The Protest Vote

I don’t believe Donald Trump was elected President purely on the basis of what he’s promised to do or the things he’s said. I think the election of Donald Trump was effectively a protest vote — backlash at encroaching social liberalism and a multicultural American identity. If I am correct in this assertion, then people from sea to shining sea abandoned what this country is for what they presume it, or wish it, to be.

The United States wasn’t founded by tribalism, or for imperialism, or for social purity. The United States didn’t spawn from a singular base for a singular base. It wasn’t built to be a nation for a similar some. The United States was philosophically founded, and owes its existence to progressivists who subscribed to socially progressive ideas of autonomy and freedom, where one pledged not allegiance to a lineage, but to themselves. Politicians did not create this union, philosophers did, specifically philosophers influenced by dissenting liberal European intellectuals who questioned the legitimacy of the iron fist of individual rule, of monarchy, in favor of ideas we today umbrella under the catch-all term “freedom” — self-awareness, personal conviction, and the tender embrace of equality.

These ideas, Enlightenment ideas, are tangible as the United States of America, an ongoing social experiment founded by immigrants and refugees and continually expressed by descendants of immigrants and refugees. A crowned woman, holding a torch to illuminate the heavens, acts as a beacon of those ideas — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” All that this nation is exists in those words, and yet here we are, quick to trade in that symbol for walls and sequestration and slamming shut the doors that were once held open for our own families. Enlightenment has been forsaken for deontological egoism, personified in irrationally moving a man into power who tapped into insecurity and fear so as to lead a nation whose existential integrity is wholly dependent on rationality.

But most interestingly, the majority of those who set out on this deleterious path are those who exalt this nation, whose love of country exists at such great heights, that even the meekest of criticism is grounds for treason. But as their decisions–their shameless, swift, and divisive repudiation of social liberalism and multiculturalism–have shown, veritable love of country does not always exist hand-in-hand with understanding of country, for those whose actions and beliefs have culminated in the rise of a man who poisons this nation without a second thought are themselves abandoning the very framework that built this nation for which they claim undying loyalty and affection.

These people are willing to trade a nation founded by philosophers who extensively advocated for ideas we today umbrella under the term “freedom” for one that exists as antithesis. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” has been scratched away for “Make America great again.” These people bought sequestration and lies wholesale, believing them to be the torch illuminating the heavens, a beacon of freedom, when in reality, they bought perversion. It is truly distressing that a devotion to country today manifests as the opposite of the very principals, the very ideas, on which it was created in the first place.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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A Charade You Are

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s politically-charged 1977 album, Animals. Today also marks President Donald Trump’s first full day as President of the United States. I don’t believe in any kind of supernatural affinity existing in the universe, but if I did, I would have to assume that there was some kind of celestial magic afoot. If existence was dictated by screenwriters, this is one of those “great timing” moments that provide ample fluidity to progression.

But, alas, it is but mere coincidence, but a great coincidence nonetheless.

Animals is, for all intents and purposes, the most politically-mobile album in Pink Floyd’s catalogue, but is forgotten by most casual fans. It has the unfortunate distinction of being sandwiched between 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon and 1975’s Wish You Were Here on one side and 1979’s The Wall on the other. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Animals was a busted record — it still sold remarkably and spurned a successful world tour (during which a spitting incident would provide inspiration for The Wall). But how often does one hear “Sheep” or “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” on radio, compared to “Money,” “Time,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2?”

But Animals was more aggressive than the albums it lays between. Described by NME as “one of the most extreme, relentless, harrowing and downright iconoclastic hunks of music to have been made available this side of the sun,” the album draws inspiration from George Orwell’s 1945 allegorical novella Animal Farm, but while the literature is a critique of Stalinism, Animals is a brutal indictment of capitalism — an “uncomfortable taste of reality in a medium that has become in recent years, increasingly soporific,” per Karl Davis of Melody Maker. Both anthropomorphize social classes into pigs, dogs, and sheep, but while Orwell’s novella ends on a bleak note — “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” — Pink Floyd’s album ends with the sheep (the mindless followers under the thumb of the oppressive pigs and greedy dogs) revolting and killing the others.

But the relevance of this album is not merely contained to its ruby anniversary.

On October 1, 2016, Roger Waters was performing a free concert in Zócalo Square, Mexico City. He delivered a rousing performance of “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” where he did the opposite of hide his feelings about the soon-to-be president-elect of the United States. Drawing from the very things that inspired him to write Animals in the first place, Waters’ performance of the side-two opener featured a backdrop that portrayed Donald Trump as one of the pigs, a psychedelic homage to the “joker” whose popularity personified the same vile zealousness of which Waters wrote Animals with galvanized contempt. The Donald’s mouth agape, superimposed with the word “charade,” the 11-and-a-half minute haymaker bled in images of the White House, Trump the bully vomiting cyan, and as if taking cues from the punk bands of the same time period, superimposing whore’s makeup on his face in an effort to deface and emasculate a man who, less than a week after the performance, would be at the center of an outed Access Hollywood video where he joked with George W. Bush’s cousin about how his celebrity allowed him to “grab [women] by the pussy.”

At the end of the performance, Trump quotes were thrown up on the backdrop in Spanish, making the coda even more powerful than just the swirling melodies, shrilled shredding, and the signature thump of Waters’ bass. It ends with:

“Trump eres un pendejo.”

Trump you are an asshole.

On the 40th anniversary of Animals, President Donald Trump got to work, signing a series of executive orders that stand to do more damage than provide benefit to the people they will impact. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which, to be fair, was more symbolic than anything (the deal is practically dead in Congress anyway). But the direct, vicious, and early nature of Trump’s executive order may blacken the United States internationally, as noted by Cornell University’s Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy:

“This abrupt action so early in the Trump administration puts the world on notice that all of America’s traditional economic and political alliances are now open to reassessment and renegotiation. This could have an adverse long-run impact on the ability of the U.S. to maintain its influence and leadership in world economic and political affairs.”

Mr. Trump also instituted a hiring freeze throughout the federal government on all non-military workers. The move eerily echoes the actions of former President Ronal Reagan, who also instituted a hiring freeze immediately after assuming office in 1981. President Trump made this hiring freeze part of his campaign, an action he would take to “drain the swamp.”

President Trump also placed his feet in the shoes of Republicans before him and refreshed the “Mexico City policy,” also known as the “global gag rule,” which stops United States taxpayer money from going to international family-planning organizations that offer abortion services to women, even if the United States’ money doesn’t actually pay for the abortive procedures. This move is significant, considering a bill very recently manifested in the House of Representatives that deems “life” to begin at the moment of fertilization in an effort to equate procuring an abortion as an act of murder and unravel the protections afforded to women under the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. It’s an attempt to napalm a women’s right conservatives have spent decades trying to undo and comes at a time when the American conservative movement has been given a new breath of life by an extremist sect assimilating all who once tended the middle of the aisle and infecting the populous to the extent necessary to grant it firm control of Congress.

The “Mexico City policy” also eerily mirrors recent attempts by U.S. conservatives to undo Planned Parenthood.

Three executive orders, which effortlessly put millions of people in precarious situations, have been instituted with a stroke of a pen by a man who embodies the snobbish, oppressive ruling class in an album that was released 40 years ago to the day. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but even I will admit that this is one hell of a coincidence. But then again, should such a coincidence really be that intriguing? At the center of it is a man whose name could easily have been inserted into the side-two opener and followed by the following lyric:

Ha ha, charade you are.

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Dear America, The Time Has Come to Hug Each Other

“Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States. Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States. Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States.” — Every single news outlet around the world

I am currently sitting in the Starbucks down the street from my apartment, trying to realize what have been, in effect, 36 hours of trying to put to words exactly how I feel about the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. I’m watching everyone here, baristas and patrons alike, the dressed and the disheveled, observing this microcosm of people for insight into how I want to address what may prove to be our nation’s most egregious electoral sin.

There is a man sitting adjacent to me, a black man, who may find himself subjected to the overt racism fueled by the election of Donald Trump. There is a woman across the lobby from me, holding hands with her girlfriend or wife, who may see their fight for equality torn asunder — their marriage voided — due to the election of Donald Trump. A Hispanic woman and her young child are waiting for their drink orders and the only reason I’m curious about the mother’s legal status is because I’m afraid she may be deported, leaving her child an orphan, because of the election of Donald Trump.

I’m not trying to sound like a self-righteous ass, but I have nothing to worry about. I’m white. I’m male. My demographic has not only been historically favored, but will likely also be favored by a Trump presidency.

And I have a big problem with that.

Part of what has prompted me to write about the state of affairs in the nation which I call home is not because of my own socio-economic suffering, but the suffering of others. I am worried about a Trump presidency not because of any kind of blowback I could experience, but because of the blowback that others may experience (who have a higher chance of experiencing).

I’m concerned for the women in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing their president is a man who has explicitly and unapologetically “grabs [women] by the pussy.”

I’m concerned for the people of color in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing their president is a man who has emboldened white supremacists.

I’m concerned for the Muslims in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing their president is a man who has explicitly and unapologetically criminalized their religion through rhetoric and possibly through future actions.

I’m concerned for the Hispanics in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing their president is a man committed to ripping their families apart and building a wall to keep them out.

I’m concerned for the LGBTQ people in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing that the progress made in administering to them the same rights everyone else has enjoyed, notably the right to matrimony, that they just received 18 months ago, is now in jeopardy of being taken away with extreme prejudice.

I’m concerned for everyone in my life who isn’t a white, heterosexual man — and that concern isn’t restricted to just the people I know. Everyone is someone in my life.

It would be easy, and maybe even cathartic, to figure out where to point fingers. The aforementioned emboldened bigots. The still-relevant political exasperation by young people (possibly made worse by the results of this election). The Electoral College. But while fingering blame toward whomever or whatever one feel is deserving of it may help now, it ultimately won’t do any good. Donald Trump wasn’t elected because of the racists. He wasn’t elected because of the Electoral College. He wasn’t even elected because of James Comey’s apparent partisan politics.

Donald Trump was elected because a way of life is being rendered extinct. And I’m not talking about the acceptability of casual racism or the importance placed on a morally-good, Godly community (though the latter is notable). I’m talking about the people who find themselves victims of progress.

Many of the people who voted for Trump didn’t do so between cross burnings and trips to Hobby Lobby to procure materials for “God Hates Fags” signs. Many of the people who voted for Trump did so because their jobs are vanishing, their checkbooks are too light to avoid sleepless nights, and their communities are changing in ways that throw kerosene on the flames of fear. I see people in this Starbucks who, from a quick glance, may fit this bill. Older white men who look haggard and beaten down by the stresses of the vanishing working class. Older white men who see their values (which in many cases are also their daddy’s values, their grandaddy’s values, and so on), religious and otherwise, not only disappearing, but demonized by what they incorrectly attribute to encroaching “political correctness.” Older white men who (incorrectly) see the cultural openness being promoted and realized by progressive ideologies as a threat to their security and their livelihood. While this isn’t an excuse for their prejudices, which ultimately fuel their decisions (like casting a vote for Donald Trump), it is more important to understand the anxiety that comes with changing times than to solely hold their feet to the coals.

One can still empathize with this fear while holding these people accountable for their decisions.

While I’m not making an effort to cast blame, the people of this nation did not, on the whole, vote for Donald Trump on Tuesday. 200 thousand more cast votes for Hillary Clinton, leaving her the victor in terms of popular vote. Direct democracy voted for Hillary Clinton. Representative democracy voted for Donald Trump. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes — in 2000, direct democracy voted for Al Gore and representative democracy voted for George W. Bush. But this is how the system works and it is improper (and honestly, hypocritical) to demonize the system when it doesn’t work in your favor and champion it when it does.

The election of Donald Trump is the last gasp of a dying culture in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels and just hope we’ll get it right next time. We need to focus on changing the culture that allowed Donald Trump to be elected and honestly, it starts with giving a damn. Donald Trump may be unstable in terms of his commitments, but he has made several positions very clear, once you sift away the narcissist rhetoric and the overuse of “okay?”

There will be people who suffer because of the Trump Administration and it is our job — not as liberals or progressives or conservatives or libertarians, or as Christians or atheists or Muslims or Jews, or as white or black or Latino or Asian, or as male or female, or rich or poor, or whatever — to understand that. Our obligation to others is to understand that bad things will happen and do everything in our power to ensure those blows are lessened, or if possible, those punches are kept from landing. We are only as strong as each other.

We need each other. A presidency is only four years (eight with the “rule of incumbency”). The divisions amongst ourselves last longer, if we let them.

Let’s start by giving each other a hug.

Featured image via Pixabay.

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The United States of Ignorance

Part of why I write and part of why I learn is because I was lied to as a kid. This isn’t some “oh, woe is me” crap I used to pull back when I wore eye liner and hawked MySpace at every opportunity. I was legitimately lied to during my youth about so many things. We were all lied to as kids.

When I would sit on the living room floor with my breakfast and watch Saturday morning cartoons, I was routinely reminded by Rachel Leigh Cook and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America that my life, and the lives of others, would be awful is I even so much as thought of smoking a joint.

The-lie-detector

Image via MakeAMeme.org.

When I would sit in class and teachers would give brief explanations of race relations in American history, I was told racism is solved.

The-lie-detector

Image via MakeAMeme.org.

After 9/11, I was told that it was important for me to embrace patriotic ideas, that we are superior to the enemy with which we were fighting, and that the American way is the best way. “So, put your hand over your heart,” teachers and administrators would order, “and say the Pledge of Allegiance. By the way, you’re to report to P.A.S.S. for calling George Bush a terrorist.”

The-lie-detector

Image via MakeAMeme.org.

When I was learning how to be a productive member of the workforce, I was told ad nauseum about capitalism being “the best economic system” in the world and “these socialist ideas” I was embracing had “no business here.”

The-lie-detector

Image via MakeAMeme.org.

I may have put a lot of you off already, and that’s fine. I expected as such. But for those of you who have not clicked the back button, or entered a “if you don’t like it, go somewhere else” feedback loop of anger, this is the larger point Meme Maury and I are trying to make.

In the United States, we have a problem with being objective. We revise our history to make us seem like winners. We embark on moral crusades without thinking of the consequences. We still cling to our tribes sporting just majestic degrees of isolationist behavior. We are devaluing education, reason, and logic for our stupid feelings.

These are all lies because American history is not as clear as we’ve been brought up to think. Moral crusades are only valuable to those who wage them and are detrimental to those who fall victim. Refusing to embrace the unknown cripples our social growth, while rendering young people deficient in education, logic, and reason ensures that upcoming generations will perpetuate the plunge the United States has been enduring, that very same plunge that people who devalue education get upset about, but fail to understand they are the cause of.

Being ignorant is our sin.

Featured image by Pixabay.

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Burdens of Proof

Perhaps it is unfair to hold members of law enforcement to a higher standard? After all, are they not just people who happen to have a badge and gun as provisions of their profession? How is this any different than a writer, who always carries around a pad of paper and a pen? Or a stock trader, who always has his fingers tightly wrapped around a smart phone? Or a person managing a retail store, who always has a headset nestled firmly in their ear?

Some argue that police officers should be held to a higher standard, for they act as enforcers of the laws that keep our society functioning. In theory, yes, but so long as police officers are shielded from their actions by thin blue lines weaved together into a veil of self-preservation, it is completely unreasonable to hold police officers to a higher standard than the rest of us. Further, it is unreasonable to hold police officers to a higher standard than gang members, drug dealers, rapists, and murderers.

When police officers are given “Get Out of Jail Free” cards, they aren’t being held to a higher standard, but instead are being held to a low one that seems to be getting lower. The law applies to everyone, regardless of who they are, but despite that notion being early-acquired general knowledge, it isn’t enforced with any kind of consistency. When incidents take place like those that happened last week in Louisiana and Minnesota — where two men were killed by law enforcement officials who probably lacked any real justification for their actions — police officers involved are always given the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to the boys in blue, due process works as intended — “innocent until proven guilty.” The burden of proof in these cases, the bar that must be reached to prove criminality, is raised significantly because as law enforcement officers, life and death decisions must be made quickly and decisively. But at the same time, for the person on the receiving end, who is more often than not a male person of color, due process works the opposite of what is intended — “guilty until proven innocent,” whether they’re alive or dead.

How frustratingly backwards is it that people of color who find themselves victims of police misconduct and brutality have to engage in a defense that must effectively explain why their aggressors were in the wrong, even if they died in the altercation? In no way should someone have to prove their innocence from beyond the grave.

But this is the dynamic we see on a stunningly regular basis. Police officers who may have crossed the line rarely seem to actually find themselves in the system they impose on others who crossed the line. Police officers are like Ethan Couch in this regard, but instead of their race or wealth granting them an escape from the consequences of their actions, their badge does.

And people wonder why communities of color riot after justice fails them.

Policing is backward in the United States. Suspects are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty by criminal prosecutors in a court of law. That’s how jurisprudence works. The burden of the criminal justice system is not on the defendant to prove their innocence, but on the state to prove their guilt. But as we have seen time and time again, the presumption of innocence fails to make an appearance in times when it is probably needed most.

There was no presumption of innocence when John Crawford was killed in a Wal-Mart holding an air soft rifle that the store sold in his hand.

There was no presumption of innocence when Tamir Rice was killed in what was effectively a drive-by shooting in a park.

There was no presumption of innocence when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin over a canned beverage and a bag of Skittles.

There was no presumption of innocence when Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown and left his body in the middle of the road for hours afterward.

There was no presumption of innocence when Baltimore police threw Freddie Gray in the back of the paddy-wagon and broke his neck during a “rough ride.”

In each of these cases, the law enforcement officials (or armed security guard, in Zimmerman’s case) had the benefit of the doubt, while the people who are no longer with us — Crawford, Rice, Martin, Brown, and Gray — were not only presumed to be guilty of whatever they were being accused, but were vilified in the media and by law enforcement as a means to justify these actions at the center of the coverage.

But this degree of vilification isn’t new. It existed at epidemic levels in the American South during Jim Crow. It existed at epidemic levels following integration. It existed at epidemic levels when the CIA and Nicaraguan Contra’s are alleged to have introduced crack cocaine into South Central Los Angeles.

This vilification, coupled with preconceived notions indoctrinated into us about people of color, are why police cannot be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. After all, they have the capacity to be bigots, just like the rest of us. They are fallible human beings, just like the rest of us. Just because they have a badge doesn’t mean they are exempt from the every day things for which the rest of us are subject to the criminal justice system. If a CEO of a Fortune 500 company rapes their secretary, they are still a rapist. If a teacher coerces a young child into sex, they are still a pedophile. If a Wall Street executive launders money, they are still an embezzler.

Similarly, if a police officer kills someone without justification, they are still a murderer. That is the standard.

Featured image by Tony Webster, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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The Obsession With ‘Good’ And ‘Evil’ That Makes American Society

Like many of us, I spend some of my time on social media having discussions about current events. There are several people who I would consider “regulars” when these topics manifest, one of which is my uncle. While there are times when he provides respectable contributions to the topic, there are other times when he flies off the rails and begins speaking of subjects in terms of “good” and “evil.”

My uncle’s ethical analysis of these topics is not unique. Plenty of people do it. Go to the Liberal America Facebook page and look at the comments sections underneath posted articles. It’s clear as day. When major topics generate these types of conversations, I tend to sit back for a moment and ponder the efficacy of “good” and “evil.” Considering that I live in American society, there is no shortage of viewpoints from which to pull ideas.

How Does American Society Define “Good” And “Evil?”

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen walks into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. and opens fire, killing 49 patrons and wounding over 50 others. That’s the night Omar Mateen commits the single worst mass shooting in American history. While the public and the media have spent the last five days debating what factors played a contributory role on his actions, bouncing between motivation by sexuality and radical Islam, one factor remains the same: his actions are considered “evil.”

Evil is an interesting concept because evil does not unilaterally apply to any specific action. What one person considers to be evil, may be another person’s good. In fact, the term good also does not unilaterally apply to any specific action, for what one person considers to be good may be evil to another.

In terms of good and evil as defined in American society, Omar Mateen’s murderous Sunday morning is defined as “evil.” After all, his actions are responsible for the violent deaths of over four dozen innocent people. But to Mateen, his actions were “good.” To ISIS, his actions are “good.” To other radicalize Muslims, his actions are “good.” To those who condemn homosexuality to the point of violence, Omar Mateen’s targeting of a gay nightclub is “good.”

Despite those who will likely throw support for Omar Mateen’s actions living primarily on the fringe of their respective societies, it is still important to point out they exist. To have an ethical conversation over actions such as these, it is important to point out all possible viewpoints.

American society defines “good” as actions they consider “in the best interest.” In turn, American society defines “evil” as actions they consider “not in the best interest,” but the term is more commonly applied to actions involving violent crime or other acts considered “heinous.”

American society, on the whole, leaves little to the imagination when it comes to identifying what is good and what is evil. While the minutiae of what is considered good and evil differs depending on which part of American society is being questioned, each facet makes a clear, distinctive demarcation between the two. We consider these topics in terms of polarity, with actions considered either benevolent (“good”) or malevolent (“evil”).

Despite the simplicity of dividing actions this way — after all, it requires little mental effort to define in such polarized ways — bisecting actions this way presents some rather complicated ethical ramifications. Making matters worse, there are many among us who view these actions, regardless of their placement in the ethical field, as inherent.

Why Does American Society View “Good” And “Evil” As Inherent?

For the sake of full disclosure, I do not accept the idea that anything, good or evil, is inherent. The moral qualification of any action is not permanently, essentially, or characteristically good or evil, but is instead defined as such by virtue of how the society in question views such action. But there exist many who would challenge this view.

But why are actions considered by many as inherently good or evil? There are likely many reasons why, but I would venture that one of the most influential contributing factors would be religious beliefs.

The anchor of religious ideas, beyond the deities in question, are a defined system of ethics that, in some cases, the deities themselves manifest. In Christianity, God is a creator deity, responsible for the breadth of existence. This creator deity is also responsible for the acquisition of law through Moses and other figures in the Old Testament text.

The Ten Commandments, for example, are a well-known provision of ethics, alleged to have been handed to Moses by God himself. Considering the importance of these laws in Christian tradition, as well as the pervasive influence of Christianity in American society, the Ten Commandments are a notable source of ethics in American society as a whole, so much so that some of these ideas manifest in secular ethics as well.

“Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal.” — Exod. 20:13-15, KJV

Even to the non-religious in American society, murder and larceny are abominable acts and carry stiff legal penalties. Even though there is disagreement over the scope of these penalties, we all agree that penalties for these actions should exist. Adultery, while not illegal, is considered a detestable offense and carries with it social stigma.

But the offensive nature of these actions, and others like them, are not inherently determined. They are manifestations of human morality, and as such are only held to account in terms of human morality. While the religious say the Bible is the definitive word of God — which, if that were true, would qualify these actions as inherently abhorrent — the Bible, like the religion of which it is associated, is an invention of man, which means the Ten Commandments, the moral philosophies said to have come from God himself, are actually an invention of man.

Because moral attitudes are the invention of man, they are subject to man’s ever-changing worldview. Because they change, they cannot be inherent.

But to call something inherent, much like bisecting actions into “good” and “evil” camps, requires little mental effort to understand and justify. Defining an action as either “good” or “evil” is simple enough, but is made even simpler by defending such a classification as inherent. To call something inherent removes the need to justify the viewpoint. Who can argue with a moral attitude if it comes from God, right?

Inherent good and evil aren’t necessarily supernaturally derived either. Many people in American society view good and evil as inherent based on Enlightenment philosophy, notably that of John Locke, whose commentary on “natural law” provide the backbone of American society’s ideological views on the freedom of men.

How Does “Inherent Good” And “Inherent Evil” Affect American Society?

The ease with which American society bisects moral attitudes, while also applying “inherent” qualifiers, has a profound effect on sociopolitical attitudes and actions in American society. While clearly defined ethics can have positive influence (such as the view of murder as a detested act contributing to legal penalties for murder), that isn’t to say that the simple explanation of inherent “good” and “evil” doesn’t come without its share of complications.

In the southern parts of American society, public lynching of African-Americans was a morally justified action. It wasn’t uncommon to see entire towns gather in the center to string someone up, light them on fire, mutilate their bodies while they were still alive, and even take pieces of the body home as trophies. In the 21st century, actions such as these are considered “inherently evil,” but even 100 years ago, that “inherently evil” viewpoint did not exist in these areas.

Many instances of lynching were in response to perceived crimes African-Americans were alleged to have committed, so in that regard, lynching was a form of retributive justice and would be considered “inherently good” because justice was being served.

When it comes to moral attitudes, nothing is inherently good or evil. Concepts of good and evil are subjective ideas, based solely on the moral attitudes of the men and women who shape them. It is important to keep this in mind as society evolves, for dependence upon an idea being inherently good or evil can retard the growth of society and if a society stops growing, that society withers away.

Featured image by dARTh9220, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.

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Eight Days Later: June 20, 2016

It’s June 20, 2016. At the time of this writing, there have been 187 mass shootings in the United States, including the June 12th shooting in Orlando, Florida that has gone down as the deadliest in our nation’s history.

It’s June 20, 2016, the 172nd day of the year. There have been 15 more mass shootings in 2016 than there have been days thus far.

That’s a lot of senseless death, but not without precedent. 2015 had 365 days and 371 mass shootings. No matter how you splice it, there are more mass shootings (defined as a shooting incident in which four or more people are hurt or killed) each year than days.

That’s a harrowing statistic.

A little over a week after the deadliest mass shooting in the United States, we’re engaging in the same tired narrative, speaking at each other over such details as sexual orientation, alleged terrorist ties, the weapons used, the state of mind of the shooter, and the reason why one man would stain his hands with the blood of over 100 innocent people.

We’ve had narratives like this before, each time without result. But each time this happens we learn something — the body count necessary to actually do something about the frequency of mass shootings in the United States hasn’t been reached yet.

How many bodies are enough?

The 17 in Binghamton weren’t enough.

The 28 in Newtown weren’t enough.

The 39 in San Bernardino weren’t enough.

The 49 in Blacksburg weren’t enough.

The 70 in Aurora weren’t enough.

The 103 in Orlando apparently aren’t enough.

For me, 34 in Columbine was enough. I was 11 and knew that something needed to be done to make sure this never happened again. A sixth grader with more sense than the men and women who make up Congress.

This is about more than partisan politics. This is about more than interpretations of the Second Amendment. This is about more than suspected terrorism, suspected homophobia, the efficacy of “gun-free zones,” and weapon availability. This is about the preservation of human life. It’s time for Congress to stop this divisive horseshit in which they’ve become adept and actually take all available steps to figure out why there are more mass shootings than days of the year.

If expanded background checks will help, then expand background checks. Don’t sit in front of microphones and cameras spouting garbage about how it will only come up if there is proof it will work.

If banning the possession and sale of long-barrel weapons designed for military use will help, then ban them. Don’t stand in front of your constituents and engage in NRA-friendly rhetoric.

If closing gun show loopholes will help, then close them. Don’t make speeches to donors about how mental health is the problem when the Dickey Amendment is responsible for a fundamental lack of empirical insight into the problem.

But so long as this continues to be a problem, we have no right to be reflective and in mourning for the victims of these tragedies. As a voter, if you want to see these mass shootings end, then vote for men and women who will work to educate themselves and end them. As a politician, if you want to see these mass shootings end, then educate yourself and work to end them, even if that doesn’t mean a gun ban.

Just fucking do something. Your prayers are unanswered. Your moments of silence are just time wasted that could be better spent stopping mass shootings. So long as nothing is done, the victims of these tragedies — from Colorado to New York to California to Texas to Florida, and everywhere in between — have died for nothing.

It’s reprehensible to forsake altruism for selfishness and so long as “I” and “me” are more important than “you” and “us,” we’ll keep counting bodies like days on the calendar.

Featured image is in the public domain.

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The 21st Century Medicine Show

“It is unethical to engage in or to aid and abet in treatment which has no scientific basis and is dangerous, is calculated to deceive the patient by giving false hope, or which may cause the patient to delay in seeking proper care.”

— American Medical Association Code of Ethics

Cool Springs Family Medicine is a general practitioner’s office just off Interstate 65 in Franklin, Tennessee. Eighteen miles south of Nashville, Cool Springs Family Medicine is the practice of Dr. Daniel Kalb, an M.D. with over fifteen years of experience. His practice, which is approaching its tenth anniversary, has largely been a pristine medical establishment — no employee firings, no malpractice suits, and not a single disciplinary action.

But Cool Springs Family Medicine isn’t a no-nonsense facility when it comes to medical treatment. While one would expect a doctor to not buy into unsubstantiated treatment practices, Dr. Kalb was not above using homeopathic remedies and essential oils to treat a variety of ailments in a variety of patients, even though such treatments are not considered scientifically and medically viable. But at the same time, these are reason why the holistic medicine crowd visit massage therapists, energy practitioners, and even chiropractors, and normally, so long as the treatment does not impede a legitimate medical emergency or cause harm itself, it’s shrugged off and justified through “placebo effect” arguments.

While claiming to balance someone’s chakras may not necessarily be detrimental in terms of health, especially if the receiver of such treatment believes in its validity, adopting an anti-vaccine policy is. Cool Springs Family Medicine has adopted an anti-vaccine policy and now tens of thousands of small children and immunocompromised persons are at risk of catching dangerous, potentially deadly, diseases to which they would otherwise likely not have been exposed.

“We will no longer be administering Vaccines at Cool Springs Family Medicine (CSFM).

How come?

1. Because they can cause Autism – yes, I’ve had 15 years’ experience in taking care of ASD kids, that’s a lot of vaccine injury stories from moms. Don’t tell me that they are making it up or they are just reaching for an explanation, or that it was a coincidence or that they are just too stressed, or that they are uninformed. All of those arguments are stupid.”

Dr. Kalb’s anti-vaccine policy is as clear a definition of medical ethics violations as they come, yet he will likely not be sanctioned over it. In fact, he will likely be allowed to continue operating under such a policy without any kind of intervention, for medicine in 21st Century, for all of it’s progress, has also taken several critical steps backward thanks to public hysteria, mob mentality, mistrust, and the continuance of quackery.

The Old Medicine Show

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An advertisement for an electric belt that claims to cure rheumatism and kidney ailments, published in the San Francisco Call on January 31, 1900.

In 19th Century America, especially in the western part of the country, it wasn’t uncommon for towns to be visited by men on horseback pulling a wagon advertising “miracle elixirs.” The purveyors of these products were normally white men, dressed to the nines for the era. They would set up in the middle of town and reel scores of people with “too-good-to-be-true” bait, a “come one, come all” rod, and a “you can trust me” smile that left many people in the dust with empty pockets, clutching a bottle of empty promises.

Disease in 19th Century America was just as lawless as the stereotypical Old West. Measles, rubella, fever, diphtheria, polio, and many other diseases were rampant, claiming more lives than bank robbers, Native American raids, and “frontier justice” combined and multiplied.

Medicine shows weren’t just a man peddling his “miracle cure,” which, more often than not, was a pretty bottle containing a concoction that was part opium, cocaine, or alcohol. They were also events, organized entertainment in a time and place where such entertainment was as scarce as actual medicine. The man posing as a doctor would promote his product and as a means to keep the crowd entertained, thus keeping them around to ensure sales, acrobats performed death-defying feats, strongmen displayed their prowess, musicians serenaded, jokes and stories were relayed with drama and hilarity, “freaks” were exploited, magicians mesmerized, and “exotic performers”entranced and ensnared. The medicine show was a profitable venture during a time when people were run down by the plainness and savagery of the untamed western North America, paranoid of epidemics, and desperate for a smile other than the crescent moon.

Wizards and Indians

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Promotional poster for Hamlin’s Wizard Oil. Image is in the public domain.

No medicine show generated more success and fanfare than both Hamlin’s Wizard Oil Company and Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company. Hamlin’s Wizard Oil was first produced in 1861 by brothers John Austen (a former magician) and Lysander Butler Hamlin in Chicago, Illinois. The Hamlin brothers’ tincture was primarily sold and used as a topical product, helping with rheumatism and muscle soreness and fatigue. However, the product was marketed as more, with the Hamlin’s claiming Wizard Oil could also be ingested and would be effective as a treatment for pneumonia, cancer, earaches, toothaches, headaches, diphtheria, and hydrophobia (the historic name for “rabies”).

In terms of composition, Wizard Oil was between 50 and 75 percent alcohol, which alone explains why people thought it worked. Wizard Oil also contained:

  • camphor, a plasticizer used in smokeless gunpowder, fireworks, and mothballs;
  • ammonia, a solvent that is both caustic and hazardous to humans if consumed;
  • chloroform, which depressed the central nervous system and has been discontinued as an anesthetic following several deaths due to respiratory and cardiac arrhythmias and failures;
  • sassafras, a commonly-used plant;
  • cloves, commonly-used flower buds; and
  • turpentine, a flammable solvent that can cause skin and eye irritation, spasms and damage to the lungs and cardiopulmonary system, damage the central nervous system, and can cause renal failure if ingested or absorbed through the skin.

The Hamlin’s took their show on the road and made a fortune doing so. Their travelling performance troupes advertised the product all across the Midwest, with some stops being as long as six weeks in a single location. They had horse-drawn wagons and dressed in silk hats, coats, and spats. They distributed material to attendees of their show, as well as resident druggists. For either 35 cents for a small bottle or 75 cents for a large bottle ($8.39 and $17.98 in 2015 dollars, respectively), residents of these towns would find themselves in possession of a product not only promoted and guaranteed by the Hamlin’s and their performers, but also by the “Hoosier Poet” James Whitcomb Riley, whose work served as inspiration for Little Orphan Annie, composer Paul Dresser, who would later write “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” and Charles Davis Tillman, who created the southern gospel musical genre.

The medicine shows put on by Hamlin’s Wizard Oil Company were family-friendly affairs, so no one was excluded on the basis of morals, which proved to be beneficial as more and more people were adopting strict, pious religious views at the time.

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Advertisement for Kickapoo Indian Sagwa featuring salesman Texas Charley Bigelow. Image courtesy of the New England Historical Society.

The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, on the other hand, did not base their business model on increasing religiosity. Instead, they used cultural appropriation to sell their product, capitalizing on the commonly-held American belief that Native Americans had deep knowledge of natural medicine.

Originally based in Boston, Massachusetts, the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company was the brainchild of John E. Healy and Dr. E.H. Flagg. Before the two met, both Healy and Flagg had experience peddling cure-all products. After serving in the Union Army as a drummer boy during the American Civil War, Healy became a door-to-door salesman of vanishing creams, sold Minard’s Liniment (a patent medicine pain reliever created by the so-called “King of Pain” Dr. Levi Minard of Nova Scotia), and was even the proprietor of an Irish minstrel show. Flagg peddled his own product, Flagg’s Instant Relief, in Baltimore, Maryland, playing the violin on street corners to get the attention of prospective buyers.

Healy and Flagg joined forces and changed the name of Flagg’s Instant Relief to Kickapoo Indian Oil. With a desire to achieve the successes enjoyed by Hamlin’s Wizard Oil Company and other travelling medicine shows, Healy and Flagg hired Texan Charles Bigelow to take the product on the road. Bigelow had experience in the west, acting as a scout and Indian relic collector alongside many notable figures, including Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Going by the moniker “Texas Charley,” he left his family farm in Bee County, Texas to travel with a man who called himself “Dr. Yellowstone,” donning a sombrero over his long hair and spouting humbug about the health benefits of Kickapoo Indian Oil to any poor, gullible sap who would listen and had a dollar in their hand ($24.78 in 2015 dollars).

It didn’t take long for Flagg to be ousted from the business, leaving Healy and Bigelow to run the operation themselves. They adopted a business style similar to that of the great huckster P.T. Barnum and pushed Kickapoo Indian Oil all over the nation, amassing a fortune in the process. They assured their customers that Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company products were made of “roots, barks, twigs, leaves, seeds, and berries that are the most beneficial, because they assist Nature in the right way to make her own cure.” Their patent medicines were promoted as having the ability to cure everything — “quick cures for all pains” — with Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, their most popular product, even being promoted as having the ability to purify the blood and cure all digestive ailments. Buffalo Bill Cody even endorsed it, claiming:

“Kickapoo Indian Sagwa… is the only remedy the Indians ever use, and has been known to them for ages. An Indian would as soon be without his horse, gun or blanket as without Sagwa.”

With Americans infatuated with the western frontier, anything having to do with Native Americans was eaten up by men and women alike. This contributed to the astronomical success of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, though the use of vaudeville entertainment, fake war dances performed by Native Americans from other tribes (including the Iroquois and Plains tribes), staged marriages, dances, acrobatics, fire-eating, rifle-shooting, trained animals, and ventriloquism definitely helped as well. During this time, the headquarters of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company moved from Boston to New York, where it was based for three years until 1887, when it moved to the “Principal Wigwam” in New Haven, Connecticut. Healy and Bigelow contracted with federal Indian agents to send them performers for room and board and $30 per month (nearly $800 in 2015 dollars), which resulted in as many as 200 Native Americans being delivered to the Principal Wigwam at a time. By 1890, over 800 Native Americans had spent the winter at the Principal Wigwam and Healy and Bigelow had so many performers available that they were running 100 troupes simultaneously as far west as Chicago and as far south as the West Indies.

By 1901, Healy and Bigelow had made a fortune and their business was moved from New Haven to Clintonville, Connecticut. The company was re-branded Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, Inc. and is believed to have changed ownership at the same time.  The next year, “Texas Charley” retired and devoted his time to travelling.

1906 and the Decline of the Medicine Show

A perfect storm of developments came along in the early 20th Century that ultimately led to the slow, agonizing decline of the medicine show. The travelling medicine show would find itself going the way of the carnival sideshow — lower and lower turnouts, consumer disinterest, and a growing repulsion of the practice. American culture changed during the reign of the travelling medicine show and those cultural changes would provide the coffin’s nails that buried these sell-by-entertainment institutions that were at one time one of the most exciting and profitable forms of entertainment in the United States.

On June 30, 1906, the 59th United States Congress enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act, the first of several landmark pieces of consumer protection legislation in the early 20th Century. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was enacted, in part, due to public outrage stemming from the revelations contained in a series of investigative articles about the patent medicine industry written by journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams, as well as a novel by author Upton Sinclair that brought to the masses information concerning the horrifying conditions found in the United States’ meat packing industry. The Jungle, Sinclair’s novel, sought to expose “the inferno of exploitation” endured by typical American factory workers at the time, but with the public focusing on the disturbing conditions in the meat packing industry, The Jungle and it’s author found themselves used by the public to strong-arm Congress into making food and medicines more transparent. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 banned foreign and interstate traffic in adulterated or mislabeled food and drug products, directed the United States Bureau of Chemistry to inspect products and refer offenders of the Act’s guidelines to prosecution, required active ingredients be placed on the label of a drug’s packaging, and mandated drugs could not fall below an established purity threshold determined by the United States Pharmacopeia or the National Formulary. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 would also assist in the creation of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Both Hamlin’s Wizard Oil Company and Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, Inc., the juggernauts of patent medicine’s golden era, felt the swift hand of transparency from the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Lysander Hamlin’s son, Lawrence, was fined under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 for advertising Hamlin’s Wizard Oil as a product that can “check the growth and permanently kill cancer.” Kickapoo Cough Cure was the subject of a fine lobbied at Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, Inc. as the product contained far more alcohol than advertised.

Intervention by the federal government in the protection of consumers strengthened in 1938 with the passage of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which replaced the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and gave the FDA authority to oversee the safety of food, drugs, and cosmetics in the United States. The 75th United States Congress passed the Act following the deaths of over 100 people due to a sulfanilamide medication that used diethylene glycol, a colorless, tasteless, practically odorless, poisonous liquid solvent, to dissolve the drug to make a liquid form. Elixir sulfanilamide was created by Dr. Harold Watkins of the S.E. Massengill Company, though he did not realize his creation was toxic when he made it. When pressed about the incident, Samuel Evans Massengill, who owned the company, denied any responsibility for the deaths. While awaiting trial, a distraught Dr. Watkins took his own life.

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Vaudeville (left), moving pictures (middle), and later radio (right) would prove to be successful entertainment alternatives to the travelling medicine show.

Beyond the legislation that hindered the ability for medicine shows to continue as they once were, cultural attitudes changed dramatically over the first part of the 20th Century. Since the late 19th Century, people had been moving away from rural areas to major cities, which was a problematic demographic shift for the travelling medicine show. This shift, coupled with the emergence of vaudeville and nickelodeons, prompted men and women to seek new, exciting, and easily accessible forms of entertainment, alienating the travelling shows. Radio would appear a short time later, allowing people enjoyment from the comfort of their own homes. Travelling medicine shows took an even bigger hit during Great Depression and they continued to disappear during the Second World War. Any that had survived through World War II then found themselves competing with television and were formally classified as a “novelty” by that point, a cultural rarity leftover from an era that felt more in the past than it should have, considering how much time had actually passed since the travelling medicine show heyday.

Interestingly, for those that did manage to survive into the television era, it was that novelty that kept them going. Travelling medicine shows became “curiosities,” their appeal stemming from the juxtaposition between them and modern, mainstream forms of entertainment brought by rapid technological and social development.

The Hadacol Caravan was one of the most famous travelling medicine shows of the 20th Century. Sponsored by the LeBlanc Corporation (which was itself owned by Louisiana State Senator Dudley J. LeBlanc), the Hadacol Caravan promoted Hadacol, a patent medicine vitamin tonic which boasted curative powers and a high alcohol content. The show ran through the Deep South in the 1940’s to much fanfare, even attracting notable musical acts and Hollywood celebrities. But the Hadacol Caravan wouldn’t last into the next decade. In 1951, a financial scandal destroyed it.

In the summer of 1972, a two-man show consisting of Chief Thundercloud (real name Leo Kahdot, a pitchman and Potawatomi from Oklahoma) and Peg Leg Sam (real name Arthur Jackson, a harmonicist, singer, and comedian) performed at a carnival in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The duo’s performance would be their last together. Leo Kahdot died that winter.

‘Doc’ Scott

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Tommy Scott, proprietor of ‘Doc’ Scott’s Last Real Old Time Medicine Show

While the concept of the travelling medicine show was fading more and more into popular culture’s pit of obscurity, it made one last gasp in Tommy Scott. As a teenager in the 1930’s, Scott joined the ‘Doc’ Chamberlain Medicine Show (established in the late 19th Century by M.F. Chamberlain), where he played guitar, was a ventriloquist, and performed blackface acts. Scott also pitched Chambers’ Herb-O-Lac herbal laxative, to enormous success.

When Chamberlain retired in the late 1930’s, Scott took charge of the show. He would bring aboard his family, including his wife, Frankie (formerly Mary Frank Thomas), who was a “glamour girl and comedian,” and his daughter, Sandra, who played bass, sang, and performed acrobatics. He had a long-time partner in “Old Bleb” (real name Gaines Blevis). Herb-O-Lac was phased out for a mentholated skin liniment called Snake Oil (from where the term “snake oil salesman” comes) and despite the changing times and shifting cultural attitudes, ‘Doc’ Scott’s Last Real Old Time Medicine Show continued to be a rousing success.

Along with running the medicine show, Tommy Scott was also a well-known and respected rockabilly musician. Ramblin’ Tommy Scott would share stages with the likes of Charlie Monroe and Curly Seckler. In the 1940’s he was a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the prestigious weekly stage in Nashville, Tennessee dedicated to the history and culture of country music. He was a radio regular and was one of the first country musicians to appear regularly on television. His 1949 single “Rosebuds and You” was a modest hit. His song “You Are the Rainbow of My Dreams” is considered a bluegrass standard.

Between his career as a musician and his dedication to his roots, ‘Doc’ Scott’s Last Real Old Time Medicine Show performed over 300 dates per year until about 1990. If to also consider the time the show was in M.F. Chamberlain’s possession, Tommy Scott’s medicine show existed in notable capacity for over 100 years.

Tommy Scott died in 2013, aged 96.

The New Medicine Show

It’s near impossible to procure Hamlin’s Wizard Oil or Kickapoo Indian Sagwa these days, but that isn’t to say that it is impossible to buy anything from the heyday of the travelling medicine show. After all, Listerine was once pitched in medicine shows as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea, Bayer Aspirin was originally sold as a folk remedy, and Vicks VapoRub was originally peddled as Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve. While it would be easy to just assume the medicine show is nothing more than a “curiosity” from the past, and it would be right to assume that if speaking directly of the shows themselves, the medicine show still exists today, albeit with a different face and model.

This new medicine show doesn’t have the same allure as it’s ancestors, but has a greater one, and is, on the whole, far more dangerous.

The later years of the 20th Century saw an explosion and legitimization of quackery in a different form. Millions of people regularly subscribe to and advocate the “healing and wellness properties” of such pseudoscientific practices and philosophies as:

  • Colon cleansing
  • Homeopathy
  • Anthroposophic medicine
  • “Traditional Chinese medicine,” such as acupuncture, accupressure, and Qi
  • Biorhythms (not to be confused with chronobiology/circadian rhythms)
  • Naturopathy/vitalism
  • Applied kinesiology (not to be confused with the study of human movement)
  • Detoxification
  • “Repairative” therapy of homosexuals
  • Chiropractic medicine/innate intelligence/vertebral subluxation
  • Psychic surgery
  • Diagnoses of leaky gut syndrome
  • Body memory/repressed memories
  • Crystal healing
  • Faith healing
  • Various services and therapies offered by holistic health practitioners and massage therapists, including polarity therapy, craniosacral therapy, reiki, reflexology, and therapeutic touch.

Even with the establishment of the American Medical Association and other bodies devoted to promoting the science of medicine and the advancement of public health, pseudoscientific practices like the ones above, as well as the continuously perpetuated myth that vaccines cause autism, continue to exist, take people for suckers, and in some cases, enable serious public harm. Making matters worse is the advent of the “celebrity doctor,” the prime example of which being Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Mehmet Oz

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Dr. Mehmet Oz

Dr. Oz is the poster child for modern quackery. A cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Oz teaches at Columbia University and heads the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital when not working on television shows or writing books.

Despite his extensive medical training and credentials, it appears Dr. Oz has put celebrity in front of medicine. He has publicly endorsed alternative medicine, which is defined as any practice that is promoted as having the health effects of clinical medicine, but is not consistent with the scientific method, is not an aspect of biomedicine (the application of biological or any natural-science principles to clinical medicine), or is contradicted by scientific evidence or established science. He has also endorsed homeopathy, the belief that what causes illness in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people. He has drawn criticism for a segment on his show that mischaracterized arsenic levels in apple juice, his position as a spokesman and adviser for RealAge.com (which has been criticized for sketchy pharmaceutical marketing practices), and for an episode of his show that focused on repairative therapy, which claims to “cure” people of homosexuality, and featured Julie Hamilton of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals as a guest. The decision put him on the receiving end of swift condemnation from LGBT advocacy groups.

Popular Science and The New Yorker have criticized Dr. Oz’s endorsement and promotion of “non-scientific” medical philosophies and have both seriously questioned whether he is “doing more harm than good.”

The James Randi Educational Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to educate the public and the media on the dangers of accepting unsubstantiated claims as factual, has awarded Dr. Oz with their Pigasus Award, which is intended to “expose parapsychological, paranormal, or psychic frauds” that James Randi has noted over the previous year, on three occasions, more than any other recipient of the award: in 2009 for Dr. Oz’s promotion of energy therapies, such as reiki; in 2010 for Dr. Oz’s promotion of faith healing and mediumship; and in 2012, for Dr. Oz’s continued efforts to promote “quack medical practices, paranormal belief, and pseudoscience.”

Dr. Oz’s likeness and quotes have been used in several weight loss product scams. While he has never participated in these scams himself, he has drawn ire from the medical community for making statements that can be easily exploited by scammers. He has been studied by scientists and medical practitioners, whose results revealed that 51 percent of Dr. Oz’s medical statements had no actual basis in clinical medicine or scientific evidence, 36 percent of which were completely unsubstantiated, while 15 percent of which flew directly in the face of established science. A group of physicians even sent a letter to Columbia University, calling Dr. Oz’s faculty position unacceptable. They were answered by one of Dr. Oz’s spokesmen, who publicly criticized the physicians and questioned their integrity and qualifications.

Dr. Oz has even been subjected to an investigation by the United States Senate, during which time Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) told him, “The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of those three products you called miracles,” referring to Dr. Oz’s endorsement of pure green coffee (which was promoted as a weight-loss product), red palm oil (which, according to Dr. Oz “may very well be the most miraculous find of 2013”), and the raspberry ketone diet (which was promoted as a “miracle fat burner in a bottle”).

The main reason why actual doctors like Mehmet Oz peddling cure-alls and quackery is so problematic lies in our general trust of doctors. Even though anti-vaxxers claim not to trust doctors and conservative politicians claim not to trust certain scientists, the fact still remains that, overall, the American public puts a lot of stock in what doctors and scientists have to say. With that being said, it’s especially harmful when someone with medical credentials carries on like he’s John Hamlin or “Texas Charley” Bigelow because too many people do not go out and procure the information themselves and are instead completely satisfied by the shared value of their confirmation bias with something a doctor, a medical professional, said. Promoting a product like red palm oil on the basis of it’s “medical value” means more coming from someone named Dr. Oz than it does from a guy named Vinny in a cheap suit.

Popularity, Glamour, Guarantees, Supplements, and Lies

While Dr. Oz is the face of modern quackery, he is in no way the only person currently doing it, nor is he the only person in recent history to have done it. Quackery has always existed in some form or another, with notable accusations made against people like:

  • Thomas Allinson (1858-1918), who founded naturopathy;
  • L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), who founded Scientology and promoted Dianetics;
  • John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943), who believed holistic medicine helped the insane and also invented Corn Flakes breakfast cereal;
  • Johanna Brandt (1876-1964), who advocated that grapes could cure cancer;
  • Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913), who founded chiropractic and claimed all ailments could be treated by spinal alignment;
  • Samuel Hahneman (1755-1843), who founded homeopathy;
  • Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), who claimed he found a primordial cosmic energy called Orgone and developed devices that he claimed could use Orgone to manipulate the weather, battle aliens, and cure cancer;
  • Jim Humble (born 1932), who heads the Genesis II Church of Health & Healing and promotes the Miracle Mineral Supplement (which is claimed to cure almost every ailment from erectile dysfunction to cancer and AIDS), a tonic partially composed of sodium chlorite (a chemical found in pesticides); and
  • Andrew Wakefield (born 1957), who published a fraudulent study in Lancet that claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, while simultaneously applying for patents on individual vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella.

These figures and others like them run the gamut similarly to how the Hamlin’s or John Healy did, but without the additional stress of wagon travel. Instead, these figures can hit anywhere they want at any time, thanks to connectivity and the Internet, which has proven itself to be an effective breeding ground for everything from conspiracy theories to junk science. These figures still do what was done 125 years ago — give the public a cocktail of popularity, glamour, guarantees, supplements, and lies, many of which they will drink wholesale while simultaneously handing over their cash.

Interestingly, many of us either know these are scams or at the very least have an easy means by which to realize they are scams. Most of these products and treatments are wholly ineffective and blatantly false in presentation, yet quackery continues to exist on a large scale. Researchers, doctors, scientists, and social commentators have been trying to determine “why” for decades.

Ignorance sure plays a part, as those who perpetuate quackery seem to disproportionately target the more “gullible” among us. This can be further compounded by desperation and pride on the part of the target. Sometimes clinical treatments are too expensive, forcing patients to seek out cheaper alternatives. Prescription drugs carry a king’s ransom of distressing side effects and surgery is painful and barbaric, so it actually makes sense someone fearful of the side effects of treatment would seek out an alternative. The brain is a powerful organ and has the ability to control one’s interpretation of reality. It’s also easily tricked, which leads to a “placebo effect,” or the sense that a treatment is working even when it may not be. Quackery is also exacerbated by the need to quell confirmation biases, the belief in conspiracy theories, and distrust of conventional medicine, for whatever reason.

Despite our scientific and medical advances, many of us are still terrified by mortality. The fear of illness has led to an overprescription of antibiotics, which has had a profound effect on the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The unfounded fear that vaccines cause autism has led to the re-emergence of measles. These fears are obvious, worn on the sleeve, which provides a perfect opportunity for someone to be taken advantage of, much in the same way the grieving process has left people vulnerable to fraudulent mediums like John Edward and the late Sylvia Browne and fear of the unknown leaves people vulnerable to religious frauds like Peter Popoff, Benny Hinn, and Kenneth Copeland.

The 21st Century medicine show is just as much a cavalcade of false narratives and exploitation as it was 150 years ago, with the only difference being the method of reach. Bored and excitable small town folks are now virtual patients in every major city and nation around the world, swallowing supplements like Skittles and buying false narratives wholesale, all while punching symptoms into WebMD and convincing themselves their sudden stomachache is stomach cancer and not a little gas. It’s just as profitable as it was two centuries ago, if not more so, and no one is held accountable.

Featured image by William Crochot, via Wikimedia Commons, and available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

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On Why I Support Bernie Sanders

I have a cousin who regularly tells me that I should run for political office. As enticing an idea as that is, I always tell him “that’s probably not a good thing for me to do,” normally following it with some quip about how I would turn the nation’s capital into a giant amusement park (I totally would) or how I’d be assassinated (that’s a distinct possibility). The reality, however, is that I believe running for office is “probably not a good thing for me to do” because I know, at this point in American history, I’m unelectable.

Firstly, I’m a millennial. People hate millennials. Hell, some millennials hate millennials.

Secondly, I’m an atheist and an anti-theist. People hate atheists and anti-theists. Hell, some atheists and anti-theists hate atheists and anti-theists.

Thirdly, I’m vulgar. I clean up my language for The Zephyr Lounge (but not the new sister-site, The Zephyr Lounge: After Dark), but if it came down to me running for office, I wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t “me” when I did it. “Me” comes with an extensive vocabulary, including creative uses for words like fuck, shit, ass, and bitch.

The reason why I don’t seriously consider running for an office is because no one would elect a guy like me. At least right now. But, even though I cannot contribute to positive, progressive change from a room filled with lawmaking relics from an era long past, I can affect change other ways. I’m a writer. I’m opinionated and extroverted. I speak to my peers with passion, reason, and facts.

But, another way I can contribute to change is by voting for candidates to fill the seats I cannot and who share my views, my ideas, and reason. This is why my support is still firmly in Bernie Sanders’ dossier.

I have spoken to scores of my peers who support Bernie Sanders and asked them a very simple question: “Why?” Many cannot give me a reasonable answer. Some support Bernie because it’s fashionable. Some support him because of their disdain for Donald Trump and/or Hillary Clinton. Some support him because he’ll “bring about change,” even though they cannot tell me what change he’ll bring about and do not take into consideration that Bernie will face the same kind of opposition from the Republican-led Congress that President Obama has faced.

Then, I ask them if they’re registered to vote, to which they adjust their #FeelTheBern T-shirt and mutter “no.”

While some more conservative-leaning journalists would use these kinds of responses to malign these young people and take a shot at Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, I see them primarily as a group of people who know what they want but are unsure of how to get it. These are the kinds of people Bernie Sanders cares about. These are the kinds of people I care about.

Like I’m sure Bernie would, I speak directly to these people, telling them how to register, why they should register, and why voting is important. Many of these young people come back to me days or weeks later, telling me that they have registered to vote, normally while wearing the same #FeelTheBern T-shirt they were wearing when I told them to register. Even though I cannot affect policy as a legislator, I can affect policy by lighting a fire underneath the asses of my peers and get them involved in politics.

Many millennials are disinterested in politics because they view at little more than a prolonged episode of Game of Thrones. While that analogy does hold some merit, it is our responsibility to change that.

Supporting and voting for Bernie Sanders is the first step.

I don’t support Bernie because it’s fashionable. I don’t even support him because he’s an anti-establishment candidate. I don’t support him because he’s not Hillary and he’s not Trump. Those qualifiers, which I have heard repeatedly, could not be less important to me.

I support Bernie because of his policy ideas. I support him because of what he stands for. I support Bernie because I agree with his political positions and viewpoints and I firmly believe that Bernie can change things in a way that no other candidate could, even with an obstructionist Congress in place (which I also discuss with my peers).

But more importantly than even that, I support Bernie because, to me, Bernie is good. I don’t mean “good” in the sense of something desired or admirable (such as a synonym of “awesome”), I mean “good” in the sense of what is just.

I support Bernie Sanders because, in my view, he’s the only guy campaigning on justice.

Bernie Sanders is running a campaign on accountability. He seeks to help those who need it and strip the socially-detrimental indulgences American politics has afforded aristocratic entities who hurt the social fabric with said indulgences. Tax the rich, he says, so the middle-class doesn’t have to continue carrying a tax burden they cannot afford to carry any longer. Get big money out of politics, he says, so government can function for the people whom it represents and not solely upon the interests of faceless corporations that don’t care about us. Reform immigration, he says, so people suffering in other countries can realize that the United States needs them as much as they need the United States. We must act boldly, he says, because climate change is change is happening, mankind is largely to blame, and petty politics and business interests have done nothing except keep us from addressing the greatest existential threat facing our planet.

These are just a few of the myriad of views Bernie Sanders has that speak to justice.

In Republic, Plato describes justice as a “human virtue” that makes a person self-consistent and “good” and on a social level, justice makes a society internally harmonious and “good.” In this sense, “good” means moral; it means righteousness.

Despite Republic being nearly 2,400 years old, Plato’s definitions of justice are still very applicable today, especially in America society, whose government is largely drawn from Plato’s Athens.

If Plato were alive today and voting in these elections, I firmly believe he would be casting a vote for Bernie Sanders. If Bernie manages to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination and is on the ballot in November, I will be voting for him again.

I’m not voting for Bernie Sanders for myself. I’m voting for Bernie Sanders for everyone. My vote is not reflective of my disdain for my alternatives or any degree of selfishness, but because I care about all of us and vote for Bernie Sanders, in my view, is a vote for the well-being of everyone.

To me, as it was to Plato, that is what’s just.

Featured image by Phil Roeder, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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Is our Society Truly to Blame for the ‘Breakdown’ of our Society?

Society is fractured. That’s likely the understatement of the year. We fight, complain, support, revere, and fight some more on nearly every issue pressing. With social media giving everyone a voice, it is clearer now where people stand on the king’s ransom of issues that have (or will have) serious ramifications on this society we all love to criticize one minute and champion the next.

We are especially aware of moments in media where these debates are ignited, when writers, producers, and directors toss a match into the oil left behind our arguments with an poignant anecdote or sharp appeal from a character we’re all supposed to love. While Aaron Sorkin is the master of such social criticism in highly-popular media, there are others who pull at our awareness just as effectively, like Sam Esmail.

In an episode of Esmail’s critically-acclaimed techno-thriller Mr. Robot, main character Elliot is asked what it is about society that disappoints him. Following the inquiry, Elliot lets loose the following tirade:

“Oh, I don’t know… Is it that collectively we thought Steve Jobs was a great man, even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children? Or maybe it’s that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit? The world itself is just one big hoax — spamming each other with our burning commentary bullshit, masquerading as insight; our social media faking this intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections, but with our things, our property, our money. I’m not saying anything new. We all know why we do this, not because Hunger Games books make us happy, but because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards. Fuck society.”

Elliot’s “fuck society” breakdown is everyone’s “fuck society” breakdown, just with the eloquence of a television writer.

When ruminating where society has “gone wrong,” most of us look to mere examples primarily drawn from aspects of society with which we find opposition. We cite things like partisan agendas, failures in education, obsession with possessions and vanity, institutional corruption, and even our own disagreements as proof that society is circling the drain. While these things are definitely worth a stirring breakdown, it may be dishonest to truly consider them reasons upon themselves.

What if society’s flaws are greater than that? What if the problems with society are beyond cultural identities and misplaced priorities? What if the problems with society stem not from society, but from the species that creates it?

Despite some who would argue the contrary, we are domesticated animals. Our domestication came when our species made the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer and is qualified in much the same way human domestication of certain animals is qualified.

Cheap, accessible food sources? Check.
Quick population growth rate? Check.
Friendly disposition? Check.
Easy breeding? Check.
Social hierarchy? Check.
Generally calm? Check.

Our domestication is also evident biologically, as humans have more rounded, smaller jaws compared to undomesticated animals, are more likely to be hurt or killed by disease than by physical conflict, are more childlike in appearance and demeanor (“paedomorphosis”), and many adult humans can digest milk.

Through this domestication, humans are prone to three factors that together create a positive feedback loop and may contribute to the creation of societal aspects we consider to be problematic.

Susceptibility-Ignorance-Complacency

Image by the author.

Susceptibility leads to ignorance. Ignorance leads to complacency. Complacency leads to susceptibility.

We are susceptible in that we are prone to manipulation. We are a species conditioned to react to things we want and need and things we think we want and need. We react to ideas, primarily through either support or rejection. More of us are prone to follow than there are those prone to lead. We’ve even created slang to describe human susceptibility — “sheeple.”

Because we are prone to susceptibility, we are also prone to ignorance. Why do the legwork for yourself when someone has already done it for you? Being prone to manipulation, it’s easy to conform to certain ideas, especially if they’re easy to understand and emotive.

Because we are prone to ignorance, we become complacent. We put more stock in what is comfortable compared to what isn’t. We become set in our ways and hardened to change.

Because we are complacent, we can be further manipulated.

While this breakdown of human conditioning may sound like some dark conspiracy out of a dystopic fiction novel, it isn’t. It’s something many of us, if not all of us, do in some capacity. Consider religion as an example. Religions are hierarchical, with a church leader (usually a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, etc.) projecting their interpretation of the faith to a group of people likely to take their word for it (susceptibility) and not seek out other interpretations (ignorance), thus enforcing in themselves the beliefs of another person in a spiritually authoritative position (complacency), which in turn, allows that priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam to further manipulate the beliefs of those who attend services (susceptibility).

When we’re out grocery shopping, we’re more likely to buy brand-name products over the copious generics that are shelved alongside them. Why is this? Aside from the fact that the most expensive products (which are usually brand-name products) are always placed on the middle shelf and studies have shown that placement has a profound effect on us, we are conditioned to favor brand-name products over their generic counterparts. We don’t see advertisements for Honey Nut Toasty O’s, but we see ads for Honey Nut Cheerios. The latter is the more recognizable brand, thus we seek it out (susceptibility) without considering the generic alternatives (ignorance), which are cheaper and taste the same. Then we take it home and enjoy it (complacency), only to repeat the behavior again after being bombarded with more advertisements (susceptibility).

Almost all human conditioning works this way. This cycle contributes to our views on money (“the more expensive it is, the better it must be”), us-vesus-them partisanship (“Libtards” versus “Rethuglicans”), and even “lemming” behaviors, such as being part of a trend (“everyone is doing it, so I should”). We’re susceptible to these views, we don’t consider other possibilities, we become comfortable with these views and hardened to change, which makes us even more susceptible.

The “breakdown” of society is not to blame here. Our domestication is. When we say “fuck society,” we are actually commenting on products of our domestic existence.

In Mr. Robot, Elliot’s sharp breakdown of society points out that we let these things we loathe about society happen, that we are complicit in our ideological suffering as victims of a seemingly-unstoppable machine of our own design. Perhaps it’s not so simple as that. Perhaps the things we despise about society are a product of us being unable to prevent it? Perhaps, even though we know society is caught in a maelstrom and we know we are the cause, because of certain “human-factors,” meaning products of human social evolution, we do not know how not to let these things happen?

The above explanation of human behavior is not meant to be considered authoritative. It is merely a rumination, something every single one of us does when trying to determine where society has “gone wrong.” Instead of being a breakdown of specific factors, the above argument seeks to determine if what we loathe about society is larger than society itself.

Some may disagree with it. Some may find it interesting. Some may seek to challenge it. Some may seek to expand upon it. After all, that is the human thing to do.

This article originally appeared at LiberalAmerica.org.

Featured image via Pixabay.

[H/T EducateInspireChange.org]

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