Tuesday, September 28, 2004


The Real Meaning of "Progressive" Politics

By: Barry Loberfeld



To the American mind, the most formal connotation of the term progressive is the Progressive Movement, a period of reform that ranged from the late 1800s to the end of World War I. Unlike its predecessor, the Populist Party, Progressivism was not a movement of farmers or manual laborers. Its guiding lights were college-educated men who were consequently steeped in the post-Enlightenment collectivism that had taken hold of the universities both here and in Europe. Among its apostles were economists who adopted the "organic" collectivism of the German historical school, sociologists and historians who interpreted Darwin according to the social ideas of Hegel (the "reform" Darwinists), clergymen who interpreted Jesus according to the moral ideas of Kant (the Social Gospelers), single-taxers who followed Henry George, Utopians who followed Edward Bellamy ... "humanitarians" who followed Comte ... pragmatists who followed William James and the early John Dewey. (Peikoff)
The man who is now virtually synonymous with Progressivism, Herbert Croly (The Promise of American Life), was himself both the son of a noted proponent of Comteian positivism and the student of Harvard's Josiah Royce, a disciple of Hegel. All of these thinkers contributed to what would become the ethical foundation of the Progressive Movement: a contempt and loathing of "individualism" -- and its political expression in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution:

§         Croly: "The Promise of American Life is to be fulfilled ... by a large measure of individual subordination and self-denial."

§         Sociologist Lester Ward: "The individual has reigned long enough."

§         Antitrust leader Henry Demarest Lloyd: Individualism is "one of the historic mistakes of humanity."

§         The Outlook editor Lyman Abbott: "[I]ndividualism is the characteristic of simple barbarism, not of republican civilization."

§         Baptist minister Walter Rauschenbusch: "[I]ndividualism means tyranny."

So great was this fear of the individual that John Dewey believed that the "mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness." "Progressive education" was developed to meet the individualist threat on the juvenile level, while Progressive collectivization of the economy would meet it on the adult, with the first targets being those unregulated monoliths of "economic power" -- the corporations.

Here is where Progressive myth collides with historical reality. The myth is that these "trusts" were becoming monopolies that were then able to use their power to "strangle" the rest of the country -- and all because the government clung to an out-dated doctrine of laissez faire that prevented even modest regulation. And the reality? Despite the large number of mergers, and the growth in the absolute size of many corporations, the dominant trend in the American economy ... was toward growing competition. Competition was unacceptable to many key business and financial interests ... As new competitors sprang up, and as economic power was diffused throughout an expanding nation, it became apparent to many important businessmen that only the national government could [cartelize] the economy ... [I] t was not the existence of monopoly that caused the federal government to intervene in the economy, but the lack of it. (Kolko)

If Big Business was the devil of Progressive rhetoric, it was nonetheless the beneficiary of Progressive policy. How did Progressivism's means lead to such a corrupt end? How did a movement that advocated greater democracy, that insisted that the "National Government must step in and discriminate ... on behalf of equality and the average man" (Croly), bring about the rise of bureaucracies that were removed from democratic review and "invariably controlled by leaders of the regulated industry" (Kolko)? Along with the chasm between the myth and the market, a fairly illuminating answer can be found in Dewey's own definition of democracy: "that form of social organization, extending to all areas and ways of living, in which the powers of individuals shall ... [be] directed" -- by the State, which can fairly be described as the god of Progressive belief.

In addition to Prohibition and segregation, the Progressives' anti-individualist idealism found yet another manifestation -- militarism. Under the Roosevelt administration, the "spirit of imperialism was an exaltation of duty above rights, of collective welfare above individual self-interest ... [of] the heroic values as opposed to materialism, action instead of logic, the natural impulse rather than the pallid intellect" (Osgood) -- in short, an exaltation of every tenet of Progressive ideology above Enlightenment liberalism. This manifestation tumefied with the outbreak of war in Europe, with the Progressives clamoring for U.S. entry:

§         Journalist Frederick L. Allen: "War necessitates organization, system, routine, and discipline. We shall have to give up much of our economic freedom ... We shall have to lay by our good-natured individualism and march in step."

§         Dewey: The "social possibilities" of war will supersede the "individualistic tradition" and demonstrate the "supremacy of public need over private possessions."

§         Journalist Ray S. Baker: "We need trouble and stress! I thought once [the abolition of individualism] could be done by some voluntary revolt from comfort and property ... But it was not enough. The whirlwind had to come."

§         Croly: The "tonic of a serious moral adventure" -- i.e., the war -- will prevent the "real danger of national disintegration" by forcing the American citizen to elevate "national service" above "having his own way."

War opponent Randolph Bourne denounced Dewy and the other Progressives for allying themselves with the "least democratic forces in American life." He openly mused that there "seems to have been a peculiar congeniality between the war and these men. It is as if the war and they had been waiting for each other." It is possible to suggest that there was nothing at all "peculiar" about the congeniality between the war and the ideas these men held.

With the end of World War I came the end of the Progressive Era. What didn't end was the movement's premise: the substitution of collectivism for individualism, statism for laissez faire. As a policy, Progressivism continued to progress.

The term progressive returned to the national scene with the 1948 presidential campaign of former vice president Henry Wallace and his Progressive Party, whose name pointedly harkened back to Theodore Roosevelt's own third-party challenge in 1912. But the raison d'ĂȘtre of this party was a very un-Progressive opposition to any action by, growth of, or support for the American military. The difference was that "the enemy" was now Soviet Russia and this Progressive Party was in fact a creation of the Communist Party and its ranks were filled with Communists and fellow travelers -- the Old Left -- none of whom had any problems with the military when it was fighting Stalin's enemy in Europe. Eventually, the Communist infiltration of the party was acknowledged by everyone, including Wallace, who left and denounced it. But not to be lost was the connection between progressive ideology and a position that reflexively opposed anything to do with the American military but ideologically supported collectivization of the American economy beyond what the "liberals" of the day advocated.

However, the term did go into hibernation when the Old Left, faltering under the burden of the Khrushchev revelations, was succeeded by the New Left, which maneuvered to distance itself from the Old Left's commitments (the USSR), ideology (Stalinism), and terminology -- including “progressive.” The New Left imagined itself independent, anti-Stalinist, and "revolutionary."

But by the end of the 60s, the New Left had realized itself as a movement had allied itself with totalitarian regimes from Southeast Asia to Cuba, embraced Maoism as a visionary creed (especially for the remnants of Students for a Democratic Society), and failed to achieve anything "revolutionary." What next -- a Newer Left? Many activists brought their leftism with them as they entered mainstream institutions such as the universities and the Democratic Party. If anything, they were now "liberals" -- left-liberals, meaning that they were to the left of all other liberals. (Of course, liberalism itself had shifted markedly leftward, e.g., beginning with McGovern.)

And "Progressive"? The term has today re-emerged to once again denote any person, organization, or idea left-of-moderate. It was the centrist liberalism of the Clinton administration -- e.g.,the (proposed) neo-progressive cartelization of medicine, the intervention in the Balkans, the North American Free Trade Agreement -- that brought forth self-designated "progressives" who opposed anything less than full socialization of medicine, the deployment of U.S. troops anywhere, and the rise of the global economy. The only real change in the term is how commodious it has become. It encompasses everyone from an ever-leftward social democrat to a Communist-without-a-Party to such relatively recent arrivals as the "radical feminist" (i.e., bourgeois female) fighting the Patriarchal Occupational Government, the Queer activist fighting "hetero-normality," the multiculturalist fighting Western civilization, and the Deep Ecologist fighting all civilization. It even includes ideologically exhausted leftists-without-an-ism such as philosopher Richard Rorty, who allows that the "best we can hope for is more of the same experimental, hit-or-miss, two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back reforms that have been taking place in the industrial democracies since the French Revolution."
What's left is a "progressive" Left that is too broad, too reactionary and too self-contradictory. In the desire to replace individuality with community, they have yet to pick a “community” into which they will be assimilated. So, in the end, the progressive movement could go in any number of directions – or none at all.
Which raises the question of just what progressive really tells us. Something that means everything, means nothing. Even as a synonym for all things leftist, can it logically include, for example, the Marxist crucifixion of Malthus and the Green resurrection of him? Or both pacifism and militarism (the “armed struggles” of socialist forces)? How can we speak of as “progressive” striving for a Communist future that is already past – or yearning to drive humanity “back to the Pleistocene” (an Earth First! slogan)? And exactly how long can a concept sit on the shelf until you can’t continue to market it as “progressive”? Presumably, labeling one’s position “progressive” endows it with the virtue of being forward-looking, relevant, while conversely rendering any opposing position “reactionary,” backward – all in all, a superficially more sophisticated alternative to “good” and “evil.” In a public square increasingly devoid of common referents, forward and back, much like left and right, reveals neither where a person is coming from nor what he’s going after. For the mere honesty of the debate, what we need is a political vocabulary whose terms actually describe the ideas on the table – a proposal evidently more daunting than its modest tenor would suggest.  

                                                BIBLIOGRAPHY

E.J. Dionne, Jr., They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era, 1996.

Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr., Progressivism in America, 1974

Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, 1963.

Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920, 2003.

R.E. Osgood, Ideals and Self-Interest in America’s Foreign Relations, 1953.

Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America, 1982.

No excusing evil

Molly Ivins (Their View Sept. 20) urges that rather than kill terrorists we should understand them. I think that's what she urges; it's not all that clear except by reading between the lines to unearth the true meaning of her words. Statements like "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' and "consider correcting or changing our own conduct' bear witness to her unwillingness to call evil evil.

If you are unable to distinguish between the purposeful targeting of innocents, especially children, and the accidental killing thereof, then you are viewing the world through the prism of moral equivalence. One is pure evil whatever your motivation, the other is a tragic accident.

There is no word, no event, no wrong committed against you or yours that confers upon you the right to behead an innocent reporter (Daniel Pearl), a construction contractor (Nick Berg), or dozens of others. Nor do you acquire the right to hold hostage innocent children and then stab them or shoot them in the back as they flee in fear. If you cannot call that evil, regardless of the rationalizations put forth to "explain' evil behavior, you are morally blind.

In Feb., 1945, the British bombed Copenhagen in an effort to destroy the Shell Oil building, which the Nazis had commandeered as their Gestapo headquarters. The attack had been planned and coordinated by members of the Danish underground, and the British used low-level Mosquito bombers to ensure accuracy. Unfortunately, the lead bomber of one of the eight squadrons clipped a tall radio tower with a wing tip (they were flying at about 200 feet) and his plane crashed in a schoolyard. The next squadron of four planes saw the smoke from the crash and, thinking it indicated the target, dropped their bombs on the school, killing 86 children and about a dozen nuns. The next squadron realized the error and proceeded to the correct target.

Why do I tell this story? Because the Danes, who had been suffering under the German boot for four years, knew who the enemy was, and it wasn't the British, even though they had just killed more Danish children than the Germans had in four years. They knew who was right and who was wrong. They accepted the tragedy as an accident of war, accepted the British apology, buried the dead and moved on. How do I know this? I grew up in Copenhagen and lived there throughout the war.

If you still think that if only the United States would behave differently we would not have such hatred directed against us, perhaps you can explain this. Apart from Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya, Muslim extremism is murdering people in Kashmir, Thailand, the Philippines, Israel, Kosovo, Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, India, Sudan, Somalia, and assorted other parts of the world. Perhaps you can explain the murders of a dozen Nepalese workers in Iraq. Perhaps you can explain the murders of Iraqi policemen and trainees. Perhaps you can explain the very recent beheadings of three Kurdish workers. None had anything to do with American policies. Perhaps you can, perhaps Molly Ivins can, but I'm not holding my breath.

A. O. Kragh

Arcadia

This letter originally appeared in the Pasadena Star News but letters seldom stay online for long. Columnist Molly Ivins wrote: "Defining "terrorist" or any "other" as an absolute, irrational evil gives us a spurious and intoxicating sense of self-righteousness. We become the Simon-pure contrast, thus missing any chance to consider if correcting or just changing our own conduct would be effective....."


Saturday, September 25, 2004

That which was lost

Mike Jericho no longer seems to have the heart to continue with his idea for a "Man Blog" now that some Leftist punk has destroyed the site. If anybody ever takes one of my blogs down, it will be back up again in 5 minutes, I can assure you. I save everything to disk -- including templates. Anyway, so that the Leftist triumph is not total, I have re-posted below what I had up on "The Man Blog" before it was taken down.

NAUGHTY BEER

"A provocative photo of a man pulling down a woman's top will not be used to sell James Boag's beer after widespread outrage from alcohol and sexual assault groups. The Tasmanian brewer issued a statement yesterday saying it had "no plans for media placement" of the image, which had been described as outrageous and inappropriate.

And the company could still be asked to withdraw other images of women posed with beer bottles grasped provocatively in their hands from its advertising campaign. The Herald Sun understands a complaint about the campaign will be lodged with the Advertising Standards Bureau today and more are expected to follow this week....

Marg D'Arcy, spokeswoman for the Royal Women's Hospital Centre Against Sexual Assault, said she was pleased the "most offensive" image would not be used but condemned the entire Boag's campaign. "The message they're giving is that somehow beer makes women sexually available," she said." [Ahem!]

Excerpts posted by John Ray. You can see the Ad here
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SHAMS

An interesting email recently received

"If bloggers and new media can take down CBS, there isn't any reason why we can't make a dent in domestic violence services that serve no one, and exist primarily to promote divorce and misandry.

Since March, the DesertLight Journal blog has been posting in serial form Friends to the End, the first-ever novel on domestic violence with a male victim. The book now appears in its entirety. It will stay up at the blog until October 1st, when it will be removed from the site.

The book will be replaced with a new campaign to promote full awareness of the issue of domestic violence. This campaign will be the simplest, and possibly the most effective so far. The way it will work is this: I'm asking everyone to track their local media and keep an eye out for stories on DV shelters and services that promote the well-known myths and bad statistics. Send me a link to these stories when they appear online, or in national media that I can access. I'll post them on the DLJ blog, and contact the source with corrections whenever possible.

On October 1st, I'll post the most frequently-repeated misinformation for everyone's reference, along with the reasons why the statements are wrong."

Monogamy: "According to many scientific experts, monogamy is a myth and we now have DNA testing to prove it. In their book "Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People", husband-and-wife team, behavioural scientist David P. Barash and psychiatrist Judith Eve Lipton, argue that monogamy "goes against some of the deep-seated inclinations with which biology has endowed most creatures, including humans"."

FALSE RAPE ALLEGATIONS ARE COMMON

And feminist laws convict the innocent

Despite its many painful and unseemly aspects, the Kobe Bryant rape case and the media storm surrounding it have drawn attention to a severely neglected problem: false rape accusations.

In her recent "Daily Journal" column, high profile feminist professor Wendy Murphy dismisses the problem of false accusations as an "ugly myth," and calls for "boiling rage" activism to address what she perceives as the anti-woman bias of the criminal justice system. Like many victims' advocates, Murphy cannot seem to fathom the possibility that Bryant could be innocent. However, research shows that false allegations of rape are frighteningly common.

According to a nine-year study conducted by former Purdue sociologist Eugene J. Kanin, in over 40 percent of the cases reviewed, the complainants eventually admitted that no rape had occurred ("Archives of Sexual Behavior," Vol. 23, No. 1, 1994). Kanin also studied rape allegations in two large Midwestern universities and found that 50 percent of the allegations were recanted by the accuser.

Kanin found that most of the false accusers were motivated by a need for an alibi or a desire for revenge. Kanin was once well known and lauded by the feminist movement for his groundbreaking research on male sexual aggression. His studies on false rape accusations, however, received very little attention.

According to a 1996 Department of Justice Report, of the roughly 10,000 sexual assault cases analyzed with DNA evidence over the previous seven years, 2,000 excluded the primary suspect, and another 2,000 were inconclusive. The report notes that these figures mirror an informal National Institute of Justice survey of private laboratories, and suggests that there exists "some strong, underlying systemic problems that generate erroneous accusations and convictions."

That false allegations are a major problem has been confirmed by several prominent prosecutors, including Linda Fairstein, who heads the New York County District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit. Fairstein, the author of "Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape," says, "there are about 4,000 reports of rape each year in Manhattan. Of these, about half simply did not happen."....

The media has largely ignored these studies and experts and has instead promoted the notion that only 2% of rape allegations are false. This figure was made famous by feminist Susan Brownmiller in her 1975 book "Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape." Brownmiller was relaying the alleged comments of a New York judge concerning the rate of false rape accusations in a New York City police precinct in 1974..... Brownmiller's credibility can be assessed by her assertion in "Against Our Will" that rape is "nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear."

Murphy also contends that the criminal justice system is stacked against women, and that the law reform initiatives promoted during the past three decades have "failed to make a bit of difference in the justice system's handling of rape cases." In reality, feminist advocacy and the now ubiquitous rape-shield laws have made an enormous difference in the way the system treats rape cases.

Some of these changes have been fair, and have led to greater protections for rape victims. However, others have made it more difficult for men to defend themselves, with at times horrifying consequences for the accused.

For example, in December, the Arkansas Supreme Court denied an appeal by Ralph Taylor, who is serving a 13-year sentence for rape. The court held that evidence of the victim's alleged prior false allegations of rape was inadmissible because it was considered sexual conduct within the meaning of the state's rape shield statute. In that case, the defense proffered the testimony of two friends of the alleged victim, both of whom claimed that she had previously falsely accused another man of raping her. The court added that admitting such evidence could "inflame the jury."

In her book "Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, Boston Globe" columnist Cathy Young details numerous questionable rulings in which potentially innocent men were prevented from properly defending themselves by the rape shield laws which Murphy endorses.

One of these cases concerns an 18 year-old Wisconsin boy named Charles Steadman, who in 1993 was sentenced to eight years in prison for allegedly raping an older woman. Steadman was prohibited from revealing that his accuser was currently facing criminal charges of having sex with minors, and thus had an excellent reason to claim that the sex with Steadman was not consensual. Such evidence was deemed related to his accuser's sexual history and thus inadmissible.....

Murphy is correct that rape is a horrible crime. But false accusations of rape are every bit as horrible. They are a form of psychological rape that can emotionally, socially, and economically destroy a person even if there is no conviction, especially for those of less fame and fortune than Bryant. The stigma attaches to the falsely accused for life. Few believe them and few care. Prosecutors systematically refuse to prosecute the perpetrators. And victims' advocates like Murphy refuse to see falsely accused men as victims, and instead work to minimize and conceal the problem.

More here.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

LEFTIST IMMATURITY

Email from a reader:

"I've been following politics since 2000 (guess what started that) and I've found many criticisms of leftism and leftist policies to be very well reasoned and sound. But I prefer grander theories and and felt there must be something that tied everything together. I especially wanted to be able to account for the characteristic behavior of Leftist I was seeing personally, on TV or hearing on the radio.

They are simply very angry people. I grew up in a very liberal setting and throughout the eighties I indirectly heard about how *mean* and bad those right-wing people were. When I finally started paying attention I couldn't believe how opposite things were. All the bad guy names from my past came back and presented themselves: Bush (who was in charge of the CIA!) is obviously a very nice guy, Alexander Haig is always fun to watch interviewed and the dreaded Pat Buchanan, I swear, is more jolly than Santa Claus.

On the other hand the Leftists I know and see have a strange combination of characterists. I'll list them here: arrogance, distrust/contempt of authority, anger, need for attention/validation, demand that they and others to be taken care of by authority (not the one they distrust, but an idealized version they see just outside their reach), need for more authority and boundaries. (I'm sure I missed some) Some are almost contradictory, like the contempt of authority but the need for more authority.

I really couldn't figure out how these all fit together until I realized I was just describing myself when I was growing up. All these things fit together in an adolescent mentality. This might also explain why Leftists often transform into conservatives as they age but the opposite isn't that common. This theory is a fine way to upset Leftists but I wasn't satisfied. Why would some people be like this and some not? Why would some people eventually mature and think differently? I was really reluctant to bring genetics into this, because I don't like the idea of DNA determining complex behavior, but then I remembered a theory on puppies.

Ever hear a wolf wake up a neighborhood barking? Wolves don't really bark like dogs, but wolf pups do. Both wolf and dog pups bark often, but as they mature wolves develop a more complex communication system of woofs, growls and howls but dogs just keep barking like fools. The theory goes that dog breeders didn't specifically select for current pet dog traits but actually selected for the whole puppy package. Domesticated animals, including cats and dogs, were bred to be in arrested mental development.

Could it all be about genetics? Are conservatives wolves and Leftists dogs? Are Leftists "domesticated" humans? If this is true which way are we going as a population? Is leftism, rather than being a policital point of view, a set of immaturity genes that spreads by mate preferences but occasionally expresses itself through deadly leftist governments to cull the herd of competing genes?"

Sunday, September 05, 2004

WHAT HAPPENED TO WILLPOWER?

By Neil Lyndon

A DREAM may be about to come true. I have been praying that they might invent a drug that would improve my golf swing and help me to hit a golf ball within 90 degrees of the point at which I am aiming. Now, at last, hope has dawned.

The announcement that a wonder pill has been invented which, it is claimed, can help you to lose weight and stop smoking - both at once - is fantastic news for all of us who have battled for years against hopeless inadequacies and irredeemable deficiencies. You would be hard pressed to find anything in human creation more inadequate than my golf swing, but nothing is impossible now. They might soon invent a pill that will fill us with rapture when the time comes to complete our tax returns.

If it's not too much to ask, I have always wanted to play the piano like the maestro Alfred Brendel. Could this be arranged by the drug manufacturers? And while they are at it, could they please come up with a chemical concoction which could make my postadolescent son spring out of bed in the morning and snap to the duties of the day with a merry song on his lips?

This new drug - which may soon be on sale under the name Accomplia - reduces the need to go on eating when the body is already nourished. It also, simultaneously, takes away the craving for nicotine. In these respects, Accomplia joins a group of medicines - such as Antabuse, the drug that makes alcoholics vomit if they drink any alcohol - that are designed to effect what mother's wisdom and common sense have failed to achieve.

We all know that eating too much overburdens our hearts, that smoking fouls our lungs, and excessive amounts of alcohol will eat away our digestive organs. In the absence of the self-regulatory powers - such as strength of mind - that enable us to translate that knowledge into action, medical science has come up with a host of aids that obviate the need for character, will, determination or, indeed, any form of suffering.

Far be it from me to decry any-body who needs help to stop smoking. Having smoked regularly and heavily since I was 14, I first resolved to stop in 1974 and wrote that resolution in every new year's diary for the next 25 years. In all that time, my longest run without tobacco was eight months, and I craved a cigarette on every one of those nearly 250 days. Nothing would stop me smoking, not the pleadings of family nor the miseries of pneumonia. In the end, it was the wise counsel of a trusted doctor and one of the wonders of modern medical science that released me from that hated habit.

My doctor said: "You are not necessarily guaranteeing you will die of a horrible disease, though there is that risk, but you are certainly ensuring that you will have a very unpleasant old age in which you won't be able to walk upstairs or even play with your own grandchildren." Dr Reilly also believed in throwing you a rope and, in my case, that indispensable aid was nicotine patches. They don't work for everybody, but they immediately eased my cravings and, after I had used them for about a year, the habit had died.

So I don't need persuading to see the benefits for individuals, and for the wider society, of a drug that helps addicts to stop smoking and keeps patients out of the cancer wards. And I can even applaud a drug that might stop fat people making themselves even fatter by compulsively eating food they don't need, want or enjoy. But we have to acknowledge that these are the medicines of excess and the remedies of a society going to seed in its own selfindulgence.

Eating disorders and addictions to alcohol, tobacco and drugs may be among the more complex ailments of an advanced civilisation, but they can be defeated by simple measures of selfcontrol. If you give yourself less to eat, nothing to smoke and no alcohol to drink, you will quite quickly lose weight and, in time, you will conquer your addictions. If, at the same time, you walk to work or go to the gym two or three times a week, you will breathe more easily and keep your weight off.

Everybody knows these prescriptions. but fewer than one in five of us is capable of applying them consistently to our own lives. We insist on having our cake and eating it three times a day. We want a pill to take away our responsibility for ourselves and to erase the consequences of our actions - or, rather, of our lack of action.

In our innermost selves, we believe that they - the godlike outside "they" who have the powers to achieve anything - will find a pill to save us from ourselves no matter how wanton our behaviour, or how far we let ourselves go. For everybody, it seems, wants to be something other than themselves - to acquire a manufactured self rather than the one that nature gave them.

To be as dissatisfied as we are with ourselves we must, first, be unhealthily obsessed with ourselves. Nips and tucks, fake tans, Botox injections, hair extensions, boob jobs and buttock reductions are all ways in which individuals may make sculptures out of their flesh and paint on the canvas of their own bodies.

But the introduction of chemical controls that alter ourselves also awakens fears of a Brave New World in which an absolute uniformity of appearance, sense and experience can be enforced -- in which everybody is required to be happy, beautiful and sexually charged at all times. Prozac and Viagra are unquestionably among the boons of medical science for those who suffer the devastating conditions of depression and impotence. But they do open visions of a future in which nobody might ever feel as nature intended from time to time - a bit down in the mouth, or with a touch of brewer's droop.

In any case, I'm not sure that pills to control smoking and over-eating would be first on the list of lifestyle drugs that I would like to see invented. Wouldn't it be more desirable. for instance, to see compulsory injections of a drug that would dry up the mouths of those horrible yobs who are always spitting on the footpath? Another welcome advance would be a pill to deaden the vocal chords of the louts who go around suburban streets after midnight yelling at the tops of their voices. And yet another would unbearably inflame the eardrums of anybody driving a car with a boom box playing through open windows, so that they couldn't stand the sound themselves. Those, truly, would be medical miracles to celebrate. Too good to be true?


The above article appeared on Page 58 of the Brisbane "SUNDAY MAIL" of September 5, 2004 but does not appear to be otherwise available online