Ten American Myths Revisited
Curiously enough, my Ten American Myths post generated some long and thoughtful comments. Some even took the trouble to address my points individually. I promised I would respond in kind, so here are people’s responses and my comments. The only codicil I would make here is the usual one, I covered a lot of ground in my original post so my writing certainly may have suffered from brevity. And that what is true for America may very well not be true elsewhere, and vice versa. And of course since I was making such broad generalizations, it goes without saying that broad generalizations are more in the realm of the figurative and the philosophical as opposed to being literally true in all cases. And lastly, I may have been wrong and will have to change my thinking. I used to think Jane Fonda should have been tried for treason. I was wrong. Now I just think she should be forced to watch her movies, what can we charge her with to make that a reality?
Moving right along…
1. Jobs vs Environment. I posit that it’s not always the case that doing things in an environmentally sound way is going to put people out of work.
John says: “Then why not just go ahead and adopt Stalin’s model?”
I wasn’t advocating Stalinist ideology, or anything like it, so I am a little mystified where this came from.
2. Regulation is Bad. Deregulation is supposed to be this great thing, I argue that industry and commerce must be regulated to some extent and failure to do so is putting the fox in charge of the hen house.
John says: “…You fail to point out the deregulation under Reagan that led to two decades of economic growth and prosperity. Balance is the key, but where is it?”
Actually, the middle class has been losing ground in the USA since about 1974, and Bush/Reagan’s “prosperity” was the largest upwards transfer of wealth in history. Not to mention their deregulation has led to an era of unbridled and unsustainable lending both private and public. Deregulation helped industry and the rich, but there was no “trickle down.” The rich getting richer while the poor and middle class lose ground is not my idea of prosperity.
3. Privatization is Good. I argue that the idea, in America, that private industry can always provide public service at a lesser cost than private industry is not supported by evidence or logic.
John says: “Not sure how you arrive at this unless you are looking at examples that are not truly privatized. Real privatization is not commissioning a privately held monopoly as some think it is, but relegating the task to a competitive market. When firms compete the consumer is generally the winner, right?”
If there is genuine competition and genuine privatization, yes, it can be a good thing. And this deserves to be discussed at length. So I stand corrected to some extent. My point was that automatically assuming that a private company can provide a service cheaper than a public one is not a given, and has been used as cover for some egregious examples of waste and corruption. Mr Priya Raju makes an interesting comment vis a vis this situation in India, but I don’t know enough about India to say:
Privatization – Perhaps you’d like to come to India & see how crappy the government laid roads are – and compare them to roads laid by Larsen & Toubro. Or, see how fugly the government-maintained airports are. This is so out-of-sync with the current economy of India.
Now finally, we have a decent aviation minister – he’s modernizing airports – by privatizing construction.
There is no incentive for improvement in a government-run enterprise. I agree that large corporations become evil, but I’m not happy with the alternative.
I’ll post more on the subject of privatization at some point.
4. Colour Blind America. The USA is still a white man’s country.
John says: “One would have to walk a mile in anothers’ shoes to understand this. Sad. Do you think this is a failing of our educational, religious or political systems? Or none of the above?”
I think politics and religion play a big role…and I theorize that human’s extreme sexual dimorphism also plays an underlaying part. Again, another topic for another post some day.
5. Protesters Lost Viet Nam/We Tied Our Own Hands. Again, I covered this one more or less in my fine and under appreciated post: “We could have won in Vietnam“
6. War Helps the Economy. No, it doesn’t.
John says: If one looks at economics in a purist sense then any expenditure (transaction) stimulates an economy. Most people don’t understand that “economy” is the tracking of movement, not statics. War would stimulate any economy as it means increased activity. The flow of funds from government to private corporations for weapons and the flow of funds from individuals and businesses to government is measurable during any war and therefore an economic stimulus. I am speaking from a purist sense here, though.
Even in a purist sense, there’s no reason this sort of wealth transfer can’t take place without a war, and of course the increase in economic activity has to be measured against the economic loss, which is usually overlooked. About one million young American males died in World War Two…and everything they would have contributed to society during their productive decades was lost. Economic statistics rarely include this sort of loss. There’s room for debate here, but my point again was the mantra “war helps the economy” should really be “war helps the war profiteers.”
7. Rural Areas are Safe. “This sort of things doesn’t happen here” is silly.
8. Punishment Works. No, punishment is the least effective way of changing an organism’s behaviour.
John says: I guess this one could be debated both ways. There seem to be natural laws (cause and effect) that may be in play that would have to be considered. For example, if there was no punishment (disincentive) for breaking a law, then why have the law? If we don’t have law, then don’t we become victim to anarchy? If someone breaks the law, then what does one do about it? This seems to be a very deep and multi-dimensional topic, and I’d look forward to further comment!
Priya Raju says: Punishments – Neurologists have found that we learn thru both positive & negative reinforcements.
While rehabilitation is important in prisons, they should be used in conjunction with some kind of punishment.
And 1 more thing. Seeking revenge is normal – I’m not justifying it, but I think that’s the way it is. If people can’t lock up the turds that hurt them – their reliance on the law & order system will weaken.
I was not advocating that we eliminate punishment or prisons, properly done there are ways of punishing people that will indeed help modify their behaviour. However, unless done in conjunction with rewards for positive behaviour, punishment usually just breeds resentment or worse. I was mostly stating that the oft heard claim “If we just make prisons harsh enough, sentences long enough, the inmates will behave themselves when they get out” is completely wrong.
I would also point out that being locked up 24/7 away from one’s friends and families or any semblance of a normal life is a pretty severe punishment in and of itself. In any event, lots of subject for further blogs and debate here. And I’m not sure that the desire for vengeance is natural, I think it’s mostly a learnt behaviour.
9. Torture Works. It will almost always get confessions, but there are far better ways to get truthful information from prisoners.
Marc André points out that the inquisition “proved” the existence of witchcraft and black magic.
10. Prohibition Works. In most things, it’s a cure worse than the disease.
John says: This seems to be a hard one too. For example, in terms of death and enforcement, do we have just as many if not more as a result of the repeal of prohibition? I understand that a person dies from a drunk driver every 31 minutes and the deaths as a result since the repeal have been staggering. The cost of law enforcement on the streets to combat drunk driving, the alcohol related violent crimes, the cost of regulation, the cost to society as a whole could be far more than what we experienced during prohibition.
The only drug whose usage has been seriously cut back in the USA in recent decades is tobacco, and it is perfectly legal. Despite a three decade “war on drugs” the use and availability of drugs is undiminished, criminal gangs have been enriched beyond belief, and we have created a police/prison/war-on-drugs industry and lobby that has warped public debate on prohibition to justify its own existence and expansion.
I don’t know if alcohol prohibition would have “succeeded” if we had only kept it up, but judging from the “success” of drug prohibition, I have my doubts. I also think “if we had just kept at it, it would have worked out eventually” is a logically weak argument at best.
In any event, at least several of these topics should be explored more at length. As always I appreciate all the comments. Esteemed reader Marc André also left a number of thoughtful comments, but since he was mostly agreeing with me and refuting John’s arguments, I mostly didn’t include them here in what has already become a rather long post.
(The above painting of Atlantis is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, it is not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. Damned if I could find the author/artist, if anyone knows please let me know so I can properly attribute it. Atlantis is the ultimate myth, despite the complete and utter absence of any documentary evidence other than Plato’s writings, people continue to believe that he must have been discussing a real place. So does this mean a few thousand years from now expeditions will be setting out to find the ruins of “Emerald City” from the Wizard of Oz? Heck, wiki lists tons of fictional cities and towns, enjoy!)