Our Sybil War

Published on July 4, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell, the popular Canadian writer, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday. He was on the program, as Chuck Todd noted, as an outsider who could offer “some insight into who we are as Americans and how we approach our problems.”

Gladwell did offer some insight, take it or leave it:

As the outsider, the thing about American society that has always baffled me is that Americans love nothing more than accentuating their differences. Whereas I come from a culture, Canada, where all we do is celebrate what we have in common, even when we don’t have anything in common, you know? We love talking about how we’re Canadians, we’re in this together, we’re all the same in the end. You know, Americans are all the same in the end, but you guys like to pretend that you’re not. And you know, I don’t think it’s that hard to get back to that position of understanding how similar you all are.

Well, there is some truth to what Gladwell says. We do have many similarities as Americans. And we all may be “in this together.” But he’s wrong to claim that “Americans are all the same in the end.” I’m going to attempt to explain why he’s wrong by using two examples.

The first one comes from a scientist named Riccardo Sabatini, who seemed to prove what Malcolm Gladwell was saying, that basically we human beings are all the same. Sabatini, famously, printed out the genome of a famous friend of his. In case you don’t know what a genome is, here is a handy definition:

A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.

It turns out, as Sabatini proved, that if you print out a human genome, it fills some 175 books, comprising 262,000 densely printed pages, about a thousand pounds of instructions that, essentially, make you who you are, or aren’t. The amazing thing, the human genomething Sabatini highlighted, is that 174 1/2 of those 175 books contain genetic instructions that are identical to your neighbor’s. Yes, that’s right. Genetically speaking, the tall guy living behind my house, my neighbor, is almost identical to me. Only about 500 pages of the 262,000 pages of instructions make us different. We are 99.998% the same. And one would think that such a sober, Gladwellian truth would tend to make us all, Canadians or Americans—or even the Russians!—believe that, heck, we really are “the same in the end.”

Except, obviously, we’re not.

The neighbor I mentioned, the one who is nearly identical to me—remember that our genetic code is only .002 different—not only put up a TR-MP-PENCE sign in his front yard, he put one up in his back yard. He did that for me—and only me—to see (because I park in the back). Why did he do that? Well, since his sign appeared a day or two after I put up my HILLARY sign (in my front yard only), I guess he did it because he wanted to send me a message: he was a Tr-mp guy.

Now, is there something in that .002 genetic difference that made my neighbor a Tr-mp guy? Beats me. I suppose it’s possible that in those 175 volumes of genetic code—which, according to Riccardo Sabatini, “we just know probably two percent: four books of more than 175”—there is an “I prefer buffoons for president” gene. But I doubt it. More likely, something in my neighbor’s background has made him a Tr-mper. Some experience or experiences affected his brain chemistry enough that Tr-mp’s vulgarity and ignorance, toxically mixed with his insecurity-masking machismo, seems not only attractive, but subversively attractive. And something in my background has made me a fierce anti-Tr-mper, a counter-subversive. And no amount of Gladwellian talk about our similarities, no perfectly rational presentation of our genetic sameness, will bridge the enormous gulf between me and my neighbor. The differences between someone who thinks Tr-mp is the answer and someone who thinks he is dangerously unfit for the presidency are unbridgeable. We’re not “all the same in the end.”

In fact, it’s very much the opposite. In the end, for whatever reason, we are very, very different. Northerners and southerners were unbridgeably different in 1861—and even after four years of a bloody civil war, after hundreds of thousands of dead Americans, the differences remained. And in some important ways, many of those differences are still with us today, along with many others.

That brings me to my second example of why Gladwell was wrong and to the baffling title of this essay.

Shirley Ardell Mason was a mentally troubled artist who was born in 1923. If you are like me, you know who she was because of the two-part TV film, Sybil, broadcast in 1976. That film, based on a 1973 book written by journalist Flora Schreiber, starred Sally Field and Joanne Woodward (another Sybil movie came out in 2007). Field played Sybil Dorsett, which was the pseudonym chosen for Shirley Mason. Sybil, allegedly, suffered from what was then called “multiple personality disorder”—now called “dissociative identity disorder” (DID). She supposedly had 16 distinct personalities or “selves.”

I will tell you now there has been a lot of controversy surrounding “Sybil,” her psychiatrist, Dr. Connie Wilbur, and the diagnostic legitimacy of multiple personality disorder. Some have claimed the whole thing was a fraud, perpetrated for notoriety and money. Others have claimed that Dr. Wilbur induced Sybil’s alleged multiple personalities through her therapeutic suggestions. There’s no need for me to go into all the details of that controversy. Suffice it to know that in 1994, according to Psychology Today, “multiple personality disorder” was changed to “dissociative identity disorder.” The reason:

to reflect a better understanding of the condition—namely, that it is characterized by a fragmentation, or splintering, of identity rather than by a proliferation, or growth, of separate identities.

My point of bringing this up is that I would attribute America’s obviously severe political and cultural divide to something like a national dissociative identity disorder, “characterized by a fragmentation, or splintering, of identity.” I think this problem with national identity has been with us from our beginning as a nation, largely because of the sin of slavery, which was first coded in our collective DNA in 1619, when the first African “servants” arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.

When Thomas Jefferson gave us “All men are created equal” in 1776, it served at the time as a cry for revolution and seemed like a unifying declaration. Eleven years later, our Constitution promised to “establish Justice” for “We the People.” America appeared to be a nation with one identity—E pluribus unum. But, of course, most of the pluribus were not part of the unum. There was a civil war to come to partially settle that for African-Americans, and it would still be another 55 years after the shooting part of that war ended before women were allowed to vote, in 1920. And to this day we live with the anti-democratic Electoral College, which “amplifies the votes of white people and reduces the voice of minorities.” (And, thus, gave us George W. Bush and Donald Tr-mp.)

Psychology Today points out that dissociative identity disorder “reflects a failure to integrate various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness into a single multidimensional self.” If that doesn’t describe our history, and our contemporary situation, then I don’t know what does. Think about some of our differences:

♦ People who believe in the fact of evolution versus people who believe in a six-day creation by God.

♦ People who believe in the fact of climate change versus those who think it is a hoax.

♦ People who believe in sensible gun control versus those who reject almost all restrictions on guns, and who think guns belong in schools and bars and even churches.

♦ People who believe women should be able to control their own reproductive health versus those who think aborting a zygote is tantamount to murder.

♦ People who believe access to affordable health care is a right versus those who don’t think so, or who think a more important right is that fabulously wealthy people have lower tax rates.

♦ People who live in more culturally diverse urban areas, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, versus people who live in less culturally diverse rural areas, who overwhelmingly vote for Republicans.

♦ People who think thugs like Vladimir Putin should be condemned versus those who openly admire him because he “is a God-and-country Russian patriot” who “stands against the Western progressive vision of what mankind’s future ought to be.”

♦ People who believe the press is essential to the health of our democracy versus those who think it is “the enemy of the people.”

♦ People who believe Tr-mp is a sick and vulgar grifter who dirties the presidency versus those who embrace and celebrate his behavior.

I ask: How do you make a nation whole—the alleged therapeutic result in the Sybil story—when there are differences as stark and as wide as these? How do you integrate the “various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness” into a single multidimensional national self? I don’t know. It looks impossible to me. But let’s go on.

Psychology Today lists the essential criteria that must be met to make a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. I will slightly modify these criteria to reflect how they might apply to our ailing nation:

  • The [nation] experiences two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self). Some cultures describe this as an experience of possession.
  • The disruption in [national] identity involves a change in sense of self, sense of agency, and changes in behavior, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and motor function.
  • Frequent gaps are found in memories of [national] history, including people, places, and events, for both the distant and recent past. These recurrent gaps are not consistent with ordinary forgetting.
  • These symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

You, of course, can be the judge of whether I’m way off or have at least suggested something that requires further thought. I would add, however, that there is treatment available for individuals with this disorder that perhaps can be applied to a nation:

The primary treatment for DID is long-term psychotherapy with the goal of deconstructing the different personalities and uniting them into one. Other treatments include cognitive and creative therapies.

In other words, there is no magic pill, no full-proof cure. As a nation, we can try to deconstruct our differences and make an attempt to unite them into one, making E pluribus unum a reality rather than a mythical motto. I have my doubts about that long-term social psychotherapy. Someone will have to come up with a form of cognitive or creative therapy that I cannot now possibly imagine. Or—perhaps we do have something of a cure available: the idea of America.

On this, our first Tr-mp-plagued July 4, perhaps we can take a fresh look at how we might learn to live with our pluribus selves in something resembling unum. I will draw (at length) upon the words of Minnesota Senator Al Franken, from his latest book, a book full of humor and optimism.

Franken noted that just before the end of the 2016 election, Tr-mp made “his first public appearance in our state just in time to spread his trademark blend of hate, fear, and ignorance—this time targeting our Somali-Minnesotan community.” These Somalis were mostly refugees who had escaped a horrific civil war in their country. Some fifty thousand of them settled in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Franken noted, “but not all. Many smaller cities and communities around the state have signficant Somali populations.”

Earlier in 2016, Franken attended a high school graduation in a town in Kandiyohi County, “the largest turkey-producing county in the largest turkey-producing state in the nation.” He was at Willmar Senior High to introduce the student speaker elected by the graduating class, a Muslim girl named Muna Abdulahi.

Now, as Franken estimated, that high school in Willmar comprised 60 percent “garden-variety Scandinavian/German white Minnesotans, about 25 percent were Hispanic, and about 15 percent were Somali, with a few Asian Americans tossed in.”  Franken wrote:

When it came time to hand out diplomas, the crowd was told to hold their applause until the end. But they couldn’t help themselves. The moment Muna’s name was called, everyone erupted. Clapping, shouting, stomping on the bleachers—and it continued like that through each one of the 236 graduates. These kids loved each other.

The two hours I spent at that high school commencement were a tonic for the year of trash I’d been hearing about our country.

The previous year, I’d been in Willmar to help respond to an avian flu crisis that threatened the turkey industry that employs so many in Kandiyohi County. A number of producers were worried that they might lose their entire operations. But we were able to get some emergency funding to help keep them on their feet.

Were these turkey producers Democrats? Were they Republicans? No idea. Didn’t care. Don’t care. Will never care. Do they care that they have Somali refugees in their community? Yes, they do care. They want them. They need them. They need people like Muna’s dad, who works in IT at the Jennie-O Turkey store.

Perhaps Donald Tr-mp confused Minnesota with somewhere else. About a week after the election, I spoke to Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States. He told me that in France, a Frenchman is someone who can tell you what village his family is from going back centuries. Immigrants never really get to become Frenchmen. It made me think back to the hideous massacre in Paris the year before.

Here in America, of course, we’re all immigrants. Except, of course, for Native Americans against whom we committed genocide. I’m a Jew, but I’m also an American. Muna is Somali, but she’s also an American. On election day, I ran into her on campus at the University of Minnesota, where I was getting out the vote for Hillary. She told me that her sister, Anisa, had been voted homecoming queen.

That’s who we are. In places like France, they isolate their refugees and immigrants. In America, we elect them homecoming queen.

Yes, that echoes what Ronald Reagan famously said in 1988, “Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.” Yes, it is a romantic and perhaps overoptimistic view of our country. But it is essential that we hold fast to it. It is vital that we defend it even in the face of an ugly Tr-mpism. Otherwise, we fail as a democracy, at least as a democracy of decency. It simply has to be the case that Tr-mp does not represent who we are as Americans.

It is true our differences divide us in dangerous ways. But it is also true that if we can figure out how to live with those differences—by defending and strengthening those institutions that “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”—we can turn the present gloom into at least a glimmer of progress.

Oh. I almost forgot. Whenever my Tr-mp-supporting neighbor sees me, he offers a genuinely friendly wave. He really does. And on my good days, on my better days as an American, I actually wave back.




  1. Heady stuff, Dr. Graham. This is a post that bears repeated reflection. Along a parallel line I offer this little piece from Kayla Chadwick.

    “Like many Americans, I’m having politics fatigue. Or, to be more specific, arguing-about-politics fatigue.
    I haven’t run out of salient points or evidence for my political perspective, but there is a particular stumbling block I keep running into when trying to reach across the proverbial aisle and have those “difficult conversations” so smugly suggested by think piece after think piece:
    I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.
    Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.
    I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.
    If I have to pay a little more with each paycheck to ensure my fellow Americans can access health care? SIGN ME UP. Poverty should not be a death sentence in the richest country in the world. If you’re okay with thousands of people dying of treatable diseases just so the wealthiest among us can hoard still more wealth, there is a divide between our worldviews that can never be bridged.
    I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see (do you make anywhere close to the median American salary? Less? Congrats, this tax break is not for you).
    I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.
    There are all kinds of practical, self-serving reasons to raise the minimum wage (fairly compensated workers typically do better work), fund public schools (everyone’s safer when the general public can read and use critical thinking), and make sure every American can access health care (outbreaks of preventable diseases being generally undesirable).
    But if making sure your fellow citizens can afford to eat, get an education, and go to the doctor isn’t enough of a reason to fund those things, I have nothing left to say to you.
    I can’t debate someone into caring about what happens to their fellow human beings. The fact that such detached cruelty is so normalized in a certain party’s political discourse is at once infuriating and terrifying.
    The “I’ve got mine, so screw you,” attitude has been oozing from the American right wing for decades, but this gleeful exuberance in pushing legislation that will immediately hurt the most vulnerable among us is chilling.
    Perhaps it was always like this. I’m (relatively) young, so maybe I’m just waking up to this unimaginable callousness. Maybe the emergence of social media has just made this heinous tendency more visible; seeing hundreds of accounts spring to the defense of policies that will almost certainly make their lives more difficult is incredible to behold.
    I don’t know what’s changed ― or indeed, if anything has ― and I don’t have any easy answers. But I do know I’m done trying to convince these hordes of selfish, cruel people to look beyond themselves.
    Futility can’t be good for my blood pressure, and the way things are going, I won’t have health insurance for long.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, my friend, I’m speechless after reading that–the best description I have seen of how so many of us feel right now. Thanks for posting it here. Talk about food for thought.


  2. I am not a nueroscientist (or a rocket surgeon). I think, though that how genetics works is something like the following.

    Your genes and how they are expressed, as you develop in utero and as you grow in childhood, give you the tools with which to live. We all (generally) have quadriceps and gluteas maximii, but not all of us can dunk a basketball. We all can think, but some of us do that better, and in different subjects than others. Some small variations in how our genes are expressed (how they actually affect the developing body tissues) can give rise to these differerences.

    But even though I’m only 5’8” and slight of build, I could have devoted the time, effort, diet, and determination and I’ll bet I could have developed the ability to dunk a basketball. Others of my general physiology have done it. I do not have a penchant for mathematics (although I love the subject), yet I acquired a degree in Nuclear Engineering. I had to work considerably harder to do it, but I did it.

    That is a long way of saying that the environment in which we develop has a great deal to do with how we develop, and I think that includes how we think about things. I am as certain as I can be (without formal education and learning in the subject) that both genetics and environment mold who we become. We are not constrained to be a non-dunker, or a non-math whiz, but we might have to work considerably harder to get there than, say Michael Jordan (in the dunker category) or Henri Poincare or Leonhard Euler (in the math case).

    So in looking at what political beliefs people hold, I think you must look at where and how they grew up. I grew up in a fairly conservative family, and I was (gasp) fairly conservative until I began to see how that played out for everybody, not just the rich. I was in my mid forties when that began to happen, and the change was complete by the time of the Bush-Gore election fiasco. I understand from your epiphany (if that’s the correct term), Duane, that something similar happened to you.

    I say this in service of the idea that everyone can change, everyone can see what they did not see before. It isn’t easy, and it may not happen for everyone, but those of us who have changed, who have seen things we didn’t see before, could help others who are not there yet.

    I think it is important that we do so, each of us to the best of our abilities. First, though, we have to have conversations, not arguments.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael,

      You are right that I also had an epiphany, although in some respects it was really a slow-motion realization.

      In any case, I agree with you on the combination of genetics and the environment, in terms of producing who we are. But you said something important about achieving success beyond what might be expected: you worked hard to do it and others have to do the same. Well, two things about that. The ability to “work hard” is itself something we either inherited genetically or learned through our particular environment or some combination of the two. So, in a sense, if someone isn’t willing to work all that hard to achieve success, it may not be their fault at all. Lack of determination or persistence may just be something they are saddled with. Then what? I’d be interested in your answer to that question.

      Then there is something else about the idea of hard work and achievement. I coached youth baseball for years and years. There is a lot of truth in the idea that hard-workers can develop into excellent players. And there is the obvious truth that some kids are excellent players without working as hard as the otherwise “average” player. But there is another truth: no matter how hard some kids work, no matter how much effort they put out, they can never be excellent baseball players. I saw it over and over and over. It wasn’t their lack of determination or persistence. It was their relative lack of athletic talent or eye-hand coordination. So, again, stretching this idea to society at large, what do we do with folks who simply can’t succeed at the “game” they are forced to play because of the way society is structured? The answer to that question determines, in my view, what political philosophy one embraces.

      Finally, about conversation versus argument. I like both. That is, I like having general conversations, but I also like it when someone earnestly advances an argument in support of something that I either accept, or earnestly attempt to refute with my own argument. Sometimes through those exchanges something like a Hegelian synthesis emerges, but ususally not. And even though most of the time no progress is made, I still think the process is worthhile.

      But I think by “arguments” you mean just exchanging insults with someone. Of course that’s not productive, even though I have had to do it on this blog in years past because some really nasty people have come on here and hurled insults at me. If I can’t manage to salvage anything worthwhile out of interactions with such people, I have pledged to return as good as I get, as I don’t think bullies ought to have their way, either in life or on the Internet.



  3. ansonburlingame

     /  July 6, 2017


    I don’t know the numbers but understand from some limited reading that the DNA differences between monkeys and humans is small as well. Very small differences in DNA can dictate an early death due to cancer (or other family history related diseases) as well. In other words “nature” can predispose various strengths and of course weaknesses. Given those differences, how can humans live with one another becomes the underlying issue.

    Then enters “nurture”, one’s background, the manner in which they are raised to adulthood, varying levels of material resources available during childhood, and the list goes on. Is it “nature” or “nurture” that gives a person the determination to overcome adversity or just quit and hope someone else will bail them out?

    Certainly, science has yet to figure out exactly why humans are like snowflakes; everyone of us is different to some degree. I suspect it is very possible that identical twins can grow into differences in political views, even ones raised in either a conservative or liberal home, a good home in either case. Even after childhood ones life experiences, unique to each individual, can cause one to follow a different political path. And of course many people can change their minds, politically, as they proceed in their unique journey through life.

    The uniqueness of America boils down to once word, Freedom. One of the criticisms of Americans is rampant individuality, a desire to follow ones own path in life and a rejection of the herd instinct. Are Americans psychologically different from Frenchmen? If so, is that the case because of “nature” or “nurture”. Is one better than the other or just different?

    I once mentioned herein my dislike of a course in sociology that I tried to take when I was about age 70. The textbook definition of that subject provided was “the quest for social equality”. OMG, here we go was my reaction and of course I only lasted about two classes before I gave up trying to study that subject, particularly given the mindset of the professor involved. Show me any science that tries to make all snowflakes alike!! It would be akin to physics being defined as the “quest for physical equality”.

    The art of politics is finding a way to settle differences and seek common ground to improve the human condition. Now read General’s position on that matter. He is so disgusted with “Trumpism” that he cannot even discuss the issues involved with political opponents. The point of any such discussion would NOT be to convince others of why they must change their fundamental views. Rather it should be to find a way to compromise and move forward.

    It boils down to just how big (expensive) a “safety net” must be. Anyone that does not willingly and happily give away a ton of “fish” and try to achieve equality in material well being must be “deplorable” in his view. As well he probably thinks that all it takes is more money to “teach everyone to fish” as well.

    This blog site reflects the current condition of American politics. It is all about how despicable Trump might be. There is no attempt to find a common ground. The only solution is single party power it seems. When that happens politics becomes war and we are closer as a society today to such disagreement than ever before in my life that I have observed. Very few are talking WITH one another. Rather we speak against each other all the time.



    • I read your comment before replying to it, which is more courtesy than you appear to have extended to Duane. That is all.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Anson,

      I haven’t seen you post any responses to my past attempts to answer (at length) some of your comments, so I won’t address everything you said. But I do want to address this:

      In other words “nature” can predispose various strengths and of course weaknesses. Given those differences, how can humans live with one another becomes the underlying issue.

      Without going into the “nurture” issue, let’s stop here and look at the implications of what you (correctly) suggested.

      1) If at least some (let’s not argue now about how much) of the success one achieves in our society is determined by the “strengths” or “weaknesses” one inherits (i.e., no choice in the matter), then it matters a great deal, at least in a moral sense, how we arrange our society, in terms of what we do for (or to) people who inherit weaknesses that hurt or make impossible their chances for success (I’m not here referring to obviously disabled folks, etc.; I mean folks who just don’t make it in the education system or economic system and so on). We can arrange society in a way that helps such folks, or ignores them, or outright hurts them even further. One political party, your GOP friends, isn’t all that interested in helping folks who inherit weaknesses, as we see with their almost trillion-dollar cut in Medicaid and plans to do more to our safety net. What baffles me is this: how you can believe what you wrote above and then support conservative economics, which, let’s be honest, often appears in its Paul Ryan form: dog-eat-dog?

      It makes no sense to me, even without getting into the nurture debate, which itself makes nearly the same case as above (since mostly we don’t get to choose the most important externalities in our lives).

      2. This leads me to the “compromise” part of your argument and your complaint that, “There is no attempt to find common ground.” I have repeatedly tried over the years to explain why you are wrong. One side has tried, and tried way too hard it turned out, to compromise with the other. Democrats practically adopted wholesale a Republican healthcare plan in 2009-2010. What did they get from Republicans? Not a goddamned thing but a refusal to participate and then obstruction and then sabotage. The Republican Party has actively tried to destroy what they essentially invented as a response to more radical proposals like single payer. That’s why they’re in a bind right now. They don’t have a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act because it was, in many important respects, their plan. And what they are essentially doing now is secretly cobbling something together that will not be a repeal of the ACA, but an alteration of it (in really harmful ways), while keeping in place some of its most popular features. By nature, as the party of government, Democrats are compromisers. By their nature, haters of government, Republicans are not. It’s pretty much that simple whether you acknowledge it or not.




  4. ansonburlingame

     /  July 17, 2017


    I have withheld comments herein of late due to extreme frustration. I don’t have solid solutions to all the issues facing America (and the world) today but I am certainly unable to get on board with your approach to solving those issues, actually mitigating them as universal solutions are beyond the mind of humans thus far.

    There is no way government can meet the needs (much less the wants) of all Americans. For example, no doubt many Americans now support the delivery of state of the art HC to everyone, no matter what. I don’t disagree that HC (like life, liberty and pursuit of happiness) should be accessible to all. But actually obtaining all those things must rely, in part, on how hard the individual strives to achieve them. In most things related to human achievement there is a bell curve distribution of delivery of such things.

    The best way I can explain such matters is use personal experience, how I have overcome adversity myself or helped others do the same over the course of some 75 of living and thus being exposed to experience. For at least 20 years I have been on the front lines of recovery from addiction for example and try to use that experience working with people suffering from that disease to make my case(s). Working in public education during those same 20 years reveals correlations that matter to me as well. What ultimately works, gaining sustained sobriety or a good education, relies to a great extent on how hard individuals strive, themselves, to achieve those worthy goals. Neither can be ultimately “given” or “taught” to individuals that refuse to do their own part to stay sober or use the tools of education to contribute to their own well-being, much less the huge needs of society at large.

    My entire life, all my experience, has taken place in the post WWII era and I have seen a tremendous evolution of material well being in America. If I now look at childhood pictures it looks like ancient history and my memories reflect the same. One of my great joys as a child was walking across the street to listen to the radio with my grandmother. When I was alone I recall the joy of reading, first comic books, then Tarzan stories, the Hardy Boys, etc. until today when a good book brings great relief, taking me to other places where my mind can wander. I don’t even know how to play a video game and would never attempt to learn as well yet my grandchildren would feel grossly deprived if they lacked such things. Imagine the angst of any kid in high school today without a cell phone!!

    So what to do with a person today that “can’t read” or instead simply “won’t read” and rely instead on only visual “sound bites” for information and “thrills”. I can’t tell you how many times I encountered kids in High School that said “I can’t do math” when in fact they refused to pick up a pencil and just tried to “work a problem” on paper which they failed to bring to class as well. As for homework to reinforce the skills taught in a classroom, forget it for sure!!

    Today most Americans claim that everyone must have a high school diploma (some even a college degree for all as well). So we throw money at the problem and “give” everyone a HS diploma. I maintain that such diplomas are not worth the paper written upon for a very large number of HS graduates. Permit me to give a 25 question math test to such a group consisting of only elementary level math and you will get my point. Same for reading, writing and critical thinking skills that should be demonstrated before awarding any “trophy” for achievement. I know you, Duane, understand my concerns on such matters. But you still insist that society must throw more money at such problems by government. My point is that such huge sums result in diminishing returns that cause huge misuse of such funds. Give $100,000 to a homeless drunk and you will have a drunk remaining that soon will need another $100,000 to “live”, drunk! I have seen it time and time again. Give a high school diploma to a “hoodlum” and you still have a “hoodlum” living on the largess of society.

    Yes, there is a middle ground in such instances and I don’t call for people “dying in the streets”, etc. For example, I would always demand that hospice care be provided to every person in America, free of all and any charges, as long as they reached out and asked for such care. I will now go even farther and demand preventive care for all Americans as well, to a degree. But to send every “drunk” to a $30,000 dollar “treatment center”, as many times as it takes to achieve ….., no I won’t tolerate such efforts by government simply because it won’t work.

    Finally, today all the political discussion is now centered on the “insanity” of Trump, how he has always been despicable. I agree and have said he is the epitome of a “damn Yankee” and in so writing am accused of be being a Southern bigot!! God forbid I should quote Goeff C herein, but we share the same frustration. When (never!) can we return to arguing policy decisions instead of this never ending (but in some ways deserved) denigration of Trump’s mind?



    • Anson,

      First, it was a good idea not to quote Caldwell.

      Second, I appreciate the honesty you expressed here, and I understand your frustration based on your particular experiences. Believe it or not, I don’t think tax money ought to be thrown at programs that don’t work. I don’t care what the programs are, I’m an evidence-based thinker and if the evidence supports the claim that a program doesn’t work, abolish it and develop a better one. As Kennedy said, most of the problems we have are created by man (in this case the availability of addictive chemicals) and they can be solved by man. If we give up believing that simple claim, we’ve had it as a society.

      I don’t think it is wise to take someone’s personal experiences and translate them into public policy. I have to have some confidence in the professionals who see lots of people, offers various kinds of treatments, and do scientific studies as to the efficacy of this or that treatment or program. The evidence shows, if you believe the professionals who do the work everyday, that some things work, some things don’t, and there is some middle ground. All the professionals agree that persistence by the addict is vital. Just, as I said a while back, the same as it is with other chronic diseases. (By the way, you continue to ignore or refuse to deal with the idea that the people in these situations are trapped largely because of circumstances not of their doing.)

      Third, I just can’t seem to get something straight with you about Tr-mp. It isn’t just the state of his disordered mind that is the problem. That certainly is an issue. But that’s not the most critical issue for me, in terms of why we should not allow what happened in 2016 to become “okay,” to become “normal.” What happened was that the Russians unquestionably helped elect a con man, a buffoon, a man with at least one serious and obvious personality disorder, and a pathological liar. But even that is not the most critical issue.

      For me, the worst thing, the thing that makes him illegitimate, the thing that demands he be removed from office (by way of the constitutional path of impeachment, 25th Amendment, or a vote of the people), is that he openly asked the Russians for help on July 27, 2016. Openly. I was watching it live at the time. And that’s before we learned of all this business with his son and his campaign CEO and his son-in-law, all who have been hiding their meeting(s) with someone, someone associated with the Russian government, who they thought had “the goods” on Hillary Clinton and could help Tr-mp win (as well as other meetings with other Russians). That’s unforgivable. That makes him forever illegitimate. That makes Mike Pence forever illegitimate. The whole presidential election was illegitimate.

      We can argue this or that policy issue as they come up (good luck with your friends’ healthcare bill), but I will always get back to this issue of legitimacy. It is fundamental to me. I would think it would be to you, too, especially given what this man is doing to our foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia, etc. Imagine if you found out that Obama had really been born in Kenya, was not a U.S. born citizen, and had asked, say, Iran for help to get himself elected. Also imagine that he slyly solicited the help of the New Black Panthers, urged people to commit violence at his rallies, and then declared that he might not consider the election legitimate (imagine him constantly calling it “rigged”) if he wasn’t elected. If he had won under those circumstances, would your attention be focused on how much money we spend on drug rehab programs? You and I both know better than that.



  5. ansonburlingame

     /  July 18, 2017


    This single exchange has helped, a lot, to better define our differences and we did so without calling each other names or demeaning one another. I won’t elaborate further in this response but you will continue to see the threads of my opposition to the liberal cause as I continue to engage, from time to time. Looks like you most recent post will be just such an opportunity.



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