self is sovereign over secular and sacred alike.” (p. 156)
  • “The real issue is that in the church of Diversity, it is not enough to tolerate religious differences; the differences must be extolled, the beliefs granted lavish statements of respect, and doubts and reservations not uttered at all, lest they give offense.” (p. 158)
  • “An art world preoccupied with the idea of creative self-expression and a public conditioned to see the arts in terms of the personal identities of the artists had no natural resistance to the diversity ideology.  When it emerged in the late 1970s as a new way of thinking about race, ethnicity and gender, diversity almost instantly became an established standard.  Henceforth, it would be mandatory to consider the manner in which an actor’s race contributed to his performance, what bearing a musician’s ethnicity had on her interpretation, and in what manner the combination of race and gender contributed to a writer’s new novel.  A subtle affirmative action arose affecting which writers got published and who received awards.  In the jargon of the times, the ‘social location’ of the artist was to be seen as crucial, and social location – always and everywhere – meant primarily race, class, gender.” (p. 176)
  • Diversity on the whole has been a deadening influence on the arts not because the theme is entirely antithetical to artistic achievement, but because it boxes the artist into such a narrow role.” (p. 177)
  • “The real point here is that while diversity in the arts may wear the grim face of reproach in the context of forcing  open more job opportunities in arts organizations, while it may wear the scornful face of anger in the context of telling its stories of group victimization, while it may wear the calm mask of authority when asserting the privileged perspective of group identity, diversity in the context of public life is an altogether cheerful fellow, full of harmony, tolerance and good will.” (p. 194)
  • “Diversity in its most compelling sense is within us.  The arts are important, not least for their capacity to illuminate those inner diversities in ourselves and in others.  Diversity in the sense of the movement that insists on the preeminence of group identity, however, trivializes art, and to that extent, it is an affliction that truly does diminish us.” (p. 199)
  • “The successful imposition of undemocratic means does little to teach respect for real democratic values, and when ‘critical thinking’ turns out to be a euphemism for learning to recite the mantra ‘Race-Class-Gender’ in diversity classes, we ought to realize that diversity isn’t really giving us a generation of students adept at extracting themselves form Plato’s cave.” (p. 218)
  • “The art of diversity-speak is to sound to the outsider blandly consonant with traditional values, while signaling to the insider one’s espousal of the radical new doctrine.” (p. 219)
  • Diversity advocates create the problems that diversity consultants are then hired to ameliorate.  Diversity amelioration causes more problems, for which diversity experts propose the answer: more diversity.” (p. 223)
  • “Instead, we live in the age of diversiphile students, diversidact professors and diversicrat college administrators.  In the new campus ecology, the ideal of liberal education is frequently mentioned, but we shouldn’t be fooled.  Diversity only preserves some of the outward appearance of liberal education, while substituting its own antiliberal agenda on every crucial point.” (p. 228)
  • “Part of the oddity of the situation is that diversity seemed to gain its lofty perch without the help of any great mind, any prestigious philosopher or social theorist, or any major book.  There is no Machiavelli, no Leviathan, no Critique of Pure Reason, no Adam Smith, no Communist Manifesto, no John Stuart Mill, no Weber, no Durkheim, no Madison, no Jefferson, no Darwin, no Souls of Black Folks, no Feminine Mystique, nor even a Port Huron Statement, a Wiccan Rede or a Martha Stewart of the diversity movement.  It arrived unparented, as a kind of collective emanation of ponderous academic silliness.” (p. 243-244)
  • “Campus diversity, in practice, seldom turns out to be ‘inclusive.’  Rather it is accusatory and divisive.  The ‘differences’ that come to the fore are those of students who are aggressive in pushing their agendas aimed at gaining power and privilege, not those of the mostly imaginary ideal of cultural exchange.  After being exposed to this for a semester or two, students grow disenchanted.  But instead of questioning the premises of diversity itself, the students typically blame the college for not providing enough or the right kinds of diversity.” (p. 253)
  • “But the diversity movement was far more than disaffected teachers and faculty members successfully selling to their students what Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick once called the ‘Blame America First’ doctrine.  It was also a message of spiritual goodness and artistic liberation.  Diversity connected with the wooly relativism – the Church of I-Tolerate-Differences – that had been evolving in the mainline Christian denominations since the late sixties.  Figures such as Revered Coffin had bridged Christianity, Eastern mysticism and the self-help movement, and a large body of church-shopping spiritual consumers had grown up negligent of religious authority but hungry to sample many different forms of ‘authenticity.’” (p. 291)
  • “This book, which offers a biography of sorts of the concept of diversity, might rightly end with a description of the funeral.  I wish I could oblige, but diversity is still among the quick.  Diversity may not pass away at all.  History has no settled script; we can make guesses and offer our views of what we would like to happen.  But we live now, as we do in every historical moment, with choices.” (p. 292)
  • “We are left, I think, with an extreme instance of what can go wrong with diversity when it is allowed to become the governing principle of peoples’ lives.  It is freedom without a sense of purpose; and invitation to set out on a quest for identity without meaningful boundaries.  To some, of a serious cast of mind but without serious counsel, it leads to dark extremes.  Tolerance without moral clarify is a kind of torpor.  Diversity creates the problem and then prescribes its own solution: more diversity.  It leads some to a kind of ethnic fundamentalism, others to the make-believe of ‘music related lifestyles,’ and a few to the ‘authenticity’ of religious beliefs to which they have no cultural connection.  John Walker Lindh’s flight out of torpor was to the other imaginary pole, of fiery commitment.  It was his misguided attempt to awake.” (p. 302)
  • “Even should we as a nation choose to put it behind us, diversity will linger in the lives already mortgaged to the notion that we are but members of identity groups, not free people who chart our own lives.  Diversity’s false promise of authenticity will leave many playing out a large portion of their lives inside its masquerades.  We will be left, for a long while still, with the reign of diversity’s pasteboard stereotypes.” (p. 308)

Beware of diversity!

Diversity

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Liberty and Security

Today marks the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  The sobering events of that day must never be forgotten.  As we commemorate the victims of this terrible tragedy, the vigilant citizen might also reflect on the changes that have occurred in the United States since that time, including the changes that influence our liberty and our security.

What is the relationship between liberty and security?  In what way does the federal government provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare?  What is the role of espionage and intelligence with respect to liberty and security?

In an effort to better understand the answers to these questions, I recently read two books that I commend to your attention.  The first is Michael V. Hayden’s Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, and the second is Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man.  Hayden is a retired Air Force four-star general and former director of the NSA, principal deputy director of National Intelligence, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  He is also a principal at the Chertoff Group and a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs.  Harding is a British foreign correspondent for The Guardian, and the subject of his book, Edward Snowden, is a former CIA, NSA, and Booz Allen Hamilton employee who gained international attention for leaking classified information from the NSA in 2013.

In many ways, Hayden and Snowden are polar opposites.  From Hayden’s perspective, American liberty depends on the security that intelligence agencies provide for the common defense.  From Snowden’s perspective, intelligence agencies jeopardize American liberty in the name of a false security.  Who is right?  What is the relationship between liberty and security?  Does the current federal government, together with the associated intelligence agencies, ensure the safety of American citizens?  Or does a modern “surveillance state” threaten our liberties?  Whatever the case, the vigilant citizen will benefit from a perusal of Hayden’s Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror and Harding’s The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man.

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Hurl the Miserable Sychophant from his Exaltation

“We have had Democratic Presidents, Whig Presidents, a pseudo-Democratic-Whig President, and now it is time to have a President of the United States; and let the people of the whole Union, like the inflexible Romans, whenever they find a promise made by a candidate that is not practiced as an officer, hurl the miserable sycophant from his exaltation, as God did Nebuchadnezzar, to crop the grass of the field with a beast’s heart among the cattle.”

– The Prophet Joseph Smith

2015 State of the Union Address: Notes

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Tonight President Obama gave his sixth State of the Union Address.  He is a good speaker.  He had a lot of positive things to say.  He concluded his speech by declaring that “a brighter future is ours to write,” and “let’s start the work right now.”

While the Onion mocks Biden time and time again, and while Ron Paul gives his speech for liberty, it seems to be a harder task to put one over on the President.  He is an excellent orator.  His hair is neatly trimmed.

Toward the end of his speech, the President remarked,  “I have no more campaigns to run…” which he quickly followed up with, “I know ’cause I won both of them.”

He spoke of the mentally ill, of gays and lesbians, of immigration, GITMO, Ebola, cyber security, global warming, the Middle East, Cuba, Russia, trips to space and Mars, medicine and health care, terrorism, the minimum wage, women, graduation, student loans, and the economy.  As he put it, “The state of the union is strong.”

Is it?

“We are fifteen years into this new century,” Obama began, reminding us of the progressive age in which we live.  “There’s good news people.”

“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong.”

Fine.  I’m glad that the President is optimistic.  I’m glad that he wants to discuss common purposes.  I ‘m glad that he is interested in talking about values, issues and facts.

But I have some questions.

What exactly is “middle class economics”?

What does it mean that everyone needs a “fair shot” and to play “by the same set of rules”?

The most oft repeated phrase in the President’s speech was, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Is it?  Why?

“It’s 2015.  It’s time.”  Why?

“Level the playing field.”  Why?

“It’s the right thing to do.”

I was interested to learn that 95% of business customers live outside of the borders of the U.S.A.  That’s a lot.

What is “precision medicine”?

Why is Scott Kelly going to spend a year in space?  (That sounds lonely, but quite an adventure I suppose)

Obama made sure to note that in contrast to Putin, he leads “not with bluster” but with “persistent, steady resolve.”

Obama promised to do his utmost to stop future pandemics.  Does he know something that we don’t know?

All of these points pale in comparison to what the President considers to be the world’s greatest problem: “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

We must stop global warming.  Why?

“It’s the right thing to do.”

For a moment, the President began to speak about his personal journey, and then he noted that gay marriage used to be a “wedge issue,” but now it’s a “civil right.”  Progress.

I’m not sure that I buy much of what the President was selling tonight, but at least one thing made sense to me. President Barack Obama called for a “better politics.”  He called for debate without demonizing.

Debate without demonizing.  That, I can agree, is the right thing to do.

 

 

 

 

Two Thumbs Up for D’Souza’s America

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Well, I tried to find a serious review of Dinesh D’Souza’s new film America: Imagine the World without Her, but to no avail.  Just as they did with D’Souza’s film 2016: Obama’s America, most critics glibly and smugly dismissed D’Souza’s arguments without understanding or engaging them. While the Rotten Tomatoes audience approval rating of the film has already reached 91%, thus far only two out of seventeen film critics (12%) gave D’Souza’s America a positive review.  What is to account for this gap?  Are film critics just that much smarter than the average moviegoer?

Some have accused D’Souza of disseminating “propaganda,” “conspiracy theory” or “racism,” but by leveling such accusations the critics have inadvertently lent credence to D’Souza’s arguments.  As D’Souza himself observed: “The left is maybe not really sure how to attack the film, so critics are attacking the film as poorly made, arguing that ‘the production quality is really poor’ and insisting that ‘Michael Moore at least knows how to make a good movie.’ That’s just downright laughable, and I think our clips and trailers that are out there are enough to refute that claim.”

Look.  This isn’t Citizen KaneLawrence of Arabia or Gone with the Wind.  But D’Souza’s new political documentary is one worth watching, at least for those who wish to engage in civil debate about important matters in American history.  In the film, D’Souza singles out five myths that are commonly deployed in the shaming of America (myths that have been perpetuated by the likes of Noam ChomskyHoward Zinn, and Saul Alinsky) and dismantles every one of them.  Essentially, D’Souza exposes the incoherence of the victimization and oppression narratives that are so frequently touted in order to demonize America.

The majority of Americans still have it right: D’Souza’s America: Imagine a World without Her deserves an emphatic two thumbs up.

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Becoming More Liberal

we-are-local-signWhat is provincialism?  The dictionary defines the adjective provincial as “1. of or concerning a province of a country or empire; 2. of or concerning the regions outside the capital city of a country, especially when regarded as unsophisticated or narrow-minded.”  Those who remain within the confines of their own province, village, town, or city, never venturing out to encounter people of different beliefs and backgrounds, or those whose intellectual curiosity is bound to their own rigid set of ideological preferences, unwilling to engage in discussions with those who hold differing opinions, are sometimes accused of being too provincial.  The label of provincialism categorizes a person as decidedly limited in his or her perspective.  Other synonyms for the word provincial include parochial, bigoted, sectarian, insular, petty, and uninformed.  In other words, the word provincial is often used in the pejorative sense; it is seldom written or uttered as a compliment.
Jesus-was-a-liberal-photoWhat then is the opposite of provincialism?  Someone who is not provincial may be described as broad-minded, tolerant, unbiased and liberal, which is to say, generousbeneficent and kind.  Unlike the pejorative provincial, these last words may be employed in commendation and praise. Whereas provincialism is most often mentioned as a vice, liberality is understood to be a virtue.  A liberal person is one who is well exercised in the art of listening, and is favorable to promoting freedom in thought and in action.  A liberal person possesses both critical thinkings skills and the ability to weigh out  a variety of ideas before forming opinions or reaching conclusions.  A liberal person is one who has cultivated the attributes of patience and of long-suffering.  In short, a truly liberal person is charitable.
In his novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) Marcel Proust wrote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  The capacity to see with “new eyes” is the capacity to think liberally and to vanquish provincialism.  Proust made an excellent point, but for many people the journey toward greater liberality requires more than merely metaphorical movement.  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” wrote Mark Twain, “and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, abandon_all_hopewholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  Just to mention a few hypothetical examples, imagine if Dante the Pilgrim, upon reading the inscription on the gates of hell “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”), had suddenly decided to stop following his poet-guide Virgil.  What if Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo had chosen to remain in the Shire rather than embarking on their respective quests?  What if Sinbad the Sailor had never set sail on his first voyage?  What if, instead of fighting in the Trojan War, Odysseus had simply stayed at home on the Island of Ithaca with his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus?
we_readOf course not everyone has the time, resources or inclination to travel to distant lands or to remote corners of the earth.  Fortunately, other catalysts for liberality, and antidotes to provincialism, such as reading, can be as close at hand as your bookshelf or as near as your local library.  Wrote C.S. Lewis, “We read to know that we are not alone.”  The books we choose to read, and the friends with whom we choose to associate, influence our thoughts and are a reflection of who we are.   “I feel the need of reading,” stated President Abraham Lincoln, “It is a loss to a man not to have grown up among books…  Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.”  In A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, a precursor to WaldenHenry David Thoreau counseled, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” Thoreau’s admonition takes for granted the reader’s ability to discern which books really are the best, but it is good advice nonetheless.
serviceIn addition to travel and study, service is perhaps the best antidote to provincialism.  As we reach outward to lift another person, our love increases, our perspective enlarges, and our horizons expand.  We leave the little world that we have constructed in our own minds to encounter a better world, where every man is our brother, and every woman is our sister.  G.K. Chesterton wisely observed: “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”  In his Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth rightly observed that the “best portion of a good man’s life” consists of “His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”  That best portion, that liberal portion, increases only by serving others.  In the words of Spencer Kimball, “the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. We become more significant individuals as we serve others. We become more substantive as we serve others—indeed, it is easier to ‘find’ ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!”
Although there have been bounteous beacons of liberality in the past to light the way, Proust, Twain, Dante, Tolkien, Galland, Homer, Lewis, Lincoln, Thoreau, Chesterton, Wordsworth, and Kimball were each provincial, as are we, in that they occupied, as we now occupy, a tiny little province in the universe known as the planet earth.  The circumference of the earth, approximately 24,901 miles (a distance which many may travel during their life-time) is universeseemingly very long, unless we also consider the distance from the earth to the sun, some 92,960,000 miles, or the distance from the sun to the nearest star, a mere 4.24 light-years.  In the vast ocean of the universe, the terrestrial sphere which we inhabit is but a grain of sand on the beach of a small island that we call the solar system.  The most broad-minded, tolerant, and liberal soul, though of infinite worth, is but a microscopic speck of dust on that minuscule, though beautiful, grain of sand.  The combined knowledge of every human being, from Adam and Eve (or even from the earliest bipedal hominid or Australopithicene) to the present time, along with the combined wisdom of all the world’s greatest sages, would amount to far less than the single most foolish thought ever to cross the mind of God (if God were indeed capable of thinking a foolish thought). Therefore, when taking into consideration the vast expanse of the universe, we earthlings are quite provincial.
tissot-christ-appears-on-the-shore-of-lake-tiberias-741x484Must it always be thus?  Is there a way to transcend provincialism and attain unto true liberality? After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and the disciple that desired to tarry upon the earth recorded: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)  Jesus, whose earthly travels before His resurrection covered but a small region of the land of Palestine, and whose library probably consisted only of those books of which He Himself was already the true author, was anything but provincial. His divine liberality puts all mortal liberality to shame:
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: / Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. / For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)
Though He was the Son of God, Jesus was maltreated by Annas and Caiaphas, and then arraigned before Pontius Pilate.  Pilate pressed Jesus to answer whether or not He were the King of the Jews, to which question Jesus responded: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36)  For His true liberality, Jesus suffered in Gethsemane and was crucified on the cruel cross of Calvary, having been betrayed by the most sinister provincialism in history.
Quotation-Joseph-Smith-Jr--god-wisdom-truth-prayer-teaching-best-Meetville-Quotes-104929Through travel, study and service we may do much to conquer provincialism and increase in liberality, but until our thoughts escape the gravitational pull of human knowledge, and until, with new eyes, we see beyond the confines of mortal wisdom, we will remain forever enclosed within a provincial paradigm.  “The best way to obtain truth and wisdom,” wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith, “is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.” (History of the Church, 4:425)  Of course, this does not mean that we shouldn’t strive to acquire all the knowledge and wisdom that we can, but even the longest lifetime of the most rigorous study can yield only that which the Apostle Paul referred to as “foolishness” (1 Cor. 3:19)  While celebrating mass on the Feast of St. Nicholas, the great theologian Thomas Aquinas received a revelation so powerful that he left his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, unfinished. Aquinas informed his secretary and friend that, “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”  When his friend urged him to continue writing, Aquinas again replied, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.”
if_any_of_you_lack_wisdomThe Prophet Joseph Smith affirmed, “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”  This does not mean that we shouldn’t travel, study and serve, but that by turning away from our own provincial thoughts and seeking the source of all liberality we can receive divine teaching: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5)

What is Mental Illness?

mental_illness

What is Mental Illness?

Yesterday columnist Natalie Crofts reported that Utah has the highest rate of mental illness in the United States.  Since she reported from Rockville, Maryland (a state that ranks near the bottom of the scale), we can safely trust that the survey represents a sane diagnosis of a national malady.

The study, conducted by an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ostensibly demonstrates that 22.4% of the adult population in Utah experienced a mental disorder in the past year, of which 5.14% suffered from a severe mental disorder.  Crofts elaborated: “The study estimated 42.5 million people over the age of 18 in the U.S. have experienced a mental illness in the past year, at a rate of 18.2 percent. Severe mental illness affected 9.3 million people, at a rate of 4 percent.”

What Crofts conveniently failed to make clear in her report is that the organization that conducted the survey (The SAMHSA) defines mental illness based on diagnostic criteria in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).  This same organization defines “Serious Mental Illness” or “SMI” as “a disorder that substantially interfered with or limited one or more major life activities” requiring “the most urgent need for treatment.”  The study concludes that “The presence of SMI (Serious Mental Illness) and AMI (Any Mental Illness)  in every state reinforces that mental illness is a major public health concern in the United States,” with the caveat that “Factors that potentially contribute to the variation are not well understood and need further study.”

In basic terms, the Center for Behavioral Health and Statistics has determined that “Mental illness is a major public health concern in the United States,” and Utah has the highest rate of mental illness in the nation.

But just what is mental illness?  How does one determine whether another person is mentally ill?  How would one know whether the person at the head of the agency, or the person who designed the survey, were mentally ill?  How is mental illness measured?  Can mental health be measured?  What sort of thoughts does a 100% sane person think?   What is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? How was it created?  How were these surveys to determine mental illness conducted?

Setting aside the other questions for a moment, let us focus on the last question.  To begin the survey, people were selected using the following process:

“A scientific random sample of households is selected across the United States, and a professional RTI interviewer makes a personal visit to each selected household. Once a household is chosen, no other household can be substituted for any reason. This practice is to ensure the NSDUH data represent the many different types of people in the United States.

After answering a few general questions during the in-person visit by the interviewer, one or two residents of the household may be asked to participate in the survey by completing an interview. It is possible no one will be selected for the interview. If an individual is selected for the interview, their participation is voluntary, but no other person can take their place. Since the survey is based on a random sample, each selected person represents more than 4,500 United States residents. At the end of the completed interview, the selected person will receive $30 in cash.”

Once the person was selected, how was the interview then conducted?

“Participants complete the interview in the privacy of their own home. A professional RTI interviewer personally visits each selected person to administer the interview using a laptop computer. No prior computer skills are necessary. Individuals answer most of the interview questions in private and enter their responses directly into the computer so even the interviewer does not know the answer entered. For some items, the interviewer reads the question aloud and enters the participant’s response into the computer. The interview takes about an hour to complete.”

And what sort of questions did the interviewer ask?  Here are a few examples:

“During the last 30 days, how often did you feel nervous? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel hopeless? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel restless or fidgety? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel so sad or depressed that nothing could cheer you up? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel that everything was an effort? / During the past 30 days, how often did you feel down on yourself, no good or worthless?”

Those chosen to take the survey then entered one of the following answers for each question: “1 All of the time / 2 Most of the time / 3 Some of the time / 4 A little of the time / 5 None of the time / Don’t know/Refused”

If those questions weren’t enough to make a person feel nervous or hopeless, I don’t know what else could.  Furthermore, if, after an hour of questioning, the interviewee didn’t start to feel restless or fidgety, that individual might just be superhuman.  But a barrage of more specific questions were posed to determine whether or not the participant suffered from what the “experts” of the DSM have labelled “MDD,” or “Major Depressive Disorder”:

“1. Depressed mood most of the day: The following questions refer to the worst or most recent period of time when the respondent experienced any or all of the following: sadness, discouragement, or lack of interest in most things.

During that [worst/most recent] period of time…

  1. … did you feel sad, empty, or depressed most of the day nearly every day?
  2. … did you feel discouraged about how things were going in your life most of the day nearly every day?
  1. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day
  1. … did you lose interest in almost all things like work and hobbies and things you like to do for fun?
  2. … did you lose the ability to take pleasure in having good things happen to you, like winning something or being praised or complimented?
  1. Weight

In answering the next questions, think about the [worst/most recent] period of time.

  1. Did you have a much smaller appetite than usual nearly every day during that time?
  2. Did you have a much larger appetite than usual nearly every day?
  3. Did you gain weight without trying to during that [worst/most recent] period of time?
  1. … because you were growing?
  2. … because you were pregnant?
  3. How many pounds did you gain?
  1. Did you lose weight without trying to?
  1. … because you were sick or on a diet?
  2. How many pounds did you lose?
  1. Insomnia or hypersomnia
  1. Did you have a lot more trouble than usual falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early nearly every night during that [worst/most recent] period of time?
  2. During that [worst/most recent] period of time, did you sleep a lot more than usual nearly every night?
  1. Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  1. Did you talk or move more slowly than is normal for you nearly every day?
  2. Were you so restless or jittery nearly every day that you paced up and down or couldn’t sit still?
  1. Fatigue or loss of energy
  1. During that [worst/most recent] period of time, did you feel tired or low in energy nearly every day even when you had not been working very hard?
  1. Feelings of worthlessness
  1. Did you feel that you were not as good as other people nearly every day?
  2. Did you feel totally worthless nearly every day?
  1. Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness
  1. During that [worst/most recent] time period, did your thoughts come much more slowly than usual or seem confused nearly every day?
  2. Did you have a lot more trouble concentrating than usual nearly every day?
  3. Were you unable to make decisions about things you ordinarily have no trouble deciding about?
  1. Recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal ideation
  1. Did you often think about death, either your own, someone else’s, or death in general?
  2. During that period, did you ever think it would be better if you were dead?
  3. Did you think about committing suicide?”

Even if the participant made it through all of those questions, he or she might well be depressed just by reading them.  By answering all of the questions, and then pocketing the $30 payment, the participant at least demonstrated that he or she was mentally healthy enough to endure an hour-long survey.  But remember, all of these questions refer to “the worst or most recent period of time when the respondent experienced any or all of the following: sadness, discouragement, or lack of interest in most things.”  It just so happens that if you are a human being, feelings of sadness, discouragement, or lack of interest just might be natural, particularly during difficult times.  This survey could have been administered to someone who just lost a job.  The participant might have recently lost a loved one, had a baby, or been injured in a hockey fight.  In short, there is no real objective way to determine whether a person is mentally ill or not, in part because there is no real consensus about what it means to be mentally ill.

But this hasn’t stopped people from systematizing and spreading theories of illness.  Nor has it stopped government agencies from conducting surveys to determine how ill America is.  When asked what mental illness means, many would answer that it is a problem that results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, or a physiological problem with genetic links… but where is the medical proof that this is actually the case?  I’ll let you in on a secret… there is none.  In fact, the entire Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Bible of psychiatry, is a work of fiction, albeit a very clever work of fiction.  This ever-expanding handbook of mental illnesses has yet to include a diagnosis for those who obsessively diagnose and over-medicate innocent people, and thereby brand them with a heavy psychiatric stigma.  Perhaps it should include FDS (Fanatical Diagnosing Syndrome) in its more than 800 pages.  Of course, in that case, too many doctors and psychiatrists would have to be medicated and hospitalized along with their patients.

In sum, Natalie’s article contributes to a burgeoning branch of media attention given to a nebulous idea that Americans in general, and particularly people from Utah, are becoming more and more mentally ill.  This may or may not be true, but the results of the survey, and the statistics that follow, do little, if nothing, to explain what exactly mental illness means, or what exactly causes mental illness. The truth is that nobody knows.  Those who claim to know often have something in a bottle to sell.  Nevertheless, one thing is certain… if nobody were labelled mentally ill, an entire government agency would have to be dismantled, the profession of psychiatry would disintegrate, and pharmaceutical factories and offices would be razed to the ground.  As it is, someone stands to profit from distributing labels, spreading rumors of mental illness and measuring each with statistics… and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the people to whom the stigma is attached.

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Think About It