Tuesday, September 13, 2011
By reacting to 9/11 with self-recrimination, the Western elites have strengthened the hand of brutal Islamism
In the years before 2000, as the director of the ephemeral Centre for Millennial Studies, I scanned the global horizon for signs of apocalyptic activity, that is, for movements of people who believed that now was the time of a total global transformation. As I did so, I became aware of such currents of belief among Muslims, some specifically linked to the year 2000, all predominantly expressing the most dangerous of all apocalyptic beliefs – active cataclysmic: that is, the belief that this transition from evil to good demands massive destruction, and that we true believers are the agents of that destruction, warriors of God, Mujahidin. Death cults, cults of martyrdom and mass murder… destroying the world to save it.
Nor were these beliefs magical, like the far better known Christian, but largely passive-cataclysmic, Rapture scenarios where one must await God’s intervention. They had practical means and goals. In the same year 1989, that Bin Laden drove the Russians from Afghanistan, Khomeini issued a global fatwah against Rushdie, and the West trembled. Iran and Afghanistan, however, like so many utopias born of such death cults, proved terrifyingly dystopic – acid in the faces of unveiled women. But these bitter new heavens on earth also showed remarkable staying power… and spreading power. So when Bin Laden struck with such spectacular force on 9-11, he took his Jihad, already declared in 1998 against America (the “Second AD” ), to the next level. He put deeds to words.
We, in the West, were taken totally by surprise. Who are these people? Why haven’t we heard about them before? (NB: the blogosphere, which first “took off” in the early “aughts” (‘00s) is largely the product of a vast number of people turning to cyberspace for information that their mainstream news media had conspicuously failed to deliver.)
What was the logic of such a monstrously cruel attack that targeted civilians? A warning shot to pay attention and address grievances? Or the opening shot in a battle for world domination? Was this primarily an act of retribution for wrongs suffered, i.e., somewhat rational? Or global revenge at global humiliation, i.e., a bottomless pit of grievance?
Some of us said, “What can they possibly believe to make them hate so?” Others, “What did we do to make them hate us so?” And while both are legitimate questions, over the last decade, the “aughts”, we have split into two camps, each of which will not allow the other question’s consideration.
A Frenchwoman said to me in 2003, “after 9/11, there are two kinds of people: those who understand that we are at war, and those in denial.” Some pointed to a culture of genocidal incitement in the ideology of this religious enemy. They identified the totalistic reasoning, and warned that what these Mujahidin said in their own language was radically different from how “moderate” Muslims portrayed them to the West.
Others dismissed and downplayed these issues, pointing to rational and moderate trends among Muslims, and insisted that the vast majority are peaceful and moderate who can be reached by dialogue, and that rounding up the tiny percentage who are terrorists can be, and should be, a matter of criminal proceedings. They showed more concern for the tendency of fascist war-mongering movements to appear in Western culture than deal with far more advanced such trends in Muslim political culture; they favored a moral relativism that permits one to spread the blame. Some showed a near-messianic will to self-criticize: “Aren’t we guilty of terrorism when we let people starve to death?” opined Derrida. Others delighted in moral inversion: Chomsky “reminded” us that the USA is the world’s worst terrorist. After all, those alleged civilians were really little Eichmanns, cogs in the wheel of a genocide of “people of colour”.
At one extreme, then, we find racists and xenophobes who want to get rid of all Muslims; at the other, oikophobes, who don’t even believe there’s a Muslim-inspired terror, but that 9/11 – the whole threat – was invented by fascist Western politicians looking to establish their dictatorships. “My side right or wrong,” vs. “Their side right or wrong.” Both end up supporting fascism – ours, or theirs.
By and large, we tend to label these two directions of political thinking “Right and Left.” Using this distinction, however, reflects primarily the “policy” postures involved rather than serious political thought. Since the “Left” adopts a discourse and posture of accommodation, it seems like the party of peace and understanding; anyone pointing out the evidence for implacable enmity, and the counter-indicated effects of pursuing peace with such a foe, seems like the party of war.
Now if it were merely a matter of different emphases, this could be a productive tension. Indeed, I’m convinced that there are a host of rightfully troubled thinkers who, despite strong liberal and progressive impulses, nonetheless acknowledge the evidence and want to talk about it. There is a hugely creative and productive conversation still waiting to take place, one that would include people from all faiths and ethnicities, of people genuinely committed to societies committed to the freedom and dignity of all their people. One that was not afraid of its own shadow.
But during the aughts that conversation has not place: on the contrary, the “Left” has asserted a strong grip on the public sphere, exiling those who begin to pay attention to the problems with Islam rather than focus on the sins of the West, muffling both their voice, and the Muslim voices to which they point. I remember Fox News interviewing me on 9/11. When I identified this as part of an apocalyptic global Jihad, the interviewer informed me that that was impossible because – here quoting President Bush, “Islam is a religion of Peace.” They never played the interview and didn’t come to interview me again.
Those who doubt the wisdom of pursuing messianic demands for self-criticism and openness on the West at this time, who suggest we exercise our free speech and lay some of the moral onus here at the feet of Muslim spokesmen, who themselves so loudly denounce our racism and prejudice, but tolerate so much among their own – such people have rapidly found themselves labeled “Right-wing” and exiled from the “mainstream.” “If I speak of Muslim anti-Semitism,” confessed one French colleague to me in 2005, “it’s the last invitation to speak at a conference that I’ll get.”
As a result of this animosity, the adversarial “Right-Left” axis has reached dysfunctional proportions. The “Left” views the right as at best mean-spirited, increasingly as malevolent; the “Right” views the Left as traitors and fools, as useful infidels. And these two camps now so bitterly speak about each other, that the presidential campaign of 2012 looks like a nightmare of inappropriate candidates. And in the meantime, our disarray fills the sails of our apocalyptic enemy. As one of my friends said to me recently, “I thought that Mayan 2012 stuff was ridiculous. Now I see how global disaster really could happen by then.”
And among the elements that played into making this situation far worse, one of the cruelest winds blew from Europe and from the “progressive Left.” It’s worth remembering that the week before 9/11, the UN had assembled at Durban all the major “human rights” NGOs, representing the “best of the Left,” to fight racism world-wide, an assembly that turned into an orgy of hatred aimed at two Western democracies, by a voting bloc with members who still engage in slavery. When the “Magnificent 19” struck, they had every reason to believe that they would be cheered on by a Western elite, a global tribe, called “Left-wing”, inebriated with anti-Americanism.
And they were, to some extent, right. Although the initial European response to 9/11 was sympathy for the US – the next day, Le Monde wrote “Nous sommes tous des américains” – it did not take long for anti-Americanism to emerge. Ten days later, Jean Baudrillard wrote a masterpiece of what Nietzsche would call ressentiment in a Le Monde: “It’s natural to want to strike at such a suffocating hegemon as the USA… They did it, we wanted it.” According to Nidra Poller, within weeks of the event, le tout Paris resounded with this kind of Schadenfreude. “America had it coming.” When Michael Moore’s sophomoric Fahrenheit 9-11 came to Europe, crowds stood and cheered.
No good deed goes unpunished by the envious. The French find it easier to forgive the Germans for conquering them, than the Americans for saving them, twice. When David Marash resigned as editor in chief of Al-Jazeera English because it was so anti-American, he commented that it was the British, not the Arabs, who were the worst – and by that he meant the products of a media elite that clusters around a BBC-Guardian nexus.
The anti-American Left, like courtiers in a 21st-century production of the emperor’s new clothes, embraced Jihadis who struggled so mightily against American hegemony. The “peace” rallies of 2003 against Bush’s war in Iraq brought the pacifist Left and the Mujahidin together in common cause. One Pakistani participant in Islamabad wore a headband with "Kill Jews"; Berkeley radicals would not be outclassed in their demonizing. And yet, too few were disturbed by the oxymoron of an anti-Semitic peace rally. They failed to note that in apocalyptic politics, my enemy’s enemy is my enemy.
When Bin Laden’s men took out the Twin Towers, they, in a typical act of cognitive egocentrism, thought they would bring down the arrogant and empty tyrant of the US. What they did accomplish, however unintentionally, was to fend their foe – us – into two self-recriminating and dysfunctional halves. These halves, who so inaccurately identify themselves as “Right” and “Left,” seem to despise each other more than they do an enemy who passionately hates both of them – us! – a foe that hates all we collectively believe in about those messy and productive societies that treasure tolerance and dignity and freedom.
Demotic polities that protect everyone’s rights and request everyone’s disciplined participation, are rare historical accomplishments. They’re based on the difficult civil meme: “whoever is right, my side or not.” They need high levels of ability among their citizens for self-criticism, compromise, positive-sum behavior, and mutual trust and respect. Eli Sagan, one of the more astute observers of these issues notes: “Democracy is a miracle, considering human psychological disabilities.” However imperfect our democracies, they are as valuable as they are vulnerable.
Among the many memes widely circulating in Western circles, one of the most absurdly noxious is “Who are we to judge?” All the great progressive victories of demotic polities – equality before the law, freedom of religion and dissent, respect for those disadvantaged by “might makes right,” women, workers, weak – arises from harsh value judgments on the authoritarianism that exploits them: patriarchy, exploitation, cruelty. Not judging too quickly – admirable; not judging at all – folly. We end up ferociously judging ourselves, and giving others, whose values and motives are far more base, a free pass. In doing so we illustrate Pascal’s warning, “the more we want to be angels, the more we become beasts.”
So when, in order to seem peaceful, we abandon non-westerners to brutal political cultures in the name of some quasi-religious commitment to cultural relativism, we betray everything we claim we support. Such attitudes seem particularly inadvisable when facing an apocalyptic foe dedicated to the destruction of all our progressive values.
If the only people who fight Islamic triumphalism are really on the Right, their solutions will obviously favour harsh responses. Liberals and progressives would, presumably, struggle harder to come up with more creative and less violent forms of effective resistance. So it constitutes a catastrophic loss of creative energy to have a “Left” that believes that somehow, if only we were nicer to Muslims, they’d be nicer to us, one that views as an alarming embarrassment anyone who points out the Islamic contribution to the problem, as a saboteur of this effort at placation, an “enemy of peace.” It also represents a colossal betrayal of genuine Muslims moderates who really do want to live in a vibrant civil society that respects everyone; where Muslims respect infidels, and infidels respect Islam.
If the aughts were a debacle of culture wars in the West and a period of growing radicalization in Islamic circles, let the teens be a period when finally, we turn around this self-destructive behavior. The wellbeing of billions of people on this planet depends on our commitment to Western progressive values.
Ten Years Later, Radical Islam Still a Taboo Subject
"There's an incessant message that is delivered by radical followers of Islam," the lawyer told the judge, "that one cannot be true to the faith unless they take action, including violent action, most especially violent action … that is a message that can unfortunately take root in individuals who feel like if they don't do something, that they literally will not find salvation under their faith."
That sounds like a prosecutor explaining a terrorist's motive. But, in fact, it is defense attorney Kenneth Troccoli explaining in April why Farooque Ahmed eagerly agreed to scout D.C. Metrorail stops for what Ahmed thought was an al-Qaida bomb plot. And it echoes Faisal Shahzad's defiant rant at his sentencing hearing last October after he pleaded guilty to the failed Times Square bombing.
"This time it's the war against people who believe in the book of Allah and follow the commandments, so this is a war against Allah," Shahzad said. "So let's see how you can defeat your Creator, which you can never do. Therefore, the defeat of U.S. is imminent and will happen in the near future, inshallah, which will only give rise to much awaited Muslim caliphate, which is the only true world order."
Because they believe their actions are sanctioned by a higher power, they see their actions as inherently just. Ramy Zamzam, who led four other young northern Virginia Muslims to Pakistan in an attempt to fight American troops in Afghanistan, summed up that sentiment outside of court in January 2010. "We are not terrorists," he told a reporter. "We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism."
Despite these examples of candor, there remains a refusal to acknowledge the role radical Islamic ideology plays in fueling terrorist plots 10 years after the 9/11 attacks. Administration officials take pains to avoid even uttering the phrase "radical Islam."
It appears that the subject of radical Islam has taken a seat next to offensive ethnic humor. It's okay for a member of the group to say it, but it's bigoted if outsiders try it, too.
American Islamist organizations have tried to separate religion from any discussion of terrorism. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) joined forces last year with a University of Chicago researcher to hype sales of a book arguing religion is not a factor in suicide terrorist attacks.
A year earlier, after Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan opened fire at a Fort Hood processing center killing 13 people, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that he was "not happy to see that his religion is becoming the subject." Though witnesses heard Hasan shout "Allahu Akhbar" before opening fire, Awad said the shooting spree was merely "an isolated incident by a disturbed individual. All the information we're getting indicates that he is a disturbed individual."
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper made a similar statement in a separate interview. "Why can't the killer at Fort Hood just be a crazy guy?" he asked. "Don't take it out on American Muslims because you're upset about another issue," he said.
CAIR issued a statement in the wake of the attack saying, "No religious or political ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence."
Clearly, Hasan believed his did.
Subsequent investigations show he established a long record of radical Islamic behavior, including writing "SOA," or "Soldier of Allah" on business cards and justifying suicide bombings and other terrorist acts during presentations. One presentation was entitled, "Why the War on Terror is a War on Islam."
Other officers reported that Hasan said "his religion took precedence over the U.S. Constitution he swore to support and defend as a U.S. military officer." His superiors refusedto report such behavior out of concern they would be labeled Islamophobes.
None of that is mentioned in the Army's report on the Fort Hood massacre, which was blasted by the Senate Homeland Security Committee for a "failure to address violent Islamist extremism by its name signal[s] to the bureaucracy as a whole that the subject is taboo."
It is not an isolated example. In its new policy paper on countering violent extremism, the White House mentions Islam only in denying that the United States is out to harm the faith itself or Muslim people.
"There is no single profile of an al-Qa'ida-inspired terrorist," the report says, "but extensive investigations and research show that they all believe: (1) the United States is out to destroy Islam; and (2) this justifies violence against Americans. Al-Qa'ida and its supporters spread messages of hate, twist facts, and distort religious principles to weave together a false narrative that Muslims must attack Americans everywhere because the United States is waging a global war against Islam. While al-Qa'ida claims to be the vanguard of Islam, the overwhelming majority of its victims are Muslim."
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, took issue with the administration's refusal to discuss radical Islam during a speech at the National Press Club Sept. 1.
"[T]he administration still refuses to call our enemy in this war by its proper name, violent Islamist extremism. We can find names that are comparable to that, but not the one that the administration continues to use which are 'violent extremism.' It is not just violent extremism," Lieberman said. "There are many forms of violent extremism. There's white racist extremism, there's been some eco-extremism, there's been animal rights extremism. You can go on and on and on. There's skinhead extremism, but we're not in a global war with those.
"We're in a global war that affects our homeland security with Islamist extremists. To call our enemy violent extremism is so general and vague that it ultimately has no meaning. The other term used sometimes is Al-Qaida and its allies. Now, that's better, but it still is too narrow. It focuses us on groups as opposed to an ideology, which is what we're really fighting."
Policy Papers Silent
Yet, the White House's National Strategy for Counterterrorism issued in June never refers to radical Islam, instead repeatedly saying that strategies are needed to combat al-Qaida's ideology. Though it describes that ideology as violent over and over again, the document never describes its theological foundations or offers advice on how to show how it can be refuted on religious grounds.
Al-Qaida's ideology "draws on a distorted interpretation of Islam to justify the murder of Muslim and non-Muslim innocents," it says. "Countering this ideology—which has been rejected repeatedly and unequivocally by people of all faiths around the world—is an essential element of our strategy."
That's as far as it goes in outlining the radical Islamic ideology driving al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. Terrorist supporters have been pushing this interpretation for more than 20 years. In 1991, an imam in Cleveland exhorted people to donate cash and jewelry to support the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. To Allah, he said, donors receive the same benefit in the afterlife as the martyr who killed himself waging jihad.
"God says, the Messenger, God's blessing and peace be upon him, says, 'Whoever equipped a raider for the sake of God, has himself raided,'" Fawaz Damra told a crowd at a fundraiser. "Whoever donates for a mujahid so that he may throw stones, is as if he too is fighting the Holy War, and will be rewarded like him, even if he stays home. 'Whoever equipped a raider for the sake of God, has himself raided.'"
In 2009, a would-be homegrown terrorist told followers they needed to fight to be good Muslims. It is because Muslims abandoned jihad, Daniel Patrick Boyd said in a recording captured by the FBI, that Muslim blood became cheap and infidels pushed them around. "The American troops even occupy the place of our two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. This isn't some fantasy, this is a reality. They are there and they are helping the Jews be in our third holy site, Aqsa. That would be our deen [religion]. This was forbidden by the Prophet on his death bed, he forbid that they can be in Mecca and Medina and there they are. "
Boyd echoed the justification bin Laden offered in a fatwa 20 years earlier in declaring it "an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it" to kill any American or American ally, "in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."
Criminals must fear the police again, vows Scotland Yard's new chief
A plain-speaking police chief renowned for his ruthless obsession with cutting crime was yesterday appointed head of the beleaguered Metropolitan Police.
Bernard Hogan-Howe, 53, vowed to put fear back in the minds of criminals after winning the race to become commissioner at Scotland Yard.
Britain’s new top officer faces an enormous task trying to restore morale in the Met in the aftermath of the phone hacking scandal, widespread criticism of the force’s handling of the London riots and concerns about burglary and robbery figures.
He will also assume overall responsbility for counter-terrorism in the run up to next year’s Olympic Games in London.
Mr Hogan-Howe is the force’s third chief appointed in six years following the controversial exits of his two predecessors, Sir Ian Blair and Sir Paul Stephenson, making it the hottest seat in British policing. He was handed a five-year contract after convincing interviewers he could lead a ‘new, more transparent’ era for the force.
The former Merseyside chief constable could not disguise his delight at landing the job. ‘It’s the highest accolade that any police officer could have,’ he said. Outlining his targets, he added: ‘The idea is to make the criminals fear the police and what they are doing now.’
One of Mr Hogan-Howe’s priorities will be ensuring the Olympic Games pass off peacefully at a time of unprecedented police funding squeezes.
He is expected to run a tight ship at the Yard and will move quickly to shake up the Met’s senior management team. Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick is tipped as a strong contender to be his deputy.
Mr Hogan-Howe beat off a strong challenge from Sir Hugh Orde, the much respected but outspoken president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, to land the £276,000 a year job.
The other contenders were acting commissioner Tim Godwin, who now reverts to being deputy commissioner but who is expected to leave the Met in the next few months, and Strathclyde’s chief constable Steve House.
A number of members of the Metropolitan Police Authority were keen for Sir Hugh to be appointed but Home Secretary Theresa May, who has been angered by Sir Hugh’s attacks on government policy, was never likely to sanction such a move.
She said: ‘Bernard has an excellent track record as a tough single-minded crime fighter. He showed that in his time as chief constable of Merseyside, and I’m sure he’s going to bring those skills and that ability to fight crime to the Metropolitan Police here in London.’
London Mayor Boris Johnson said: ‘It was a very strong field but I think the Home Secretary and I were agreed that Bernard’s performance was outstanding, and he really commended himself above all by his relentless focus on building on the work of Sir Paul Stephenson and Tim Godwin in driving down crime.’
Mr Hogan-Howe was parachuted into the Met as acting deputy commissioner after Sir Paul and Britain’s anti-terror chief, assistant commissioner John Yates, quit in quick succession.
The surprise move was a clear indication that he was in line for the top job on a permanent basis. He had previously been working for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
It’s time to expel the “experts” from family life
In repackaging parenting as a superbly complex, almost scientific task, a gaggle of experts hopes to colonise our personal lives
In modern times, there has been something of a revolt against traditional authority. As a result of this, all forms of authority are increasingly being called into question. After all, if the authority of the king and the priest and the politician can be interrogated, why not call into question the authority of pater familias, too, the status of the mother or grandparent?
That is precisely what has happened, gradually, over the past century-and-a-half. A lack of confidence in the ability of ordinary adults to socialise the younger generation has been evident since early modern times. By the late nineteenth century, experts were making scathing remarks about parental competence and were attempting to restrain the authority of the father and mother.
The philosopher John Stuart Mill, author of On Liberty, linked his call for the compulsory schooling of children to his distrust of parental competence. He believed that state-sponsored formal education might free children from the ‘uncultivated’ influence of their parents. He asserted that since ‘the uncultivated cannot be competent judges of cultivation’, they needed the support of enlightened educators to socialise their children.
This lack of confidence in parents’ capacity to develop their children led many nineteenth-century reformers to view formal education as the principal institution of socialisation. In the early twentieth century, educators and child experts sought to bypass parental authority through assuming more and more responsibility for the socialisation of young people. And since the 1990s, the once-implicit questioning of the ability of parents to socialise their children has become explicit, and increasingly strident.
As a result, there has been a shift in the way that the uneasy partnership between family and school is portrayed by experts. Policymakers often assume that poor parenting and the fragmentation of the family are everyday facts of life that make it necessary for public institutions to take responsibility for forms of socialisation that were hitherto carried out in the home.
In the nineteenth century, criticisms of parental incompetence tended to focus on parents’ alleged inability to educate their children. More recently, however, the alleged absence of parental competence has been detected in relation to a growing number of issues: how to nurture, how to stimulate, how to touch, how to discipline, how to discuss questions about sex, death, and so on.
The cumulative consequence of this questioning of parental competence has been the deepening and widening of the idea of a parental deficit. The claim that parents are inept at educating their children, or even nurturing and emotionally stimulating them, suggests that parents are not up to the job of socialising their offspring. In effect, these claims call into question parental authority.
The problem of parental authority
In much of the modern literature on parenting, the erosion of parental authority is often confused with the idea that there has been a decline in old-fashioned, authoritarian families. Too often, authority is confused with authoritarianism, and what is overlooked is that the targeting of parental competence is not about limiting authoritarianism in the home but is about calling into question the ability of mothers and fathers to socialise their children.
Hannah Arendt put matters most starkly when she declared that ‘authority has vanished’. Arendt took it for granted that ‘most will agree that a constant, ever-widening and deepening crisis of authority has accompanied the development of the modern world in our century’. In her view, the crisis of authority was not confined to the political domain – rather, she suggested, this crisis exerts its influence in every aspect of social experience.
She observed that: ‘[T]he most significant symptom of the crisis, indicating its depth and seriousness, is that it has spread to such pre-political areas as child-rearing and education, where authority in the widest sense has always been accepted as a natural necessity, obviously required as much by natural needs, the helplessness of the child, as by political necessity, the continuity of an established civilisation which can be assured only if those who are newcomers by birth are guided through a pre-established world into which they are born as strangers.’
Today, the fact that the contestation of authority dominates the ‘pre-political’ spheres of everyday life is clear from the constant, acrimonious debates over issues such as child-rearing, health, lifestyles and the conduct of personal relationships. The erosion of the legitimacy of pre-political authority has deprived many parents, and adults in general, of the self-confidence to engage in a meaningful way with the younger generation.
Parents are told time and again that their authority rests on outdated assumptions and that they lack the real expertise that one needs to socialise young people. And conscious of the fact that it is difficult to act authoritatively today, parents feel very insecure about rejecting expert advice. The explosion of various child-rearing and pedagogic fads is symptomatic of society’s loss of faith in parental authority; it represents a futile attempt to bypass the question of finding some convincing alternative to old forms of pre-political authority.
The demotion of parental authority – and its corollary: the ascendancy of parenting expertise – is underwritten by the idea that we have only recently discovered how complex child-rearing is. In the past, so-called ‘discoveries’ in the arena of psychological research were used to depict traditional areas of life as far more complex than we first thought. Today, the construction of complexity, not only in relation to parenting but in many areas of everyday existence, is fuelled most notoriously by neuroscience.
Colonising the private sphere
Through the extension of the idea of complexity into the world of personal and informal relationships, experts are seeking to colonise the private sphere. One of the key features of modern times has been the decline of ‘taken for granted’ ways of doing things – and this has encouraged the perception that individuals are not able to manage important aspects of their lives without professional guidance.
Increasingly, routine forms of social interaction are depicted as being difficult and complicated. That is why child-rearing can today be discussed as a science. Also, we often hear talk about parenting skills, social skills, communication skills and relationship skills… The idea that everyday encounters require special skills has created an opportunity for the ‘expert’ to colonise the realm of personal relations (1).
Experts now claim that their ‘scientific knowledge’ entitles them to be authoritative voices on issues that were previously seen as being strictly the preserve of personal and family life. As one study of the rise of ‘experts’ puts it: ‘The authoritative voice of “scientific experts” on child development advised repeatedly that the correct training of children required an expertise that few modern parents possessed.’ (2) From the perspective of these ‘experts’, child-rearing, education and interpersonal relationships all need to be reorganised in accordance with the latest findings of scientific research.
The new cohort of experts, who have been on the rise since the late twentieth century, have a powerful crusading ethos. They do not confine themselves to carrying out research and making observations. As the American child psychologist William Kessen wrote in 1979: ‘Critical examination and study of parental practices and child behaviour almost inevitably slipped subtly over to advice about parental practices and child behaviour. The scientific statement became an ethical imperative, the descriptive account became normative. And along the way, there have been unsettling occasions in which scraps of knowledge, gathered by whatever procedures were held to be proper science at the time, were given inordinate weight against poor old defenceless folk knowledge.’ (3)
But these experts did not merely provide advice. Often with the backing of official institutions, they imposed their proposals on schools and directly influenced the conduct of family life. Measured against the authority of science, the insights and values of ordinary people enjoy lower and lower cultural valuation.
It is worth noting that the record of the ‘science’ in areas such as child-rearing, education and relationships is a dubious one. It has consisted largely of ever-recurring fads that rarely achieve any positive durable results (4). Nevertheless, at a time when adult authority is on the defensive, the scientific expert has gained an ever-increasing influence over intergenerational relations. Typically, educational experts claim that since their proposals are based on purely objective science, only the prejudiced could possibly disagree with them.
Contemporary parenting culture exhorts parents to bring up their children according to ‘best practice’. In virtually every area of social life today, experts advocate the importance of seeking help. Getting advice – and, more importantly, following the script that has been authored by experts – is seen as proof of ‘responsible parenting’.
Paradoxically, the most important doctrine that fuels this subordination of the parent to the expert is the idea of parental omnipotence. Outwardly, parents have never been assigned with so much power and influence over the long-term prospects of their children as they are today. Through a process that I have referred to previously as ‘parental determinism’, where everything from one’s job prospects to future happiness is said to be moulded by early-years parenting, parents are represented as demi-gods whose every act has a far-reaching impact on their children’s wellbeing.
However, at the same time as parents are assigned these divine powers, their capacity to use the powers in an effective manner and for the good of their children is always being questioned. In order for it to work properly, parental omnipotence must apparently be mediated through the input of experts. That is why responsible parenting is said to require the authorisation of expertise. Without expert support, parental omnipotence – at least in the sense of doing good – is said to vanish. It is time we challenged this denigration of parental authority and this trashing of parental competence.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.